In Parts One and Two of this series, we focused on Chris Johnson’s rushing yards, how they compared to the yards of other league-leading rushers, and how those backs fared in the following five years.
Yards from scrimmage will now be added to this exercise and we’ll see how CJ’s numbers compare to other top backs and their production in their first two years in the league. You’d expect CJ’s numbers to look pretty good due to his yards from scrimmage record last year and they do.
I’m hoping CJ will have approximately the same amount of yards from scrimmage this year and about the same amount of touches but with less carries and more receptions. CJ came pretty close to Football Outsider’s “Curse of 370” carries last season and that’s something which I’ll write about in another article. For the time being, I’m simply looking at how CJ’s first two years stack up against the best running backs of the past, especially in yards from scrimmage.
Other things that will now be addressed are yards per game, per attempt and per touch. Besides the obvious benefits of those stats, they also allow us to make comparisons to the top backs who played before the 16-game regular season was implemented in 1978. It also allows comparisons to backs who played more recently but whose stats per season aren’t as good due to missed games because of injuries, the 1982 strike season, et al.
There were three special backs who were not included in the previous installments — Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. They, and other greats, are included here. Brown and Payton are arguably the best backs who ever played the game. Sayers, who might have been included in that conversation if not for a premature career-ending knee injury, ranked first in one category and third in another we’ll look at.
Criteria for inclusion in this part are backs who accomplished one of the following:
- Won a rushing title since 1978 (same as before)
- Rushed for 2,000 yards in their first two seasons
- Rushed for 10,000 yards in their career
I believe you’ll agree it’s a pretty impressive group, which includes three types of players — those good for one year (rushing title), two years (2,000 yards rushing) or a career (10,000 yards). Obviously, quite a few players met more than one of the criteria.
CJ’s stats are in blue. Stats for #1 rankings are in red. The names of Hall of Fame backs are in boldface.
|Rushing||Yards/||Yards/||Yds from||Yds from||YdsfSc|
You can see from those stats why Brown and Sayers were included. Sayers was first in yards from scrimmage per touch and third in yards per carry. I would have guessed Brown would rank first in yards per carry but he was second to Clinton Portis. I had almost forgotten how good Portis was in his first two seasons.
CJ was remarkably consistent with #3 or #4 rankings in every category. While this piece has dealt mostly with data and not much analysis (something to be looked at in the next article in this series) it provides more perspective on how much his career has blossomed in comparison to the top backs of the past 53 years.