Recently I was playing my old Madden football games on my Xbox. It was a great trip down memory lane, and it was quite interesting to see the evolution of the storied franchise over recent years. One of the newer innovations that I enjoyed was the Superstar mode.
For those of you not familiar with Madden's Superstar mode, it basically lets you control an NFL rookie and guide him through his career to hopefully one day make the Hall of Fame.
As I was scrolling through the playable rookies in the 2008-09 version of the game, I noticed something astonishing, the 2008 running back draft class was absolutely loaded with future stars and starters.
Here's a list of some of the studs in the group:
Darren McFadden: 2,627 yards rushing, 1,191 receiving yards, 20 total touchdowns.
Rashard Mendenhall: 3,329 yards rushing, 599 receiving yards, 31 total touchdowns.
Chris Johnson: 5,645 yards rushing, 1,426 yards receiving, 42 total touchdowns.
Jonathan Stewart: 3,500 rushing yards, 702 receiving yards, 29 total touchdowns.
Felix Jones: 2,326 rushing yards, 800 receiving yards, 10 total touchdowns.
Peyton Hillis: 2,161 rushing yards, 805 receiving yards, 23 total touchdowns.
Jamaal Charles: 3,027 rushing yards, 1,046 receiving yards, 18 total touchdowns.
Ray Rice: 4,377 rushing yards, 2,235 receiving yards, 29 total touchdowns.
Kevin Smith: 2,212 rushing yards, 1,003 receiving yards, 20 total touchdowns.
Matt Forte: 4,233 rushing yards, 1,985 receiving yards, 29 total touchdowns.
Steve Slaton:1,896 rushing yards, 809 receiving yards, 19 total touchdowns.
Tashard Choice: 1,216 rushing yards, 550 receiving yards, nine total touchdowns.
Ryan Torain: 1,011 rushing yards, 148 receiving yards, eight total touchdowns.
BenJarvis Green-Ellis: 2,042 rushing yards, 292 receiving yards, 29 total touchdowns.
Justin Forsett: 1,287 rushing yards, 730 receiving yards, eight total touchdowns.
Tim Hightower: 2,054 rushing yards, 879 receiving yards, 25 total touchdowns.
That's four elite runners (Johnson, Charles, Forte, Rice), four very good starters (McFadden, Mendenhall, Stewart, Hillis) and eight borderline starters/change-of-pace backs.
It struck me how rare of an occurrence it is to have this much talent at one position group, even in today's game where running backs are a dime a dozen.
Just to prove how good this group is, let's compare them to the 2001 running back class that included LaDanian Tomlinson, Deuce McAllister and Rudi Johnson. Here are the notables stats after four years.
Michael Bennett: 2,701 rushing yards, 916 receiving yards, 12 total touchdowns.
LaMont Jordan: 1,277 rushing yards, 417 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns.
LaDanian Tomlinson: 5,899 rushing yards, 2,022 receiving yards, 60 total touchdowns.
Deuce McAllister: 4,194 rushing yards, 1,262 receiving yards, 35 total touchdowns.
Anthony Thomas: 3,332 rushing yards, 509 receiving yards, 21 total touchdowns.
Travis Henry: 3,849 rushing yards, 691 receiving yards, 29 total touchdowns.
Kevan Barlow: 3,032 rushing yards, 902 receiving yards, 24 total touchdowns.
Rudi Johnson: 2,478 rushing yards, 264 receiving yards, 21 total touchdowns.
Correll Buckhalter: 1,128 rushing yards, 263 receiving, 11 total touchdowns.
James Jackson: 1,071 rushing yards, 201 receiving yards, five total touchdowns.
Dominic Rhodes: 1,515 rushing yards, 310 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns.
Marcel Shipp: 1,664 rushing yards, 597 receiving yards, nine touchdowns.
Travis Minor: 1,042 rushing yards, 351 receiving yards, nine total touchdowns.
I only did 13 players from the 2001 draft mainly because I could not find any other noteworthy backs from that class. Still it is an impressive group of backs with two elite runners (Tomlinson, McAllister), two above-average starters (Henry, Johnson) and a bunch of other very good backups, but even this great group cannot stand up to the 2008 class.
The 2001 class rushed for a combined 33,182 yards, had 8,705 receiving yards and 258 total touchdowns in their first four years. The 2008 class rushed for a combined 42,943 yards, 15,200 receiving yards and 340 total touchdowns in their first four.
The 2008 class was more prolific by a wide margin, but the 2001 class is still the closest class in recent NFL history for first four-year production.
This leads me to believe that the 2008 class has directly led to many analysts using the old adage of running backs "being a dime a dozen" as often as they do. While it is true that a serviceable running back is not hard to find, there are not usually as many solid running backs in the league as there are right now.
I have a feeling that when these guys exit the league, we will see a sharp decline in good running backs. Right now, eight of these players are starters and most of the others are in a position to make a large impact as a backup.
The 2008 rookies are shaping up to be the best running back class in NFL history and it will be interesting to see their impact going forward.