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.
It’s been over a decade since the 2001 draft – a pretty decent crop of players. Outside of controversial (both in terms of off-field activity and on-field value) QB and 1st overall pick Michael Vick, the 2001 first round also netted some soon-to-be Hall of Famers and some guys who have an outside chance of making the HOF: LaDanian Tomlinson, Justin Smith, Richard Seymour, Steve Hutchinson and Reggie Wayne. Other notable 2001 first rounders include Andre Carter, Casey Hampton, Jeff Backus, Leonard Davis, Todd Heap, Deuce McAllister, Marcus Stroud and Santana Moss. In 2011, an impressive 16 of the 31 1st rounders were still active 11 seasons after being drafted (Vick, Tomlinson, Smith, Seymour, Hutchinson, Wayne, Hampton, Carter, Backus, Davis, Moss, Heap, Gerard Warren, Nate Clements, Ryan Pickett and Will Allen). The last 4 might not have lived up to their 1st round hype (and might have been considered busts by their original drafting team’s fans) but all 4 have survived and played well at times (and struggled at others).
Still, as with any 1st round, there were big time busts – David Terrell and Jamal Reynolds atop that list. 9th overall pick Koren Robinson never lived up to his (inexplicable) pre-draft hype though he contributed enough (barely) to escape true bust status. But between the long-lasting stars and journeymen and the epic flops, there are always the forgotten. Here are a few of the guys who – like this year’s crop of 1st rounders – fans were anxious to see suit up in their first training camps in the summer of 2001 but failed to make much of an impression:
Damione Lewis – DT- 12th Overall – St. Louis Rams:
Somehow, Lewis stuck around for a decade (last active in 2010 for Houston) as a backup and rotational DT. He didn’t make it past his rookie contract in St. Louis, starting just 29 of 69 games with the Rams. Only 3 times in his career did he start more than 8 games (2004,2008,2009). The Rams took 2 DT’s in the first (Lewis and Pickett) and missed the mark both times. Between their 2 picks, the Jaguars took Stroud. The next 2 DT’s after Pickett (29th overall): Kris Jenkins and Shaun Rogers. One has to wonder if the Greatest Show On Turf could have pulled off another Super Bowl win with one of those other DT’s anchoring their interior DL
Rod Gardner – WR – 15th Overall – Washington Redskins
Gardner is a great example of a guy who looked better on paper than he did on the field. His first season with Washington, he racked up 741 yards on 46 catches – an impressive 16.1 YPC. His 2nd season, he hauled in 71 receptions for 1006 yards. After that though, things went downhill. He caught 59 passes in his 3rd year and 51 in his 4th. If this were 2004 and we only had his stats to go by, we’d probably think he was a fairly useful NFL WR with a solid career ahead of him. However, after his 4 years in Washington (61 games started, 227 catches, 2997 yards, 22 TD’s), Gardner went on to play in just 26 more games and caught only 15 more passes. Watching Gardner in his first (best) two seasons, it was apparent he wasn’t the player that his somewhat impressive stats made him out to be. He just happened to be the best WR on two teams with terrible receiving corps (former 1st round mediocrity Michael Westrbook started opposite Gardner in 2001 and undrafted Derrius Thompson in 2002).
Adam Arcuhleta – S – 20th Overall – St. Louis Rams
Speaking of what could have been with the Greatest Show on Turf – Rams fans are probably apathetic over their recollection of Archuleta. The once promising DB was taken by St. Louis between their two underwhelming DT’s. As with Pickett and Lewis, Archuleta didn’t stick past his rookie contract and, while he outperformed the pair of DT’s, he didn’t last long enough with the team to be a true cornerstone player. He had a good start to his career, including piling up 102 tackles in 2002. However, after signing what was at the time the largest free agent contract ever for a safety with the (who else) Washington Redskins, Archuleta’s career tanked and he was out of the league 2 years later. A fairly traditional strong safety, and former college linebacker, Archuleta couldn’t adapt to the new pass-friendly NFL and back injuries didn’t help his coverage abilities.
Willie Middlebrooks – DB – 24th overall – Denver Broncos
Middlebrooks belongs in the “total bust” category, but he’s a guy who was taken low enough in the 1st round to not be a truly memorable flop. He didn’t have a ton of hype coming out of college. He wasn’t a huge reach or interesting story. He was just a pretty good college prospect who never panned out. 56 games played in 5 seasons and only 2 games started. His first 3 years in Denver, he played in 39 games with 6 tackles, 1 pass defensed and 0 INT’s.
Freddie Mitchell – WR – 25th overall – Philadelphia Eagles
“Fred-Ex” is only remembered for his brash personality and pre-Super Bowl antics. On-field, he was useless. He ended his brief 4 year career with 90 catches for 1263 yards in 63 games. 5 picks later, the Colts drafted Reggie Wayne. Chad Ochocinco went 11 picks later.
Jamar Fletcher – DB – 26th overall – Miami Dolphins
Fletcher is one of those guys who was useful at times, but never really a good player outside of special teams. He bounced around as a kick coverage guy and backup DB – playing for 5 teams in 8 years. He did managed to play in 105 games, though only started 12.
Michael Bennett – 27th overall – Minnesota Vikings
Bennett is a guy who I thought of a few times in the run-up to the 2012 draft. Like some of this year’s fringe 1st round RB’s (or guys who were being graded as late 1st-2nd round prospects), he was a guy with explosiveness and elusiveness but questions about his durability and overall skill set. Foot and knee injuries derailed his career in his 3rd season, but his first 2 years were impressive as a speed back in Minnesota’s Randy Moss/Daunte Culpepper era offense. His 2002 campaign saw him put up 255 carries for 1296 yards – an impressive 5.1 YPC. He stuck around for parts of 10 seasons but only played in 16 games twice (2002 and 2005) and never came close to replicating his early success after his 3rd season.
Derrick Gibson – 28th overall – Oakland Raiders
Just one of many Raiders 1st round picks in the 2000’s who failed to pan out. Gibson was a forgettable safety who started less than half of the games he played in Oakland and was out of the league after 5 marginal seasons.