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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.”

The passing record Lou Groza once held

When you think of Lou Groza, you think of this big guy — 6-3, 240, with a bit of a belly — booting field goals forever for the Browns. Groza happened to be a fine offensive tackle, too, protecting the blind side of Cleveland quarterbacks for more than a decade, but it’s his 264 field goals and 1,608 points that are more remembered. When he retired after the 1967 season, he held the career record in both categories. By a mile.

Lou Groza, doing what he did best.

Browns Hall of Famer Lou Groza, doing what he did best.

Anyway, you might be amused to learn that “The Toe,” as he was called, once held an NFL passing record. What record could that possibly be, you ask? Answer: For almost five years, he was the oldest player ever to throw a pass in the league.

Groza made this little piece of history in a 27-17 loss to the Vikings in 1965 – at the age of 41 years, 279 days. Patricia Heaton’s dad, Chuck, who covered the Browns for The Plain Dealer, described it this way:

The large and somewhat stunned gathering also saw Lou Groza throw a forward pass. The Toe, who on very few occasions in the past has had to resort to such desperation maneuvers, was trying to kick a 50-yard field goal.

The pass from center bounced away from Bobby Franklin, the holder. Lou recovered and, being confronted with nothing but purple [Vikings] jerseys, tried a pass. It was intended for John Brewer but wasn’t completed. So Minnesota took over.

The next season, in a similar situation, Groza threw another pass. This one was actually completed . . . for a 7-yard loss to one of his blockers, linebacker Vince Costello. Lou was now 42 years, 256 days old. This would stand as the record until 1975, when the George Blanda – a spry 43 years, 38 days – came off the bench to quarterback the Raiders to a 31-14 win over the Steelers. (He even tossed three touchdown passes, all of them longer than minus-7 yards.)

Blanda was still chucking in 1975, his final year in the NFL. In fact, in his last regular-season game, he went 1 for 3 for 11 yards (with one interception) as Oakland beat the Chiefs, 28-20. He’s still the Oldest Guy To Throw A Pass by more than three years.

In the decades since, only four other players older than Groza have cocked their arm and let one fly. Here’s that list:

THE SIX OLDEST PLAYERS TO THROW A PASS IN THE NFL

Year  Player, Team Vs Att Comp Yds TD Int Rate Age
1975  George Blanda, Raiders Chiefs   3   1   11 0 1     5.6 48-095
1998  Steve DeBerg, Falcons Dolphins 10   5   85 1 0 112.5 44-342
2007  Vinny Testaverde, Panthers Jaguars 28 13   84 0 1   38.4 44-026
2000  Warren Moon, Chiefs Chargers 31 12 130 0 1   38.4 44-008
2005  Doug Flutie, Patriots Jets   1   1     2 0 0   79.2 43-064
1966  Lou Groza, Browns Steelers   1   1    -7 0 0   79.2 42-256

The record Groza broke, by the way, was held by the Giants’ Charlie Conerly, who was 89 days past his 40th birthday when he relieved Y.A. Tittle in the 1961 title game against the Packers and hit 4 of 8 passes for 54 yards. (Not that “The Toe” wasn’t capable of a performance like that, had the center and holder just botched the snap a half-dozen more times.)

Postscript: When Bob O’Donnell and I were writing The Pro Football Chronicle in the ’80s, we came across an old story about Groza in one of the Cleveland newspapers. Instead of a head shot of him, though, the paper ran a photo of his right big toe.

Bob and I thought it would be hilarious if we could include The Toe’s toe in our book, so we tried to track the photo down. Alas, it had been lost to the ages. So Bob, not easily discouraged, phoned Groza and asked if his toe would be willing to pose for us. “We’ll send a photographer to your house,” he said.

At first, Lou was up for it. “No need to go to all that trouble,” he said. “I drive right by this photography studio every day. I’ll have the picture taken there and send it to you.” But soon he began to have second thoughts, began to think it might be “undignified” for a Hall of Fame player to have his 65-year-old toe appear in a book.

If I ever run into him in the hereafter, I’m going to make another pitch to him. I still think the world would love to see Lou Groza’s big right toe, gnarly or not.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Statistical curiosities of 2014 (Part 2)

The Broncos might have bombed out in the first round of the playoffs again, but — sorry if this sounds like a Holiday Inn Express commercial — they did have two 1,400-yard receivers. Demaryius Thomas finished with 1,619 and free-agent addition Emmanuel Sanders with 1,404, making them the fourth such tandem in NFL history. Here’s what the group looks like:

TEAMS WITH TWO 1,400-YARD RECEIVERS IN THE SAME SEASON

Year  Team (W-L) Receivers, Yards Result
1995  Lions (10-6) Herman Moore 1,686, Brett Perriman 1,488 Wild card
2000  Rams (10-6) Torry Holt 1,635, Isaac Bruce 1,471 Wild card
2005  Cardinals (5-11) Larry Fitzgerald 1,409, Anquan Boldin 1,402 Missed playoffs
2014  Broncos (12-4) Demaryius Thomas 1,619, Emmanuel Sanders 1,404 Won division

Also, for the first time this year, the NFL had three 1,000-yard rookie receivers. That makes eight rookie receivers with 1,000-plus yards since 2003. Why is this notable? Because there were only 12 in all the seasons before that (AFL included).

            1,000-YARD ROOKIE RECEIVERS SINCE 2003

Year   Receiver, Team Rec Yds Avg TD
2014  Odell Beckham, Giants 91 1,305 14.3 12
2014  Mike Evans, Bucs 68 1,051 15.5 12
2014  Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers 73 1,008 13.8 9
2013  Keenan Allen, Chargers 71 1,046 14.7 8
2011  A.J. Green, Bengals 65 1,057 16.3 7
2006  Marques Colston, Saints 70 1,038 14.8 8
2004  Michael Clayton, Bucs 80 1,193 14.9 7
2003  Anquan Boldin, Cardinals 101 1,377 13.7 8

What this suggests is that quarterbacks aren’t the only players coming out of college these days who are more advanced in the passing game. Their receivers are, too — and like the QBs, are capable of making a more immediate impact in the pros.

Consider: Since 2003, there have been eight 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 15 1,000-yard rookie rushers. From 1932 to 2002 — which is as far back as statistics go — there were 12 1,000-yard rookie receivers and 46 1,000-yard rookie rushers.

In other words, where before it was much more common for a rookie to rush for 1,000 yards (an almost 4-to-1 ratio), now it’s only somewhat more common (slightly less than 2-to-1). And as time goes on, given the devaluation of the running game, the gap may continue to shrink.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

How long before the 1,000-yard rookie receiver is more common than the 1,000-yard rookie rusher?

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.

Quarterbacks: To run or not to run?

It’s nice if an NFL quarterback can move around a bit, but being able to take off and run has never been a high priority. The position has always been, first and foremost, about throwing the ball.

The game evolves, though. And it’s reasonable to wonder, with the recent influx of several mobile quarterbacks, whether the definition of The Perfect QB will eventually change, too. A decade from now, will the paradigm be more of a hybrid player, a combination passer-runner who can throw darts and also operate the read-option?

The instant success of the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III, all of whom made the playoffs in their first season as a starter, gave even more momentum to the 21st Century Quarterback idea. And last year Cam Newton, another dual threat, guided the Panthers to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title.

But in 2014 only Wilson has escaped the barbs of critics and the wrath of his fan base. Defenses have gotten better at dealing with some of the college-y stuff these quarterbacks do, and now it’s up to the QBs (and their coordinators) to adjust. Adapt or die.

The jury is very much out on whether they can . . . or even — as far as some coaches are concerned — want to. One of the problems with having a quarterback with unusual talents is that if you build a special offense for him, what happens if he gets hurt? Do you have a second QB with unusual talents who can step in, or do you have to go back to a more conventional attack? And can a team be successful switching gears like that?

You might be interested to know that the five running-est quarterbacks in modern history — I’m going by rushing yards per game — are all active, as you can see in this chart:

MOST RUSHING YARDS PER GAME BY A QB (SINCE 1945)

Years Quarterback Team(s) Yds YPG
2001-14 Michael Vick Falcons, Eagles, Jets 6,010 43.9
2011-14 Cam Newton Panthers 2,457 41.0
2012-14 Robert Griffin III Redskins 1,461 40.6
2012-14 Russell Wilson Seahawks 1,782 38.7
2011-14 Colin Kaepernick 49ers 1,513 32.2
1985-01 Randall Cunningham Eagles, Vikings, 2 others 4,928 30.6
1969-78 Bobby Douglass Bears, Chargers, 2 others 2,654 29.2
1999-09 Daunte Culpepper Vikings, Dolphins, 2 others 2,652 25.3
1985-99 Steve Young Bucs, 49ers 4,239 25.1
2006-11 Vince Young Titans, Eagles 1,459 24.3

(Minimum: 32 starts.)

Granted, these averages usually decline as the quarterbacks get older, but they’re worth noting nonetheless.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that 12 of the 14 Super Bowls in the 2000s have been won by QBs who weren’t much of a running threat at all. Only Wilson (2013) and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (2010) have had wheels worth worrying about (or as I like to refer to them, WWWAs).

RUSHING YARDS PER GAME BY SUPER BOWL-WINNING QBS (2000S)

Years QB (Super Bowl Wins) Team Yds YPG
1999-14 Peyton Manning (1) Colts, Broncos 678 2.7
2004-14 Eli Manning (2) Giants 465 2.8
2001-14 Drew Brees (1) Chargers, Saints 684 3.4
2000-14 Tom Brady (3) Patriots 804 3.9
1994-08 Brad Johnson (1) Vikings, Redskins, 2 others 657 3.7
2008-14 Joe Flacco (1) Ravens 625 5.7
1994-07 Trent Dilfer (1) Bucs, Ravens, 3 others 853 6.6
2004-14 Ben Roethlisberger (2) Steelers 1,163 7.4
2005-14 Aaron Rodgers (1) Packers 1,817 16.8

Note: Figures don’t include today’s games.

When you scan down these charts, you can understand why some coaches look at Wilson and the other passer-runners and say, “Who needs ’em?” The ones who don’t, though, the more open-minded types like Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh, have a chance to take pro football in a new direction. This is a healthy thing, of course. Without it, offenses would still be running the single wing and punting on first down.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

Colin Kaepernick leaves the Chargers behind en route to a 151-yard rushing night Saturday.

The 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick leaves the Chargers behind en route to a 151-yard rushing night Saturday.

Edelmania

My weakness for multi-purpose players is well documented. To me, they’re a throwback to those glorious days when rosters were smaller and everybody had to do more, even if you were one of the stars who turned the turnstiles.

Today’s fixation is with Julian Edelman, the Patriots’ receiver-returner. Edelman had a big night Sunday against the Chargers, catching eight passes for a career-high 141 yards, including a game-icing 69-yard touchdown, in a 23-14 win. This give him 884 receiving yards for the season with three games left, well within reach of 1,000.

If Edelman can average 38.7 yards a game the rest of the way, he’ll become just the 14th player since 1960 to total 1,000 receiving yards and return a punt for a touchdown in the same season. He accomplished the latter, an 84-yard back-breaker against the Broncos, in Week 9.

Here are the others who’ve done it. In some cases, they did it multiple times. Only the most recent one is listed.

1,000 RECEIVING YARDS AND PUNT-RETURN TD IN SAME SEASON SINCE 1960

Year  Receiver, Team Rec Yds TD PR TD (Yds/Opponent)
2013  Antonio Brown, Steelers 110 1,499 8 67 vs. Bengals
2010  DeSean Jackson, Eagles 47 1,056 6 65 vs. Giants
2008  Santana Moss, Redskins 79 1,044 6 80 vs. Lions
2004  Nate Burleson, Vikings 68 1,006 9 91 vs. Colts
2003  Steve Smith, Panthers 88 1,110 7 53 vs. Giants
2001  Tim Brown, Raiders 91 1,165 9 88 vs. Chiefs
2001  Troy Brown, Patriots 101 1,199 5 85 vs. Browns, 68 vs. Panthers
1999  Randy Moss, Vikings 80 1,413 11 64 vs. Chiefs
1998  Joey Galloway, Seahawks 65 1,047 10 74 vs. Chargers, 56 vs. Raiders
1995  Eric Metcalf, Falcons 104 1,189 8 66 vs. Rams
1985  Louis Lipps, Steelers 59 1,134 12 62 vs. Bengals, 71 vs. Chiefs
1979  Stanley Morgan, Patriots 44 1,002 12 80 vs. Colts
1968  Roy Jefferson, Steelers 58 1,074 11 80 vs. Cardinals

The Packers’ Randall Cobb is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. In 2012, his second season, he led the team in receiving (80 for 954 yards) and also returned virtually all of the Randall Cobb statuettepunts (31 of 36) and kickoffs (38 of 43). But now that he’s established his value as a wideout, his returning has been scaled back dramatically. This year, for instance, he’s run back just 11 punts and no kickoffs. Those chores are now handled by (or shared with) running back DuJuan Harris and cornerback Micah Hyde.

Only three other receivers in the 2000s have matched Cobb’s trifecta — that is, have led their team in receiving yards, punt returns and kickoff returns. The rundown:

● Derrick Mason, Titans, 2000-2001 — Mason actually did it in consecutive years. His stats in the first: 895 yards receiving, 51 punt returns for 662 yards and a touchdown, 42 kickoff returns for 1,132 yards and no TD. In the second: 1,128 receiving, 20-128-0 on punts and 34-748-1 on kickoffs.

● Steve Smith, Panthers, 2002 — Receiving: 872. PR: 55-470-2. KOR: 26-571-0.

● Danny Amendola, Rams, 2010 — Receiving: 689. PR: 40-452-0. KOR: 50-1,142-0.

● Randall Cobb, Packers, 2012 — Receiving: 954. PR: 31-292-1. KOR: 38-964-0.

(A kid to keep an eye on: rookie Jarvis Landry, who’s second on the Dolphins in receiving yards with 573 and returns practically all kicks.)

It’s even more unusual for a club’s No. 1 running back to multitask like this. Once a guy becomes the primary ball carrier, his returning responsibilities tend to be reduced if not eliminated — for Sproles statuetteself-preservation’s sake, presumably. (With wideouts, it seems, the attitude is a little different, perhaps because they take less of a pounding running pass routes than backs do running between the tackles.)

Only one back in the 2000s has been his team’s leading rusher and its primary punt and kickoff returner — the Saints’ Darren Sproles in 2011. And just twice in league history has a 1,000-yard rusher pulled it off. (Bet you can’t guess who.) Call it: The Curse of the 53-Man Roster. With so many bodies to work with now, clubs no longer have to exploit their players’ versatility to the fullest. They can spread the load among various specialists and keep their lead backs fresher (and protect their often-hefty financial investment in them, too).

Make no mistake, though: This type of all-around performance has never really been that common, even in the days of two-way players. Here, in case you’re curious, are some of the more prominent members of this exclusive club, listed according to their rushing yardage:

● Greg Pruitt, Browns, 1975 — 1,067 yards rushing, 13 punt returns for 130 yards and no touchdowns, 14 kickoff returns for 302 yards and 0 TD.

● Chris Warren, Seahawks, 1992 — Rushing: 1,017. PR: 34-252-0. KOR: 28-524-0.

● Abner Haynes, Texans, 1960 (AFL) — Rushing: 875 (led league). PR: 14-215-0. KOR: 19-434-0.

● Gale Sayers, Bears, 1965 — Rushing: 867. PR: 16-238-1. KOR: 21-660-1.

● Timmy Brown, Eagles, 1963 — Rushing: 841. PR: 16-152-0. KOR: 33-945-1.

● Steve Van Buren, Eagles, 1945 — Rushing: 832 (led league). PR: 14-154-0. KOR: 13-373-1.

● Mack Herron, Patriots, 1974 — Rushing: 824. PR: 35-517-0. KOR: 28-629-0.

● Terry Metcalf, Cardinals, 1977 — Rushing: 739. PR: 14-108-0. KOR: 32-772-0.

● Terry Metcalf, Cardinals, 1974 — Rushing: 718. PR: 26-340-0. KOR: 20-623-1.

● Bill Dudley, Steelers, 1946 — Rushing: 604 (led league). PR: 27-385-0. KOR: 14-280-0

● Darren Sproles, Saints, 2011 — Rushing: 603. PR: 29-294-1. KOR: 40-1,089-0.

● Jon Arnett, Rams, 1961 — Rushing: 609. PR: 18-223-0. KOR: 16-331-0.

● Floyd Little, Broncos, 1968 (AFL) — Rushing: 584. PR: 24-261-1. KOR: 26-649-0.

Four of these backs, I’ll just point out, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Sayers, Van Buren, Dudley and Little — which adds some gravitas to the feat. Another Hall of Famer who just missed was Leroy Kelly, who rushed for 1,141 yards with the Browns in 1966 (second in the NFL) and had the most combined punt-and-kickoff returns on the team (32), but had one less kickoff return than Walter Roberts (19 to The Flea’s 20).

This isn’t to suggest that versatility is dead in pro football. In 2009, let’s not forget, the Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles (1,120) and the Bills’ Fred Jackson (1,062) both went over 1,000 rushing yards and also handled most of their teams’ kickoff returning. (Charles even ran one back for a touchdown.) And Tiki Barber, before he veered off into television, did double duty for the Giants as their main back and punt returner. In one of those seasons (2000) he rushed 1,006 yards.

The way the game has evolved, though, today’s players have less opportunity to show off all of their abilities. More on this subject later in the week.

Notes: Pruitt ran back the most kickoffs, but Billy Lefear had the most kickoff return yards (412 to Greg’s 302). . . . Haynes tied with Johnny Robinson for most kickoff returns with 14. . . . In ’77, Metcalf had the most punt returns, but Pat Tilley had the most punt return yards (111 to Terry’s 108). . . . Arnett ran back the most punts and kickoffs, but Dick Bass topped him in punt and kickoff return yards (109-75 and 698-653). So if you want to nitpick . . . .

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Patriots' Julian Edelman taking a punt the distance vs. the Broncos this season.

The Patriots’ Julian Edelman taking a punt the distance vs. the Broncos this season.

Joe Morgan: Bang for the touch

If you’re a frequenter of this site, you know I’m always on the lookout for the oddball game — the “snowflake.” Saints wide receiver Joe Morgan had one of the all timers Monday night against the Ravens.

Here’s what Morgan did the first time he touched the ball:Morgan 1

And here’s what he did the second time he touched the ball: Morgan 2That’s it. There was no third time he touched the ball. He finished with one rush for 67 yards and one reception for 62. Do the math and you get 129 yards from scrimmage — again, on two touches. That’s insane. It’s also something no one else has done since at least 1960.

In fact, only eight other players in that period have had even a 20-yard gain both rushing and receiving, never mind a 60-yarder, in a two-touch game. It’s just really unusual. (Note: I’ve excluded anybody who might have returned a punt or kickoff in the same game. I’m being strict about this: two touches — period.)

ONE RUSH FOR 20+ YARDS, ONE RECEPTION FOR 20+ YARDS IN A GAME

Date Player, Team Opponent Rush Catch Total
11-24-14 WR Joe Morgan,Saints Ravens 67 62 129
12-12-71 WR Mel Gray, Cardinals Eagles 38 80* 118
9-3-95 WR Leslie Shepherd, Redskins Cardinals 26 73* 99
10-1-00 WR Eddie Kennison, Bears Packers 52 21 73
12-17-60 RB Nyle McFarlane, Raiders Broncos 23 49* 72
11-2-03 WR Donald Driver, Packers Vikings 45 26 71
11-15-09 WR Robert Meachem, Saints Rams 41 27* 68
11-10-96 WR Rocket Ismail, Panthers Giants 35 30 65
11-2-80 WR Leonard Thompson, Lions 49ers 30 30 60

*touchdown

(In a 1981 game against the Saints, the Cardinals’ Roy Green had one rush for 44 yards, one reception for 28 and one interception for 29. A performance like that certainly deserves mention, even if the pick disqualifies him from this list.)

What makes Morgan’s night all the sweeter is that touches have been so rare for him in his two NFL seasons. He’s had just 14 — 12 catches, 2 rushes. But he’s gotten a lot of yardage out of those opportunities, including 10 gains of more than 25 yards. Average gain on receptions and rushes combined: 36.9 yards (14/516).

Nobody does that. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Joe Morgan.

Source: pro-football-reference.com

The Saints' Joe Morgan doing what he does best, making big plays.

The Saints’ Joe Morgan doing what he does best, making big plays.

Buried in the Champ Bailey file

Champ Bailey, who retired earlier this week, will be remembered for a lot of things. For his 12 Pro Bowls with the Redskins and Broncos. For his 52 interceptions (one less than Deion Sanders). For making us wonder: What would have happened if he’d become a full-time receiver, like Roy Green, instead of remaining at cornerback?

But I’ll remember him for something else, too: for being part of the wheeling and dealing by Redskins general manager Charley Casserly in the late ’90s that turned one first-round pick into three. Actually, it was even better than that. Casserly and successor Vinny Cerrato turned the sixth pick in 1996 into the seventh pick in ’99 (Bailey) and the second and third picks in 2000 (linebacker LaVar Arrington and offensive tackle Chris Samuels).

Casserly’s maneuvering tends to be forgotten today because the Redskins never won anything — except a division title when Champ was a rookie. But it could have been franchise-changing if Sean Gilbert football cardother personnel moves had worked out as well (and, of course, if Dan Snyder hadn’t bought the club and started treating it as his personal toy).

Here’s how it unfolded:

● April 4, 1996 — The Redskins, coming off a 6-10 season, send their first-rounder (sixth overall) to the Rams for DT Sean Gilbert, who’d gone to the Pro Bowl in 1993. The Rams selected RB Lawrence Phillips, who was a total disaster.

● Feb. 12, 1997 – The Redskins franchise Gilbert, who proceeds to sit out the season in a contract dispute.

● Feb. 11, 1998 – The Redskins franchise Gilbert again.

● March 24, 1998 – The Panthers sign Gilbert to a 7-year, $46.5 million offer sheet. The Redskins decide not to match it and receive two No. 1s as compensation. Carolina opts to delay payment for a year, pushing the picks into 1999 and 2000.

● April 17, 1999 – After a 4-12 season, the Panthers’ first-rounder turns out to be the fifth overall pick. The Redskins trade it to the Saints in the infamous Ricky Williams deal. What they get in return:

1999 No. 1 (12th overall) — Traded to Bears (see below).

1999 No. 3 (71st) — Traded to Bears (ditto).

1999 No. 4 (107th) — LB Nate Stinson.

1999 No. 5 (144th) — Traded to Bears in move-up to take OT Jon Jansen in Round 2.

1999 No. 6 (179th) — Traded to Broncos in move-up to take OT Derek Smith in Round 5.

1999 No. 7 (218th) — Traded to Broncos in Smith deal.

2000 No. 1 (2nd) — Arrington.

2000 No. 3 (64th) — DB Lloyd Harrison.

Later in the draft, the Redskins flip picks with the Bears, move up to 7 and select Bailey. This costs them:

The Saints’ ’99 No. 1 (12th) — QB Cade McNown.

The Saints’ ’99 No. 3 (71st) — WR D’Wayne Bates.

Their own No. 4 (106th) — LB Warrick Holdman.

Their own No. 5 (143rd) — OT Jerry Wisne.

Their own 2000 No. 3 (87th) — TE Dustin Lyman.

● April 15, 2000 – The Redskins hit the jackpot. The Saints go 3-13 in ’99, the last of Mike Ditka’s three seasons, so the No. 1 they owe Washington is second overall. The Panthers finish 8-8, so the first-rounder they have to hand over is 12th. By this time, Cerrato has replaced Casserly as the Redskins’ GM. He swaps Carolina’s pick, along with his own No. 1 (24th), for the 49ers’ No. 1, third overall. Then, amid much fanfare, he takes Arrington at 2 and Samuels at 3.

(FYI: The Jets wind up with the 12th pick after a trade with San Francisco and select DE Shaun Ellis. The Niners keep the 24th and use it on CB Ahmed Plummer.)

And there you have it, folks. The Redskins started out with the 6th pick in ’96, and with a little imagination — and more than a little luck — ended up with three selections in the top seven. Those three selections, moreover, went to a combined 21 Pro Bowls (Bailey 12, Samuels 6, Arrington 3).

But again, nobody remembers because it didn’t lead to anything great (or even very good). The Redskins won only one division title in the next decade (1999) and made just three playoff appearances (2004 and ’07 being the others). In 2003, when Joe Gibbs returned as coach, they dealt Bailey to the Broncos for running back Clinton Portis, who had some fine years in Washington but ran into injury problems and was done at 29. Arrington also battled injuries — and left in free agency in 2006. He was done at 28. Samuels lasted a few seasons longer, until he was 32, but his career also was cut short by injury.

Bailey, on the other hand, survived 15 seasons and was voted to his last Pro Bowl at 34. With his lengthy list of accomplishments, he’s a lock for the Hall of Fame. As for the Redskins, well, some things look better on paper than they do in real life.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington on Draft Day 2000.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Chris Samuels and LaVar Arrington on Draft Day 2000.

Sources: pro-football-reference.com, prosportstransactions.com, various Sporting News Football Guides and Registers.

Russell Wilson, making some history

In today’s 28-26 loss to the Rams, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson became the first NFL quarterback to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game. Pretty cool (except for the defeat, of course).

You know what’s almost as cool? The QB who came closest before Wilson was Browns Hall of Famer Otto Graham, and the game Graham nearly did it in was the 1950 title game. Check out the box score for yourself. Otto had 298 yards passing and 99 rushing, which left him just 3 yards short.

This is from Harry Jones’ story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the next day:

At a locker nearby, Graham was stripping off his jersey. It was plain to see that he had taken a physical beating from the huge Los Angeles linemen who had knocked him down repeatedly. His face displayed cuts and bruises, and he limped on a twisted knee.

“Somebody hit me in the back toward the end of the first half,” Otto said. “I thought I was going to fold up right there. My knee buckled, but luckily it didn’t stiffen up. It’s just getting stiff now. It’ll probably be plenty sore tomorrow.”

If you’re interested in a visual, here’s Graham scrambling for a 22-yard gain to the Rams 31:

Just a tremendous player — as is Wilson.

QBS WHO CAME CLOSEST TO 300 YARDS PASSING, 100 RUSHING IN SAME GAME

Date Quarterback, Team Opponent Pass Rush Missed By
12-24-50 Otto Graham, Browns Rams 298 99 3
12-18-89 Randall Cunningham, Eagles* Saints 306 92 8
10-9-11 Michael Vick, Eagles* Bills 315 90 10
12-9-12 Cam Newton, Panthers Falcons 287 116 13
10-8-00 Rich Gannon, Raiders 49ers 310 85 15
10-12-14 Cam Newton, Panthers Bengals 284 107 16
10-20-13 Robert Griffin III, Redskins Bears 298 84 18
11-3-13 Terrell Pryor, Raiders* Eagles 288 94 18
11-15-10 Michael Vick, Eagles Redskins 333 80 20

*Lost game.

Murray in a hurry

How unusual are DeMarco Murray’s four 100-yard rushing days in the first four games of the NFL season? This unusual: No other active running back has done it.

Indeed, only one other back has done it in the 2000s. The short list of runners who have accomplished the feat since 1960:

BACKS WITH 4 100-YARD RUSHING DAYS IN FIRST 4 GAMES (SINCE 1960)

Year Running back, Team Att Yards Avg TD Proj. Yds Final Total*
2014 DeMarco Murray, Cowboys 99 534 5.4 5 2,136 ?????
2003 Stephen Davis, Panthers 106 565 5.3 2 2,260 1,444
1997 Terrell Davis, Broncos 95 526 5.5 3 2,104 1,750
1995 Emmitt Smith, Cowboys 88 543 6.2 9 2,172 1,773*
1985 James Wilder, Bucs 102 497 4.9 2 1,988 1,300
1975 O.J. Simpson, Bills 118 697 5.9 5 2,788 1,817*
1973 O.J. Simpson, Bills 102 647 6.3 4 2,588 2,003*

*led league

As you can see, there are two Hall of Famers here (Smith and Simpson) and two 2,000-yard rushers (Davis in 1998 and Simpson in 14 games in ’73). So Murray is in pretty good company. As you also can see, none of the backs came within 300 yards of their projected total (based on their four-game figure). So DeMarco likely will fall considerably short of 2,136.

(FYI: Davis’ streak came in his first four games with the Panthers after signing with them as a free agent. Carolina went all the way to the Super Bowl that season — and nearly upset the Patriots.)

What Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has to be careful of is playing too much with his New Favorite Toy. After all, Murray is on pace for 396 carries, which would be the seventh-highest total of all time — and nearly twice as many as he’s ever had in a season (217). The group he would join:

MOST RUSHING ATTEMPTS IN A SEASON

Year Running back, Team Carries
2006 Larry Johnson, Chiefs 416
1998 Jamal Anderson, Falcons 410
1984 James Wilder, Bucs 407
1986 Eric Dickerson, Rams 404
2000 Eddie George, Titans 403
1985 Gerald Riggs, Falcons 397
2014 DeMarco Murray, Cowboys 396*

*projected

Seasons like these aren’t usually conducive to long-term productivity. Johnson, for instance, never had another 1,000-yard year, and Anderson, Wilder and Riggs had only one. As for George, he was a diminished back after that, averaging just 3.2 yards a carry in his remaining four seasons. Dickerson is the outlier, topping 1,000 yards three more times and winning the rushing title in 1988. Not coincidentally, he’s the only one in Canton (or likely to get there).

At any rate, it’s something for the Cowboys to think about. Murray is just 26, and he’s been used humanely up to now. He could be capable of a few more seasons like this if they don’t run him into the ground.

Source: pro-football-reference.com