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Yesterday, Bob Ford wrote DeMarco Murray and, how his 2014 season stands out as a career outlier. Today, I want to look at where it stands among the biggest year-to-year declines.

I looked at all players who rushed for at least 5 games in consecutive years, and rushed for at least 60 yards per game in the first season. For example, Murray rushed for 1,845 yards in 2014, an average of 115.3 yards per game. Last year, in 15 games, Murray averaged only 46.8 rushing yards per game. That’s a dropoff of 68.5 rushing yards per game, which is the second most in NFL history. The first? That honor goes to Lee Suggs.

Suggs was a star at Virginia Tech, rushing for 27 touchdowns in 11 games as a sophomore at Virginia Tech before tearing his ACL as a junior. In his senior year, he had another great season, rushing for 1,325 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was a 4th round pick of the Browns in 2003, where he served as the team’s backup. In ’04, he stole the job from William Green, and rushed for over 100 yards in each of Cleveland’s final three games. He averaged 74.4 rushing yards per game in ’04, but lost his job to Reuben Droughns in ’05. As a result, Suggs saw his average decline by 72.5 yards per game, an even more dramatic dropoff than Murray.

RkRunning BackYearYr N GYr N Rush YDYr N Rush Yd/GN+1 GYr N+1 Rush YYr N+1 Rush Yd/GDiff
1Lee Suggs20041074474.48151.972.5
2DeMarco Murray2014161845115.31570246.868.5
3Tony Canadeo194912105287.71224720.667.1
4Bull Karcis1937651385.51121219.366.2
5John David Crow196012107189.3819224.065.3
6Charles White198715137491.61232326.964.7
7Aaron Hayden1995647078.31116615.163.2
8O.J. Simpson1973142003143.114112580.462.7
9Clem Daniels1967957563.99374.159.8
10Earl Campbell198314130192.91446833.459.5
11Hugh McElhenny1954651585.81232727.358.6
12Travis Henry200315135690.41032632.657.8
13Ollie Matson19591286371.91217014.257.8
14Scottie Graham1993748869.71620712.956.8
15Pete Johnson19831176369.41620512.856.6
16Mike Anderson200515101467.61618311.456.2
17Beattie Feathers193411100491.3828135.156.1
18Pete Layden1948957664.012968.056.0
19Preston Carpenter19561275663.012867.255.8
20Ron Johnson19731290275.21121819.855.3
21Swede Hanson19341180573.21120919.054.2
22Garrison Hearst20031276864.078111.652.4
23Frank Akins19451079779.7616627.752.0
24Ryan Torain20101074274.2920022.252.0
25John Grigas1944961067.81016016.051.8
26Marcus Allen1985161759109.91375958.451.6
27Ladell Betts200616115472.11633520.951.2
28Raymont Harris199713103379.5822828.551.0
29Eddie Price19521174868.01220617.250.8
30Cleveland Gary199216112570.31529319.550.8
31Mike Anderson200016148792.91667842.450.6

So, is there any hope for Murray to turn things around? I looked at how all of those running backs then fared in Year N+2 (excluding those inactive during that year). I’ve sorted those backs in reverse chronological order. Let’s use Ladell Betts as an example. He averaged 72.1 rushing yards per game in 2006, then 20.9 the following year. In 2008, he rushed for just 206 yards in 13 games, a 15.8 rushing yards per game average. So Betts is an example of a player doing even worse in year three, rather than having some sort of regression to the mean.

Running BackYearYr N Rush Yd/GYr N+1 Rush Yd/GN+2 GN+2 Rush YdN+2 Rush Yd/GDiff
Ryan Torain201074.222.2200.0-22.2
Ladell Betts200672.120.91320615.8-5.1
Mike Anderson200567.611.48627.8-3.7
Lee Suggs200474.41.95265.23.3
Travis Henry200390.432.61033533.50.9
Mike Anderson200092.942.41538625.7-16.6
Aaron Hayden199578.315.11414810.6-4.5
Scottie Graham199369.712.91640625.412.4
Cleveland Gary199270.319.52115.5-14.0
Marcus Allen1985109.958.41275462.84.4
Earl Campbell198392.933.41664340.26.8
O.J. Simpson1973143.180.4141817129.849.4
Ron Johnson197375.219.81435125.15.3
John David Crow196089.324.01475153.629.6
Ollie Matson195971.914.21418112.9-1.2
Preston Carpenter195663.07.21220.2-7.0
Hugh McElhenny195485.827.31291676.349.1
Eddie Price195268.017.21255546.329.1
Tony Canadeo194987.720.61213110.9-9.7
Pete Layden194864.08.01000.0-8.0
John Grigas194467.816.01142638.722.7
Bull Karcis193785.519.310939.3-10.0
Swede Hanson193473.219.01235929.910.9
Beattie Feathers193491.335.11235029.2-6.0
0.00.00.00.0
Average81.624.111.3371.228.94.8

On average, these running backs averaged 82 rushing yards per game in Year N, 24 yards per game in Year N+1, and then just 29 rushing yards per game in Year N+2. There are a few positive examples Murray supporters could look to: O.J. Simpson sandwiched historically dominant seasons in ’73 and ’75 around a just pretty good year in ’74. But there are fewer bounce-back seasons than you might otherwise expect.

  • sacramento gold miners

    On the first table, Charles White’s 1987 season was inflated with three games versus replacement teams, if I’m not mistaken, White amassed roughly 400 yards in those contests.

  • Richie

    Props to OJ Simpson for making this list despite averaging 80 yards per game in year N+1!

  • Interesting stuff, but I feel like it would be more useful if we could sort out the players (like Ladell Betts) who were backups, and only got a big workload because the starter got injured. It’s tough to sort out the Earl Campbells from the Aaron Haydens.