Previous post:

Next post:

How often does the best rookie running back end up having the best career?

by Chase Stuart on August 7, 2012

in History, Rookies, Rushing, Statistics

The best rookie season and best career from the class of '89.

Yesterday, I looked at how frequently the highest drafted rookie running back ended leading his draft class in rushing yards. Today, we’ll examine how often the best rookie running back ends up being having the most career rushing yards among the members from his class.

I performed this same exercise at wide receiver, and concluded that as great as A.J. Green was last season, the odds were stacked against him leading the 2011 rookie receiver class in career receiving yards.1 For whatever reason, there simply is not a strong correlation between rookie performance and career performance for wide receivers. Is the same true at the running back position?

There was an eleven-year stretch from ’92 to ’02, when Ricky Watters, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor, Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Clinton Portis each led their class in rushing yards both as rookies and over the course of their careers. The lone exception came in 2000, when Mike Anderson nudged by Jamal Lewis to lead the ’00 class in rookie rushing yards, while Lewis ended with the most career rushing yards. If I had written this article a decade ago, I would have thought that unlike at the receiver position, there was an extremely strong correlation between rookie and career performance for the top running backs.

But since then, things have changed. Domanick Williams (Larry Johnson), Kevin Jones (Steven Jackson), Cadillac Williams (Frank Gore), Joseph Addai (Maurice Jones-Drew), Steve Slaton (Chris Johnson), and Knowshon Moreno (Arian Foster) led all rookies in rushing yards but have been passed in the career category by another back from the same rookie class. It’s too early to get a handle on the last two draft classes, although I certainly wouldn’t take even odds on either Ben Tate or LeGarrette Blount finishing with the most career rushing yards of any running back who entered the league in either 2010 or 2011.

The table below shows the top rookie running backs and the top career running backs from each class since 1978.

                                       2011
1.  Ben Tate (HOU)               942     |     1.  Ben Tate                 942
2.  DeMarco Murray (DAL)         897     |     2.  DeMarco Murray           897
3.  Roy Helu (WAS)               640     |     3.  Roy Helu                 640
4.  Daniel Thomas (MIA)          581     |     4.  Daniel Thomas            581
5.  Mark Ingram (NOR)            474     |     5.  Mark Ingram              474
6.  Kendall Hunter (SFO)         473     |     6.  Kendall Hunter           473
7.  Stevan Ridley (NWE)          441     |     7.  Stevan Ridley            441
8.  Delone Carter (IND)          377     |     8.  Delone Carter            377
9.  Evan Royster (WAS)           328     |     9.  Evan Royster             328
10. Montario Hardesty (CLE)      266     |     10. Montario Hardesty        266
                                       2010
1.  LeGarrette Blount (TAM)     1007     |     1.  LeGarrette Blount       1788
2.  Chris Ivory (NOR)            716     |     2.  Ryan Mathews            1769
3.  Ryan Mathews (SDG)           678     |     3.  Chris Ivory             1090
4.  Jahvid Best (DET)            555     |     4.  Jahvid Best              945
5.  Toby Gerhart (MIN)           322     |     5.  Toby Gerhart             853
6.  C.J. Spiller (BUF)           283     |     6.  C.J. Spiller             844
7.  Keiland Williams (WAS)       261     |     7.  James Starks             679
8.  Anthony Dixon (SFO)          237     |     8.  Keiland Williams         456
9.  Joe McKnight (NYJ)           189     |     9.  Anthony Dixon            324
10. Deji Karim (JAX)             160     |     10. Joe McKnight             323
                                       2009
1.  Knowshon Moreno (DEN)        947     |     1.  Arian Foster            3097
2.  Chris Wells (ARI)            793     |     2.  LeSean McCoy            3026
3.  LeSean McCoy (PHI)           637     |     3.  Shonn Greene            2360
4.  Shonn Greene (NYJ)           540     |     4.  Chris Wells             2237
5.  Bernard Scott (CIN)          321     |     5.  Knowshon Moreno         1905
6.  Donald Brown (IND)           281     |     6.  Donald Brown            1423
7.  Arian Foster (HOU)           257     |     7.  Bernard Scott           1000
8.  Glen Coffee (SFO)            226     |     8.  Isaac Redman             726
9.  Chris Jennings (CLE)         220     |     9.  Rashad Jennings          661
10. Kahlil Bell (CHI)            220     |     10. Kahlil Bell              557
                                       2008
1.  Steve Slaton (HOU)          1282     |     1.  Chris Johnson           5645
2.  Matt Forte (CHI)            1238     |     2.  Ray Rice                4377
3.  Chris Johnson (TEN)         1228     |     3.  Matt Forte              4233
4.  Kevin Smith (DET)            976     |     4.  Jonathan Stewart        3500
5.  Jonathan Stewart (CAR)       836     |     5.  Rashard Mendenhall      3367
6.  Darren McFadden (OAK)        499     |     6.  Jamaal Charles          3027
7.  Tashard Choice (DAL)         472     |     7.  Michael Bush            2642
8.  Ray Rice (BAL)               454     |     8.  Darren McFadden         2627
9.  Michael Bush (OAK)           421     |     9.  Felix Jones             2326
10. Tim Hightower (ARI)          399     |     10. Kevin Smith             2212
                                       2007
1.  Adrian Peterson (MIN)       1341     |     1.  Adrian Peterson         6752
2.  Marshawn Lynch (BUF)        1115     |     2.  Marshawn Lynch          4542
3.  Ryan Grant (GNB)             956     |     3.  Ryan Grant              4016
4.  Selvin Young (DEN)           729     |     4.  Fred Jackson            3794
5.  Kenton Keith (IND)           533     |     5.  Ahmad Bradshaw          3217
6.  Kolby Smith (KAN)            407     |     6.  Pierre Thomas           2501
7.  Brian Leonard (STL)          303     |     7.  Brandon Jackson         1329
8.  Fred Jackson (BUF)           300     |     8.  Le'Ron McClain          1236
9.  Brandon Jackson (GNB)        267     |     9.  Jason Snelling          1193
10. Darius Walker (HOU)          264     |     10. Selvin Young            1032
                                       2006
1.  Joseph Addai (IND)          1081     |     1.  Maurice Jones-Drew      6854
2.  Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX)     941     |     2.  DeAngelo Williams       5047
3.  Laurence Maroney (NWE)       745     |     3.  Joseph Addai            4453
4.  Mike Bell (DEN)              677     |     4.  Reggie Bush             3176
5.  Leon Washington (NYJ)        650     |     5.  Laurence Maroney        2504
6.  Jerious Norwood (ATL)        633     |     6.  LenDale White           2349
7.  Reggie Bush (NOR)            565     |     7.  Leon Washington         2130
8.  DeAngelo Williams (CAR)      501     |     8.  Jerious Norwood         2056
9.  Wali Lundy (HOU)             476     |     9.  Jerome Harrison         1681
10. LenDale White (TEN)          244     |     10. Mike Bell               1475
                                       2005
1.  Cadillac Williams (TAM)     1178     |     1.  Frank Gore              7625
2.  Ronnie Brown (MIA)           907     |     2.  Cedric Benson           5769
3.  Frank Gore (SFO)             608     |     3.  Ronnie Brown            4951
4.  Samkon Gado (GNB)            582     |     4.  Brandon Jacobs          4849
5.  Marion Barber (DAL)          538     |     5.  Marion Barber           4780
6.  J.J. Arrington (ARI)         370     |     6.  Cadillac Williams       4038
7.  Cedric Houston (NYJ)         302     |     7.  Darren Sproles          1757
8.  Ryan Moats (PHI)             278     |     8.  Samkon Gado              972
9.  Cedric Benson (CHI)          272     |     9.  Ryan Moats               831
10. Vernand Morency (HOU)        184     |     10. Vernand Morency          726
                                       2004
1.  Kevin Jones (DET)           1133     |     1.  Steven Jackson          9093
2.  Willis McGahee (BUF)        1128     |     2.  Willis McGahee          7366
3.  Julius Jones (DAL)           819     |     3.  Michael Turner          6538
4.  Steven Jackson (STL)         673     |     4.  Willie Parker           5378
5.  Tatum Bell (DEN)             396     |     5.  Julius Jones            5068
6.  Mewelde Moore (MIN)          379     |     6.  Kevin Jones             3176
7.  Willie Parker (PIT)          186     |     7.  Tatum Bell              2773
8.  Shaud Williams (BUF)         167     |     8.  Derrick Ward            2628
9.  Greg Jones (JAX)             162     |     9.  Mewelde Moore           2247
10. Leonard Henry (MIA)          141     |     10. Earnest Graham          2047
                                       2003
1.  Domanick Williams (HOU)     1031     |     1.  Larry Johnson           6223
2.  Onterrio Smith (MIN)         579     |     2.  DeShaun Foster          3570
3.  DeShaun Foster (CAR)         429     |     3.  Justin Fargas           3369
4.  Quentin Griffin (DEN)        345     |     4.  Domanick Williams       3195
5.  Lee Suggs (CLE)              289     |     5.  Chris Brown             3024
6.  Arlen Harris (STL)           255     |     6.  Onterrio Smith          1123
7.  Chris Brown (TEN)            221     |     7.  Lee Suggs               1074
8.  LaBrandon Toefield (JAX)     212     |     8.  Artose Pinner            858
9.  Justin Fargas (OAK)          203     |     9.  Quentin Griffin          656
10. Brock Forsey (CHI)           191     |     10. LaBrandon Toefield       572
                                       2002
1.  Clinton Portis (DEN)        1508     |     1.  Clinton Portis          9923
2.  William Green (CLE)          887     |     2.  Brian Westbrook         6335
3.  Kenny Watson (WAS)           534     |     3.  Chester Taylor          4740
4.  Jonathan Wells (HOU)         529     |     4.  Maurice Morris          3648
5.  T.J. Duckett (ATL)           507     |     5.  Ladell Betts            3326
6.  Dee Brown (CAR)              360     |     6.  T.J. Duckett            2814
7.  James Mungro (IND)           336     |     7.  William Green           2109
8.  Ladell Betts (WAS)           307     |     8.  Najeh Davenport         1819
9.  Tony Fisher (GNB)            283     |     9.  Kenny Watson            1651
10. Lamar Gordon (STL)           228     |     10. Adrian Peterson         1283
                                       2001
1.  LaDainian Tomlinson (SDG)   1236     |     1.  LaDainian Tomlinson    13684
2.  Anthony Thomas (CHI)        1183     |     2.  Deuce McAllister        6096
3.  Dominic Rhodes (IND)        1104     |     3.  Travis Henry            6086
4.  Travis Henry (BUF)           729     |     4.  Rudi Johnson            5979
5.  Michael Bennett (MIN)        682     |     5.  Kevan Barlow            3984
6.  Correll Buckhalter (PHI)     586     |     6.  Anthony Thomas          3891
7.  James Jackson (CLE)          554     |     7.  LaMont Jordan           3734
8.  Jason Brookins (BAL)         551     |     8.  Michael Bennett         3703
9.  Kevan Barlow (SFO)           512     |     9.  Reuben Droughns         3602
10. Elvis Joseph (JAX)           294     |     10. Dominic Rhodes          3286
                                       2000
1.  Mike Anderson (DEN)         1487     |     1.  Jamal Lewis            10607
2.  Jamal Lewis (BAL)           1364     |     2.  Thomas Jones           10591
3.  Ron Dayne (NYG)              770     |     3.  Shaun Alexander         9453
4.  Shawn Bryson (BUF)           591     |     4.  Mike Anderson           4067
5.  Travis Prentice (CLE)        512     |     5.  Ron Dayne               3722
6.  J.R. Redmond (NWE)           406     |     6.  Sammy Morris            3053
7.  Thomas Jones (ARI)           373     |     7.  Troy Hambrick           2179
8.  Sammy Morris (BUF)           341     |     8.  Shawn Bryson            2144
9.  Shaun Alexander (SEA)        313     |     9.  Aaron Stecker           1526
10. Brad Hoover (CAR)            290     |     10. Jamel White             1423
                                       1999
1.  Edgerrin James (IND)        1553     |     1.  Edgerrin James         12246
2.  Olandis Gary (DEN)          1159     |     2.  Ricky Williams         10009
3.  Ricky Williams (NOR)         884     |     3.  Kevin Faulk             3607
4.  J.J. Johnson (MIA)           558     |     4.  Amos Zereoue            2137
5.  Cecil Collins (MIA)          414     |     5.  Olandis Gary            1998
6.  Jermaine Fazande (SDG)       365     |     6.  Stacey Mack             1751
7.  Joe Montgomery (NYG)         348     |     7.  J.J. Johnson             748
8.  Michael Basnight (CIN)       308     |     8.  Jermaine Fazande         733
9.  Kevin Faulk (NWE)            227     |     9.  Mike Cloud               648
10. De'Mond Parker (GNB)         184     |     10. Justin Watson            428
                                       1998
1.  Fred Taylor (JAX)           1223     |     1.  Fred Taylor            11695
2.  Robert Edwards (NWE)        1115     |     2.  Ahman Green             9205
3.  John Avery (MIA)             503     |     3.  Michael Pittman         5627
4.  Curtis Enis (CHI)            497     |     4.  James Allen             2497
5.  Skip Hicks (WAS)             433     |     5.  Curtis Enis             1497
6.  June Henley (STL)            313     |     6.  Robert Edwards          1222
7.  James Allen (CHI)            270     |     7.  Brandon Bennett         1144
8.  Brandon Bennett (CIN)        243     |     8.  Robert Holcombe         1141
9.  Robert Holcombe (STL)        230     |     9.  Skip Hicks              1109
10. Ahman Green (SEA)            209     |     10. Jonathan Linton         1002
                                       1997
1.  Corey Dillon (CIN)          1129     |     1.  Corey Dillon           11241
2.  Warrick Dunn (TAM)           978     |     2.  Warrick Dunn           10967
3.  Antowain Smith (BUF)         840     |     3.  Tiki Barber            10449
4.  Fred Lane (CAR)              809     |     4.  Priest Holmes           8172
5.  Tiki Barber (NYG)            511     |     5.  Antowain Smith          6881
6.  Byron Hanspard (ATL)         335     |     6.  Duce Staley             5785
7.  Darnell Autry (CHI)          319     |     7.  Fred Lane               2001
8.  Jay Graham (BAL)             299     |     8.  Leon Johnson             799
9.  Troy Davis (NOR)             271     |     9.  Byron Hanspard           718
10. George Jones (PIT)           235     |     10. Darnell Autry            653
                                       1996
1.  Eddie George (HOU)          1368     |     1.  Eddie George           10441
2.  Karim Abdul-Jabbar (MIA)    1116     |     2.  Stephen Davis           8052
3.  Lawrence Phillips (STL)      632     |     3.  Mike Alstott            5088
4.  Mike Alstott (TAM)           377     |     4.  Karim Abdul-Jabbar      3411
5.  Leeland McElroy (ARI)        305     |     5.  Tim Biakabutuka         2530
6.  Ki-Jana Carter (CIN)         264     |     6.  Moe Williams            1826
7.  Tim Biakabutuka (CAR)        229     |     7.  Richard Huntley         1701
8.  Winslow Oliver (CAR)         183     |     8.  Lawrence Phillips       1453
9.  Stephen Davis (WAS)          139     |     9.  Ki-Jana Carter          1144
10. Freddie Bradley (SDG)        109     |     10. Leeland McElroy          729
                                       1995
1.  Curtis Martin (NWE)         1487     |     1.  Curtis Martin          14101
2.  Terrell Davis (DEN)         1117     |     2.  Terrell Davis           7607
3.  Rashaan Salaam (CHI)        1074     |     3.  James Stewart           5841
4.  Rodney Thomas (HOU)          947     |     4.  Tyrone Wheatley         4962
5.  Darick Holmes (BUF)          698     |     5.  Napoleon Kaufman        4792
6.  James Stewart (JAX)          525     |     6.  Rodney Thomas           1973
7.  Napoleon Kaufman (OAK)       490     |     7.  Terrell Fletcher        1871
8.  Aaron Hayden (SDG)           470     |     8.  Darick Holmes           1769
9.  Tyrone Wheatley (NYG)        245     |     9.  Tony Richardson         1727
10. Jerry Ellison (TAM)          218     |     10. Zack Crockett           1701
                                       1994
1.  Marshall Faulk (IND)        1282     |     1.  Marshall Faulk         12279
2.  Errict Rhett (TAM)          1011     |     2.  Charlie Garner          7097
3.  Bam Morris (PIT)             836     |     3.  Jamal Anderson          5336
4.  Mario Bates (NOR)            579     |     4.  Dorsey Levens           4955
5.  Greg Hill (KAN)              574     |     5.  Lamar Smith             4853
6.  Raymont Harris (CHI)         464     |     6.  Errict Rhett            4143
7.  Charlie Garner (PHI)         399     |     7.  Bam Morris              3809
8.  Irving Spikes (MIA)          312     |     8.  Greg Hill               3218
9.  William Floyd (SFO)          305     |     9.  Mario Bates             3048
10. Donnell Bennett (KAN)        178     |     10. Raymont Harris          2509
                                       1993
1.  Jerome Bettis (RAM)         1429     |     1.  Jerome Bettis          13662
2.  Reggie Brooks (WAS)         1063     |     2.  Garrison Hearst         7966
3.  Ronald Moore (PHO)          1018     |     3.  Robert Smith            6818
4.  Roosevelt Potts (IND)        711     |     4.  Natrone Means           5215
5.  Derek D. Brown (NOR)         705     |     5.  Adrian Murrell          5199
6.  Natrone Means (SDG)          645     |     6.  Terry Kirby             2875
7.  Greg Robinson (RAI)          591     |     7.  Ronald Moore            2210
8.  Derrick Moore (DET)          405     |     8.  Reggie Brooks           1726
9.  Robert Smith (MIN)           399     |     9.  Roosevelt Potts         1475
10. Terry Kirby (MIA)            390     |     10. Derek D. Brown          1383
                                       1992
1.  Ricky Watters (SFO)         1013     |     1.  Ricky Watters          10643
2.  Vaughn Dunbar (NOR)          565     |     2.  Edgar Bennett           3992
3.  Tommy Vardell (CLE)          369     |     3.  Bernie Parmalee         2179
4.  Amp Lee (SFO)                362     |     4.  Amp Lee                 1512
5.  Tony Smith (ATL)             329     |     5.  Tommy Vardell           1427
6.  Rodney Culver (IND)          321     |     6.  Scottie Graham          1267
7.  Edgar Bennett (GNB)          214     |     7.  Robert Green            1038
8.  Ivory Lee Brown (PHO)        194     |     8.  Vaughn Dunbar            935
9.  Scott Lockwood (NWE)         162     |     9.  Bob Christian            831
10. Anthony McDowell (TAM)        81     |     10. Rodney Culver            689
                                       1991
1.  Leonard Russell (NWE)        959     |     1.  Terry Allen             8614
2.  Ricky Ervins (WAS)           680     |     2.  Gary Brown              4300
3.  Terry Allen (MIN)            563     |     3.  Leonard Russell         3973
4.  Fred McAfee (NOR)            494     |     4.  Harvey Williams         3952
5.  Harvey Williams (KAN)        447     |     5.  Erric Pegram            3398
6.  James Joseph (PHI)           440     |     6.  Kimble Anders           2261
7.  Greg Lewis (DEN)             376     |     7.  Ricky Ervins            2114
8.  Erric Pegram (ATL)           349     |     8.  Eric Bieniemy           1589
9.  Nick Bell (RAI)              307     |     9.  Leroy Thompson          1390
10. Robert E. Wilson (TAM)       179     |     10. Fred McAfee             1273
                                       1990
1.  Emmitt Smith (DAL)           937     |     1.  Emmitt Smith           18355
2.  Johnny Johnson (PHO)         926     |     2.  Chris Warren            7696
3.  Blair Thomas (NYJ)           620     |     3.  Rodney Hampton          6897
4.  Reggie Cobb (TAM)            480     |     4.  Harold Green            4365
5.  Dexter Carter (SFO)          460     |     5.  Johnny Johnson          4078
6.  Rodney Hampton (NYG)         455     |     6.  Leroy Hoard             3964
7.  Steve Broussard (ATL)        454     |     7.  Barry Foster            3943
8.  Anthony Thompson (PHO)       390     |     8.  Reggie Cobb             3743
9.  Gill Fenerty (NOR)           355     |     9.  Anthony Johnson         2966
10. Harold Green (CIN)           353     |     10. Steve Broussard         2625
                                       1989
1.  Barry Sanders (DET)         1470     |     1.  Barry Sanders          15269
2.  Bobby Humphrey (DEN)        1151     |     2.  Marion Butts            5185
3.  Tim Worley (PIT)             770     |     3.  Derrick Fenner          2996
4.  Marion Butts (SDG)           683     |     4.  Brad Baxter             2928
5.  Sammie Smith (MIA)           659     |     5.  Bobby Humphrey          2857
6.  Eric Metcalf (CLE)           633     |     6.  Cleveland Gary          2645
7.  Eric Ball (CIN)              391     |     7.  Eric Metcalf            2392
8.  Lewis Tillman (NYG)          290     |     8.  Lewis Tillman           2383
9.  Daryl Johnston (DAL)         212     |     9.  Heath Sherman           2130
10. Keith L. Jones (ATL)         202     |     10. Sammie Smith            1881
                                       1988
1.  John Stephens (NWE)         1168     |     1.  Thurman Thomas         12074
2.  Ickey Woods (CIN)           1066     |     2.  Craig Heyward           4301
3.  Thurman Thomas (BUF)         881     |     3.  Lorenzo White           4242
4.  Lars Tate (TAM)              467     |     4.  John Stephens           3440
5.  William Howard (TAM)         452     |     5.  Mark Higgs              2959
6.  Jamie Morris (WAS)           437     |     6.  Brad Muster             2231
7.  Warren Williams (PIT)        409     |     7.  Gaston Green            2136
8.  Craig Heyward (NOR)          355     |     8.  Robert Delpino          1815
9.  James Saxon (KAN)            236     |     9.  Ickey Woods             1525
10. Kerry Goode (TAM)            231     |     10. Warren Williams         1191
                                       1987
1.  Christian Okoye (KAN)        660     |     1.  Christian Okoye         4897
2.  Troy Stradford (MIA)         619     |     2.  Merril Hoge             3139
3.  Bo Jackson (RAI)             554     |     3.  Rod Bernstine           2990
4.  Jamie Mueller (BUF)          354     |     4.  Barry Word              2897
5.  Lionel Vital (WAS)           346     |     5.  Bo Jackson              2782
6.  Brent Fullwood (GNB)         274     |     6.  John Settle             1801
7.  Roger Vick (NYJ)             257     |     7.  Brent Fullwood          1702
8.  D.J. Dozier (MIN)            257     |     8.  Steve Smith             1627
9.  Kevin Willhite (GNB)         251     |     9.  Rick Fenney             1508
10. Andrew Jackson (HOU)         232     |     10. Marc Logan              1391
                                       1986
1.  Rueben Mayes (NOR)          1353     |     1.  Herschel Walker         8225
2.  Herschel Walker (DAL)        737     |     2.  Neal Anderson           6166
3.  Garry James (DET)            688     |     3.  John L. Williams        5006
4.  Keith Byars (PHI)            577     |     4.  Dalton Hilliard         4164
5.  John L. Williams (SEA)       538     |     5.  Kenneth Davis           3513
6.  Napoleon McCallum (RAI)      536     |     6.  Rueben Mayes            3484
7.  Kenneth Davis (GNB)          519     |     7.  Keith Byars             3109
8.  Dalton Hilliard (NOR)        425     |     8.  Ronnie Harmon           2774
9.  Nathan Wonsley (TAM)         339     |     9.  Allen Pinkett           2324
10. Paul Ott Carruth (GNB)       308     |     10. Anthony Toney           2294
                                       1985
1.  Kevin Mack (CLE)            1104     |     1.  Kevin Mack              5123
2.  George Adams (NYG)           498     |     2.  Mike Rozier             4462
3.  Tim Spencer (SDG)            478     |     3.  Gary W. Anderson        3409
4.  Mike Rozier (HOU)            462     |     4.  Albert Bentley          2355
5.  Gary W. Anderson (SDG)       429     |     5.  Lorenzo Hampton         1949
6.  Ron Davenport (MIA)          370     |     6.  Tim Spencer             1792
7.  Lorenzo Hampton (MIA)        369     |     7.  Thomas Sanders          1239
8.  Albert Bentley (IND)         288     |     8.  Ron Davenport           1127
9.  Steve Sewell (DEN)           275     |     9.  Maurice Carthon          950
10. Owen Gill (IND)              262     |     10. Steve Sewell             917
                                       1984
1.  Greg Bell (BUF)             1100     |     1.  Earnest Byner           8261
2.  Craig James (NWE)            790     |     2.  Greg Bell               4959
3.  Alfred Anderson (MIN)        773     |     3.  Herman Heard            2694
4.  Herman Heard (KAN)           684     |     4.  Craig James             2469
5.  Joe Carter (MIA)             495     |     5.  Alfred Anderson         2374
6.  Earnest Byner (CLE)          426     |     6.  Keith Griffin           1343
7.  Keith Griffin (WAS)          408     |     7.  Stanford Jennings       1250
8.  Rich Erenberg (PIT)          405     |     8.  George Wonsley          1158
9.  Stanford Jennings (CIN)      379     |     9.  Gene Lang               1148
10. Frank Middleton (IND)        275     |     10. Buford McGee            1086
                                       1983
1.  Eric Dickerson (RAM)        1808     |     1.  Eric Dickerson         13259
2.  Curt Warner (SEA)           1449     |     2.  Roger Craig             8189
3.  Roger Craig (SFO)            725     |     3.  Curt Warner             6844
4.  Boyce Green (CLE)            497     |     4.  Johnny Hector           4280
5.  James R. Jones (DET)         475     |     5.  Earnest Jackson         4167
6.  David Overstreet (MIA)       392     |     6.  James R. Jones          3626
7.  Michael Williams (PHI)       385     |     7.  Larry Kinnebrew         3133
8.  Jessie Clark (GNB)           328     |     8.  Larry Moriarty          1908
9.  Larry Moriarty (HOU)         321     |     9.  Jessie Clark            1736
10. Stanley Wilson (CIN)         267     |     10. Michael Haddix          1635
                                       1982
1.  Marcus Allen (RAI)           697     |     1.  Marcus Allen           12243
2.  Butch Woolfolk (NYG)         439     |     2.  Gerald Riggs            8188
3.  Gerald Willhite (DEN)        347     |     3.  Joe Morris              5585
4.  Gerald Riggs (ATL)           299     |     4.  Sammy Winder            5427
5.  Sammy Winder (DEN)           259     |     5.  Darrin Nelson           4442
6.  Mel Carver (TAM)             229     |     6.  Walter Abercrombie      3357
7.  Del Rodgers (GNB)            175     |     7.  Earl Ferrell            2950
8.  Darrin Nelson (MIN)          136     |     8.  Butch Woolfolk          1923
9.  Walter Abercrombie (PIT)     100     |     9.  Barry Redden            1735
10. Robert Weathers (NWE)         83     |     10. Gerald Willhite         1688
                                       1981
1.  George Rogers (NOR)         1674     |     1.  Freeman McNeil          8074
2.  Joe Delaney (KAN)           1121     |     2.  James Brooks            7962
3.  Tony Collins (NWE)           873     |     3.  George Rogers           7176
4.  Rick Parros (DEN)            749     |     4.  James Wilder            6008
5.  Andra Franklin (MIA)         711     |     5.  Stump Mitchell          4649
6.  Freeman McNeil (NYJ)         623     |     6.  Tony Collins            4647
7.  Randy McMillan (BAL)         597     |     7.  Randy McMillan          3876
8.  James Brooks (SDG)           525     |     8.  Andra Franklin          2232
9.  Billy Jackson (KAN)          398     |     9.  Frank Hawkins           1659
10. James Wilder (TAM)           370     |     10. Joe Delaney             1501
                                       1980
1.  Billy Sims (DET)            1303     |     1.  Joe Cribbs              5356
2.  Joe Cribbs (BUF)            1185     |     2.  Billy Sims              5106
3.  Vagas Ferguson (NWE)         818     |     3.  Curtis Dickey           4019
4.  Curtis Dickey (BAL)          800     |     4.  Frank Pollard           3989
5.  Earl Cooper (SFO)            720     |     5.  Gerry Ellis             3826
6.  Gerry Ellis (GNB)            545     |     6.  Charles White           3075
7.  Jewerl Thomas (RAM)          427     |     7.  Matt Suhey              2946
8.  Mike Guman (RAM)             410     |     8.  Mike Guman              1286
9.  Jimmy Rogers (NOR)           366     |     9.  Timmy Newsome           1226
10. Larry Heater (NYG)           360     |     10. Vagas Ferguson          1163
                                       1979
1.  Ottis Anderson (STL)        1605     |     1.  Ottis Anderson         10273
2.  William Andrews (ATL)       1023     |     2.  William Andrews         5986
3.  Jerry Eckwood (TAM)          690     |     3.  Ted Brown               4546
4.  Ted Brown (MIN)              551     |     4.  Tony Nathan             3543
5.  Theotis Brown (STL)          318     |     5.  Eddie Lee Ivery         2933
6.  Bo Robinson (DET)            302     |     6.  Charles Alexander       2645
7.  Lynn Cain (ATL)              295     |     7.  Wayne Wilson            2531
8.  Charles Alexander (CIN)      286     |     8.  Ron Springs             2519
9.  Derrick Jensen (OAK)         251     |     9.  Kenny King              2477
10. Ron Springs (DAL)            248     |     10. Lynn Cain               2309
                                       1978
1.  Earl Campbell (HOU)         1450     |     1.  Earl Campbell           9407
2.  Terry Miller (BUF)          1060     |     2.  Mosi Tatupu             2415
3.  Arthur Whittington (OAK)     661     |     3.  Dan Doornink            1836
4.  Johnny Davis (TAM)           370     |     4.  Dave Preston            1793
5.  Larry Canada (DEN)           365     |     5.  Billy Taylor            1644
6.  Deacon Turner (CIN)          333     |     6.  Arthur Whittington      1592
7.  Dan Doornink (NYG)           306     |     7.  Terry Miller            1583
8.  Dave Preston (DEN)           296     |     8.  Johnny Davis            1094
9.  Billy Taylor (NYG)           250     |     9.  Ricky Patton             885
10. Billy Campfield (PHI)        247     |     10. Billy Campfield          670

Ignoring the last three draft classes — it’s clearly too early to get a sense on how the careers of those players will unfold — leaves us with 31 years to examine since 1978. Eighteen of the rookie running backs to lead their class in rushing yards as rookies also gained the most career rushing yards of any running back from that group; over 75% of the time the top rookie finished among the top three in career rushing yards.

Unlike in the case of A.J. Green, the data show that the top rookie running back is likely be the best back from his class (again, measured by career rushing yards). But the trend is moving against those numbers, and it’s difficult to say whether that reflects changes in league philosophy or simply a product of a smaller sample size.

  1. From 1978 to 2008, only three of the 31 wide receivers with the best rookie seasons ended up with the most receiving yards from their class. []

Comments on this entry are closed.