January 04, 2010
Trying to judge the best ever season by a running back would, of course, be very difficult and very subjective, but Chris Johnson can at least mount an argument.
He ended up falling 99 yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, but Johnson did break Marshall Faulk's(notes) single-season yards from scrimmage record. Dickerson's mark probably holds a more prominent place in NFL history, but if you look at it from the more practical, "Hey, yards are yards" perspective, Johnson's season starts to look like the better one.
Of those, only two did it with fewer carries than Johnson: O.J. needed only 332 (and of course, played only 14 games back in '73) and Sanders needed only 335. Johnson had 358.
No one among the 2,000-yard rushers, however, got anywhere close to Johnson's 503 yards receiving. Sanders was the closest with 305 in his 2,000-yard year. Poor O.J. caught only six balls for 70 yards in his 2,000-yard season. Someone really should have told him to take off those bloody gloves.
It may be worth looking at supporting casts, too. If a team has a better passing game, the defense is less likely to stack the box against the run, giving the guys with a weaker passing game a higher degree of difficulty.
Johnson's degree of difficulty was pretty high. The Titans ranked 24th in passing yards this past season, and certainly, Johnson was considered their main weapon, week in and week out. Of course, if Jamal Lewis in '03 had a passing game with those kinds of numbers, he'd have felt like he was playing with a Pro Bowl roster.
The '03 Ravens had the worst passing game in the league (Kyle Boller(notes) and Anthony Wright(notes) shared quarterbacking duties, if you're curious), and Lewis still pounded out his 2,000. Dickerson's '84 Rams had the league's 27th-ranked passing game (Jeff Kemp at QB), and O.J.'s '73 Bills had the 26th-best passing game (Joe Ferguson). Barry's '97 Lions were 12th in the league at throwing the ball, which is shockingly good, given that Scott Mitchell was the quarterback. Of course, Terrell Davis's '98 Broncos were a John Elway team and ranked seventh.
Obviously, there are other great seasons that could be considered, as well as a ton of other factors. If there's a way to declare one season clearly better than another, I don't know what it is, but it's fun to argue about it. No matter how you look at it, though, Johnson's season was historic and one of the greatest in modern history.
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