Out of the greatest seasons enjoyed by running backs in NFL history, which Kansas City Chiefs stand among the list?
You see lists all the time that subjectively evaluate a team’s best moments—the best draft picks, players, seasons, etc. It’s fun to sit around with friends and rattle off the list of your team’s best quarterbacks or running backs, and where they rank in the NFL, just to pass the time until football season starts again. That’s where we’re at right now—waiting for football season to start.
Last week I created a formula that determined who the Chiefs’ top 10 draft picks were in the history of the franchise. This week, I’m going to take a step back and evaluate something that involves all 32 teams in the NFL, formulating the top 25 running back seasons of all time. Specifically, I’m curious about where past Chiefs running backs fall on that list?
For this list, I went as far back as 1953. I ultimately chose 81 running back seasons to analyze, based somewhat on the eye test. For instance, If a running back had a great season for his time but rushed for less than 1,000 yards he likely wasn’t evaluated on this list. There are a few exceptions, but not many.
I chose these players based on seven factors. I’ll list each factor and then give a brief explanation of the score it was given.
First, each player was given an era score. This score is meant to help running backs’ scores from past eras compete with running backs of today. Why, you might ask? Because player training, nutrition, recovery, and pretty much every other aspect of player health has been improved throughout the years. I wanted to even the playing field for older era players. If a player played this decade, they received zero points. If they played in the past decade they received 10 points. Each previous decade received 10 more points than the last, ending with 60 points in the 1950s.
Second, each running back receives a point for each yard rushed for in a given year. Third, each running back receives 10 points for a yards per carry average over four, 20 points for a yards per carry average over five, and 30 points for a yards per carry average over six. Fourth, each running back receives six points for every rushing touchdown scored for the year.
Factors five, six and seven are the same factors but for receiving. The only scoring difference is that each running back receives a points equivalent to their yards per reception. I found this to be a less relevant statistic for running backs and thus wanted to slightly diminish its importance in the formula. Running backs, for most of the history of the NFL, are far more rushers than pass catchers.
Finally, each total score will need to be normalized. This is for two reasons. First, the number of games played in a regular season has changed throughout the history of the league. Second, some players on this list missed time for various reasons. Two rectify these two inconsistencies, if needed I will extrapolate each player’s numbers over 16 games by dividing 16 by the number of games they played in the year in question. I will then multiply their initial scores by this new factor to create a normalized season score.
These scores are then ranked in order to come up with the top 25 running back seasons of all time. A picture of the formula is shown below:
What you’ll notice from this list is that the more versatile a running back’s season is, likely the more highly he will be ranked. Yards from scrimmage was generally more impactful than total touchdowns. So, a great rushing season without a solid receiving season may push a running back down the list and vice versa.
Now, as I say with all of these historical research pieces, everyone has a slightly different opinion of what stats, awards, etc. are most valuable and impactful. As such, there are likely a wide range of opinions of who should be in the top 25 all time for this given ranking. These are simply seven arbitrarily chosen variables, normalized over sixteen games, that I feel can help us objectively evaluate who should make this list and where our favorite Chiefs land.
Further, the following 29 seasons were curated from a list that originally comprised 81 seasons dating back to 1953. It’s possible I left someone out that is a personal favorite of yours, ranked your favorite player lower than you think he should be, or that I simply made a small mistake here or there. For that, I apologize, but I’m confident this is an extremely strong list of candidates for the NFL’s top 25 running back seasons of all time.