The running backs that made this series belong to an exclusive club. There were entrusted by their coaches enough to surpass or to see 400 rushing attempts in a season. Can you imagine a team giving an RB that kind of opportunity nowadays? However ludicrous you think that idea is, there is no disputing that it happened. It has happened five times. It even happened as recently as 12 years ago. You can debate amongst yourselves whether it will ever happen again. My point here is not to prove its likelihood of recurrence. Rather, I would like to investigate the ”why, how” and what was at the heart of this when it happened. Each case will be different, as each player’s legacy has a different flavor before and after they joined The 400 Club.
Eddie George (403 rushing attempts)
Team Record: 13-3
Head Coach: Jeff Fisher
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Heimerdinger
Rushing Yards: 1,509
Yards Per Rush: 3.7
Yards Per Game: 94.3
Rushing TDs: 14
Before: In 1995 Eddie George destroyed the college football landscape with 2,344 yards from scrimmage and 25 TDs (328/1,927/24 rushing, 41/417/1 receiving) in just 13 games. Literally, to no one’s surprise, he won the Heisman Trophy by 50 first place votes over Nebraska QB Tommy Frazier.
George’s place in his alma mater’s (Ohio State) lore was and still is towards the top. Only back-to-back Heisman winner Archie Griffin had more rushing yards in the school’s history when George’s college career was over. Yet many were skeptical about George as a consistent threat in the NFL. Whispers of him being better served as a fullback were sparse but fair.
The good news was that the epitome of mediocrity Jeff Fisher was George’s first NFL head coach. Fisher believed in feeding the beast until he could not walk. So for eight glorious seasons, George was fed 21.4 APG. He was the first round selection (14th overall) of the Houston Oilers (they moved Tennessee after George’s rookie year).
As a rookie George won Rookie of the Year honors. He earned a 4.1 YPA average on 335 attempts. He also found the end zone eight times and gained over 1,500 yards from scrimmage.
In year two, Fisher’s greed increased as George’s YPA fell. He saw 22 more attempts for the Oilers who went 8-8 in both his first seasons. Fisher stepped off the George pedal slightly in his third season. This was a small attempt at finding a happy medium. The Oilers once again went 8-8. George also set a new career in receptions with 37.
In 1999 season (George’s 4th NFL campaign) OC Les Steckel balanced out his offense further, and George only saw 320 carries. This was despite the Titans going 13-3 and backup QB Neil O’Donnell starting five games. George achieved another new career high in receptions with 47. He had the best receiving yardage total of his career with 458 yards. He also scored four his 10 career receiving TDs during that season.
During: It was the year 2000 and Steckel had moved on to OC in Tampa Bay. The late Mike Heimerdinger was given his first OC position at any professional level. Fisher was still at the helm and George was to be fed. The result was another 13-3 season.
The game logs reveal four games under 20 rushing attempts for George. Amazingly, he had a game with just one carry (due to injury), yet he still got to the 400 threshold. On the season George averaged 25.2 APG, but if you take away that one carry game, he averaged 26.8 APG. He needed two extra carries in the other 15 games to reach 400 carries. This may seem trivial and purposeless, but it is a very interesting contributing factor. No other 400 Club member had a game with less than 13 rushing attempts. George did have 12 games with 21 or more carries.
George’s had just six 100-yard rushing games. His best yardage performance came in a week five win over Cincinnati. He handled 36 attempts for 181 and a TD. Additionally, he had three total games with at least 167 yards on the ground. In two of those games, he scored three rushing TDs (both versus Cleveland) in each. He also had the only 100-yard receiving game of his career in a week twelve loss to Jacksonville.
George had a very mediocre 3.7 YPA. That type of usage drives down most averages. Looking further inside the percentage corridor you will see he had a predictable 57.8% of his carries on first down. Then 67.5 of total carries came with between 7-10 yards to go on any down. He also had 21% of carries go for zero or negative yardage.
On a positive note, he did set yet another seasonal high in receptions with 50. It was also the only year in which he led the league in any statistical category. His 403 carries were a league-high as were his 453 total touches.
Aftermath: The year that followed was George’s worst season with the franchise. It was his only regular season with the Oilers/Titans organization where he did not surpass 1,000 yards rushing. He handled a measly 315 attempts for a dismal 3.0 YPA.
In the 2002 season (his second since joining the 400 Club) George bounced back with 1,165 yards on 343 carries. He did save some more fantasy face with 14 total TDs. His 3.4 YPA was disappointing.
The 2003 season would be his eighth/final with the Oilers/Titans and his third year removed from the 400 carry threshold. His slash line of 312/1,031/5 was good but not great. George’s 3.3 YPA was again meddling on average. He was never a big YPA guy. After averaging 3.9 YPA in his first five seasons, he never did better than 3.4 YPA following his 400 carry season.
You can sum up George’s career by saying ”volume was more important than YPA.” After all, you were never benching him (in Fantasy) because his YPA was too low. However, what gets lost is his eight straight seasons of never missing a game. During that timespan, he averaged 342.4 attempts per season! Folks freak out nowadays at 300 carry seasons. At least they are respected yet feared. George certainly had his peak but his eight straight seasons of barely missing a snap are mind-numbing. He was also targeted in the passing game 347 times in those 128 games. George made 130 consecutive starts. Walter Payton is the only RB in NFL history with more.
George ended his career with 432 yards on 132 quiet carries with the Dallas Cowboys. He started eight of the 13 games he was active. However, the punishment of 2,733 attempts in just eight seasons had left the 31-year slow and ineffective.