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Lynch leads the league in Skittles eaten over average

Lynch leads the league in Skittles eaten over average.

Over the last three years, no player has recorded more carries than Marshawn Lynch. But while Lynch’s 901 carries may lead the league, that’s a pretty low number, at least in modern history. The 2011-2013 seasons very nearly became the first three-year period where no running back had 900 carries since 1989 to 1991, which was essentially the post-Eric Dickerson/pre-stud running back era. This jives with what we’ve seen on a broader level, in that the NFL is both veering away from rushing and towards running back committees, two factors which have combined to torpedo running back value.

The table below shows the leader in rush attempts for every three year period beginning with the AFL-NFL merger. Here’s how to lead the Lynch line: From 2011 to 2013, Lynch, who was 27 in 2013, led the NFL in carries. Over that period, he rushed 901 times for 4,051 yards, a 4.50 yards per carry average.

YearRunning BackAgeRushRushYdYPC
2013Marshawn Lynch2790140514.50
2012Arian Foster2695642644.46
2011Maurice Jones-Drew2695443214.53
2010Adrian Peterson2596144474.63
2009Thomas Jones3193238334.11
2008LaDainian Tomlinson2995543994.61
2007Edgerrin James29102138873.81
2006Rudi Johnson27103942214.06
2005Shaun Alexander28104950114.78
2004LaDainian Tomlinson25102446634.55
2003Ricky Williams26108844704.11
2002Eddie George29106136133.41
2001Eddie George28103837523.61
2000Eddie George27107141073.83
1999Eddie George26102539973.90
1998Terrell Davis26110652964.79
1997Ricky Watters2897537943.89
1996Emmitt Smith27107244614.16
1995Emmitt Smith26102847434.61
1994Emmitt Smith25102446834.57
1993Emmitt Smith24102147624.66
1992Emmitt Smith2397942134.30
1991Barry Sanders2387743224.93
1990Eric Dickerson3086836474.20
1989Eric Dickerson2998542584.32
1988Eric Dickerson28107547684.44
1987Eric Dickerson2797943434.44
1986Gerald Riggs26109345324.15
1985Eric Dickerson25106151474.85
1984John Riggins3587931393.57
1983Earl Campbell2884032153.83
1982Earl Campbell2789138484.32
1981Earl Campbell26110250074.54
1980Earl Campbell25104350814.87
1979Walter Payton25104148574.67
1978Walter Payton2498346374.72
1977Lydell Mitchell2887935524.04
1976O.J. Simpson2988944455.00
1975O.J. Simpson2893149455.31
1974O.J. Simpson2789443794.90
1973Larry Brown2681130243.73
1972Larry Brown2577532894.24

Some quick observations:

  • Seeing a 29-31 year old Thomas Jones lead the NFL in carries from 2007-2009 — his three years with the Jets — still blows my mind even though I lived through that era. While Jones produced a historically unique career, there’s a part of me that still first thinks of him as a Cardinals bust.
  • In addition to Jones, who was 31 in year three, only two other backs were in their thirties at the end of their three-year run: Dickerson, who was 30, and John Riggins, who was thirty-five/
  • The youngest players on the list? Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders each led the league in carries during their ages 21-23 years. Those two are conveniently ignored by folks who like to trot out the “tread on the tires” theory of running back aging patterns.
  • On the other hand, both Earl Campbell and Terrell Davis were essentially done after rushing over 1,100 times in three straight years. They’re the only players in NFL history to hit that threshold, and at this rate, who knows if it will ever happen again.

What does that mean for Lynch? Even if you were to subscribe to the theory that a high workload is a bad thing for a running back’s future, any concerns about Lynch should be mitigated since his workload hasn’t even been that high. Lynch also has another 101 carries in the postseason, but 1,002 carries over three years is far from a historic outlier. More on Lynch and running back carries later this week.

  • I usually get home from work somewhere around 9:30 PM. Your posts usually go up at 10:00, so I usually read them immediately after posting. The date stamps, because that’s a different day in the eastern time zone, confuse me about once a week. I find it rather amusing every time while I call myself a moron. To quote Stephen Wright, “Don’t think about it; it doesn’t mean anything.”

    Interestingly, if you sort by ypc, Earl Campbell comes out near both ends with his 3.83 YPC 1981-83 and his 4.87 1978-80. And, um, that Simpson guy was pretty good.

    Eddie George unsurprisingly dominates the bottom of that list. I swear it felt like Eddie George ran 400 times for 900 yards every season in Tennessee and Houston. The Titans were good through a lot of that time but they were so horrendously boring to watch, because the entire offense seemed to be handing off to George for two yards, with the hope that he could break the occasional 3-4 yard run so that they would get a couple of first downs. The fact that he didn’t miss a game in eight years there with that workload is pretty astounding.

  • You surely can’t include this above for multiple reasons, but it’s still worth noting that Terrell Davis had a whopping 204 postseason carries during his three-year run.

    • Chase Stuart

      Very true.

  • Nick Bradley

    Somebody named “OJ simpson” appears to be the best back evah.

    Quick regressions shows that OJ got 0.95 YPC more than expected for so many carries from 1973-1975. Its almost 50% better than the next best 3-year period — by some other guy named “OJ Simpson.”

    This also confirms my suspiscions that Eddie George was simply a guy to run into a brick wall over and over until they stacked the box.

    Seems like a great way to balance dependability and explosiveness. List:

    Year Running Back YPCoExp
    1975 O.J. Simpson 0.96
    1976 O.J. Simpson 0.65
    1991 Barry Sanders 0.58
    1974 O.J. Simpson 0.55
    1980 Earl Campbell 0.51
    1985 Eric Dickerson 0.49
    1998 Terrell Davis 0.42
    2005 Shaun Alexander 0.41
    1978 Walter Payton 0.36
    1993 Emmitt Smith 0.30
    1979 Walter Payton 0.30
    2010 Adrian Peterson 0.27
    1995 Emmitt Smith 0.25
    2008 LaDainian Tomlinson 0.25
    1994 Emmitt Smith 0.21
    2004 LaDainian Tomlinson 0.19
    1981 Earl Campbell 0.18
    2011 Maurice Jones-Drew 0.17
    2013 Marshawn Lynch 0.15
    2012 Arian Foster 0.11
    1987 Eric Dickerson 0.08
    1988 Eric Dickerson 0.07
    1982 Earl Campbell (0.03)
    1989 Eric Dickerson (0.04)
    1992 Emmitt Smith (0.05)
    1972 Larry Brown (0.09)
    1990 Eric Dickerson (0.14)
    1996 Emmitt Smith (0.20)
    1986 Gerald Riggs (0.22)
    2009 Thomas Jones (0.24)
    2003 Ricky Williams (0.26)
    2006 Rudi Johnson (0.30)
    1977 Lydell Mitchell (0.30)
    1999 Eddie George (0.46)
    1997 Ricky Watters (0.47)
    1983 Earl Campbell (0.51)
    2000 Eddie George (0.53)
    2007 Edgerrin James (0.55)
    1973 Larry Brown (0.61)
    2001 Eddie George (0.75)
    1984 John Riggins (0.77)
    2002 Eddie George (0.96)

    • Chase Stuart

      I will be the last one fighting it, I’m sure, but I continue to believe that Eddie George was very underrated by many stats folks.

  • Bob

    The Marshawn Lynch trade may go down as one of the most lopsided in NFL history — maybe not so much in terms of number of picks (e.g., Hershel Walker, Ricky Williams). In terms of production received or significance to a franchise, though, it’s up there.

    Per PFR:

    October 5, 2010: Traded by Bills to Seahawks for 2012 5th round pick (147th overall, Tank Carder) and 2011 4th round pick (122nd overall, Chris Hairston)

    Carder didn’t play a down for the Bills and has two career starts for Cleveland.

    Hairston is a backup offensive tackle for the Bills — admittedly with 15 starts split between 2011 and 2012.

    Meanwhile, Lynch has an average line of 1,591 yards from scrimmage and 13 total TDs for 2011 – 2013.