With greatness comes backlash, and every great player has collected his share of detractors. And while Football Perspective readers don’t underrate him, it feels as though Emmitt Smith has been remembered by a significant number of football fans as a less-than-special running back. He played with Hall of Famers at quarterback and wide receiver, with Pro Bowlers at fullback, tight end, and several spots on the offensive line. As a result, it’s understandable that some diminish the peak numbers he produced during his prime.
And yes, he did put up some monster numbers during his prime. From 1991 to 1995, Smith was historically dominant. Consider that among all running backs during their ages 22 through 26 seasons (i.e., Smith from ’91 to ’95), he rushed for 8,019 yards; the next closest player during those ages was LaDainian Tomlinson with 7,361. Smith also rushed for 85 touchdowns: Tomlinson (72) is the only other player within 20 rushing touchdowns of Smith during those ages.
But let’s say you don’t want to give Smith “full credit” for those years. What about what he did from 1998 to 2001? During those years, Chan Gailey and Dave Campo coached the team for two seasons each. Dallas went 28-36 during those years, and the passing attack ranked 17th in Net Yards per Attempt. In other words, these weren’t the Troy Aikman/Michael Irvin Cowboys. And while Larry Allen was still around, the offensive line was more name than substance at this point.
At the start of this four-year period, Smith was 29 years old. Through age 28, Smith had recorded 2,595 carries in the regular season,1 the most of any player through age 28 in NFL history. So you’ve got a situation where a running back had been worn down to an absurd degree, stuck on a mediocre team and on a mediocre offense. If Smith was not a special back, how would he do? [click to continue…]
- In addition to 318 more in the playoffs. [↩]