≡ Menu


Career statistics can be very misleading, since a player can hang around for a bunch of meaningless years but really pad his totals. Six years ago, Doug came up with a system that only counted the receiving yards a player recorded after his first 1,000 receiving yards each season.

I’m going to do something similar for running backs, but instead will focus on individual game performances. I have game logs for every running back (post-season included) for every game since 1960. What I did was zero out all rushing yards in games where a player had 50 or fewer rushing yards; in the remaining games, I only gave those runners credit for the rushing yards they gained after their first 50 rushing yards. The “RYov50” column shows the running back’s career rushing yards after removing the first 50 rushing yards he had in every game; the next column shows each player’s career rushing yards (since 1960, including post-season), and the first “Perc%” column shows the ratio of the “RYov50” column to the career rushing yards. A higher percentage means the player spent most of his time as the lead back for his team, while a lower percentage indicates that the player spent significant time in a committee and/or stuck around for several years past his prime. Obviously for still active players, the percentage column could be misleading as they may not have entered the decline portion of their careers just yet.

The #50YG column shows how many games the player had over 50 rushing yards, and the next column shows what percentage of games the running back gained over 50 yards. For players like Jim Brown, this study only includes his seasons starting in 1960, and for active players, 2012 data is *not* included:

RkRunning backGTmsRYov50RshYdPerc%#50YGPerc%Last Yr
1Emmitt Smith243dal-crd90131994145186772004
2Walter Payton199chi82041735847154771987
3Barry Sanders159det81961565552131821998
4Eric Dickerson152ram-clt-rai-atl71141398351116761993
5Curtis Martin178nwe-nyj66911489645142802005
6LaDainian Tomlinson180sdg-nyj62071415244127712011
7Jerome Bettis204ram-pit60071433642132652005
8Edgerrin James161clt-crd-sea59171309845125782009
9Tony Dorsett189dal-den56171412240133701988
10Fred Taylor161jax-nwe54981230845112702010
11Thurman Thomas201buf-mia53711351640119592000
12O.J. Simpson136buf-sfo5359112854792681979
13Franco Harris192pit-sea52751367639133691984
14Marshall Faulk188clt-ram52351288141113602005
15Corey Dillon158cin-nwe49391174942103652006
16Jamal Lewis137rav-cle4805110334499722009
17Clinton Portis117den-was4715101374791782010
18Jim Brown86cle471587555474861965
19Tiki Barber161nyg4701109244397602006
20Earl Campbell120oti-nor467798274877641985
21Terrell Davis86den465187475375872001
22John Riggins182nyj-was46391234838111611985
23Shaun Alexander132sea-was4632100174684642008
24Eddie George150oti-dal46131121741105702004
25Ricky Watters155sfo-phi-sea42671130938114742001
26Ottis Anderson174crd-nyg42531070640103591992
27Marcus Allen236rai-kan41931359031123521997
28Ahman Green152sea-gnb-htx405397264285562009
29Ricky Williams151nor-mia-rav3986100894086572011
30Thomas Jones187crd-tam-chi-nyj-kan3968111043699532011
31Priest Holmes110rav-kan396683934774672007
32Steven Jackson117ram384291614287742011
33Warrick Dunn191tam-atl38021149633105552008
34Adrian Peterson76min347770205063832011
35Stephen Davis136was-car-ram345185234080592006
36Gerald Riggs135atl-was339083084170521991
37Frank Gore102sfo333477884373722011
38Jim Taylor115gnb-nor329684063970611967
39Robert Smith104min322574084470672000
40George Rogers98nor-was321474544370711987
41Terry Allen135min-was-nwe-nor-rav316988313682612001
42Freeman McNeil148nyj312587063665441992
43Larry Johnson83kan-cin-was-mia303962554948582011
44Willis McGahee127buf-rav-den299177743872572011
45Garrison Hearst131crd-cin-sfo-den297882253680612004
46Maurice Jones-Drew95jax289069024262652011
47Wilbert Montgomery110phi-det288273073968621985
48Leroy Kelly144cle288076913775521973
49Chris Warren161sea-dal-phi285978043773452000
50Lawrence McCutcheon114ram-den-sea-buf285272653968601981
51Curt Warner103sea-ram283870934064621990
52Michael Turner114sdg-atl283568484155482011
53Chris Johnson64oti282457174951802011
54Deuce McAllister97nor267362574353552008
55Herschel Walker190dal-min-phi-nyg262983573174391997
56Rodney Hampton107nyg258370913661571997
57Travis Henry88buf-oti-den256160864255632007
58Willie Parker82pit255658494448592009
59Larry Csonka158mia-nyg254889722883531979
60Earnest Byner214cle-was-rav253491002877361997
61Rudi Johnson93cin-det252160354255592008
62Lydell Mitchell107clt-sdg-ram248967523760561980
63Joe Morris113nyg-cle247261384052461991
64William Andrews86atl245760774055641986
65Chuck Muncie116nor-sdg244172183467581984
66Billy Sims62det243652394649791984
67Wendell Tyler117ram-sfo240269533565561986
68Chuck Foreman117min-nwe236568103564551980
69James Brooks169sdg-cin-cle-tam235581782959351992
70Mike Pruitt143cle-buf-kan235274453261431986
71Brian Westbrook130phi-sfo233269263461472010
72Roger Craig181sfo-rai-min232690302678431993
73Larry Brown107was232263743655511976
74Jamal Anderson84atl221356123949582001
75Natrone Means94sdg-jax220858653855591999
76Antowain Smith136buf-nwe-oti-nor216974312967492005
77James Wilder118tam-det212861243550421990
78Gale Sayers68chi212549564343631971
79Charlie Garner152phi-sfo-rai-tam211675592869452004
80Paul Lowe99sdg-kan211153853946461969
81Duce Staley119phi-pit210562493457482006
82Calvin Hill151dal-was-cle210164413356371981
83Greg Pruitt161cle-rai208657293647291984
84Delvin Williams98sfo-mia207156403746471980
85Mark van Eeghen137rai-nwe200272752866481983
86Cedric Benson96chi-cin200260563355572011
87DeAngelo Williams81car197951103948592011
88Floyd Little117den197863233156481975
89James Stewart107jax-det196460033359552002
90Ray Rice67rav194748214046692011
91Barry Foster58pit192842274637641994
92Joe Cribbs105buf-sfo-mia191955803448461988
93Greg Bell85buf-ram-rai191253173646541990
94Jim Nance97nwe-nyj190754013548491973
95Clem Daniels104kan-rai-sfo190651373747451968
96Neal Anderson117chi189064452963541993
97Mike Garrett108kan-sdg181556673251471973
98Don Perkins110dal180565012860551968
99Christian Okoye81kan178449823646571992
100Arian Foster36htx177833825328782011

I like this table because it puts Earl Campbell ahead of Thomas Jones even though Jones had more career rushing yards. Obviously this isn’t perfect, but it’s nice to at least remove some of the value associated with what I’d call “junk” games.

Roger Craig comes in with the lowest percentage of “RYov50” to career rushing yards, which makes sense. He only had 20+ carries in 20 of his 181 career games; Craig was an excellent player, but he wasn’t used as a workhorse back. Seeing Larry Csonka next to him is surprising, although so much of his reputation is tied to his playoff performances. In 12 career playoff games, Csonka had 20+ carries in half of them, including a 33-carry performance in Super Bowl VIII. But he only had 18 regular season games with 20+ carries in 146 career games; like most teams of that era, Miami employed a true running back committee, and Csonka was Miami’s fullback.

On the other side of the coin, no surprise to see Jim Brown leading the list; I suspect little would change if we had his full career game logs. If you sort by the first “Perc%” column and look at only the retired running backs, you essentially get a who’s who list of running backs who had great peaks and did not stay around for the junk years: Brown, Terrell Davis, Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Larry Johnson, Earl Campbell, Priest Holmes, Walter Payton, and O.J. Simpson.

Fred Taylor is 15th on the career rushing list and 16th if you include post-season, as John Riggins passes him; but he vaults Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, Thurman Thomas, Marshall Faulk and Riggins once you discount the first 50 rushing yards of every game. He’s one of those players who struggled to stay healthy when he was younger, but he was an elite player whenever he was on the field.

You get some interesting results if you sort by the second “Perc%” column. I’m surprised to see that despite running for over 9,000 yards, Earnest Byner only hit the 50-yard mark in 36% of his games. Meanwhile, Terrell Davis hit that barrier in 87% of his games. Curtis Martin has been called a compiler by some, but he wasn’t sticking around for junk years: he topped 50 yards rushing in 80% of his games. That criticism is probably more apt for Jerome Bettis; despite ranking 5th on the career rushing list, Bettis only hit 50 yards in 65% of his games. Marcus Allen met that threshold just 52% of the time, an indication of how long he hung around as a role player and how much Al Davis hated him.

Using 50 as the benchmark is an arbitrary number. What if we changed it to 75? That’s what I did with the table below; next to the rank column, I included the player’s previous rank (i.e., where he ranked in the Yards over 50 metric):1

RkPrvRkRunning backGTmsRYov75RshYdPerc%#75YGPerc%Last Yr
13Barry Sanders159det5311156553499621998
21Emmitt Smith243dal-crd49551994125130532004
32Walter Payton199chi48781735828112561987
44Eric Dickerson152ram-clt-rai-atl4568139833389591993
55Curtis Martin178nwe-nyj3675148962593522005
66LaDainian Tomlinson180sdg-nyj3590141522579442011
712O.J. Simpson136buf-sfo3395112853064471979
87Jerome Bettis204ram-pit3280143362390442005
98Edgerrin James161clt-crd-sea3170130982492572009
1010Fred Taylor161jax-nwe3091123082578482010
1118Jim Brown86cle305887553557661965
1214Marshall Faulk188clt-ram2948128812373392005
1320Earl Campbell120oti-nor294298273060501985
149Tony Dorsett189dal-den2921141222180421988
1521Terrell Davis86den291987473357662001
1611Thurman Thomas201buf-mia2914135162279392000
1717Clinton Portis117den-was2786101372764552010
1823Shaun Alexander132sea-was2783100172861462008
1915Corey Dillon158cin-nwe2753117492370442006
2016Jamal Lewis137rav-cle2698110332467492009
2119Tiki Barber161nyg2655109242464402006
2213Franco Harris192pit-sea2627136761977401984
2324Eddie George150oti-dal2436112172268452004
2431Priest Holmes110rav-kan240783932954492007
2522John Riggins182nyj-was2317123481977421985
2628Ahman Green152sea-gnb-htx230497262451342009
2729Ricky Williams151nor-mia-rav2206100892256372011
2826Ottis Anderson174crd-nyg2147107062062361992
2934Adrian Peterson76min206770202950662011
3030Thomas Jones187crd-tam-chi-nyj-kan1987111041855292011
3132Steven Jackson117ram197491612261522011
3243Larry Johnson83kan-cin-was-mia196262553138462011
3325Ricky Watters155sfo-phi-sea1960113091769452001
3436Gerald Riggs135atl-was194883082347351991
3527Marcus Allen236rai-kan1904135901463271997
3633Warrick Dunn191tam-atl1877114961654282008
3737Frank Gore102sfo186577882448472011
3835Stephen Davis136was-car-ram185985232253392006
3938Jim Taylor115gnb-nor180884062247411967
4053Chris Johnson64oti180857173233522011
4140George Rogers98nor-was177774542446471987
4239Robert Smith104min174474082447452000
4342Freeman McNeil148nyj171187062042281992
4452Michael Turner114sdg-atl169768482536322011
4558Willie Parker82pit153858492635432009
4646Maurice Jones-Drew95jax153769022247492011
4747Wilbert Montgomery110phi-det153573072141371985
4854Deuce McAllister97nor153262572437382008
4944Willis McGahee127buf-rav-den151777742047372011
5041Terry Allen135min-was-nwe-nor-rav148488311749362001
5151Curt Warner103sea-ram148370932139381990
5257Travis Henry88buf-oti-den147760862434392007
5349Chris Warren161sea-dal-phi145978041944272000
5448Leroy Kelly144cle143476911942291973
5545Garrison Hearst131crd-cin-sfo-den142182251748372004
5650Lawrence McCutcheon114ram-den-sea-buf140972651944391981
5766Billy Sims62det140952392732521984
5863Joe Morris113nyg-cle139561382334301991
5961Rudi Johnson93cin-det137960352339422008
6056Rodney Hampton107nyg130070911843401997
6164William Andrews86atl125860772140471986
6262Lydell Mitchell107clt-sdg-ram125467521942391980
6355Herschel Walker190dal-min-phi-nyg119583571444231997
6478Gale Sayers68chi118949562431461971
6574Jamal Anderson84atl118356122131372001
6669James Brooks169sdg-cin-cle-tam114981781438221992
6760Earnest Byner214cle-was-rav114791001335161997
6870Mike Pruitt143cle-buf-kan113974451538271986
6971Brian Westbrook130phi-sfo113869261634262010
7073Larry Brown107was112863741837351976
71100Arian Foster36htx112433823323642011
7283Greg Pruitt161cle-rai112257292028171984
7368Chuck Foreman117min-nwe112068101637321980
7465Chuck Muncie116nor-sdg111072181543371984
7580Paul Lowe99sdg-kan110453852132321969
7691Barry Foster58pit109042272631531994
7775Natrone Means94sdg-jax107958651834361999
7867Wendell Tyler117ram-sfo107769531541351986
7977James Wilder118tam-det106861241733281990
8093Greg Bell85buf-ram-rai106653172027321990
8184Delvin Williams98sfo-mia106056401932331980
8281Duce Staley119phi-pit105762491732272006
8386Cedric Benson96chi-cin104460561728292011
8487DeAngelo Williams81car102651102027332011
8594Jim Nance97nwe-nyj102554011927281973
8690Ray Rice67rav100948212128422011
8772Roger Craig181sfo-rai-min100090301135191993
8895Clem Daniels104kan-rai-sfo100051371928271968
8959Larry Csonka158mia-nyg99089721142271979
9082Calvin Hill151dal-was-cle98664411532211981
9192Joe Cribbs105buf-sfo-mia95855801730291988
9279Charlie Garner152phi-sfo-rai-tam95275591329192004
9376Antowain Smith136buf-nwe-oti-nor90274311238282005
9499Christian Okoye81kan89849821825311992
9589James Stewart107jax-det87260031532302002
9688Floyd Little117den86463231432271975
9797Mike Garrett108kan-sdg83156671526241973
9896Neal Anderson117chi74664451228241993
9985Mark van Eeghen137rai-nwe71372751033241983
10098Don Perkins110dal68365011130271968

Barry Sanders jumps Emmitt Smith for the top spot here and O.J. Simpson rises to seventh place. Franco Harris, who ranks 9th in career rushing yards2, falls all the way to 22 on this list, while Marcus Allen is down at 35. Earl Campbell continues to rise, passing Tony Dorsett in the process. Among retired players, Jim Brown, Terrell Davis and Barry Sanders lead with the highest percentage of games with at least 75 rushing yards — that shouldn’t surprise anyone who comes to Football Perspective for the Weekend Trivia.

We’re outside the original intent of this formula, but we can also look at all rushing yards after the first 99. I’ve also included where they rank in career rushing yards:

RkRshYdRkRunning backGTmsRYov99RshYdPerc%#100YGPerc%Last Yr
13Barry Sanders159det3200156552077481998
28Eric Dickerson152ram-clt-rai-atl2693139831967441993
32Walter Payton199chi2635173581578391987
41Emmitt Smith243dal-crd2401199411285352004
519O.J. Simpson136buf-sfo2090112851942311979
66LaDainian Tomlinson180sdg-nyj2077141521548272011
74Curtis Martin178nwe-nyj1838148961260342005
835Jim Brown86cle182987552140471965
936Terrell Davis86den177887472041482001
1028Earl Campbell120oti-nor176298271841341985
1115Fred Taylor161jax-nwe1616123081352322010
1213Marshall Faulk188clt-ram1596128811242222005
1327Shaun Alexander132sea-was1587100171639302008
1425Clinton Portis117den-was1521101371544382010
1522Jamal Lewis137rav-cle1491110331438282009
1616Corey Dillon158cin-nwe1456117491240252006
175Jerome Bettis204ram-pit1452143361064312005
1823Tiki Barber161nyg1446109241340252006
197Tony Dorsett189dal-den1371141221048251988
2040Priest Holmes110rav-kan136983931632292007
2112Edgerrin James161clt-crd-sea1367130981059372009
2211Thurman Thomas201buf-mia1352135161052262000
2329Ahman Green152sea-gnb-htx130097261335232009
2420Eddie George150oti-dal1176112171038252004
2560Adrian Peterson76min116770201728372011
2673Larry Johnson83kan-cin-was-mia115362551831372011
279Franco Harris192pit-sea113813676852271984
2826Ricky Williams151nor-mia-rav1105100891136242011
2985Chris Johnson64oti107257171928442011
3042Gerald Riggs135atl-was99983081227201991
3124Ottis Anderson174crd-nyg94510706937211992
3239Jim Taylor115gnb-nor94084061126231967
3346Frank Gore102sfo93977881229282011
3417Warrick Dunn191tam-atl92211496831162008
3564Michael Turner114sdg-atl92268481328252011
3614John Riggins182nyj-was90512348735191985
3738Stephen Davis136was-car-ram89885231127202006
3837Freeman McNeil148nyj88887061029201992
3950George Rogers98nor-was88474541228291987
4021Thomas Jones187crd-tam-chi-nyj-kan86811104836192011
4130Steven Jackson117ram8669161931262011
4210Marcus Allen236rai-kan84813590630131997
4353Robert Smith104min83874081131302000
4477Travis Henry88buf-oti-den80560861322252007
4583Willie Parker82pit80058491426322009
4618Ricky Watters155sfo-phi-sea76911309733212001
4775Joe Morris113nyg-cle74461381221191991
4872Deuce McAllister97nor74062571228292008
4993Billy Sims62det73952391424391984
5054Wilbert Montgomery110phi-det72873071026241985
5158Curt Warner103sea-ram69570931024231990
5280Rudi Johnson93cin-det66460351119202008
5363Maurice Jones-Drew95jax6436902925262011
5445Chris Warren161sea-dal-phi6417804825162000
5547Willis McGahee127buf-rav-den6417774830242011
5659Rodney Hampton107nyg6407091918171997
57100Arian Foster36htx62833821918502011
5843Garrison Hearst131crd-cin-sfo-den6148225720152004
5992Greg Bell85buf-ram-rai60953171113151990
6048Leroy Kelly144cle6077691827191973
6134Terry Allen135min-was-nwe-nor-rav6068831724182001
6284Greg Pruitt161cle-rai60457291117111984
6397Gale Sayers68chi60249561220291971
6456Lawrence McCutcheon114ram-den-sea-buf5977265825221981
6578William Andrews86atl5686077921241986
6688Jamal Anderson84atl55956121020242001
6779Cedric Benson96chi-cin5426056918192011
6898Ray Rice67rav54148211114212011
6995DeAngelo Williams81car53251101016202011
7031Earnest Byner214cle-was-rav529910062091997
7191Paul Lowe99sdg-kan51553851016161969
7251Mike Pruitt143cle-buf-kan5147445717121986
7390Jim Nance97nwe-nyj5095401917181973
7466Lydell Mitchell107clt-sdg-ram4956752718171980
7570Larry Brown107was4906374821201976
7644James Brooks169sdg-cin-cle-tam4848178618111992
7799Barry Foster58pit48042271122381994
7876James Wilder118tam-det4746124814121990
7987Delvin Williams98sfo-mia4735640816161980
8041Herschel Walker190dal-min-phi-nyg472835761891997
8194Clem Daniels104kan-rai-sfo4725137915141968
8274Duce Staley119phi-pit4706249817142006
8365Chuck Foreman117min-nwe4556810721181980
8462Brian Westbrook130phi-sfo4536926721162010
8549Charlie Garner152phi-sfo-rai-tam4467559615102004
8657Chuck Muncie116nor-sdg4427218618161984
8789Joe Cribbs105buf-sfo-mia4295580815141988
8882Natrone Means94sdg-jax4245865719201999
8996Christian Okoye81kan4064982814171992
9086Mike Garrett108kan-sdg3905667712111973
9132Roger Craig181sfo-rai-min380903041691993
9269Calvin Hill151dal-was-cle3716441617111981
9371Floyd Little117den3226323515131975
9481James Stewart107jax-det3216003513122002
9561Wendell Tyler117ram-sfo3206953518151986
9652Antowain Smith136buf-nwe-oti-nor3117431415112005
9733Larry Csonka158mia-nyg2918972320131979
9868Neal Anderson117chi2606445415131993
9955Mark van Eeghen137rai-nwe23672753971983
10067Don Perkins110dal1956501311101968

It’s impossible to ignore the similarities between Terrell Davis and the 1960-1965 version of Jim Brown, right down to the same number of games played. Injuries shortened his career, but Billy Sims hit the century mark in 39% of his games. How many people would have guessed that Robert Smith, Warrick Dunn and Larry Johnson had more 100-yard rushing games than Marcus Allen? Or that Brian Westbrook had more 100-yard games than Larry Csonka?

What’s your favorite nugget from these lists?

  1. Note: I am using the same set of 100 players as before. []
  2. Remember, this is shorthand for career regular season and post-season rushing yards since 1960 []
  • Andrew

    I’m pretty sure my favorite part of this is how aptly it demonstrates my own personal running back crusade: the yardage leaders are not always the best. Emmitt Smith, whilst high up on these lists, is not at the top, for the simple reason that he is one of the best RBs ever, but cerainly not the best (and that’s ignoring all kinds of other outside factors that impact rushing totals). I like seeing Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, and Edgerrin James getting their due on lists like these. It helps to show how ludicrous the question of whether some of them are HoF players really is, and shows compilers for what they really were. And any time that happens and it gives me more ammo against Cowboys fans, I’m happy.

    • Chase Stuart

      You’re supposed to say your favorite part is the caption!

      • Richie

        I keep trying to convince myself that Curtis Martin is not one of the all-time great RBs.

        But almost every sorting of the career list puts him in the top 5.

        I’m not sure why I hold a dim view of Martin. My perception is that he was an above-average compiler. But many stat analysis indicate otherwise.

        • Chase Stuart

          That’s an easy question, Richie.

          Because you’re a hater!

        • Independent George

          When most people use the term, ‘compiler’, they thin of Jerome Bettis – having 4-5 excellent seasons along with 7-8 mediocre to bad ones tacking on meaningless rushing yards. That’s the career trajectory of most RBs – good production until around age 27, then a steep decline. Thus, most RB evaluations necessarily focus on the peak years, while generally writing off the decline phase as normal and inevitable. Above-average backs tend to be above-average for just as long as great backs are great.

          Martin is different because he was essentially as productive in year 10 as in year 1; he never reached Chris Johnson’s highs or lows. Instead of padding his totals by grinding out 800 yards at 3.5 YPC for 4-5 seasons, Martin kept gaining 1,200 yards at 4.0 YPC without fumbling, year after year after year. In math terms, he keeps appearing on those lists because the area under his curve is so damned high.

        • Independent George

          Also, Barry Sanders also never experienced that extended decline phase,except his peak was so much higher. Barry was a freak.

      • Richie

        My favorite part is the photo (not the caption). Because I can never get enough of those Houston Oilers uniforms. It’s a travesty that they are gone forever!

  • DSMok1

    You’re very close to a rushing yards over replacement stat, where replacement would be the yards per carry of (say) the (teams*2)-th best YPC in the league that given year. (of players over a threshold)

    So, say, Carries*(YPC – RepYPC)= Yards above Replacement.

    That, I would be interested to see.

  • Dave

    Success rate has almost as many problems as yards per carry. It’s heavily biased by the team you are on. It seems as almost any
    RB that has played with Peyton Manning has had a high success rate. With a good QB you get more 2nd and 3rd and shorts where you are more likely to succeed.

    If you are on a bad team you get carries where your likelyhood of succeeding is low because the QB is so bad.

    Using football outsiders website McGahee was 26th at 46% success rate last season with Tebow/Orton. He’s #1 so far at 61% with Peyton.