Which running backs, active this past season, are likely going to Canton? History shows us about 45 players at any one time, from young guys to cagey veterans, will eventually make it. Let’s try to assess the likelihood of those who played this year of eventually reaching Canton, based on their performance to date and historical precedent.
I’ve already started with the wide receivers and tight ends. Today, it’s the rushers.
ADRIAN PETERSON (100%)
10 Seasons, 7 Pro Bowls, 4 All-Pro, 11,747 rushing yards, 13,692 yards from scrimmage, 103 total TDs
Peterson had his issues off the field, missing almost an entire season after a child abuse case came to light. But on it, he’s a clear-cut selection even if he walked away tomorrow. He’s the most dynamic runner of the last decade.
Most Similar RBs: Walter Payton*, Eric Dickerson*, Marshall Faulk*, Jerome Bettis*, Emmitt Smith*, Thurman Thomas*, OJ Simpson*, Franco Harris*, LaDainian Tomlinson+, Tony Dorsett*
LESEAN MCCOY (70%)
8 Seasons, 5 Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pro, 8,954 rushing yards, 11,884 yards from scrimmage, 73 total TDs
You may be surprised to see McCoy here. He’s not in lock territory yet. If he falls off a cliff next year he’s probably not getting in. But he came into the league at age 21, and already has two All-Pro seasons and five Pro Bowl appearances before age 30.
The 10 retired running backs with the closest yards from scrimmage at age 28 to McCoy’s 1,623 last year averaged 3,275 more yards from scrimmage before retirement. If he hits that, he’ll have over 11,000 rushing yards and over 15,000 yards from scrimmage, and be right in line with many backs in the Hall.
Most Similar RBs: Marshawn Lynch+, Earl Campbell*, Marcus Allen*, Jerome Bettis*, Thurman Thomas*, Walter Payton*, Eddie George, Ricky Watters, Frank Gore+, Jamaal Charles
FRANK GORE (65%)
12 Seasons, 5 Pro Bowls, 0 All-Pro, 13,065 rushing yards, 16,492 yards from scrimmage, 90 total TDs
Gore is going to be a divisive candidate. On the one hand, he’s been a very good back for a very long time. He’s outlasted everyone, something you might not have predicted given his injury history at the University of Miami. He will have the counting stats, and is the 49ers all-time franchise rushing leader.
On the other hand, there was not really a time he was considered a top three back in the league, and has never been selected first team All-Pro. That would be rare for a Hall of Famer. I give him a better than average chance because some of his most similar players are longevity guys who got in, but it won’t be a lock.
Most Similar RBs: Tony Dorsett*, Jerome Bettis*, Curtis Martin*, Thurman Thomas*, Warrick Dunn, Steven Jackson, Edgerrin James, Ricky Watters, Ahman Green, Corey Dillon
EZEKIEL ELLIOTT (60%)
1 Season, 1 Pro Bowl, 1 All-Pro, 1,631 rushing yards, 1,994 yards from scrimmage, 16 total TDs
Yes, Elliott’s only played one season, and yes, lots of things could happen. That’s why it’s only just over 50% after one year. But what a year it was, and his comparables are other Top 10 picks who had the best rookie years. Half of them are in Canton, and if you control for age, his odds are even better.
Most Similar RBs: Ottis Anderson, Billy Sims, Edgerrin James, Eric Dickerson*, George Rogers, Marshall Faulk*, Barry Sanders*, Jerome Bettis*, Curt Warner, Earl Campbell*
LE’VEON BELL (50%)
4 Seasons, 2 Pro Bowls, 1 All-Pro, 4,045 rushing yards, 6,050 yards from scrimmage, 31 total TDs
Where would Bell be without the marijuana suspension and missing almost all of last year with an injury? As it stands, he’s 8th all-time in yards from scrimmage before his 25th birthday. If he can stay on the field, he can continue to put up big numbers throughout his 20s.
Most Similar RBs: Marshall Faulk*, Steven Jackson, Walter Payton*, Maurice Jones-Drew, LaDainian Tomlinson*, Ray Rice, Jamal Lewis, Ottis Anderson, Adrian Peterson+, Emmitt Smith*
JAMAAL CHARLES (20%)
9 Seasons, 4 Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pro, 7,260 rushing yards, 9,717 yards from scrimmage, 63 total TDs
Jamaal Charles was awesome, explosive, all that. He also probably did not stay healthy and play long enough to get into Canton, unless he can somehow rebound from another knee surgery. I give him a puncher’s chance because at least he has some arguments as a high peak guy with some key stats. His 5.5 yards per carry is ridiculous. He was All-Pro twice. His comps (using total yards and Pro Bowl/All-Pro selections) are mostly power backs, showing how unique he was.
Most Similar RBs: Freeman McNeil, Marcus Allen*, Roger Craig, Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, Stephen Davis, Chris Warren, Priest Holmes, Gerald Riggs, Ahman Green
DEMARCO MURRAY (15%)
6 Seasons, 3 Pro Bowls, 1 All-Pro, 6,515 rushing yards, 8,410 yards from scrimmage, 48 total TDs
Murray was older when he entered the league, hurting his chances, as he is the same age as LeSean McCoy. He’s had a couple of big years, surrounding the Philadelphia disaster. His only chance lies in longevity AND at least one more elite season, and the odds are low that he is still productive at age 31.
Most Similar RBs: Marshawn Lynch+, Maurice Jones-Drew, Freeman McNeil, LeSean McCoy+, Arian Foster, Curt Warner, Ahman Green, Tony Dorsett*, Shaun Alexander, Ray Rice
Every other back I assess at less than a 10% chance, if not listed above. That said, here are some comments on some notable ones you might have questions about:
He’s been brilliant for the last year and a half. He also turned 25 in December. A look at similar backs who had huge yardage seasons around age 24 and 25, but either entered the league at an older age, or were limited in yards until then, includes Arian Foster, Deuce McAllister, Larry Johnson, Terrell Davis, Ahman Green, Billy Sims. Those are all guys that had some big seasons. None are in Canton.
A Jack of all trades and a great receiver. Even though he compares favorably to Gore head-to-head on a season basis, he played fewer and appears to be slowing down. Only two Pro Bowls, and a lot of the same selectors will vote for the Hall of Fame. Backs like him are in the Hall of Very Good.
ARIAN FOSTER and CHRIS JOHNSON
Brilliant seasons. Not enough longevity, and started at an older age.