Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Emmitt Smith: underrated running back


In my football watching days, I've seen 4 running backs that deserve legitimate consideration in discussions of "the greatest ever": Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, and Ladainian Tomlinson. I've also seen some that are spectacular, but that nobody would consider the greatest ever for various reasons (Terrell Davis, Thurman Thomas, Edgerrin James, Priest Holmes). I think the best one is Emmitt Smith.

First, go look at his numbers. In his prime from '91-'95, Smith rushed for 1484 yards or more 5 straight years, with peaks of 1713 and 1773. He set the single season touchdown record (25), won 4 rushing titles, led the league in yards from scrimmage twice, led the league in touchdowns 3 times, won an MVP, 3 Super Bowls, and a Super Bowl MVP. A legitimate argument could be made that this is the greatest 5 year performance of any player in the history of the league.

He was no slouch as a receiver, either. He caught 40 passes or more 7 straight years with a high of 62. Admittedly, as a pass-catching RB he's not in Tomlinson's or Faulk's league, but then he wasn't asked to be, either.

Later in his career, when he was older and more worn down and the Cowboys became mediocre, he was still very productive. From 1998-2000, when the Cowboys were 23-25, Smith rushed for 1,332 yards and 13 TDs (4.2 average), 1,397 yards and 11 TDs (4.2 average), and 1,203 yards and 9 TDs (4.1 average).

The fact is, I think Emmitt Smith deserves serious consideration as THE GREATEST FOOTBALL PLAYER OF ALL-TIME.

Many people hold it against Emmitt Smith because he played on the Cowboys, a great team that won three Super Bowls and had a good offensive line. The theory goes that any RB would be successful with that line, or at least any very good running back. This is, to me, hogwash. There’s also a possibility that Emmitt Smith made his offensive linemen look better than they were. It is also clear that Smith WAS A PRIMARY REASON THEY WON THREE SUPER BOWLS. To hold the fact that a player played on championship teams against him, when he was directly responsible for the fact that they were a championship team, is senseless. Nobody would hold championships against a quarterback; why would anybody hold championships against a running back?

I think there might be a general trend among Cowboy haters to give little credit to any of the big name skill position players that helped them win three championships. It's more palatable for the haters to credit the fairly anonymous and general "offensive line" that to credit Smith (said to be great because of his line), Troy Aikman (said to be great because of Smith and the line), or Michael Irvin (said to be great because of Smith, Aikman, and the line). This doesn't hold for me.

Here's an interesting study at the Pro Football Reference Blog suggesting Emmitt Smith had two very good careers.

9 comments:

  1. I agree that Smith does deserve consideration as the best ever. The only thing I have often wondered is what Barry Sanders could have done behind that line or what Barry's numbers would have been had he not retired early and if Fontes would not have pulled him at the goal line.

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  2. I don't know. It's surely not all on the O-Line. But offensive context matters a lot and Smith was working in a nearly ideal context. Smith was so good, even accounting for all that, that he certainly enters the discussion. Look at Edge though, take him away from his line, his coach, his excellent QB and he can't even get 3 ypc.

    Smith had a great QB, a great line, a great FB, and a great wide out. Combine that with his own greatness and he had a unique opportunity to put together some highly productive seasons. That he achieved this potential is to his credit, but I still wonder what he would have done on a more mediocre team.

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    1. Anonymous5:59 PM

      Joe Montana had a probowl line, running back, and hall of fame wide out yet he is still considered the greatest qb ever.

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  3. Don't forget Emmitts excellent skills on the dance floor!! He can really Shimmy

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  4. the title to this blog is as amusing as one of my 'favre the most underrated qbs' rants. smith is generally considered top 10. i'd put smith at the back end of that... over faulk. but tomlinson is the king. even jimmy johnson considers it no contest of tomlinson vs smith.

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    1. Anonymous6:00 PM

      hahahahaha Tomlinson wasnt even close to smith

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  5. Anonymous8:25 AM

    As a cowboys fan I watched every game emmitt played. Be was consistently facing 8 and 9 man fronts and it was common for him to evade tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Although if you looked only at statistics there is no argument that he was and remains the "greatest " rb of all time. Yet, he consistently ranks forth (in one case 6th!) In media lists of the best rbs ever. How many of the o_line he ran behind are in the hall of fame. The only argument for other backs is yards per carry, Jim brown and Barry sanders both left the game near their prime and there is no chance their ypc would have remained so high if they had played for 25 years like enmity. If you have to omit most of the statistical facts to make an argument for best ever, then that player is not. I would lust the many stats and NFL records on his resume but that would take forever.....

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  6. that painting in particular is pretty emotional, you if you take a glance at it, you will find out the emotional situation in which the protagonist of the painting is going through

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