17 Aug 2007
So during the BS Report podcast that he recorded with me, Bill Simmons talked about how much he enjoyed the "Best Running Back Seasons" article in the book -- although he wanted O.J. Simpson's 1973 season to be on top, not his 1975 season. He also wanted to know about the worst running back seasons. Well, ask and you shall receive.
The book has Melvin Carver of the 1983 Bucs listed as the worst running back season of all time, but he only had 114 carries that year. For this list, I wanted to look at guys who really got the ball, week in and week out, and sucked anyway, so the minimum is 150 carries.
These stats are the actual stats, not the normalized ones used to rank players in the study. I've combined both rushing and receiving touchdowns to save space. "Z" is schedule-adjusted Z-score, which was the method we used to make our final rankings.
Finishing the bottom 20: Curtis Brown (1979 Bills), Matt Suhey (1981 Bears), Preston Pearson (1970 Steelers), Chuck Foreman (1978 Vikings), Bubba Bean (1978 Falcons), Marcel Shipp (2005 Cardinals), Billy Jackson (1983 Chiefs), Larry Garron (1964 Patriots).
Obviously, he can blame his offensive line for a lot of his struggles, but Reggie Cobb may have the worst career record of any running back in history. Even his one 1,000-yard season in 1992 comes out as below-average according to our system. His only barely positive season came with the 1994 Packers, once he got the hell out of Tampa Bay.
Lee Bouggess played three seasons with the Eagles and had a career average of 2.6 yards per carry. That's pretty pathetic. Po James was actually considered a pretty good player, according to resident Eagles expert Mike Tanier, but those Eagles teams had horrible offensive lines. As I say in the book, this system does not try to separate out the quality of the offensive line from the quality of the running back.
Benny Malone was a reasonably useful back for a couple years in Miami, one of the guys who had to take over for legends like Larry Csonka and Jim Kiick when they bolted for the WFL, but he lost it around 1978 and retired after his awful 1979 season in Washington.
Paul Robinson was AFL Rookie of the Year for the expansion Bengals in 1968, the only back in history to gain 1,000 yards on the ground for an expansion team. He inexplicably made the AFL All-Star team in 1969 as well, despite having a terrible sophomore season, but 1969 was actually the only year in his career where he did not gain four yards per carry.
In case you were wondering why Timmy Smith disappeared after his 200-yard, out of nowhere performance in Super Bowl XXII, well, here you go.
Ed Podolak was a star for the Chiefs for years, but honestly, he was pretty bad after his first couple of seasons. From 1971-1975, he never averaged over 3.8 yards per carry or 9.0 yards per reception. Another guy who was good at first, then tailed off badly, was Harold Green, who gained 1,170 yards on the ground in 1992, then had two straight years below three yards per carry.
Some other recent seasons that come out very, very low: Tyrone Wheatley and Rodney Hampton for the 1996 Giants, Garrison Hearst for the 1995 Cardinals (1,070 yards, but 12 fumbles), Jerome Bettis in 2003, Eddie George during that lame year in Dallas in 2004, Jamal Lewis in 2005, and Reuben Droughns in 2006. Another season near the bottom belongs to Eric Dickerson when time finally caught up with him. In 1991, he had 536 yards on 167 carries for the Colts, with twice as many fumbles (six) as he had touchdowns (three).
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