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Hall of Fame Preview: The Running Backs

By Bryan Dietzler

The candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame have been announced and there are some interesting choices for the Hall. Who are those candidates and what are their chances of getting in? How do their numbers compare?

This week, we are going to look at the 19 running backs that are slated to potentially enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I will try to be brief because there is a lot to talk about with 19 players.

Thomas Jones

Thomas Jones had a quiet career with several teams in a journeyman type of role. He played with the Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, the New York Jets, and the Kansas City Chiefs. In the 180 games he played in, he rushed for 10591 yards averaging four yards per carry. He had a total of 71 touchdowns both rushing and receiving.

It’s a tossup as to whether Jones will make it into the Hall. He’s got some stiff competition, as we will find out and doesn’t have that championship pedigree that some of the other guys have. I think his time will come, just not this year.

Ricky Watters

Ricky Watters is best remembered for his time with the San Francisco 49ers, but he also had big seasons in Philadelphia and Seattle. This consistent 1000 yard plus rusher had over 1000 yards almost every season he was in the league and played well. Watters rushed for a total of 10643 yards with an average per-carry of 4.1 yards. He had a total of 91 touchdowns (combined rushing and receiving). Watters played in 144 games. He also played in 11 total playoff appearances during his time in the NFL.

Thanks to the strong and consistent numbers that Watters has been putting up, it’s almost certain that at some point he is going to get into the Hall. His production and play speak volumes. Look for him to be in the Hall of Fame sooner rather than later.

Shaun Alexander

Shaun Alexander spent a bulk of his career with the Seattle Seahawks and had a short stint with the Washington Redskins. Alexander’s eight-year career, in which he played in a total of 123 games was a strong one. He only had three years where he failed to rush for more than 1000 yards and in 2005 led the NFL in rushing yards with 1880 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground.

Alexander’s rushing average was 4.3 yards per game. He caught and ran for a total of 112 touchdowns.

He has a strong case to make it into the Hall of Fame. If a guy like Terrell Davis can make it into the Hall, Alexander certainly should be able to earn a spot in the Hall at some point.

Eddie George

Eddie George was one of the most consistent performers of his time. George played eight years with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and one year with Dallas. During those nine years, he played in a total of 141 games and rushed for 10441 yards averaging 3.6 yards per rush. He scored a total of 78 touchdowns.

George was a great guy, a good player and someone that deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. He was a part of some playoff teams and even made a Super Bowl appearance. George could easily be a Hall of Fame running back and should be.

Priest Holmes

Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs are going to remember Priest Holmes, who was with them for five seasons after spending his first four seasons in Baltimore. His rushing took the league by storm in 2000 as he rushed for just over 2000 yards. Holmes played in a total of 113 games and had just over 8000 yards of rushing. His rushing yards per attempt was a whopping 4.6 yards.

Holmes was a real touchdown maker when he was playing and accounted for 94 total touchdowns and led the league with 21 and 27 in his career.

It’s easy to see Holmes being able to be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His production was good but his career wasn’t that long. However, in this new age of the running back players don’t last that long at the position and Holmes represents the new age running back. There will be a lot more players getting into the Hall with careers like his.

Mike Alstott

Mike Alstott is best remembered as the bruising fullback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had an 11-year career entirely with the Bucs. During his career, he played in 158 games. He rushed for a little over 1300 yards but his biggest contribution came in the passing game where he caught 325 passes for 2284 yards. Alstott scored a total of 71 touchdowns during his career with the Bucs.

Can a pure fullback get into Hall of Fame? We will see it with Alstott. He’s one of several former fullbacks that are eligible for the Hall this year. He would be an excellent candidate to be inducted into it.

Fred Taylor

Fred Taylor played his football around the time that most of these other guys did. He played for the Jacksonville Jaguars for quite a while before going to play for the New England Patriots for a couple of seasons. Altogether, Taylor played 13 seasons and was active in 153 games. He rushed for just over 11600 yards and his yards per carry average was 4.6. He scored 74 touchdowns total during his career.

Taylor is another one of those running backs that had a longer career but doesn’t quite have the pedigree of an Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton. He does have a shot to get in but he may be waiting for a while.

Tiki Barber

Many of us know Tiki Barber from his time with the New York Giants. He was with the Giants for his entire career in which he played in 154 games rushing for 10449 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per rush. He scored a total of 67 touchdowns during his career with the Giants.

Honestly, Barber’s career in the NFL wasn’t that long but he still did some good things. Will the Hall of Fame committee believe that his short time in the league is enough to get him into Canton or will he remain on the outside looking in? I think that Barber has a good chance at getting in the Hall and will be in it sooner than later.

Earnest Byner

Many of us will remember Earnest Byner from his days with the Cleveland Browns. Byner was with the Browns for seven total seasons while also playing with the Reskins and the Baltimore Ravens (formerly the Browns). Byner played in 211 total games rushing for 8261 yards. He scored a total of 71 touchdowns and averaged 3.9 yards per rush.

Byner has been eligible for the Hall for a little while now and has a tough time getting in. It may be that he didn’t put up big numbers while he played but that was due to being on inept teams. He is still a memorable player and someone that deserves a shot at the Hall.

Lorenzo Neal

Lorenzo Neal is a fullback, much like Alstott, who gained his notoriety playing for the San Diego (at the time) Chargers. Neal played for several teams, including the Chargers during his long time in the NFL. He played for New Orleans, the New York Jets, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cincinnati Bengals and then finally with the Baltimore Ravens.

During his 16-year career, Neal played in a total of 239 games. His rushing total was a paltry 809 yards with an average of 3.6 yards per carry. He had a total of 18 touchdowns during his career.

It’s not all about touchdowns and yards with fullbacks. They are used almost exclusively as blockers and Neal was one of the best of the bunch. If fullbacks get into the Hall, Neal needs to be one of them. He’s well-deserving of the honor.

Chris Warren

Chris Warren was a Seattle Seahawk for most of his career although he did also play with the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles during his 12 years in the league. He rushed for a total of 7696 yards averaging 4.3 yards per rush. Warren played in 162 games and scored 57 touchdowns.

Warren wasn’t the dynamic player that is typically found in the Hall of Fame and he may just be a sizeable longshot to get in. We will see if he can get in but if he does, it will be further down the road.

Edgerrin James

Edgerrin James has been a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist in the past and his time to get in could be coming as soon as this year. James played for the Indianapolis Colts, as well as the Cardinals and the Seahawks. He rushed for a total of 12246 averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He played in 148 games and scored 91 touchdowns.

James was on winning teams, had some of the best numbers in the league from time to time and was highly productive. It would not surprise this writer to see him push his way past being a finalist and be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next time around.

Maurice Jones-Drew

It’s the first year of eligibility for Maurice Jones-Drew who played with both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders. Jones-Drew has rushed for 8176 yards and had 4.4 yards per carry. He played in a total of 126 games and scored 79 touchdowns.

He had a very productive career.

But was his career-long enough for him to warrant being in the Hall of Fame? And were the Jacksonville Jaguars, his primary team, successful enough? Was Jones-Drew successful enough? Maybe not.

Look for Jones-Drew to have a wait getting into the Hall of Fame

Daryl Johnston

Daryl Johnston is our third fullback to be eligible for the Hall of Fame this year. Johnston played 151 games all with the Dallas Cowboys. He was used much more as a receiver than he was a running back. Johnston had 2227 yards receiving and a total of 22 touchdowns.

Moose, as he was known by, was one of the better fullbacks in the NFL. The Cowboy teams that he played on were very successful and he made the Pro Bowl a couple of times. If you want an idea of what the ideal fullback is then you need to look no further than Johnston. He is the model blocking and receiving fullback and deserves a spot in the Hall.

Clinton Portis

The former Washington Redskin and Denver Bronco had a successful career in the NFL. During his nine seasons in the league, in which he played in 113 games, he rushed for 9923 yards averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He scored a total of 80 touchdowns.

Portis was one of the most successful and consistent players of his time and did a lot to help the two teams that he was on. While he doesn’t have the stellar numbers that some of the others on this list have, Portis was a key and steady contributor during his time in the league. I think that he could easily make the Hall of Fame but not before some of the other guys here get in.

Larry Centers

Larry Centers played for a variety of teams during his tenure in the league including the then, Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots. He played the majority of his career with the Cardinals. He was a fullback and had much more of an impact in the passing game than he did in the running game.

Altogether, Centers played in 198 games catching 827 passes for 6797 yards. The combined number of touchdowns he scored was 42.

Centers could easily be considered for the Hall and should be. He should be inducted into it sooner, rather than later.

Look for him to get in soon.

Herschel Walker

Herschel Walker, a well-known college football player, found some success in the NFL albeit not as much as perhaps he would have liked. Walker played for the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, the Philadelphia Eagles, and the New York Giants. Walker played in 187 games and totaled 8225 yards on the ground averaging 4.2 yards per carry.

He scored 82 touchdowns during his long career.

It’s kind of surprising that Walker isn’t in the Hall of Fame already but then some don’t think that the had a Hall of Fame career. Compared to a few of the guys on this list, Walker’s career seems a little inept but he did some things while he played that people should take note of. Look for him to be a Hall of Famer sometime soon.

Corey Dillon

Corey Dillion played for the Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots. Although he only played ten seasons, he managed to rack up 11241 yards averaging 4.3 yards per rush. He scored a total of 89 touchdowns in the 150 games that he played.

Dillion had a productive career in a short amount of time and deserves a long look as a potential Hall of Fame player. You should see him enter the Hall at some point in his career depending on the competition, at running back, around him.

Eric Metcalf

Eric Metcalf was used more as a return specialist than almost anything else but was also a running back and wide receiver during his time in the league. Metcalf played for the Cleveland Browns, the Atlanta Falcons, the San Diego Chargers, the Arizona Cardinals, the Carolina Panthers, the Washington Redskins and the Green Bay Packers. He played in 179 games during his 13-year career.

Metcalf put up 2392 yards on the ground and 5572 through the air. He had a total of 43 touchdowns during his career.

The whole debate about whether or not kick return specialists should be Hall of Famers comes up with both Walker and Metcalf. They did have an ability to change the game threaten to change it. But, is that enough to get players like them in the Hall of Fame?

We may soon find out.

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