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Steven Jackson: the Ollie Matson of the 21st century

by Chase Stuart on June 19, 2012

in Rushing

Steven Jackson is the Ollie Matson of the 21st century. What does that mean? Before we answer that, take a look at Steven Jackson’s impressive career:

Rushing Receiving
Year Age Tm Att Yds TD Y/A Rec Yds Y/R TD YScm RRTD
2004 21 STL 134 673 4 5.0 19 189 9.9 0 862 4
2005 22 STL 254 1046 8 4.1 43 320 7.4 2 1366 10
2006* 23 STL 346 1528 13 4.4 90 806 9.0 3 2334 16
2007 24 STL 237 1002 5 4.2 38 271 7.1 1 1273 6
2008 25 STL 253 1042 7 4.1 40 379 9.5 1 1421 8
2009* 26 STL 324 1416 4 4.4 51 322 6.3 0 1738 4
2010* 27 STL 330 1241 6 3.8 46 383 8.3 0 1624 6
2011 28 STL 260 1145 5 4.4 42 333 7.9 1 1478 6
Career 2138 9093 52 4.3 369 3003 8.1 8 12096 60

During that time, the Rams are the only team in football to win fewer than 30 percent of their games.

Jackson(@sj39) is a great running back who has been saddled on a terrible team, reminiscent of players such as O.J. Simpson and Ollie Matson. How bad has it been for Jackson? I looked at all running backs with at least 5,000 rushing yards and 7,500 yards from scrimmage in their careers. Then, I calculated the weighted average winning percentage of the teams they played on throughout their career.1 In that group, Jackson has the lowest career (weighted) winning percentage:

Player
Rushing Yards
Yards from Scrimmage
Win%
Years
Teams
Lawrence McCutcheon657883770.7411972--1981RAM-SEA-DEN-BUF
Chuck Foreman595091060.7331973--1980MIN-NWE
Roger Craig8189131000.7231983--1993SFO-RAI-MIN
Terrell Davis760788870.7191995--2001DEN
Franco Harris12120144070.711972--1984PIT-SEA
Jim Taylor8597103530.7091958--1967GNB-NOR
Jim Brown12312148110.6911957--1965CLE
Mark van Eeghen665182340.6861974--1983OAK-NWE
Calvin Hill608389440.6821969--1981DAL-WAS-CLE
Tony Dorsett12739162930.6721977--1988DAL-DEN
Robert Smith681881100.6651993--2000MIN
Thurman Thomas12074165320.6631988--2000BUF-MIA
Leroy Kelly727495550.6591964--1973CLE
Edgerrin James12246156100.6511999--2009IND-ARI-SEA
Marcus Allen12243176540.6451982--1997RAI-KAN
Larry Brown587583600.6441969--1976WAS
Larry Csonka808189010.6391968--1979MIA-NYG
Eddie George10441126680.6251996--2004HOU-TEN-DAL
Ahman Green9205120880.6171998--2009SEA-GNB-HOU
Garrison Hearst7966100310.6061993--2004PHO-ARI-CIN-SFO-DEN
Brian Westbrook6335102750.5992002--2010PHI-SFO
Shaun Alexander9453109730.5972000--2008SEA-WAS
Ricky Watters10643148910.5931992--2001SFO-PHI-SEA
Wendell Tyler637881940.5851977--1986RAM-SFO
Neal Anderson616689290.5841986--1993CHI
Walter Payton16726212640.5821975--1987CHI
Joe Perry9723117440.5811948--1963SFO-BAL
Emmitt Smith18355215790.5791990--2004DAL-ARI
LaDainian Tomlinson13684184560.5772001--2011SDG-NYJ
Joe Cribbs535675550.5731980--1988BUF-SFO-MIA-IND
Wilbert Montgomery678992910.5721977--1985PHI-DET
Lydell Mitchell653497370.5711972--1980BAL-SDG-RAM
Duce Staley578583720.5711997--2006PHI-PIT
Earnest Byner8261128660.5631984--1997CLE-WAS-BAL
John Riggins11352134420.5631971--1985NYJ-WAS
Curt Warner684483110.5561983--1990SEA-RAM
Jamal Lewis10607124860.5562000--2009BAL-CLE
Stephen Davis805295460.5541996--2006WAS-CAR-STL
Curtis Martin14101174300.5531995--2005NWE-NYJ
Antowain Smith688178630.551997--2005BUF-NWE-TEN-NOR
Marshall Faulk12279191540.5491994--2005IND-STL
Ken Willard610582890.5471965--1974SFO-STL
Eric Dickerson13259153960.5431983--1993RAM-IND-RAI-ATL
Clem Daniels513884520.5421960--1968DTX-OAK-SFO
Warrick Dunn10967153060.541997--2008TAM-ATL
Terry Allen8614102150.541991--2001MIN-WAS-NWE-NOR-BAL
Jerome Bettis13662151110.5371993--2005RAM-STL-PIT
Priest Holmes8172111340.5371997--2007BAL-KAN
Bill Brown583890210.5341961--1974CHI-MIN
Fred Taylor11695140790.5311998--2010JAX-NWE
Tiki Barber10449156320.5271997--2006NYG
Hugh McElhenny528185280.5261952--1964SFO-MIN-NYG-DET
Freeman McNeil8074110350.5241981--1992NYJ
Don Perkins621775270.5231961--1968DAL
Ricky Williams10009126150.5231999--2011NOR-MIA-BAL
Adrian Peterson675280610.5172007--2011MIN
James Brooks7962115830.5161981--1992SDG-CIN-CLE-TAM
Clinton Portis9923119410.5152002--2010DEN-WAS
Deuce McAllister609678160.5132001--2008NOR
William Andrews598686330.5071979--1986ATL
George Rogers717675440.5071981--1987NOR-WAS
Mike Pruitt737892380.5061976--1986CLE-KAN-BUF
Rodney Hampton689782060.5031990--1997NYG
John Henry Johnson680382810.5031954--1966SFO-DET-PIT-HOU
Thomas Jones10591126140.5012000--2011ARI-TAM-CHI-NYJ-KAN
John L. Williams500696620.51986--1995SEA-PIT
Ottis Anderson10273133350.4941979--1992STL-NYG
Barry Sanders15269181900.4931989--1998DET
James Stewart584175560.4741995--2002JAX-DET
Willis McGahee736684640.4742004--2011BUF-BAL-DEN
Earl Campbell9407102130.4731978--1985HOU-NOR
Larry Johnson622375960.4662003--2011KAN-CIN-WAS-MIA
Chuck Muncie670290250.4651976--1984NOR-SDG
Frank Gore7625100220.4552005--2011SFO
Greg Pruitt567287410.4541973--1984CLE-RAI
Charlie Garner7097108080.4521994--2004PHI-SFO-OAK-TAM
Maurice Jones-Drew685493270.4442006--2011JAX
Michael Pittman562791390.4391998--2008ARI-TAM-DEN
Herschel Walker8225130840.431986--1997DAL-MIN-PHI-NYG
Corey Dillon11241131540.421997--2006CIN-NWE
Floyd Little632387410.4071967--1975DEN
Chris Warren769696310.4031990--2000SEA-DAL-PHI
Gerald Riggs818897040.381982--1991ATL-WAS
O.J. Simpson11236133780.3741969--1979BUF-SFO
Ollie Matson517384580.3131952--1966CRD-RAM-DET-PHI
James Wilder600895080.2941981--1990TAM-DET-WAS
Steven Jackson9093120960.2922004--2011STL

Ollie Matson was one of the most feared runners of the '50s

Ollie Matson, a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, is often remembered as one of the few stars to make the Hall of Fame despite playing for miserable teams his entire career. In fact, no offensive Hall of Famer played in more games than Matson despite never playing for a team that reached the playoffs. Matson played the first six years of his career in Chicago with the Cardinals during a long stretch (one of several) of ugly years under Bill Bidwill. The Cardinals then traded Matson to Pete Rozelle’s2 Rams in exchange for nine players in one of the most historic trades in league history. But the Rams were in no better shape than the Cardinals, leaving Matson to spend the first decade of his career in football obscurity, before closing out his career with the Lions and Eagles.

Matson possessed Olympic-caliber speed, but was also one of the biggest backs of his era. He was a powerful runner capable of running over or around defenders; he also excelled as a return man, in the less specialized, pre-merger era of the NFL. Matson did one make post-season game, but he didn’t do it while playing in the NFL. Though he was drafted during the Korean War, instead of being sent overseas, Matson was sent to Fort Ord, an Army post in Monterey Bay, California. He played for the Ford Ord Warriors, and was a star in armed services football. In the 1954 Salad Bowl, he scored three touchdowns in a rout of Great Lakes Navy, capturing the All-Service championship.

Jackson, like Matson, has been forced to spend nearly his entire career playing on bad teams. Jackson turns 29 next month, as the Rams begin another rebuilding project under Jeff Fisher. The best case scenario would see his career finish like a Walter Payton or Corey Dillon. Both Payton and Dillon struggled playing for bad franchises for most of their careers, before winning Super Bowls in their 30s.

Take a look at the table of career winning percentages and let us know what stands out to you.

  1. The weighted average was calculated based on the runner’s yards from scrimmage in each season as a percentage of his total career yards from scrimmage. For example, if a player gained 10% of his yards from scrimmage in 1999 and the team went 15-1 that season, then 10% of the running back’s weighted winning percentage would be 0.9375. This is designed to align a running back’s best seasons with his team’s records in those years. For example, Emmitt Smith played 2 of his 15 seasons with the Cardinals. But since he gained only 6.5% of his career yards from scrimmage in Arizona, the Cardinals’ records those years count for only 6.5% — and not 13.3% — of his career weighted winning percentage. []
  2. Rozelle, who would go on to become NFL commissioner, attended the University of San Francisco with Matson, and was USF’s assistant athletic director the year Matson was a Heisman trophy finalist. []

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Richie June 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Really? Lawrence McCutcheon comes out as the “winningest” RB of all time? I wouldn’t have guessed that if you gave me 50 guesses.

I also wouldn’t have guessed that Emmitt Smith would have just a .579 weighted winning percentage. I guess he stuck around for a lot more bad seasons than I realized.

Reply

Richie June 19, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Interesting that the list is bookended by Rams running backs.

Reply

Chris June 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Jackson certainly couldn’t claim to be forced to play on a bad team. He’s in the middle of a contract he held out for. The Rams were already in rough shape by then and no one was confusing Jay Zygmunt with Bill Parcells.

He had his chance to get out years ago, go to a contender or get paid and he chose the latter.

Life is what you make it.

Reply

Danish August 22, 2012 at 6:18 am

Certainly, but in a league this as volatile as the NFL it’s still pretty unlucky to be on this bad of a team. I mean take Andre Johnson – he was an elite player on a terrible team but even the Texans are relevant now. Same goes for Fitzgerald. Steve Smith in Carolina as well. Patrick Willis in San Fran. The list goes on. It’s simply unlucky that the Rams haven’t turned it around through pure chance and been relevant for even a single year.

Reply

Otis June 20, 2012 at 8:19 am

Great read.

Reply

Matt Waldman June 22, 2012 at 9:11 am

Fantastic perspective, Chase. Love this stuff. Can’t wait to recommend more of it.

Reply

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