The Least Fortunate Clinton
Name your top 5 running backs ever.
Go on now, it is a bit tough. You normally start with Barry or Jim or Emmitt or Walter.
Then the other three follow. For fifth, people start using bias. Generation Y would name Peterson.
Baby Boomers, especially from the great state of Texas, may name Dickerson or Earl Campbell. Some may name Simpson, and there is some validity there and in all of these.
LT's name could get thrown around, and Steelers fans may name Bettis or even Franco Harris.
I would say Peterson likely as fifth (though I am a Longhorn fan), given that he is 8th all time in rushing and not done yet, likely to reach 5th in total rushing yards.
I am going to talk in this article about a guy who really could have been top 5 and actually still may be top 10.
His name is Clinton Portis.
Let's look at each running backs' top 5 seasons added up in rushing yards and TDs, shall we? While Zeke could end up near the top (he is second in yards per game ever, behind Brown, in his short career), I won't discuss him. I want to emphasize this is about RUSHING. Not receiving. Matt Forte was top 10 combo back likely ever in running and receiving. This is simply take a pitch or a hand off, looking at best at that ever.
(Side note--In my humble opinion, the Madden characters that were unfair from 2001-2009- Moss, Vick, Faulk, TO, McNabb, Peyton, and Portis.)
Barry- 8,537!, 56 TDs, 5.2 ypc (the best- didn't score enough)
Emmitt- 8019 yards, 85 TDs. 4.5 ypc. (great line, great skill, great usage)
LT- 8,079, 88 TDs, 4.7 ypc. (TD king)
Jim-7,788, 61 TDs, 5.5 ypc (amazing ypc)
Peterson- 8,066, 63 TDs, 5.1 ypc
Dickerson- 8,627, 69 TDs, 4.6 ypc (absolute work horse)
Martin- 7,469, 43 TDs, 4.2 ypc (consistently good, never super great)
Bettis- 7,051, 46 TDs, 4.4 ypc (long career, few amazing seasons)
Simpson- 7,699, 45 TDs, 5.1 ypc (likely top 10, two seasons over 1800)
Faulk- 6,723, 54 TDs, 4.8 ypc (not amazing, but was a receiver too, 6800+ receiving yards in career)
Portis- 7,417, 54 TDs, 4.7 ypc (5.5 in first two seasons)...
So Portis was a better runner, in his prime, than all but half a dozen or so backs, ever. Scored more than Bettis and Martin and OJ. Ran more than Faulk. Had a ypc equivalent to Jim Brown after his first two seasons. Average season of ~1500 yards, ~11 TDs.
In 2017, Todd Gurley was considered a top 3 running back in league. He had 1300 yards and 13 TDs. This year Zeke had 1400 and 6 TDs.
But wait- you say- people don't run the ball as much nowadays...Hmm okay let's look.
Zeke carried the ball 304 times this season. In 15 games.
Portis didn't hit the 300 mark in either of his first two seasons, and his career high was 352 in 2005.
Only 48 times more than Zeke. And Portis played an extra game.So two extra carries per game. Maybe 8-10 yards more per game.
Also, the man ran a 4.35 in the combine, ran a 21.8 second 200M, and in 2006, four years into the league, ran a 4.26! At 219 pounds! Most guys that run a sub 4.3 are under 200 pounds. Examples: Marquis Goodwin: 4.27, 190 lbs.
Chris Johnson: 4.24, 197 lbs.
Deion Sanders: 4.17!, 182 lbs (he did get up to 200 later in career) but likely the 40 time went up over 4.3.
So what happened? Injuries, and up to 10 concussions, according to him. He was maybe 12 carries, a half of a game of action, away from breaking 10,000 yards in just 9 seasons and 113 games.
And sadly, instead of living in a 5,000 sq foot mansion and serving as an assistant coach or something, according to Wikipedia, "Due to mismanagement by his financial advisors, which caused him to lose multiple homes, Portis now resides in a two-bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia. In a 2017 interview with Sports Illustrated, Portis admitted that he contemplated murdering his former financial advisors."
When he was able to play 13+ games in a season, he hit the 1200 yard mark every time, six seasons.
In those six seasons, he had over 8600 yards (nearly 1500/season).
He only he could have played an extra 30 total games in those empty seasons, he would have been at the 13,000 yard mark, joining on elite group of nine running backs.
When he played, he was a one in a decade talent, and sadly, he didn't even make it a decade.
I do hope that more people end up with Emmitt careers than Portis careers, but with injuries and concussions becoming more common, I doubt it happens.