The 2,000 yard season.
In some circles, this may be the greatest accomplishment a running back can ever make. With Chris Johnson joining the ranks by six yards in 2009, there are now only six players in NFL history that can claim the title. But 2,000 yards comes at a price, and history shows us things are not looking good for CJ2K.
The feat was first done by O.J. Simpson in 1973, gaining 2,003 yards (in a 14 game season!), followed by Eric Dickerson in 1984, Barry Sanders in 1997, Terrell Davis in 1998, Jamal Lewis in 2003, and Chris Johnson in 2009. All of these players needed over 300 carries to achieve this mark; four of the six players needed over 350 carries (O.J. Simpson and Barry Sanders being the two players that did not). Ironically, only Terrell Davis was able to win a Superbowl during this remarkable run. Two did not make the post-season, and the other three were knocked out in the first round by scores of 10-7, 10-7, and 9-8.
So what do all these numbers really mean? It's not so much about the season these players had, but their futures afterwards.
It's no surprise that 300+ carries takes a toll on the body, but the drop-off in statistics following a 2,000 yard season is tremendous. Not counting Chris Johnson (because we don't have his statistics following his historic year), take a look at the combined numbers of the 2,000 yard runners from their greatest moment, to their following season:
2,000 Yard Season (Combined Statistics excluding Chris Johnson)
Following Season (Combined Statistics excluding Chris Johnson)
Some would say a drop-off is obvious, because it's nearly impossible to improve on a 2,000 yard season. But with 5,000 yards (1,000 each) and 28 touchdowns (5.6 each), these numbers are pedestrian at best. This is a tremendous decline in productivity, but it doesn't end there.
Of the 27 combined seasons played by these running backs following the 2,000 yard season, only 9 of them were completed in their entirety. Injuries plagued these players and durability became a huge concern.
An accomplishment unlike any other or a curse in disguise? Only Eric Dickerson was able to attain an adequate level of success after his 2,000 yard season. The rest were hurt, beaten, bruised, and forced into retirement.
As for Chris Johnson, he has a great opportunity as a young player to make a huge impact on the NFL and create his legacy as a running back. Let's hope he makes it past year three or major problems are at stake.