The life of an elite NFL feature back is getting shorter and shorter. I don’t mean that they’re dying at a young age, just that a guy can be the man on his team for just a handful of years, and that lifeline seems to be getting shorter. It seems like just a few decades ago, it’d be the same handful of guys racking up 1,000 yard season for years on end. Now a guy is likely to have one or two, and then be replaced by the next young, healthy back. It’s evident this season when you watch guys like Ladanian Tomlinson and Marion Barber no longer getting the bulk of their teams’ carries. It seems like just yesterday guys like these were dominant on the field, and now are relegated to sharing duties with younger guys. In other sports, you could look at league leaders from five years ago and the majority of those guys are still putting up numbers. I took the top ten rushers from 2006, and it looks like all ten of those guys would be lucky to total 1,000 yards combined this year…
SHAUN ALEXANDER, SEA. 1,880 yds: 2005 was Alexander’s 5th and final 1000 yard season. He donned the cover of Madden 07, but failed to tally as many yards as he did in 05 over the next three seasons, his last in the NFL. He totaled 1612 yards over his next two years in Seattle, before adding 24 more in 2008 on the Redskins. That was his final season.
TIKI BARBER, NYG. 1860 yds: Barber totaled 6 1000 yd seasons over a span of 7 years, and though you could argue he retired still in his prime, it was clear that Barber’s days were numbered, which probably prompted his retirement somewhat. Barber’s last season was 2006, but he knew Brandon Jacobs was the back of the team’s future.
LARRY JOHNSON, KC. 1750 yds: Johnson was the man for about two years there. He had back to back 1700+ yard seasons in 05 & 06. It was more personal issues that caused him to fall out of favor in KC, but it’s clear he isn’t a feature back anymore. He racked up just 204 yards last year backing up Cedric Benson in Cincinnati, and this year, he’s backing up Clinton Portis in Washington.
CLINTON PORTIS, WAS. 1516 yds: Portis may be the exception on this list, but he certainly hasn’t been the poster child for consistency. He missed half of last season, just like he did in 2006. He went over 1,000 in each of the other six seasons in which he’s played double digit games, though, so this year will most likely be the telling sign of whether he’ll be around for one more.
EDGERRIN JAMES, IND. 1506 yds: James was showing no signs of slowing down in 2005, but the Colts thought enough to let him go in favor of the younger Joseph Addai. Edge went to Arizona for two more 1,000 yard seasons, but it was clear during his tenure there that he was just holding down the spot until someone like JJ Arrington or Tim Hightower were ready to fill in. James spent his last season, 2009, in Seattle carrying the ball just seven times for 46 yards.
LADANIAN TOMLINSON, SD. 1462 yds: After eight straight 1000 yard seasons to begin his career, LT has been in the twilight of his career for about three years now. Although he may get more carries than anyone else in the Jets’ backfield, it’s clear they’re more optimistic about Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight.
RUDI JOHNSON, CIN. 1458 yds: Rudi had a solid three year run from 04-06, before fading into obscurity. He totaled just 734 yards over his final two seasons, split between Cincinnati and Detroit.
WARRICK DUNN, ATL. 1416 yds: Dunn enjoyed a longer than normal career as a feature back, with five 1000 yard seasons over a span of nine years. In 2008, Dunn went back to Tampa for one last run, where he racked up a respectable 786 yards.
THOMAS JONES, CHI. 1335 yds: Thomas Jones may be the other exception along with Portis. He currently has a streak of five seasons going over the 1000 mark, but Kansas City may very well be his last stop. He’s still number one on the depth chart, but Jamaal Charles figures to be the guy going forward for the Chiefs.
WILLIS MCGAHEE, BUF. 1247 yds: McGahee had a promising start to his career in 2004, where he gained over 4,500 yards in his first four seasons. It’s been all downhill since his first season in Baltimore, as Ray Rice is already the man for the Ravens, and Leron McClain is even presumably a more attractive option carrying the ball.
September 19th, 2010 at 5:21 pm
You’re right on, man.
I mean, after CJ and AD, there’s a considerable drop-off. And even Johnson really came out of nowhere.
Franchises aren’t wasting early picks on RBs because they know they can land someone just as solid later on, i.e., Ray Rice.
Why waste a top draft pick on someone who might not be around all that long?
Great idea for a post.
September 19th, 2010 at 6:23 pm
Yeah, it’s been brewing for a while. But it just makes you wonder how many years we’ll see guys like Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson putting up solid numbers, before the next guy takes over….
September 20th, 2010 at 8:07 am
And it’s about to get even shorter given the fact that players are now going down with what we’re initially being told are innocuous <a href="http://nfl.com/injuries injuries ? How is any concussion meant to be innocuous ?
My Patriots were so bad in the second half of the game against the Jets that I took the dog for a walk than watching the rest of the game .
Bieber Fever isn’t vastly overrated but I’m beginning to question a guy’s sexuality when they possess that haircut ! Thank’s Brady but it’s time to get rid of that friggin’ mop top once and for all !
tophatal …… 🙂
September 20th, 2010 at 8:10 am
I’m kinda shocked you didn’t put Jamal Lewis up there. It’s not often a 2000 rushing yard back fades into obscurity shortly thereafter.
September 20th, 2010 at 9:15 am
pro sport is brutal…
September 20th, 2010 at 9:39 am
I can’t remember what show was talking about it, but they were saying that the whole running back by committee thing is more because of how big the O-line and D-line guys being so huge. They were saying in the 80’s and early 90’s the linemen averaged in the 250-260 lbs., and now it’s well over 300 lbs. Maybe that extra 40-50 lbs. on top of the pile wears them down a little quicker…
September 20th, 2010 at 10:02 am
September 20th, 2010 at 11:12 am
You know, Jamal Lewis was in the forefront of my mind when I was brainstorming this post, but I opted to go with the top ten rushers from 2005, and he wasn’t on there. But he is the epitome of this list definitely!
September 20th, 2010 at 1:26 pm
Having an RB rush for a 1000 yds in a season doesn’t really mean anything nowadays ? 16 games at just over 60 yds a clip gives you that mark and that’s it. All purpose yards added in doesn’t make the feat anymore spectacular does it ?
It’s simply something that the NFL loves for the stats .
September 20th, 2010 at 1:47 pm
I find it funny when people refer to Tomlinson as over the hill at 31. There is a dropoff though. Makes guys like Bettis and Emmet and Curtis Martin even more impressive. Also, your list reminded me of Eddie George.
September 20th, 2010 at 5:43 pm
Yeah, Eddie George is a prime example. When I was looking at yearly rushing leaders, I believe Curtis Martin is the only guy over 30 to do it since 1950
September 20th, 2010 at 3:29 pm
Some of these players have had significant injuries over the last couple of years, and Larry Johnson was a problem child in KC. But I know what you mean teams are doing the RBBC thing, so you wont really see guys be the man in the back field like the old days.
September 20th, 2010 at 3:44 pm
Not sure if it’s a good or bad thing that the U is representing prominently on your list…
September 20th, 2010 at 5:42 pm
Well, their guys have more success than most schools!
September 20th, 2010 at 4:38 pm
Hells yeah, chiefs 2-0!
September 20th, 2010 at 6:08 pm
Coaches can bring back the “old days” if their schemes would us a traditional “half back’ and a “full back” to augment the “quarterback” a la how Weeb Ewbank used Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer to augment Joe “Willie” Namath in 1968. The just don’t want to do it, or maybe it is politics or manadory “rosters” et al…
‘Jets- Jets-Jets”!! LOL
September 20th, 2010 at 6:28 pm
Nice post! Jamal Lewis also came to mind when I read this. If I may (because this post sparked the idea) I’m going to suggest a post topic for you…players that have not lived up to their hype in any way, shape or form. I even have a name “Nothing Follows the Hype” You seemed to be more than qualified to write such a post 🙂
I love your theme. Congrats on FP!
September 20th, 2010 at 6:44 pm
That’d be a looooong post!!
September 20th, 2010 at 9:53 pm
Hey man nice post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed. Being a fan of the Oregon State Beavers, I remember Steven Jackson trucking fools, and he is still a beast in the league. It’s too bad that he has been buried on a horrible Rams team year after year. It will be interesting to see how he and AP compare to your findings in a few years. Chris Johnson might be okay in my opinion, because of the way he runs. he is great at avoiding the big contact…
September 20th, 2010 at 10:16 pm
I agree wit you. These guys are used and replaced in a never ending cycle. The upside is that they make so much money in those short spamds that they can do a lot of things once football is no longer an option.
September 21st, 2010 at 5:03 pm
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow « Doin Work…
I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…
September 22nd, 2010 at 4:24 am
Here Here! I completely agree ! Congratulations on being freshly pressed.
September 22nd, 2010 at 4:42 am
Truth be told, LT is kinda surprising me this year so far. His legs are looking fresh and he is getting almost as many carries as shonn green. A resurgence maybe?
July 1st, 2011 at 3:52 am
Waiting for the next season! Go go go!!!!