From May 30 and every day until September 5… the start of the 2013 NFL season… Sports Stats ‘on Tapp’ will publish “99 Stats Until Kickoff” a daily dose of NFL stats that will get you ready for the 2013 NFL season.)
If you’re looking for one way that the National Football League has changed since, say the start of the century, you don’t have to go much further than looking at how running backs are being used.
In simple terms, NFL teams are looking for ways to get the ball into the hands of their fleet-footed runners. No longer is the game limited to handing the ball off to the best runner and letting him find a way up the field. These days, passing the ball to your running back is just as important as the quarterback handing the ball off to his runners.
Let’s quantify this… using 250 or more rushing attempts and 50 receptions in a season as the yardstick, we see that in NFL history there have been 109 occasions when a running back had 250-plus rushing attempts and 50-plus receptions in the same season. Fifty-one different running backs have accomplished this feat in NFL history.
Last season two players met these numbers: Baltimore’s Ray Rice, who carried the ball 257 times to go along with his 61 catches, and Cleveland rookie Trent Richardson, who had 267 rushing attempts to go along with 51 receptions.
Of those 109 occasions, 57 of them have occurred since 2000, a testament to the fact that teams have increased the workload of their runners with pass catching responsibilities. (The most running backs to meet these numbers were seven in both the 2000 and 2003 seasons.)
Following are the running backs that have had the most seasons with 250+ carries and 50+ receptions.
Seasons with 250+ carries/50+ receptions, Players
8: LaDainian Tomlinson
5: Tiki Barber, Edgerrin James
4: Ahman Green, Ray Rice, Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Ricky Watters
3: Marcus Allen, Ottis Anderson, William Andrews, Priest Holmes, Lydell Mitchell
If we move the criteria up to 300 carries and 70 catches, only eight players have met those numbers in league history. They are:
Lydell Mitchell, 1977, Baltimore, 301 carries, 71 catches
James Wilder, 1984, Tampa Bay, 407 carries, 85 catches
Roger Craig, 1988, San Francisco, 310 carries, 76 catches
Marshall Faulk, 1998, Indianapolis, 324 carries, 86 catches
Curtis Martin, 2000, N.Y. Jets, 316 carries, 70 catches
LaDainian Tomlinson, 2002, San Diego, 372 carries, 79 catches
Priest Holmes, 2002, Kansas City, 313 carries, 70 catches
LaDainian Tomlinson, 2003, San Diego, 313 carries, 100 catches
Priest Holmes, 2003, Kansas City, 320 carries, 74 catches
Steven Jackson, 2006, St. Louis, 346 carries, 90 catches
Here’s a few more stats concerning running backs with 250-plus carries and 50-plus catches in a season:
* Four players accomplished this feat while in their 30’s: Tiki Barber (2006, 2007 at age 30 and 31), Ricky Watters (2000 at age 31), Tony Dorsett (1984 at age 30) and Priest Holmes (2003 at age 30).
* LaDainian Tomlinson holds the record for most consecutive seasons with 250-plus rushing attempts and 50-plus receptions with eight. He did it from 2001-2008. Tiki Barber did it in five straight seasons from 2002-2006.
* Nine players reached the 250/50 milestone in their rookie season, including this year’s rookie to make the list, the Browns’ Trent Richardson. The others were: Billy Sims (1980), Joe Cribbs (1980), Eric Dickerson (1983), Marshall Faulk (1994), Edgerrin James (1999), LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), Steve Slaton (2008) and Matt Forte (2008).
* Two players in NFL history not only had 250 carries and 50 catches, but also had at least one kickoff return and one punt return in that season. Joe Cribbs did it in 1980, Maurice Jones-Drew did it in 2009.
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At age 36, former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber is considering a return to the NFL after a four-year retirement. The merits of whether or not he should return can be debated and ultimately the decision will come down to Tiki and his team determining whether or not he is capable of doing the job and if he can be a productive player.
But let’s take a quick look at the possibility of Barber making a “successful” return from a statistical viewpoint. Simply asked, how many successful 36-year-old running backs have played in the NFL? First, consider that Barber rushed for 1,662 yards and five touchdowns in his “final” season of 2006. Can Barber match that total in a comeback?
Here’s a look at the NFL running backs 36 years of age or older who have gained the most yards in a season:
Marcus Allen (age 36) 830 (1996)
John Riggins (age 36) 677 (1985)
Marcus Allen (age 37) 505 (1997)
MacArthur Lane (age 36) 277 (1978)
John Henry Johnson (age 37) 226 (1966)
Lorenzo Neal (age 36) 140 (2006)
Ollie Matson (age 36) 101 (1966)
So only six running backs gained over 100 yards in a season (Allen did it twice). That’s not 100 yards in a game, that’s in a season!
How about touchdowns? Only six running backs scored a rushing touchdown at age 36 or older. Allen scored 20 over two years, Riggins scored eight in one season, and John Henry Johnson scored three rushing TDs in one season. Three other running backs scored one TD each at age 36 or older: Ollie Matson, Fred McAfee and Lorenzo Neal.
Can Tiki Barber make a successful return to the NFL? Time will tell. But based on the numbers, a successful 36-year-old running back is pretty rare. If Barber can find some of those skills that propelled him to 1,662 yards and five TDs in 2006, he will join Marcus Allen and John Riggins as those rare running backs who had success at age 36 and beyond.
(Thanks, Chips, for the idea)