Kurt Warner and his receivers may have been the flash of the St. Louis Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf" offenses of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but running back Marshall Faulk was unquestionably the engine. When the Rams traded a couple of draft picks to the Indianapolis Colts for Faulk's services before the 1999 season, that set the most important piece in the offense that won one Super Bowl and came close to another.
Through his 12-year career, Faulk proved to be one of the most effectively versatile backs in league history. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 1998 and 1999, topped the league in combined rushing and receiving touchdowns in 2000 and 2001, and may have had the best-ever three-year span of any running back. From 1999 through 2001, he never ranked lower than second in Football Outsiders' DYAR and DVOA metrics in rushing and receiving among running backs. He was the second player in NFL history to go over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season (1999, Roger Craig of the San Francisco 49ers first reached that rare goal in 1985).
Faulk's 12,279 rushing yards and 6,785 passing yards combine to make him fourth all-time in yards from scrimmage behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, and Walter Payton.
And in the second part of our "Voices of the Hall" series, we'll start with Rice's take on what made Faulk so special. Playing his entire career in West Coast-style offenses that demanded versatility from backs, Rice knows just how important an asset that is.
"The thing about Marshall Faulk is that he was one of those backs who could come out of the backfield, and be one-on-one with a linebacker," Rice said. "There was just no way, you know? With his hands, and how elusive he could be, there's no way a linebacker could cover that guy. It was almost like he had an extra dimension, because he could come out of the backfield and catch the ball, but he could also run the ball inside, and he had the speed to get outside and go the distance. So, overall, he was just a great football player."
Marcus Allen, the great running back who played with the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, knows the value of that versatility — he's another name on that very short list of backs who finished their careers with over 10,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards receiving. After talking to Rice and Allen about Faulk, I was struck with how similar their scouting reports were.
"Well, first of all, he was a remarkable player," Allen told me. "Incredible feet, tremendous vision, amazing balance. I mean, he could have played in any system. He was not just a one-dimensional player, as you mentioned. He was a guy who could like up at wide receiver; you could put him in the slot. He was obviously a great threat coming out of the backfield and catching passes. He could run between the tackles or run outside. Running draws … he could do it all. When I look at his career, this is a guy who had the ability to do everything he wanted on the field. You put him in any system, and he'd be a great player.
I then posted the hypothesis to Allen that, because he and Faulk were both speed runners, their power in short-yardage and goal line situations was generally underrated. You wouldn't have known it form looking at him in uniform, but Allen was a great fullback as well).
"Well, first of all, you have to be smart. Then, you just have to be determined. There are really only two defenses [in the red zone] — 5-3 and 6-2, and if you now your blocking scheme, and you know what they're trying to do to defend at the goal line, it really becomes easy. I'm not trying to minimize what it takes, but you really have to be smart, and you really have to want to get in the end zone. You do things that I feel Marshall had — he could make those plays in short-yardage situations. You're trying to squeeze 11 guys n a phone booth — it's a very hard thing to do. But he was clearly determines, and very smart on the field. He knew where everybody was, and he could take advantage of that."
For a magical period of time, Marshall Faulk could take advantage of every helpless defense arrayed to stop him. That's why he's about to go into the Hall of Fame.
Next, Allen, Pete Carroll, and Greg Cosell will weigh in on the greatness of Richard Dent.