Is Emmitt Smith’s career rushing mark unbreakable? Before the start of the 2013 season, I wrote about whether Adrian Peterson — at the peak of his career following his AP MVP season — had a realistic chance to break Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record. My conclusion:
As incredible as Smith was through age 27, his production after turning 28 is arguably more impressive. Considering that Peterson is already over 1,000 yards behind Smith, his odds of capturing the record are really, really low. That’s not a knock on Peterson, who is clearly the game’s best running back today. Instead, this post should serve as a reminder of how impressive Smith’s totals truly are.
Peterson is now behind Frank Gore, after briefly holding a career edge over the older player. Gore is now one of the all-time great “back half of career” running backs in NFL history. In fact, Gore ranks 2nd all-time in career rushing yards after turning 27 years old. Gore isn’t yet retired, and he’s just under 1,000 yards away from finishing 1st in that category. The leader, of course, is Smith, who remains underrated by many NFL analysts because of his great production later in his career.
How great was it? Well, Gore has pretty much been good from the word go, but he’s always been behind Smith in career rushing yards and he never quite narrowed the gap. If you think Gore’s consistency has been amazing, well, it still pales in comparison to Smith. The graph below shows how many career rushing yards both players had through age X. Smith entered the NFL one year earlier than Gore (side note: both players were born in mid-May), but has almost always increased his lead:
And here’s a look at how many rushing yards each player had in each season at age X:
The graph below shows the number of yards Smith outgained Gore by at each age. The last year, age 35, is in red, because Gore hasn’t played in that year yet:
Even ignoring ages 21 and 35 (when Gore has no data — and when Smith rushed for exactly 937 yards both seasons), Smith still won in 10 of the other 13 seasons, and Gore only beat Smith by more than 150 yards in 1 of 13 years; by comparison, Smith beat Gore by over 200 yards in 6 of 13 years.
How remarkable is what Smith has done? Here are the active career leaders thru age X, using 2017 ages. Next to them is how many yards Smith had through that age, and his career edge:
|2017 Age||Player||Rush Yd||Smith||Diff|
Based on that table, you’d probably think that LeSean McCoy has the best chance to break Smith’s record, but given that McCoy is over 2,000 yards behind Smith and that Smith is also the career recordholder in rushing yards after turning 30, McCoy’s odds can’t be considered as anything other than an extreme longshot.