Best RB Single Season Performance

Today, just like most days, I was perusing random football statistics. I came across something (I don’t even remember what it was now) and started wondering if Reggie White’s 1987 season was the best season for a defensive end of all-time. Then I wondered if 1987 harbored both the greatest season by a defensive end of all-time and the greatest season by a wide receiver, with Jerry Rice. Then I started to ponder if it was possible to pin down the greatest single season for each position.

For whatever reason, I started looking at running backs first. This was either a good idea or a bad idea depending on how you want to look at it, because there have been several incredible seasons by running backs that could be argued as the single greatest ever. I started by putting together a list, including all of the 2,000-yard rushing seasons, the top five rushing TDs in a season, top five all-purpose TDs in a season, and top ten yards from scrimmage in a season.

Barry Sanders, my favorite running back of all-time

There was obviously some overlap in these groups, so I conveniently ended up with a list of 20 seasons.

(Listed in chronological order after the jump.)

Year Name Team
1973 OJ Simpson Buffalo Bills
1975 OJ Simpson Buffalo Bills
1983 John Riggins Washington Redskins
1984 Eric Dickerson Los Angeles Rams
1985 Marcus Allen Los Angeles Raiders
1995 Emmitt Smith Dallas Cowboys
1997 Barry Sanders Detroit Lions
1998 Terrell Davis Denver Broncos
1999 Marshall Faulk St. Louis Rams
2000 Marshall Faulk St. Louis Rams
2000 Edgerrin James Indianapolis Colts
2002 Priest Holmes Kansas City Chiefs
2003 Priest Holmes Kansas City Chiefs
2003 Ladainian Tomlinson San Diego Chargers
2003 Jamal Lewis Baltimore Ravens
2005 Tiki Barber New York Giants
2005 Shaun Alexander Seattle Seahawks
2006 Steven Jackson St. Louis Rams
2006 Ladainian Tomlinson San Diego Chargers
2009 Chris Johnson Tennessee Titans

I know that there are arguments that could be made for several other seasons (1977 Walter Payton, 1963 Jim Brown, 1980 Earl Campbell, etc) and maybe I should have included more of them in my list, but this gave me a nice, rounded list of 20 seasons, so I stuck with it. Plus, this way I don’t have an seasons from before the NFL/AFL merger, and the only two seasons I have from before the switch to a 16-game season are those of OJ Simpson’s.

And because WordPress is making it extremely difficult to copy and past excel sheets into posts I’m going to show their stats below… but it won’t be next to their names, you’ll just have to trust me when I say they’re listed in the same order that I listed them above:

Rushing Receiving Total
Att Yds Avg Tds Fum Rec Yds Avg Tds Yds Avg Tds TD%
332 2003 6.03 12 7 6 70 11.67 0 2073 6.13 12 3.55
329 1817 5.52 16 7 28 426 15.21 7 2243 6.28 23 6.44
375 1347 3.59 24 5 5 29 5.80 0 1376 3.62 24 6.32
379 2105 5.55 14 14 21 139 6.62 0 2244 5.61 14 3.50
380 1759 4.63 11 3 67 555 8.28 3 2314 5.18 14 3.13
377 1773 4.70 25 7 62 375 6.05 0 2148 4.89 25 5.69
335 2053 6.13 11 3 33 305 9.24 3 2358 6.41 14 3.80
392 2008 5.12 21 2 25 217 8.68 2 2225 5.34 23 5.52
253 1381 5.46 7 2 87 1048 12.05 5 2429 7.14 12 3.53
253 1359 5.37 18 0 81 830 10.25 8 2189 6.55 26 7.78
387 1709 4.42 13 5 63 594 9.43 5 2303 5.12 18 4.00
313 1615 5.16 21 1 70 672 9.60 3 2287 5.97 24 6.27
320 1420 4.44 27 1 74 690 9.32 0 2110 5.36 27 6.85
313 1645 5.26 13 2 100 725 7.25 4 2370 5.74 17 4.12
387 2066 5.34 14 8 26 205 7.88 0 2271 5.50 14 3.39
357 1860 5.21 9 1 54 530 9.81 2 2390 5.82 11 2.68
370 1880 5.08 27 5 15 78 5.20 1 1958 5.09 28 7.27
347 1528 4.40 13 4 90 806 8.96 3 2334 5.34 16 3.66
348 1815 5.22 28 2 56 508 9.07 3 2323 5.75 31 7.67
358 2006 5.60 14 3 50 503 10.06 2 2509 6.15 16 3.92

The green numbers are the best from each statistical category, and the red numbers are the worst. For rushing attempts I could see arguments for both the highest and lowest numbers being better or worse, so instead I just have both the highs and lows in bold for that column. After putting all of this together, I found the averages for each:

Rushing Receiving Total
Att Yds Avg Tds Fum Rec Yds Avg Tds Yds Avg Tds TD%
345 1757 5.11 17 4 51 465 9.02 3 2223 5.65 19 4.95

With those numbers I found how each of the 20 seasons compared to the average of the 20 for every category by dividing the players’ stat by the average of the 20 seasons for that same stat. The results are shown here:

(Again, listed in the same order as the original list)

Rushing Receiving Total
Att Yds Avg Tds Fum Rec Yds Avg Tds Yds Avg Tds TD%
0.96 1.14 1.18 0.71 1.71 0.12 0.15 1.29 0.00 0.93 1.09 0.62 0.72
0.95 1.03 1.08 0.95 1.71 0.55 0.92 1.69 2.75 1.01 1.11 1.18 1.30
1.09 0.77 0.70 1.42 1.22 0.10 0.06 0.64 0.00 0.62 0.64 1.23 1.27
1.10 1.20 1.09 0.83 3.41 0.41 0.30 0.73 0.00 1.01 0.99 0.72 0.71
1.10 1.00 0.91 0.65 0.73 1.32 1.19 0.92 1.18 1.04 0.92 0.72 0.63
1.09 1.01 0.92 1.48 1.71 1.22 0.81 0.67 0.00 0.97 0.87 1.29 1.15
0.97 1.17 1.20 0.65 0.73 0.65 0.66 1.02 1.18 1.06 1.13 0.72 0.77
1.14 1.14 1.00 1.24 0.49 0.49 0.47 0.96 0.78 1.00 0.94 1.18 1.11
0.73 0.79 1.07 0.41 0.49 1.72 2.25 1.34 1.96 1.09 1.26 0.62 0.71
0.73 0.77 1.05 1.07 0.00 1.60 1.78 1.14 3.14 0.98 1.16 1.34 1.57
1.12 0.97 0.86 0.77 1.22 1.24 1.28 1.05 1.96 1.04 0.91 0.93 0.81
0.91 0.92 1.01 1.24 0.24 1.38 1.44 1.06 1.18 1.03 1.06 1.23 1.26
0.93 0.81 0.87 1.60 0.24 1.46 1.48 1.03 0.00 0.95 0.95 1.39 1.38
0.91 0.94 1.03 0.77 0.49 1.97 1.56 0.80 1.57 1.07 1.02 0.87 0.83
1.12 1.18 1.04 0.83 1.95 0.51 0.44 0.87 0.00 1.02 0.97 0.72 0.68
1.03 1.06 1.02 0.53 0.24 1.07 1.14 1.09 0.78 1.08 1.03 0.57 0.54
1.07 1.07 0.99 1.60 1.22 0.30 0.17 0.58 0.39 0.88 0.90 1.44 1.47
1.01 0.87 0.86 0.77 0.98 1.78 1.73 0.99 1.18 1.05 0.95 0.82 0.74
1.01 1.03 1.02 1.66 0.49 1.11 1.09 1.01 1.18 1.05 1.02 1.59 1.55
1.04 1.14 1.10 0.83 0.73 0.99 1.08 1.12 0.78 1.13 1.09 0.82 0.79
0.73 0.77 0.70 0.41 0.00 0.10 0.06 0.58 0.00 0.62 0.64 0.57 0.54

Then I took the sum of these numbers for each season, excluding the rushing attempts, and subtracting (instead of adding) the value for fumbles to give each of the 20 seasons a “score” to be able to rank them.

Here’s the scores for each season:

Year Name Team Score
1973 OJ Simpson Buffalo Bills 7.20
1975 OJ Simpson Buffalo Bills 12.81
1983 John Riggins Washington Redskins 7.33
1984 Eric Dickerson Los Angeles Rams 5.67
1985 Marcus Allen Los Angeles Raiders 10.85
1995 Emmitt Smith Dallas Cowboys 9.76
1997 Barry Sanders Detroit Lions 10.45
1998 Terrell Davis Denver Broncos 10.98
1999 Marshall Faulk St. Louis Rams 13.47
2000 Marshall Faulk St. Louis Rams 16.33
2000 Edgerrin James Indianapolis Colts 11.71
2002 Priest Holmes Kansas City Chiefs 13.49
2003 Priest Holmes Kansas City Chiefs 12.60
2003 Ladainian Tomlinson San Diego Chargers 12.84
2003 Jamal Lewis Baltimore Ravens 7.44
2005 Tiki Barber New York Giants 10.69
2005 Shaun Alexander Seattle Seahawks 9.63
2006 Steven Jackson St. Louis Rams 11.77
2006 Ladainian Tomlinson San Diego Chargers 13.81
2009 Chris Johnson Tennessee Titans 11.17
Average: 11.00

Now, the final step was to rank them in order from highest to lowest. In theory this should give me the best ever single-season performance by a running back in the history of professional football – or at least the best in the history of the NFL. There may have been a couple more statistical categories I could have included -I’m sure OJ Simpson would have benefited from me including yards per game- but on the whole I think this was a pretty good way to be unbiased.

Rank Year Name Team Score
1 2000 Marshall Faulk St. Louis Rams 16.33
2 2006 Ladainian Tomlinson San Diego Chargers 13.81
3 2002 Priest Holmes Kansas City Chiefs 13.49
4 1999 Marshall Faulk St. Louis Rams 13.47
5 2003 Ladainian Tomlinson San Diego Chargers 12.84
6 1975 OJ Simpson Buffalo Bills 12.81
7 2003 Priest Holmes Kansas City Chiefs 12.60
8 2006 Steven Jackson St. Louis Rams 11.77
9 2000 Edgerrin James Indianapolis Colts 11.71
10 2009 Chris Johnson Tennessee Titans 11.17
11 1998 Terrell Davis Denver Broncos 10.98
12 1985 Marcus Allen Los Angeles Raiders 10.85
13 2005 Tiki Barber New York Giants 10.69
14 1997 Barry Sanders Detroit Lions 10.45
15 1995 Emmitt Smith Dallas Cowboys 9.76
16 2005 Shaun Alexander Seattle Seahawks 9.63
17 2003 Jamal Lewis Baltimore Ravens 7.44
18 1983 John Riggins Washington Redskins 7.33
19 1973 OJ Simpson Buffalo Bills 7.20
20 1984 Eric Dickerson Los Angeles Rams 5.67
Average: 11.00

It looks like Marshall Faulk’s 2000 season is far and away the best. I can’t say I’m surprised. Faulk was phenomenal. That year he had 26 touchdowns and no fumbles –none– and found the end zone 7.78% of the times that he touched the ball. He was also an incredible threat as a receiver out of the backfield. And for those of you that will recall, Marshall Faulk is the reason I became a Colts fan. That was over a half-decade before this 2000 season, but it just goes to show that even as a six year old kid I realized and was enamored by the skill that Faulk displayed on the field.

As I hinted in the introduction to this post, I’m going to turn this into a series and try to figure out the best single season for each position (other than offensive lineman and fullbacks) and then use it to redo my All-Time NFL Team. So on that note, I would like to congratulate the 2000 Marshall Faulk on being the first player named to my NEW All-Time NFL Team.

2000 Marshall Faulk

If you have any questions, suggestions, corrections, or any thoughts at all that you’d like to share, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. I’d love to hear people’s feedback on this.

4 Responses

  1. Good stuff. I’ll be interested in seeing how you come up with your conclusions on other positions.

    I think back in those early “greatest show on turf” years I traded for Faulk every year for my Madden team!

    • Haha, a wise choice! And wide receiver is up next on the list. Should be interesting.

  2. The Marshall Plan….worked in Government and in the NFL.

  3. At first thought on the WR’s best seasons you immediately think of Jerry Rice and his 1800 yards one year, but then again I bet it will be someone random like Chris Carter or something… Actually I think Moss has a monster year the first time he was on the Pats. Maybe it will be him…

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