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Will We See Another 2000 yard rusher in the NFL Again?

Jul. 22, 2020 - Michael Stewart

Will We See Another 2000 yard rusher in the NFL Again?

Introduction: It’s been eight seasons since the NFL has seen a running back reached 2000 yards rushing for a season; which was Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. Since then the league has had dramatic changes and has evolved more into a passing league with rule changes that benefitted the offensive side of the ball. The 5-yard contact and jamming rule on wide receivers and the restriction on hitting the quarterback are the top two reasons we are seeing more passing over the last eight seasons. With that in mind, it made me think if we (the fans) have seen the last of the 2000 yard rusher? Since Peterson’s accomplishment, the closest running back to challenge 2000 yards was Demarco Murray in 2014 with the Dallas Cowboys with 1,845 yards. What would it take for a running back in today’s passing league to reach 2000 yards on the ground? Which current NFL running backs have a legit chance to be the next 2000 yard rusher? Let’s take a look at my top 4 running games who have the ability and opportunity to become the next 2000 yard rusher:

  • Derrick Henry: Henry led the NFL in rushing in 2019 with 1,540 yards and was a work horse for the Titans; especially in the 2nd half of the season and in the playoffs. In today’s passing league the Titans are considered a throwback from team’s in the 1980’s in that their offense is more geared to the mentality of run first and pass second. Still, it would take a tremendous season for Henry to even come close to the 2000 plateau as he needed 303 carries to achieve his 1,540 total; which averaged out to be nearly 5.1 yards per carry. Therefore; Henry would need to carry at least 395 times to slightly amass 2000 yards (2,014) to become the next 2000 yard rusher. Are the Titans that committed to the running game?
  • Christian McCaffrey: McCaffrey had an outstanding season in 2019 with his combination of running ability and also in the passing game. McCaffrey had 1,387 rushing yards on 287 carries; which resulted in a 4.8 yards per rush. The Panthers will be in a rebuilding stage and aren’t expected to be a playoff contender. Would this be a major factor that could provide McCaffrey with enough rushing attempts to challenge the 2000 yards mark? If so, McCaffrey would need to get 420 carries to just over 2000 yards (2,016) based on his 4.8 yards per carry. Can McCaffrey handle the physical demands it would take to achieve this as he is not considered a big running back in today’s game.
  • Saquon Barkley: Barkley is entering his 3rd season in the NFL and thus far he has two 1000 yard season’s on his resume. This achievement is especially impressive since Barkley has not been blessed with a talented offensive line thus far as the Giants offensive line ranks somewhere in the lower half in the NFL. Could the additions of 1st round pick Andrew Thomas and the hiring of offensive line coach Marc Columbo; who has been credited of making the Cowboys offensive line one of the best in the NFL make a difference in 2020 make a difference? Barkley arguably has the most talent among the candidates discussed and can score from anywhere on the field. In order for Barkley to challenge 2000 yards for a season, the Giants would need to run the offense directly through Barkley and he would need to average at least 25 carries per game. That would give Barkley 400 carries over 16 games and he would just reach 2000 yards. The million dollar question is: Are the Giants committed to over working their most valuable asset and risk the chance of shortening his career?
  • Ezekiel Elliott: Elliott is still in the top tier among running backs and he still has a very talented offensive line in front of him. However; Elliott will be in a new offensive system with the arrival of new Head Coach Mike McCarthy and it’s still unclear if the team will run the offense through Elliott or through Dak Prescott. Elliott certainly has the ability to be a 2000 yard rusher, but he will have enough opportunity to carry the ball to do it? Elliott has been the closest among this group to 2000 yards as he rushed for 1,631 yards in 2016. However; keep in mind that his average yards per game have gone down each year since 2016; which is not due to his ability, but more directed to the Cowboys passing more. Again, Elliott is still capable like Barkley to be the next 2000 yard rusher, it all depends on opportunity.

Final Thoughts: Here are my top 4 candidates to challenge the 2000 yard club and it will be interesting to see which player among the four will be used exclusively to be the front runner. In my opinion, I think it would take an exceptional season and also exceptional circumstances for any of the above candidates to reach 2000 yards on the ground. As I mentioned earlier, the NFL is more of a passing league and for a team to try to change that philosophy and run the ball more would be highly unlikely in the near future. In 2012, Adrian Peterson rushed over 2000 yards and I believe we will need to wait a little bit longer before we see the next 2000 yard rusher.