I was going to get to this earlier in the week, but work happened. And, I didn’t want to half-ass this one. And since there weren’t any other things I COULD half-ass, you get the 2-day gap in posts.
So, apropos of absolutely nothing whatsoever, the name Jamal Lewis popped into my brain, and I got it into my head that he had a crazy amount of rushing yards for a running back to NOT be in the NFL Hall of Fame. As it turns out, he’s currently only 24th on the list, with 10,607 yards, and there are PLENTY of backs with 10,000+ yards who aren’t in the Hall and quite frankly don’t belong there. As I look at Jamal’s numbers now, even though he’s one of a VERY small few to have a 2,000-yard season, it’s not a total shocker to see him not in there yet. He does have seven 1,000 yard seasons in total, but only the one Pro Bowl/All Pro year. I’ll let some Ravens fan make the case for Jamal Lewis; this is a Seattle-centric blog for Christ’s sake. I’m here to talk about Shaun Alexander, and yeah, Marshawn Lynch, relative to the recently-inducted Terrell Davis.
So, when I looked at the list of the running backs with the most yards in NFL history – to check and see where Jamal Lewis stood – I went ahead and dug around to see where Terrell Davis landed. Knowing nothing, aside from the fact that his career was relatively short compared to most running backs you consider to be Hall of Famers, I figured going in that he was sub-10,000 yards. But, I figured he’d be in the 9,000 range.
NO! Not even! Try 7,607!
He’s 55th all time. The only other Hall of Famers in his range or lower are the REAL old timers. Like, before the Super Bowl was a thing. Like, before the AFL and the NFL merged into a single league.
Now, for what it’s worth, I do think Terrell Davis belongs in the Hall of Fame. But, you know, I’m more of an Eye Test guy. When I say the name Terrell Davis, I think, “Yeah, that guy was one of the all-time greats.” But, when you see 7,607 staring you back in the face, it’s enough to give you pause. It gave me pause anyway!
I’ve always maintained that Shaun Alexander was and is a fringe Hall of Famer, but ultimately if you twisted my arm, I’d say probably not. But, with 7,607 here to consider, I mean, come on!
Shaun Alexander finished with 9,453 yards (Lynch with a little less, so I’ll get to him later in the post). If you discount his 4 games with the Redskins in the final year of his career, he spent 8 full seasons in Seattle. Davis did what he did in 7 seasons in Denver, so the career lengths are comparable. Alexander finished with exactly 100 rushing touchdowns and another 12 receiving TDs; Davis finished with 60 rushing and 5 receiving. Alexander averaged 4.3 yards per attempt, Davis at 4.6, so not a HUGE difference there. And, if you go by Approximate Value per Pro Football Reference (the higher the number the better), Alexander finished with a 79, Davis with a 78.
I mean, when you put it all down there like that, and you factor in the extra 1,846 career rushing yards and the extra 47 combined touchdowns, how is Shaun Alexander not even in the conversation and Terrell Davis is already in?
Politics aside – because I will say this: it IS a popularity contest, no matter what you hear from anyone; if the voters don’t like you (*cough* Terrell Owens *cough*), you’re screwed – it’s kind of insane. But, one thing we were told is that Terrell Davis’ induction is a referendum on the production he had in his Peak Years. I think, going forward, for a lot of these players on offense – as the numbers skyrocket, as rules changes make the game more high scoring – unless you have just insane career totals, you’re going to need to build your case in your Peak Years, when you were at your very best. How many Peak Years did you have, and how dominant were you in those years?
Terrell Davis was drafted in 1995. He had a pretty good rookie year, but his very best years were 1996-1998. From 1999-2001, he played in a grand total of 17 games and was out of football after that. So, really, we’re talking about a 3-year span, but since he ended up in the top 10 in rushing in his rookie year, we’ll include that to give him a 4-year Peak.
- In 1995, he ran for 1,117 yards and 7 TDs, good for 9th in yards and outside the top 10 in TDs.
- In 1996, he ran for 1,538 yards and 13 TDs, good for 2nd in yards (behind Barry Sanders) and tied for 3rd in TDs with Ricky Watters, behind Curtis Martin’s 14 and Terry Allen’s 21.
- In 1997, he ran for 1,750 yards and 15 TDs, good for 2nd in yards (behind Barry Sanders’ 2,000 yard season) and tied for 1st in TDs with Karim Abdul-Jabbar.
- In 1998, he ran for 2,008 yards and 21 TDs, good for 1st in yards and TDs.
On top of that, he made the Pro Bowl and first team All Pro three times, 1996-1998. He won the NFL’s MVP award in 1998. He led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, winning the Super Bowl MVP the first time and ceding it to John Elway the second time. He was placed on the 2nd team All-1990s team to boot.
So, that’s the resume, more or less. How does that compare to Shaun Alexander’s Peak Years? Well, he didn’t start as a rookie in 2000, which was understandable at the time – we still had a prime Ricky Watters giving us his all – but will likely go down as the reason why Alexander ultimately doesn’t make the Hall. If he were to hang another 1,000 yard season on his career totals, with another 10 or so TDs, I don’t see how you could keep him out. Regardless, I’m giving Alexander a total of 5 Peak Years, from 2001-2005. He topped 1,000 yards each year and had no less than 14 rushing TDs in each of those years! To wit:
- In 2001, he ran for 1,318 yards and 14 TDs, good for 6th in yards and 1st in TDs.
- In 2002, he ran for 1,175 yards and 16 TDs, outside the top 10 in yards, but tied for 2nd with Ricky Williams in TDs (behind Priest Holmes).
- In 2003, he ran for 1,435 yards and 14 TDs, good for 8th in yards and tied for 3rd in TDs with Clinton Portis & the aforementioned Jamal Lewis, behind Ahman Green and Priest Holmes again.
- In 2004, he ran for 1,696 yards and 16 TDs, good for 2nd (by ONE YARD behind Curtis Martin) in yards and 2nd in TDs behind LaDainian Tomlinson.
- In 2005, he ran for 1,880 yards and 27 TDs, good for 1st in yards and tying a then-NFL record for TDs in a season (to be broken by LDT the very next year with 28, who holds it to this day).
On top of that, he made the Pro Bowl three times (2003-2005), made first team All Pro one time, in 2005. He won the NFL’s MVP award in 2005. He led the Seahawks to just one Super Bowl appearance in the 2005 season (he likely would’ve been the Super Bowl MVP had the refs not screwed us over, but that’s neither here nor there). And, he was placed on the 2nd team All-2000s team.
I guess, what you have to ask yourself is, what do you take more stock in? Shaun Alexander had a longer Peak, and arguably a better one. I mean, those touchdown totals are INSANE for a 5-year run! Terrell Davis didn’t set or tie any single-season marks! So, do you rank that higher, or do you rank Davis’ Super Bowl success higher?
You gotta admit, it’s a helluva story. Terrell Davis helps the long-suffering John Elway get his only two Super Bowl titles as he rides off into the sunset. While Shaun Alexander led an okay Seahawks reign in the mid-2000s, that only got to the lone Super Bowl, and lost it in frustrating fashion.
You might sit here and argue that Shaun Alexander had a couple of Hall of Famers in Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson to run behind, but Terrell Davis had a very good O-Line in his own right. On top of that, let’s face it, the zone blocking scheme Denver was running back then was relatively new, and the NFL hadn’t really adapted to defending it. Which is why you saw so many Denver running backs in those days plucked from the bottom of the draft and making huge impacts. I’d put all of that as a wash, or even a little in Davis’ favor.
Where I think Shaun Alexander might have some trouble is that he spent most of his career in LDT’s shadow. Sure, there were good running backs playing when Terrell Davis had his reign, but I don’t think there were as many as when Shaun Alexander was doing his thing. The running back position as a whole really exploded in the early-to-mid 2000s. I mean, shit, with Davis’ induction, now we’re talking about Priest Fucking Holmes having an argument to be included! The guy only had 3 good years and was injured the rest of the time for fuck’s sake!
It’s a shame, too, because Shaun Alexander came up in the era where Fantasy Football really exploded. If that has any effect whatsoever, then you have to remember that Shaun Alexander was ALWAYS a top 2 pick in any fantasy draft, with LDT. The game of football, at its purest, is about scoring touchdowns and preventing the other team from scoring touchdowns. There weren’t many running backs in the history of the league who had a nose for scoring touchdowns the way Shaun Alexander did. In fact, looking at the leaderboard, Alexander is tied for 7th with Marshall Faulk for his 100 touchdowns. He only falls to 13th in combined rushing & receiving TDs as well. Davis is 48th & 120th respectively.
I dunno! Maybe I’m a homer. Or, maybe I’m a fucking purist and Shaun Alexander deserves to be inducted into the Hall of Fame!
Now, regarding Marshawn Lynch, I think he has an even-tougher road to hoe than Alexander in a lot of ways. He has 6 seasons where he surpassed 1,000 yards rushing, his first two with Buffalo and his first four full years with Seattle. He racked up a career total of 9,112 yards (37th all time) and 74 rushing touchdowns (24th all time), with another 9 receiving TDs. I won’t discount his first two years in Buffalo, but I’d have to say his Peak Years were the first four full ones with Seattle, so let’s run them down now:
- In 2011, he ran for 1,204 yards and 12 TDs, good for 7th in yards and tied for 3rd in TDs with AP and Ray Rice, behind Cam Newton and Shady McCoy.
- In 2012, he ran for 1,590 yards and 11 TDs, good for 3rd in yards and tied for 5th in TDs with Doug Martin and Trent Richardson.
- In 2013, he ran for 1,257 yards and 12 TDs, good for 6th in yards and tied for 1st in TDs with Jamaal Charles.
- In 2014, he ran for 1,306 yards and 13 TDs, good for 4th in yards and tied for 1st in TDs with DeMarco Murray.
On top of that, he made the Pro Bowl five times (2008, 2011-2014) and the first team All Pro once, in 2012. No MVPs, but he led the Seahawks to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning one, and should have won them both. He was also stripped of a Super Bowl MVP award opportunity by not being handed the ball at the 1-yard line against the Patriots, but that’s neither here nor there.
So, obviously, the numbers aren’t really there for Lynch, compared to Alexander. But, as I said before, it’s always so much more than just numbers. Now, I’m not sure Beastmode is going to win many popularity contests, with the way he shunned the media in his later years – particularly in those two Super Bowl seasons – but I also feel like time will heal those wounds somewhat. I guess it just depends on how many Hall of Fame voters were also those media people who were all bent out of shape about his antics. I could see that going either way, but it’s hard to see that as a deal-breaker.
What’s very much in Beastmode’s favor is the fact that he was a motherfucking BEAST! He had, without question, the greatest run in the history of the NFL, PERIOD! And, if you search for a reel of highlights, I mean, he’s amazing. For me, he’s on a short-list with guys like Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Jim Brown and maybe that’s it, of guys I just love to watch run with the football. Guys who could do ANYTHING with the football! With that mystique behind him? Compared to Shaun Alexander, who has this reputation for being a bit soft (which I don’t think is totally fair, but it’s out there), I dunno. I think that pulls Marshawn Lynch up even with Alexander, when you factor in total numbers plus the popularity contest element.
Then, take a look at playoff numbers. Because I think this is obviously where Terrell Davis got over the hump, with the two Super Bowls and all that. Davis is 6th all time in playoff yards with 1,140. Each of the top 7 guys on this list (and 8 of the top 9) are in the Hall of Fame. Ready for a shocker? Marshawn Lynch is 8th on this list (and hence the only one of the top 9 not in the Hall) with 937 yards. That, I think, is going to be a huge feather in his cap, if and when Lynch ever gets his day in the sun.
So, where do you look next? I’ll tell you: the era. Shaun Alexander played in the last era of the great running backs. Once he hung ’em up, and teams started realizing you could find quality running backs later in the draft, and pair them in these shared backfields teams have gone to, to mitigate injury risk and running back paydays, you just don’t see as many workhorses as you used to. In that sense, Marshawn Lynch has a leg up, because he was a rare breed in that regard. A workhorse and right up there at the top for his 4-year Peak run with Adrian Peterson and that’s about it.
At this point, once we start passing by the Hall of Famers in the first decade of the 2000s and get into the 2010s, you have to shift your expectations for what a Hall of Fame running back looks like. You can’t just STOP putting running backs in the Hall of Fame, because their numbers aren’t like the video game numbers of the 1990s and early 2000s!
So, I could see a legitimate situation where Shaun Alexander never gets in (which would be a crime) and Marshawn Lynch does get in (which would be well-deserved).
I just hope the media guy who advocates for those two puts up a good fight, because I now think both are VERY deserving, especially if Terrell Davis is already in there.