The Evolution of the Pass-Catching Running Back in the NFL

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The Evolution of the Pass-Catching Running Back in the NFL
Bob Levey/Getty Images
Arian Foster

If you’re looking for one way that the National Football League has changed since, say the start of the century, you don’t have to go much further than looking at how running backs are being used.

In simple terms, NFL teams are looking for ways to get the ball into the hands of their fleet-footed runners. No longer is the game limited to handing the ball off to the best runner and letting him find a way up the field. These days, passing the ball to your running back is just as important as the quarterback handing the ball off to his runners.

Let’s quantify this… using 250 or more rushing attempts and 50 receptions in a season as the yardstick, we see that in NFL history there have been 107 occasions when a running back had 250-plus rushing attempts and 50-plus receptions in the same season. Fifty different running backs have accomplished this feat in NFL history.

Last season three players met these numbers: Houston’s Arian Foster with 278 carries and 53 receptions; Tennessee’s Chris Johnson with 262 carries and 57 receptions; and the Ravens’ Ray Rice, who carried the ball 291 times to go along with his 76 catches.

Of those 107 occasions, 55 of them have occurred since 2000, a testament to the fact that teams have increased the workload of their runners with pass catching responsibilities. (Most running backs to meet these numbers was seven in both the 2000 and 2003 seasons.)

Following are the running backs that have had the most seasons with 250+ carries and 50+ receptions.

 

Kent Horner/Getty Images
LaDainian Tomlinson

Seasons with 250+ carries/50+ receptions, Players

8: LaDainian Tomlinson

6: Marshall Faulk

5: Tiki Barber, Edgerrin James

4: Ahman Greene, Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Ricky Watters

3: Marcus Allen, Ottis Anderson, William Andrews, Priest Holmes, Ray Rice, Lydell Mitchell

 

If we move the criteria up to 300 carries and 70 catches, only eight players have met those numbers in league history. They are:

Lydell Mitchell, 1977, Baltimore, 301 carries, 71 catches

James Wilder, 1984, Tampa Bay, 407 carries, 85 catches

Roger Craig, 1988, San Francisco, 310 carries, 76 catches

Marshall Faulk, 1998, Indianapolis, 324 carries, 86 catches

Curtis Martin, 2000, N.Y. Jets, 316 carries, 70 catches

LaDainian Tomlinson, 2002, San Diego, 372 carries, 79 catches

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Steven Jackson

Priest Holmes, 2002, Kansas City, 313 carries, 70 catches

LaDainian Tomlinson, 2003, San Diego, 313 carries, 100 catches

Priest Holmes, 2003, Kansas City, 320 carries, 74 catches

Steven Jackson, St. Louis, 2006, 346 carries, 90 catches

 

Here’s a few more stats concerning running backs with 250-plus carries and 50-plus catches in a season:

* Four players accomplished this feat at the age of 30: Tiki Barber (2006, 2007 at age 30 and 31), Ricky Watters (2000 at age 31), Tony Dorsett (1984 at age 30) and Priest Holmes (2003 at age 30).

* LaDainian Tomlinson holds the record for most consecutive seasons with 250-plus rushing attempts and 50-plus receptions with eight. He did it from 2001-2008. Tiki Barber did it in five straight seasons from 2002-2006.

* Eight players reached the 250/50 milestone in their rookie season. They were: Billy Sims (1980), Joe Cribbs (1980), Eric Dickerson (1983), Marshall Faulk (1994), Edgerrin James (1999), LaDainian Tomlinson (2001), Steve Slaton (2008) and Matt Forte (2008).

* Two players in NFL history not only had 250 carries and 50 catches, but also had at least one kickoff return and one punt return in that season. Joe Cribbs did it in 1980, Maurice Jones-Drew did it in 2009.

 

Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp

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