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Round 1 vs. Round 2 vs. Round 3

Fantasy Football has made America a nation of general managers. We love spouting opinions about the NFL Draft, despite having only a fraction of the information actual GMs have. (Then again, knowing less might be a good thing — if, as they say, overanalysis leads to paralysis.)

Anyway, I decided to crunch a bunch of numbers and see where it led, just to get a sense of how much of a crapshoot the draft really is. What I looked at were the first three rounds — or rather, three blocks of picks: 1 through 32, 33 through 64 and 65 through 96 (since rounds weren’t always as long as they are now). This, I figured, would enable me to compare across eras . . . and possibly to come to some conclusions about whether scouting departments have gotten any better at this Inexact Science.

What I zeroed in on were Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers, the guys who — hypothetically, at least — are the biggest difference makers for their teams. Granted, there are more Pro Bowl berths these days (and more alternates who end up playing) so the definition of a “Pro Bowler” has changed over the decades. But it’s still worth looking at this stuff — especially in the offseason, when you’ve got the time to do it.

Let me throw a few numbers at you to get us started:

● There’s a 4.8 percent chance a first-round pick will make it to Canton (122 Hall of Famers in 2,528 first-round — or First 32 — selections). The percentage drops to 1.2 percent for second-rounders (31 of 2,528) and 0.8 percent for third-rounders (21 of 2,528). So you’re four times less likely to find a Hall of Famer in Round 2 and about six times less likely to find one in Round 3.

● There’s a 35.7 percent chance a first-round pick will play (or be voted to) the Pro Bowl (743 Pro Bowlers in 2,080 first-round — or First 32 — selections since 1950, when the first modern Pro Bowl was held.) The percentage drops to 16.8 percent for second-rounders (350 of 2,080) and 11 percent for third-rounders (228 of 2,080). So you’re about two times less likely to find a Pro Bowler in Round 2 and about three times less likely to find one in Round 3.

What does this tell us — or confirm for us? Answer: That for all the mistakes in the first round, those picks are much more likely to yield a difference-maker (and possibly a Hall of Famer) than picks in the next two rounds. And for the same reason, second-round selections are much more valuable than third-rounders.

Blaine Gabbert went one pick ahead of J.J. Watt in 2011.

Blaine Gabbert went one pick ahead of J.J. Watt in 2011.

In other words, clubs — with their various rating systems — are doing a good job of identifying generally which players are going to be NFL stars. (“Everybody above this cutoff point on our scale is a potential Pro Bowler.”) But they continue to have problems identifying specifically which players are going to be stars. That’s why you have J.J. Watt, a defensive end for the ages, being drafted 11th in 2011, behind quarterback busts Jake Locker (eighth) and Blaine Gabbert (10th). It’s also why you had three consecutive running backs fly off the board in the first round in 2008 . . . in the exact opposite order from how they should have been selected. Based on their career rushing totals, the order should have been: Chris Johnson (8,628 yards), Rashard Mendenhall (4,236) and Felix Jones (2,912). Instead, Jones went 22nd, Mendenhall 23rd and Johnson 24th.

Here’s the decade-by-decade breakdown:

(Note: HOFers = Hall of Famers, PBers = Pro Bowlers.)

WHAT THE TOP 3 ROUNDS OF THE DRAFT HAVE YIELDED

Years Picks 1 through 32 Picks 33 through 64 Picks 65 through 96
1936-49 19 HOFers, PBers DNA 3 HOFers, PBers DNA 3 HOFers, PBers DNA
1950-59 20 HOFers, 118 PBers 7 HOFers, 57 PBers 5 HOFers, 35 PBers
1960-69 32 HOFers, 119 PBers 4 HOFers, 58 PBers 6 HOFers, 46 PBers
1970-79 18 HOFers, 101 PBers 7 HOFers, 42 PBers 3 HOFers, 38 PBers
1980-89 23 HOFers, 121 PBers 7 HOFers, 63 PBers 3 HOFers, 37 PBers
1990-99 10 HOFers, 107 PBers 3 HOFers, 53 PBers 1 HOFer, 42 PBers
2000-09 0 HOFers, 132 PBers 0 HOFers, 64 PBers 0 HOFers, 22 PBers
2010-14 0 HOFers, 45 PBers 0 HOFers, 13 PBers 0 HOFers, 8 PBers

Obviously, the jury is out on the last two groups. Many of the players, after all, are still active. As for the earlier decades, those Hall of Fame totals aren’t final, remember; they’ll undoubtedly grow over time, helped by Veterans Committee selections. Still, the data gives us a snapshot — something to go on. And one thing that jumps out at you is that teams aren’t necessarily drafting any better now than they were in the ’50s and ’60s, when the process wasn’t nearly as thorough.

The number of Hall of Famers, of course, may say more about the depth of the talent pool than the competence of the drafters. (All decades are not created equal.) It’s fascinating, though, that clubs in the ’60s drafted 32 Hall of Famers in the First 32 but found only 18 in the ’70s and 23 in the ’80s.

The number of Pro Bowlers, though, is fairly consistent from decade to decade – until the 2000s, when all kinds of changes were made that basically opened the floodgates. With the game scheduled before the Super Bowl nowadays, more and more players get to call themselves “Pro Bowlers.”

It’s something to think about as we get ready for draft — which, now that the NFL has its own network, seems to get more self-congratulatory with each passing year. There’s nothing in this data to suggest the GM-geniuses of 2015 (and their support staffs) are any more clairvoyant than the GMs of 50 years ago. If someone wants to go further and look at other ways of evaluating Draft Day performance — such as the number of starters drafted in each round or the number of games those guys played — by all means have at it. Just wanted to get the ball rolling.

More on this subject tomorrow.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The draft and the Canton Factor

It’s great to have the first pick in the NFL draft — as the Bucs have on five occasions, including this year. But it’s almost as great to have the sixth pick, believe it or not. And you’d be amazed at how much mileage teams have gotten out of the 34th pick.

Walter Jones, the last of the 11 No. 6 picks voted to the Hall.

Walter Jones, the last of the 11 No. 6 picks voted to the Hall.

Let me explain myself. I’m talking about the number of Hall of Famers each pick has yielded — its Canton Factor, if you will. That’s what everybody is trying to do at the top of the draft, right? Hit a home run. Find a player for the ages. And there’s no pick like the first pick for that. An even dozen players taken No. 1 are in the Hall, 12 in 79 drafts (with more, such as Peyton Manning, to come).

This, of course, is hardly surprising. Drafting may be an inexact science, but general managers and scouts aren’t complete dullards. Give them first crack at the available college talent, and they can usually find a guy who can walk and chew gum, sometimes all the way to Canton.

What is surprising is some of the other stuff my research turned up. For instance, the second-best pick for Hall of Famers is the sixth (11). The 34th pick (4), meanwhile, has produced more HOFers than the seventh (1!) and ninth (3)* picks and as many as the 10th. Here are the selections with the highest Canton Factor:

PICKS THAT HAVE YIELDED THE MOST HALL OF FAMERS

● 1st (12) — QB Troy Aikman (Cowboys, 1989), DE Bruce Smith (Bills, ’85), QB John Elway (Broncos, ’83), RB Earl Campbell (Houston Oilers, ’78), DE Lee Roy Selmon (Bucs, ’76), QB Terry Bradshaw (Steelers, ’70), RB O.J. Simpson (Bills, ’69), OT Ron Yary (Vikings, ’68), RB Paul Hornung (Packers, ’57), C-LB Chuck Bednarik (Eagles, ’49), RB Charley Trippi (Cardinals, ’45), RB Bill Dudley (Steelers, ’42).

● 6th (11) — OT Walter Jones (Seahawks, ’97), WR Tim Brown (Raiders, ’88), WR James Lofton (Packers, ’78), RB John Riggins (Jets, ’71), DE Carl Eller (Vikings, ’64), CB Jimmy Johnson (49ers, ’61), RB Jim Brown (Browns, ’57), QB Y.A. Tittle (Lions, ’48), C-LB Alex Wojciechowicz (Lions, ’38), QB Sammy Baugh (Redskins, ’37), T Joe Stydahar (Bears, ’36).

● 2nd (10) — RB Marshall Faulk (Colts, ’94), RB Eric Dickerson (Rams, ’83), LB Lawrence Taylor (Giants, ’81), RB Tony Dorsett (Cowboys, ’77), DT Randy White (Cowboys, ’75), OG Tom Mack (Rams, ’66), OT Bob Brown (Eagles, ’64), LB Les Richter (Dallas Texans, ’52), RB George McAfee (Eagles, ’40), QB Sid Luckman (Bears, ’39).

● 3rd (10) — DT Cortez Kennedy (Seahawks, ’90), RB Barry Sanders (Lions, ’89), OT Anthony Munoz (Bengals, ’80), LB Dick Butkus (Bears, ’65), WR Charley Taylor (Redskins, ’64), DT Merlin Olsen (Rams, ’62), RB Ollie Matson (Cardinals, ’52), RB Doak Walker (N.Y. Bulldogs, ’49), QB Bobby Layne (Bears, ’48), DE Claude Humphrey (Falcons, ’68).

● 4th (9) — OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens, ’96), LB Derrick Thomas (Chiefs, ’89), DE Chris Doleman (Vikings, ’85), DE Dan Hampton (Bears, ’79), RB Walter Payton (Bears, ’75), OG John Hannah (Patriots ’73), DT Joe Greene (Steelers, ’69), RB Gale Sayers (Bears, ’65), QB Otto Graham (Lions, ’44).

● 5th (8) — LB Junior Seau (Chargers, ’90), CB Deion Sanders (Falcons, ’89), CB Mike Haynes (Patriots, ’76), TE Mike Ditka (Bears, ’61), QB Len Dawson (Steelers, ’57), T George Connor (Giants, ’46), WR Elroy Hirsch (Rams, ’45), RB Steve Van Buren (Eagles, ’44).

● 8th (6) — OT Willie Roaf (Saints, ’93), OG Mike Munchak (Oilers, ’82), DB Ronnie Lott (49ers, ’81), RB Larry Csonka (Dolphins, ’68), WR Lance Alworth (49ers, ’62), OL Jim Parker (Colts, ’57).

● 11th (5) — WR Michael Irvin (Cowboys, ’88), WR Paul Warfield (Browns, ’64), DE Doug Atkins (Browns, ’53), RB Frank Gifford (Giants, ’52), DT Leo Nomellini (49ers, ’50).

● 18th (5) — WR Art Monk (Redskins, ’80), FS Paul Krause (Redskins, ’64), RB John Henry Johnson (Steelers, ’53), T Bruiser Kinard (Brooklyn Dodgers, ’38), RB Tuffy Leemans (Giants, ’36).

● 10th (4) — DB Rod Woodson (Steelers, ’87), RB Marcus Allen (Raiders, ’82), OT Ron Mix (Colts, ’60), RB Jerome Bettis (Rams, ’93).

Jack Ham: One of four 34th picks who are in Canton.

Jack Ham: One of four 34th picks who are in Canton.

● 34th (4) — LB Jack Ham (Steelers, ’71), CB Lem Barney (Lions, ’67), DB Yale Lary (Lions, ’52), OT Mike McCormack (New York Yanks, ’51).

*The only Hall of Famer drafted seventh is C Bulldog Turner (Bears, ’40). The only HOFers who went ninth are OG Bruce Matthews (Oilers, ’83), RB Lenny Moore (Colts, ’56) and RB Hugh McElhenny (49ers, ’52).

Some other discoveries:

● The 24th and 25th picks haven’t given us any Canton-quality players — yet. In the case of the 24th, that figures to change whenever Ed Reed (Ravens, 2002) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers, 2005) come up for consideration, but nobody taken at 25 seems very Hall-worthy . . . or is even likely to get endorsed by the Veterans Committee. In fact, 25 has been a virtual black hole. The best selections at that spot: NT Ted Washington (49ers, ’91) and WRs Stanley Morgan (Patriots, ’76) and Boyd Dowler (Packers, ’59).

● Second-round picks might be good values salary-cap-wise, but they don’t produce nearly as many Hall of Famers as first-round picks. The breakdown:

HOFers drafted from 1 through 32: 121

HOFers drafted from 33 through 64: 32

● That said, the 48th pick yielded a Hall of Famer two years in a row in the 1980s: C Dwight Stephenson (Dolphins, ’80) and DE Howie Long (Raiders, ’81). The second round of that ’81 draft, by the way, had three players who wound up in Canton: LB Mike Singletary (38th, Bears), Long and LB Rickey Jackson (51st, Saints). By that measure, it’s the best second round ever.

● I love this: The third pick in the ’48 draft was QB Bobby Layne (by the Bears). The third pick in ’49 was RB Doak Walker (by the New York Bulldogs, though he ended up with the Lions). Both are in Canton, but even better, they were high school teammates at Highland Park in Dallas. (Another high selection who played at Highland Park: Lions QB Matt Stafford, who went No. 1 in 2009.)

FYI: The Jets are sitting with the sixth pick (good karma), the Bears with the seventh (bad karma, though they did get Turner there), the Panthers with the 25th (really bad karma) and the Bucs with the 34th (really good karma, especially since it’s a second-rounder).

Yup, Tampa Bay has the first selection and the 34th. Pretty sweet.

Now we just have to wait for Roger Goodell to say, “Gentlemen, start your draft boards.”

Second acts by 10,000-yard backs

Frank Gore, who rushed for 11,073 in his decade with the 49ers, will join the Eagles tomorrow when the 2015 business year opens. Which made me wonder: How much gas do guys like Gore usually have left in the tank?

Gore is the 10th back who has racked up 10,000 rushing yards with a team — his original team, that is — and then switched jerseys. As you can see in the following chart, the other nine haven’t exactly run wild in their new surroundings. So if Frank has a productive couple of years in Philadelphia, he’ll shoot to the top of this list:

Years Rnning back 1st Team Yards 2nd Team Yards
2004-14 Steven Jackson Rams 10,138 Falcons 1,250
2001-11 LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers 12,490 Jets 1,194
1990-04 Emmitt Smith Cowboys 17,162 Cardinals 1,193
1969-79 O.J. Simpson Bills 10,183 49ers 1,053
1977-88 Tony Dorsett Cowboys 12,036 Broncos    703
1996-04 Eddie George Titans 10,009 Cowboys    432
1998-10 Fred Taylor Jaguars 11,271 Patriots    424
1972-84 Franco Harris Steelers 11,950 Seahawks    170
1988-00 Thurman Thomas Bills 11,938 Dolphins    136
2005-14 Frank Gore 49ers 11,073 Eagles   TBD

Jackson, of course, was cut last month by the Falcons. If he can find another job though, he could push his total higher. He’ll be 32 next season — the same age as Gore.

At any rate, no club should have very high expectations when it acquires a back like this. The best rushing season any of them has had with in his Second Life is 937 yards (Smith, Cardinals, 2004).

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Frank Gore hitting the hole hard, as he usually does.

Frank Gore hitting the hole hard, as he usually does.

2014 running backs: plus/minus

In case you were wondering, the NFL’s plus/minus leaders this season — running backs division — were the Ravens’ Justin Forsett (1,235-yard increase over his 2013 rushing total) and the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson (1,191-yard decrease, thanks to the “off-field trouble” that limited him to one game).

You don’t necessarily have to read a lot into this. Maybe a player just got an opportunity (and his yards shot up), or maybe he just got hurt (and they went down). In other words, it’s less a measure of how well a back played and more a matter of his production compared to the year before. (Just one of the ways I keep myself entertained in the offseason: by looking at numbers from all sorts of angles.)

BIGGEST GAINERS

Running back, Team 2013 2014 Gain
Justin Forsett, Ravens     31 1266 +1235
C.J. Anderson, Broncos     38   849   +811
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys 1121 1845   +724
Arian Foster, Texans   542 1246   +704
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers   180   809   +629
Mark Ingram, Saints   386   964   +578
Denard Robinson, Jaguars     66   582   +516
Le’Veon Bell, Steelers   860 1361   +501
Matt Asiata, Vikings   166   570   +404
Lamar Miller, Dolphins   709 1099   +390

Note: The first five backs all made the playoffs (and three played for teams that didn’t make it the season before).

BIGGEST DECLINERS

Running back, Team 2013 2014 Drop
Adrian Peterson, Vikings 1266   75 -1191
Ryan Mathews, Chargers 1255 330   -925
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos 1038 148   -890
Reggie Bush, Lions 1006 297   -709
Maurice Jones-Drew, Raiders   803   96   -707
Zac Stacy, Rams   973 293   -680
C.J. Spiller, Bills   933 300   -633
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers   843 219   -624
Bilal Powell, Jets   697 141   -556
Stevan Ridley, Patriots   773 340   -433

Obviously, most of these backs were injured, forcing their teams to scramble a bit at the running back position. Some of the clubs (Broncos, Lions, Panthers, Patriots) dealt with the situation better than others. But then, Denver, Detroit and New England weren’t that dependent on the running game to begin with.

Next: receivers.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Ravens' Justin Forsett rushed for an NFL-high 1,235 more yards than in 2013.

The Ravens’ Justin Forsett rushed for an NFL-high 1,235 more yards than in 2013.

Versatility revisited

Yes, the NFL has become more specialized over the decades, but I’m not sure I expected this: No player in the first 14 weeks of the season has had a game in which he scored a touchdown both rushing and receiving and returned a punt or kickoff. (A year ago, three did: Darren Sproles, then with the Saints, three times and the Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson and the Chargers’ Danny Woodhead once each.)

I bring this up because, well, who doesn’t enjoy seeing a player have one of those magical days in which he scores every which way — or, at least, more than two ways. Multitaskers such as the Eagles’ Sproles and the Lions’ Reggie Bush are capable of having a game like that, but they haven’t. In fact, the only player in the last 38 years to score three different ways in a game is the Jaguars’ Jimmy Smith in 1995, and that was kind of fluky. Smith’s 14-yard touchdown reception was conventional enough, but his other TDs came on blocked punt that he recovered in the end zone and a trick play that saw him take a lateral on a kickoff return and run 89 yards.

Solomon football cardThe last player before Smith to do it was the Dolphins’ Freddie Solomon in 1976 (run, catch, punt). Now that’s more like it.

Maybe I’m the only one who cares about this stuff, but the definition of an athlete used to be: a guy who can do pretty much anything. And it just seems that, over time, NFL teams have asked their best athletes to do less and less. There are reasons for this; I talked about them in Tuesday’s post (larger roster sizes, protectiveness of their assets, etc.). But that doesn’t mean the game is better because of it.

In 1941, the single-platoon era, Bears Hall of Famer George McAfee scored a touchdown five different ways (run, catch, punt, kickoff, interception). He also threw for a score. A bit more recently — 1959 — the Cardinals’ Bobby Joe Conrad completed another kind of pentathlon, scoring two TDs rushing, three receiving, one punt returning, and booting six field goals and 30 extra points. (Too bad they didn’t have the two-point conversion back then.) He, too, threw for a score.

Raise your hand if you’d like to see somebody do either of those things again.

It won’t happen, of course. With rare exceptions, players no longer play on both sides of the ball, and nobody moonlights as a kicker anymore. That said, coaches could stand to be less conservative in their use of star talent. Would it have killed, say, Wayne Fontes to have Barry Sanders run back a few more kicks for the Lions? Sanders could have been one of the greatest returners of all time. The same goes for Darrell Green during his lengthy career in Washington. Think about it: Green covered kicks, but he only returned one in his 20 seasons (though he did return 51 punts — a whopping 2.6 a year).

This “What if he gets hurt?” paranoia didn’t keep the Giants from having Emlen Tunnell run back more than 300 punts and kickoffs. The same goes for plenty of other Hall Tunnell football cardof Famers in pre-merger period. Granted, there was more of a necessity because of the smaller rosters, but coaches didn’t get nearly as caught up in the what-if as they do now. They were trying to win the game, and that, to them, meant putting their best players on the field.

It isn’t just the coaches. Many players, after they become established starters, seem to lose their appetite for returning. Can’t blame them. Pro football, with its partially guaranteed contracts, offers less security than other sports. Why take on additional risk when a less-burdened backup can handle the job (though not as well, perhaps)?

And so it’s left to the situation backs and by-committee types (e.g. Sproles and the Bills’ C.J. Spiller) to do what Gale Sayers, Hugh McElhenny, Steve Van Buren and other Hall of Fame runners routinely did. More’s the pity.

PLAYERS WHO HAVE SCORED A TD 3 DIFFERENT WAYS IN THE SAME GAME (SINCE 1960)

(And if anybody starts humming “The Way We Were,” I’m gonna slug him.)

● Bobby Mitchell, Browns, Oct. 16, 1960 vs. Cowboys — 46 pass from Milt Plum, 30 run, 90 kickoff return. Total touches (from scrimmage and on returns): 12.

● Bobby Mitchell, Browns, Oct. 8, 1961 vs. Redskins — 52 pass from Plum, 64 punt return, 31 run. Touches: 10.

● Abner Haynes, Dallas Texans (AFL), Oct. 15, 1961 vs. Bills — 69 pass from Cotton Davidson, 3 run, 87 kickoff return. All three scores came in the fourth quarter and almost brought Dallas back from a 20-3 deficit. Touches: 21.

● Timmy Brown, Eagles, Dec. 2, 1962 vs. Redskins — 99 kickoff return, 3 run, 10 pass from Tommy McDonald (the only one the Hall of Fame wideout threw in his career). Touches: 19.

● Gale Sayers, Bears, Oct. 17, 1965 vs. Vikings – 18 pass from Rudy Bukich, 25 pass from Bukich, 96 kickoff return, 10 run. The last three came in the final quarter, with the kick return putting

Gale Sayers on the loose.

Gale Sayers on the loose.

Chicago ahead to stay. Just a classic game. The lead changed hands six times in the second half before the Bears pulled away to a 45-37 win. Touches: 22 (counting the 27-yard completion he threw).

● Sayers, Dec. 12, 1965 vs. 49ers — 80 pass from Bukich, 21 run, 7 run, 50 run, 1 run, 85 punt return. Touches: 16. This was Gale’s Game for the Ages. On a muddy field in San Francisco, he tied the single-game record by scoring six touchdowns. Note it was the second time that season — his rookie season — he scored a TD three different ways in a game. (One of his teammates had a funny comment afterward. The best thing about Sayers’ feat, he said, is that “We won’t have to listen to George [Halas, the Bears’ coach] talk about Ernie Nevers anymore.” Nevers was the first player to score six TDs in a game — for the Cardinals against the Bears in 1929. The other was the Browns’ Dub Jones, also against the Bears, in ’51.)

● Sayers, Dec. 3, 1967 vs. 49ers (again) — 97 kickoff return, 15 run, 58 punt return. (Too bad he didn’t catch any passes that day. He might have scored four different ways.) Touches: 15.

● Walter “The Flea” Roberts, Saints, Nov. 5, 1967 vs. Eagles — 91 kickoff, 27 fumble recovery, 49 pass from Gary Cuozzo. Touches: 5 (if you want to count a fumble recovery as a touch). Roberts’ performance came in the first victory in Saints history. How do you like them heroics?

● Travis Williams, Packers, Nov. 2, 1969 vs. Steelers — 83 punt return, 96 kickoff return, 1 run. Touches: 11.

● Freddie Solomon, Dolphins, Dec. 5, 1976 vs. Bills — 79 punt return, 53 pass from Don Strock, 59 run. Touches: 7.

● Jimmy Smith, Jaguars, Dec. 3, 1995 vs. Broncos — Blocked-punt recovery in end zone, 89 kickoff return (after receiving a lateral from Desmond Howard), 14 pass from Steve Beuerlein. Touches: 4 (if you want to count a blocked-punt recovery as a touch).

As the number of touches (average: 12.9) indicates, none of these players were being worn out by their coaches. They were just being put to a greater variety of uses. Why not give a dangerous back more chances in the open field (and a couple fewer chances, maybe, from scrimmage, where the traffic is heavier)? It all comes down to how you allocate your resources. Something to think about.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Running back consistency

Thanks to the Cardinals’ uncooperative defense in Week 9, DeMarco Murray’s quest to be the first NFL back to rush for 100 yards in every game of a season has been quashed. That said, 100 yards — as nice and round a number as it is — is still just a number. Would it surprise you to learn that no back has rushed for even 75 yards in all of his team’s games? I mention this because the Cowboys’ Murray had 79 against Arizona, so the feat is still within reach.

Indeed, only two other backs have gotten as far as DeMarco has — 75-plus rushing yards in each of the first 10 games. They are: Terrell Davis with the 1997 Broncos and Edgerrin James with the 2005 Colts. (Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson didn’t even do it the years they broke the single-season rushing record.)

Sure, 75 yards is as arbitrary as 100, but it might be considered, at the very least, a “quality start.” Gaining that many yards week in and week out shows a fairly high level of consistency, does it not? Here are the backs who’ve come closest to doing it in every game of a season:

MOST GAMES WITH 75 OR MORE RUSHING YARDS, SEASON

Year Running back, Team 75+ Low Game
2004 Corey Dillon, Patriots 15 79 vs. Bills
2011 Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars 15 63 vs. Texans
2012 Adrian Peterson, Vikings 15 60 vs. Colts
2008 Adrian Peterson, Vikings 15 32 vs. Saints
2003 Jamal Lewis, Ravens 14 68 vs. Jaguars
1985 Marcus Allen, Raiders 14 50 vs. Chiefs
2012 Alfred Morris, Redskins 14 47 vs. Vikings
2012 Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks 14 41 vs. Patriots
1984 Eric Dickerson, Rams 14 38 vs. 49ers
1983 Eric Dickerson, Rams 14 37 vs. Redskins
2009 Chris Johnson, Titans 14 34 vs. Colts
1992 Barry Foster, Steelers 14 25 vs. Bears
1997 Barry Sanders, Lions 14 20 vs. Bucs
1973 O.J. Simpson, Bills 13* 55 vs. Dolphins

*14- game season (so only once did he fall below the 75-yard threshold).

If you’re confused by Dillon’s line, let me explain: He missed a game that season. In the other 15, he rushed for 75 or more yards (gaining, on his worst day, 79 against Buffalo in Week 3. So he rushed for 75+ in every one of his games but not in every one of New England’s games.

Regardless, it’s an impressive accomplishment. Consider: The Patriots went 17-1 (postseason included) in the games Dillon played, capped by their Super Bowl win over the Eagles. And in the one they lost — 29-28 to the Dolphins — they blew an 11-point lead in the last three minutes. That’s how close he came to a perfect season. You’d have to think his utter reliability had something to do with it.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Corey Dillon tries to sidestep the Jets' David Barrett.

Corey Dillon tries to sidestep the Jets’ David Barrett.

The Seahawks’ 1-in-a-1,000 game

The Seahawks’ 38-17 win over The Giants in Week 10 was a statistical feast. Russell Wilson’s third 100-yard rushing game of the season — discussed in an earlier post — was just one aspect of the game that was out of the ordinary.

Seattle also won the rushing battle by 296 yards — 350-54. There have been only five bigger rushing margins since the 1970 merger.

    BIGGEST RUSHING MARGINS IN AN NFL GAME SINCE 1970

Date Winner, Yards Loser, Yards Edge
12-10-06 Jaguars, 375 Colts, 34 341
11-4-7 Vikings, 378 Chargers, 42 336
11-30-87 Raiders, 356 Seahawks, 37 319
10-5-80 Cardinals, 330 Saints, 15 315
11-11-01 Rams, 337 Panthers, 31 306
11-9-14 Seahawks, 350 Giants, 54 296
11-7-76 Steelers, 330 Rams, 34 296

The first three games are also notable for these reasons:

● The 2006 Colts went on to win the Super Bowl – overcoming their league-worst rushing defense in the process. Quite a trick.

296 of the Vikings’ yards were the work of rookie Adrian Peterson, who set a single-game record that still stands.

● Finally, the Raiders got 221 yards from Bo Jackson, who had joined them after the Kansas City Royals’ baseball season was over and was playing in just his fifth NFL game.

The game is mostly remembered, though, for this 91-yard run of Bo’s:

One of the all-timers.

One other thing struck me as I was looking over the Seahawks’ stats Sunday night. Wilson threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes, yet Seattle still won by 21. Bet that hasn’t happened too often, I thought. When I researched it at pro-football-reference.com, I found only three other games like it in the past 16 seasons. In other words, it’s a once-every-1,000-games (or so) occurrence. Pretty rare.

And obviously, that makes sense. In this day and age, with quarterbacks passing so proficiently, you wouldn’t expect a club to win so easily when its QB has a 53.7 rating, as Wilson did (largely because of his two picks and zero TD passes).

A Sunday of safeties

How often are safeties — the two-point kind — a major topic of conversation on an NFL Sunday (or even a minor topic of conversation)? They factored mightily, though, in two Week 5 games. In fact, both came in the fourth quarter and put teams in position for comeback wins, one of them in overtime. Safeties don’t get much more momentous than that.

The Browns scored the first with 11:02 left when linebacker Tank Carder swooped in and blocked a punt by the Titans’ Brett Kern out of the end zone. That narrowed the Tennessee lead to 28-15. Two Brian Hoyer-to-Travis Benjamin touchdown passes followed, giving the Cleveland — which had once trailed 28-3 — a stunning 29-28 victory. (As an added bonus, it was the biggest comeback in franchise history and the biggest road comeback in NFL/AFL history.)

And just think: It might never have happened without Carder’s safety.

A little later, at the Superdome, the Saints were down 31-26 to the Bucs with 6:44 to go in regulation when linebacker Junior Galette sacked Mike Glennon in the end zone to make it a three-point game. Shayne Graham booted a 44-yard field goal to send it to OT tied at 31, and New Orleans’ Khiry Robinson ended it by running 18 yards for the deciding score.

You’ve gotta admit, few things in football are more scintillating than a timely safety.

The only way the day could have been better is if one of the safeties had come in overtime. We’ve only had three of those, the most recent by the Dolphins’ Cameron Wake last season vs. the Bengals. Details here, courtesy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame website.

Safeties are kind of like a two-dollar bill. They change the arithmetic of a game. Granted, the two-point conversion also changes the math, but not nearly as dramatically. The latter, after all, gives a club only one additional point; it would have kicked the PAT, which is virtually automatic, anyway. Also, after a successful two-point conversion, you have to kick the ball away (unless, of course, you want to risk an onside kick). After a safety, you get to retain possession. The other team has to kick the ball to you. (Plus, it puts That Crazy Look in the eyes of your defense, which should never be underestimated.)

Funny thing is, when the NFL was getting going in the ’20s, the safety rule was much different. The play was still worth two points, but the team that gave up the safety, strangely enough, got to keep the ball. It was given a new set of downs starting from its 30.

The rule was changed in 1926 because clubs – pro and college both – were abusing it. If they were backed up in their own end late in the game and ahead by three or more, they’d take an intentional safety and run three more clock-killing plays. And if they were still comfortably ahead at that point, they could take another intentional safety and run three more plays. It was ridiculous. If you had a big enough lead, you could — theoretically, at least — keep taking intentional safeties and eat up the last several minutes of a game without having to lose possession.

Check out this excerpt from a New York Times story in 1925. It talks about the Giants, leading the Providence Steam Roller by a field goal in the closing minutes, pulling just such a stunt.

NYT description of safety, 1926

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That “Hinky” Haines was a crafty one. (I put Hinky in quotes because his nickname was usually spelled H-i-n-k-e-y.)

You might also get a kick out of this excerpt from a Chicago Tribune story on the Racine (Wis.) Legion’s 10-4 win over the Chicago Cardinals in 1923. It’s the only time in NFL history a team has scored four points in a game. (And the Cards had Racine quarterback Shorty Barr to thank for it.)

10-4 Game 2014-10-05 at 6.02.16 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even after the rewrite in 1926, the safety rule needed some tweaking. That was evident after the Redskins lost the 1945 championship game to the Cleveland Rams, 15-14, because Sammy Baugh threw a pass out of his end zone that struck one of the goal posts — which in those days were located on the goal line. (It was considered a safety, for some forgotten reason, if the ball landed in the end zone.)

You can see the play — sort of — in this brief clip. (It was a miserably cold day. Players huddled under straw on the sideline to keep from getting frostbite.)

Naturally, Washington owner George Preston Marshall lobbied at the next league meeting to amend the antiquated — and rarely enforced — rule. And his lodge brothers went along because, well, an incomplete pass is an incomplete pass, right? Why should it ever be a safety? (Unless, that is, the quarterback throwing out of the end zone is guilty of intentional grounding. See Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI.)

After that, the safety receded into history and became what it always should have been: a curiosity, a freak occurrence, a mint left on a defender’s pillow. There hasn’t been a 2-0 final score since 1938, the Bears edging the Packers, and the safety certainly hasn’t had many memorable moments over the decades.

The biggest safety I can think of in recent years is the one that helped the Titans break open the 1999 AFC title game against the Jaguars. Tennessee was up 17-14 midway through the third quarter when defensive tackles Josh Evans and Jason Fisk broke through and sacked Mark Brunell in the end zone. Then Derrick Mason returned the free kick 80 yards for a touchdown, and the Titans were on their way to their first and only Super Bowl. A screen shot of the play-by-play:

Screen shot of AFC title game in '99

One last factoid before you go: In 1929, when the Packers won their first NFL championship, they went undefeated (12-0-1) and outscored their opponents 198-22. At home, their defense was practically unscored on. In five games, they gave up only four points. Two safeties.

Last 2-0 game in 1938

The Jaguars’ 8 quarters from Hell

We can only hope the worst is over for the Jaguars, that they’ll never again be as Horrifically Bad as they were from the second half of Week 1 through the first half of Week 3. But with a rookie quarterback, Blake Bortles, now running the offense, you can never been 100 percent sure.

To summarize the Jags’ miseries:

They lost the second half to the Eagles, 34-0.

Then they lost the game to the Redskins, 41-10.

Then they lost the first half to the Colts, 30-0.

Add it all up and you get: Other Guys 105, Jacksonville 10 — a point differential of minus-95 in the equivalent of two games.

Any idea how many NFL teams have been outscored by that many points over a two-game span? Answer: one (since 1940, at least).

Indeed, I turned up just 10 in the last 75 seasons who were minus-80 or worse over a two-week stretch. (Wish I could broaden it to eight-quarter stretches like the Jaguars’, but the search engine at pro-football-reference.com doesn’t let me to do that.)

Anyway, here are the Terrible Ten:

WORST POINT DIFFERENTIAL IN A TWO-GAME STRETCH SINCE 1940

Games Team (W-L-T) PF PA Diff
1-2 1961 Raiders (2-12) 0 99 -99
1-2 1973 Saints (5-9) 10 102 -92
6-7 1966 Falcons (3-11) 10 100 -90
8-9 1949 N.Y. Bulldogs (1-10-1) 20 107 -87
13-14 2000 Browns (3-13) 7 92 -85
7-8 1966 Falcons (3-11) 20 105 -85
1-2 1989 Steelers (9-7) 10 92 -82
5-6 2009 Titans (8-8) 9 90 -81
1-2 1978 Colts (5-11) 0 80 -80
4-5 1966 Eagles (9-5) 17 97 -80

What’s fascinating is that several of these teams bounced back after hitting bottom. The ’89 Steelers actually made the playoffs — and beat the Oilers in the first round. In fact, they nearly made it to the AFC title game, dropping a 24-23 heartbreaker to the Broncos in the semifinals. (And Denver, of course, reached the Super Bowl.)

Also, the ’66 Eagles finished 9-5, and the ’09 Titans won eight of their last 10 with Vince Young at quarterback to end up 8-8.

FYI: The ’66 Falcons were a first-year expansion team, so they can almost be excused.  Still, that was a wicked three weeks they had, getting blown out 44-7 by the 49ers, 56-3 by Vince Lombardi’s Packers and 49-17 by the Browns.

Finally, a word about the ’61 Raiders: After beginning the season with back-to-back humiliations of 55-0 (Oilers) and 44-0 (Chargers), they fired coach Eddie Erdelatz and promoted offensive assistant Marty Feldman, “whose only prior head coaching was for Valley Junior College and the Stanford Frosh,” the Oakland Tribune reported.

I know what you’re thinking. But, no, it’s not this Marty Feldman, the guy who played Igor in Young Frankenstein:

It’s this Marty Feldman:

Feldman with Raiders sweatshirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two years later, Al Davis arrived on the scene, and Pride and Poise quickly replaced 55-0 and 44-0. If only the Jaguars could find an Al Davis of their own.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Stat of the Day, Sept. 15, 2014

The Redskins’ highlight reel is pretty short since Joe Gibbs first retired in 1993. Two playoff wins, to be exact — one less than in their ’91 championship season. Even their 41-10 win over the Jaguars on Sunday was marred by injuries to Robert Griffin III (serious) and DeSean Jackson (less so), which tells you all you need to know about the franchise’s Overall Karma.

But the victory did produce one cool stat. The Redskins became just the second team since 1940 to (a.) score 40 points; (b.) rack up 10 sacks and (c.) outgain their opponent by more than 300 yards (in their case, 301 — 449-148). The other team? The ’61 Bears in their season finale against the expansion Vikings. Here’s the box score of that game if you want to look it over.

A couple of things jump out at you. First, the quarterback the Bears sacked 10 times was Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton. Yes, Scramblin’ Fran was more like Scrambled Eggs Fran on that day. But he picked himself up off the ground, again and again, and threw four touchdown passes, one in each quarter. Has any quarterback ever thrown four TD passes in a game in which he was sacked 10 times? Not that I can find. This was one tough guy. (Oh, and by the way, he was a rookie that year.)

Second, another Hall of Famer, the Vikes’ Hugh McElhenny, opened the scoring with an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. Hurryin’ Hugh was just two weeks shy of his 33rd birthday. How many players that old have had a punt return that long for a TD? Answer: three. (The others were the Raiders’ 35-year-old Tim Brown in this game and the Redskins’ 33-year-old Eric Metcalf in this game.) So at the time, McElhenny was the oldest — and would remain so for almost four decades.

The most interesting thing about this game, though — for our purposes, anyway — can’t be found in the box score. One of George Halas’ assistants on that Bears’ coaching staff, you see, was George Allen. And who is the general manager of the Redskins team that just whacked the Jaguars? His son, Bruce. You can’t make this stuff up. Only two 40/10/300 games in the last 75 seasons, and they’re both in the Allen family.

Source: pro-football-reference.com