About a year and a half ago, I was inspired to perform an analysis on the top running backs in NFL history. I did 2 posts on the topic at Behind the Steel Curtain, first on the top 10 backs in overall rushing yards, then a followup including the RBs that were top 10 in yards/game and yards/attempt. In these analyses, I had included the entire careers of each player considered, which may have unfairly favored players who retired at or near their primes. So, I had been considering for a while whether it might be of interest to complete the same type of analysis for all of the players, but in this case, I would only consider the best 4 year period in that player’s career. So, essentially, I am reviewing the career peaks of the best running backs in NFL history.
Why 4 years? In some ways, it’s an arbitrary
choice. But, it is about the average length of most running backs’ careers. I believe the average is below 3.5 years now, but that’s still more than 3, on average. It’s also the number of years that Terrell Davis was productive. Because of that, I was just curious to see how he stacked up against other RBs peak 4 year period.
In this post, I am reviewing the same 20 players as in the last RB analysis. They are listed in the table below, in addition to the following information:
- the years analyzed
- number of games played and started for those years
- total yards from scrimmage during those years
- total touchdowns and fumbles from those years
The way that I determined which four year period to analyze for each player was by determining for which period that player had the most total yards from scrimmage.
|Walter Payton 1||1977-1980||62||62||7746||50||28|
|Walter Payton 2||1983-1986||64||64||7829||41||22|
There are a couple of Items of Note to address before moving forward. First, I included two 4 year periods for Walter Payton because he was the only player to have two distinct peak periods, for which the total yards from scrimmage were within about 80 yards of each other. By distinct periods I mean that there was no overlap in the years for those two periods. Secondly, Spec Sanders’s and Jamal Lewis’s periods are adjusted for special circumstances. Sanders’s analysis is only for 3 years, because he played halfback from 1946 to 1948, did not play in 1949, and returned in 1950 as a safety. So, I thought it made more sense to only include his numbers from the first three years. Lewis’s analysis covers the period from 2000 to 2004, which is 5 years. But, since he was out the entirety of the 2001 season with a knee injury, I decided that this period would be accurate for this analysis.
As with the previous analyses, I ranked each player according yards per game and per touch in both rushing and receiving as well as TDs and fumbles per game. After ranking them in each category, I calculated the average of each player’s rankings in all categories and sorted the running backs from highest average among all categories to lowest. In the following tables, I have included the raw statistics (gathered from Pro-Football-Reference.com) for the players.