NFL: Rushing for 1,000 Yards Still a Good Measure of Success?

Jeff LittleSenior Writer IApril 12, 2008

The NFL Season starts the weekend after Labor Day. Each team plays 16 games during a 17-week period. Since the NFL started there’ve been countless changes. This article will focus on the number of games played during the regular-season. From 1935 – 1960 an NFL team played 12 games or less. This didn’t change until the 1961 season when the teams played a total 14 games.


This change came about when the American Football League began play. One thing that made the AFL different was its 14-game schedule over a 15-week period, in which each of the eight teams played each of the other teams twice, with one bye week.


The NFL at that time had a fight on its hands; competition from the new league caused them to move to a 14-game season. Today’s NFL season consists of 16 games and has been that way since the 1978 season.


When a running back rushes for 1,000 yards it is deemed a measure of success. Is rushing for 1,000-yards in one season still an appropriate number? In today’s NFL, if a running back rushes for 1,000 yards in one season, he has run for an average of 62.5 yards per game. That's hardly a true measure of success, unless those 62.5 yards were instrumental in deciding if the team won.


If that same runner churned out 40 to 50 yards in the third or fourth quarter and kept a hot opposing quarterback on the sidelines, 62.5 yards would be huge.     

During a 14-game season, if a running back rushed for 1,000 yards he would have gained an average for 71.4 yards per game. This is almost a 10-yard-per-game increase. The increase is higher and more significant in a 12-game season with 83.33 yards per game average. So what is the real difference?

The real difference is reflected in two different ways: time of possession and the big breakaway runs. If you take away the big runs in the NFL of most players, you’re talking anywhere from one or two a game. So you would say 10-16 long breakaway runs per season. I’m talking runs over 20-30 yards.  

On average I feel it can be viewed as productivity over long distance runs. I think the bar has to be raised now that it is a 16-game season. I think the measure of success for a running back has to increase as well.


Rushing for 85 yards per game in a 16-game season would put a runner in excess of 1,300 yards per season. That should be the new measure of success for a NFL running back. It would usually allow that runner's team to win the time of possession battle, impact each game and lead to an impressive season. The breakaway runs would take this mark higher.


Reaching that number would be difficult in this era of having two runners share the load in a two-headed rushing tandem. Having two runners share the load does extend the season for both runners and keep them from being exhausted in the fourth quarter. While the bar needs to be raised, it will be at the expense of some individual rushing totals.