With all 32 back in camp, much attention will be paid to the rookie class of 2012 and their ability to contribute this year. One position where rookies can immediately step in and make an impact is the RB spot. While rookies tend to get worked in slowly at many positions – QB, WR, LB to name a few – rookie RB’s are often thrust into starting spots or given big part-time roles. Here are the top 25 all time heaviest workloads by percentage of their team’s rushing offense for rookie RB’s:
Since 1970, 54 RB’s have had 50% or more of their team’s rushing attempts, though only 4 (Edgerrin James, LaDanian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin and Eric Dickerson) had more than 75%.
Perhaps a sign of the weakness of the 2011 crop of rookies, or the league-wide shift to RB rotations, only 9 2011 rookies had more than 10% of their team’s total rushing attmepts:
Chances are, 2012 rookie Trent Richardson will easily surpass 2011 rookie leader DeMarco Murray’s 40.2% of Dallas’ rushes. The other early picks, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Isaiah Pead and LaMichael James all figure to be in rotational or situational roles and none are good bets to top the 50% mark barring injury to their team’s other RB’s.
There is little doubt that recently retired RB LaDainian Tomlinson will be a Hall of Famer – probably on the first ballot. Here’s a quick look at the numbers Tomlinson piled up in his outstanding 11 year career:
|All Time RB Rank|
Overall, a very impressive and Canton worthy resume. His 30 career fumbles is 10th best for RB’s with 1000+ carries and his 1% fumble rate is the 2nd best all time for a RB (Curtis Martin is #1) with 1500+ touches. His single-season TD record (31), set in 2006, is impressive. Though the record was set 4 times in the 7 season from 2000 and 2006 (Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes, Shaun Alexander and Tomlinson), it seems unlikely that it will be topped for awhile. The league has moved so far away from “feature” backs that it is tough to imagine a RB getting enough touches to get 32+ TD’s in a single season. Of the backs in the league, dual threats like Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew or Matt Forte could make a run at the record, maybe Adrian Peterson if he recovers from knee surgery. But otherwise, it seems that Tomlinson will hold the record for the foreseeable future.
Similarly, Tomlinson’s place as 5th overall in NFL history in career rushing yards might not be challenged for awhile. Tomlinson ended his career with 13,684 rushing yards. The leading active rusher is the currently unemployed Thomas Jones with 10,591 yards (22nd all time). At 33 years old and nothing more than a part timer, if he even suits up in 2012, Jones won’t top Tomlinson. Behind Jones is Steven Jackson at 9,093 yards. At 28 years old, it’s possible for Jackson to end up in the top 5 all-time. To do that, Jackson would have to do something most late 20’s and early 30’s RB’s don’t – stay healthy and highly productive.
Tomlinson’s place in history is secure. There are few arguments to be made that he isn’t one of the top 10 RB’s in the Super Bowl era. However, how highly should we regard Tomlinson’s career? While he’s the best RB to come out of the 2000’s, it was an era with few feature backs and fewer guys who were capable of dominance. Compared to the other elite backs in the Super Bowl era, Tomlinson stacks up well – but his stats don’t exhibit the consistent dominance you’d expect from a guy whom some consider the greatest of all time
One way to measure a RB’s success is by using YPC+ – a measure of his yards per carry relative to the league average. After all, a 1200 yard season isn’t impressive if that RB averages 3.2 yards per carry in an era where the league average is 4.4 YPC. It’s easy for people to get a bit blinded by gaudy yardage stats without taking into account yards per carry. For example, Cedric Benson ran for 1,111 yards in 2010 – good for 13th best in the league. But his meager 3.5 YPC was 42nd out of 46 RB’s who had 100+ carries. Benson ended up with a YPC+ of just 83, or 17% worse than league average. From that point of view, his “good year” looks pretty bad.
Here are the Top 10 rushing yardage leaders since 1970 YPC+:
As you can see, Tomlinson’s 102 YPC+ is good for 7th best of this group. However, his longest streak of consecutive 100+ YPC seasons was 3 and he only had 2 115+ seasons. He also had the 2nd fewest 100+ YPC seasons (less than half of his seasons in the league). Now, his receiving ability and use out of the backfield gives him a dual-threat aspect that some other top RB’s didn’t have.
Here is that same group of RB’s by their career receiving averages:
Tomlinson leads the way with an average of 57 catches per year, though his 7.8 YPC is behind Payton, Allen and Sanders.
Lastly, here are the RB’s career offensive averages, rushes and receptions combined:
Only 3 RB’s since 1970 have produced more yards per touch than Tomlinson. As a pure rusher, I wouldn’t put Tomlinson in the top 5 of the modern era. However, as an overall RB, he is definitely one of the most productive and most talented that the league has ever seen.