Edgerrin James’ Hall of Fame Case

Today’s post is brought to you by Blue Blood.  It’s the best history of the Indianapolis Colts ever written.  It’s also the only one.

Yesterday, I examined Marvin Harrison’s Hall of Fame case, which wasn’t particularly challenging.  Edgerrin James, however, is a tougher case. James is one of the great Colts ever, but does he have enough on the resume to make Canton?  Let’s look at his case:

  • 2 rushing titles
  • 11th all time in rushing yards
  • 18th in rushing TDs
  • 4 Pro Bowls
  • 1 All Pro

James’ career was altered by a severe knee injury after just two full seasons. Amazing as they were, Edge was never a spectacular player again.  He crossed from the category of dominant to steady.  My suspicion is that right now, he’ll be viewed as more of a ‘compiler’ than a dominant running back.  James’ ‘similarity score’ lines up against six other Hall of Fame running backs, but I don’t think most people ‘feel’ he is a Hall of Famer.

The best way to judge James is to place him in context.  Currently, 11 of the top 20 runners on the all time yards list are in the Hall of Fame.  Two more are finalists this year (Faulk and Bettis).  Six are not eligible.  One, Ricky Watters, has not (and will not) be inducted.  Let’s compare Edge to the other guys in the top 20, and other contemporary players.

G Carries Yards YPC TD Rec Rec Yards Rec TD Pro Bowls All Pro Black Ink Grey Ink
Edgerrin James 148 3028 12246 4.0 80 433 3364 11 4 1 2 7
Marshall Faulk 176 2836 12279 4.3 100 767 6875 36 7 3 4 10
Marcus Allen 222 3022 12243 4.1 123 587 5411 21 6 2 2 8
Franco Harris 173 2949 12120 4.1 91 307 2287 9 9 1 1 9
Thurman Thomas 182 2877 12074 4.2 65 472 4458 23 5 2 1 8
Fred Taylor* 153 2534 11695 4.6 66 290 2384 8 1 0 0 3
John Riggins 175 2916 11352 3.9 104 250 2090 12 1 1 2 4
Corey Dillon 150 2618 11241 4.3 82 244 1913 7 4 0 0 5
O.J. Simpson 135 2404 11236 4.7 94 203 2142 14 6 5 7 13
Warrick Dunn 181 2669 10967 4.1 49 510 4339 15 3 0 0 2
Ricky Watters 144 2622 10643 4.1 78 467 4248 13 5 0 0 7
Jerome Bettis 192 3479 13662 3.9 91 200 1449 3 6 2 0 7
Curtis Martin 168 3518 14101 4.0 90 484 3329 10 5 1 1 7
LaDainian Tomlinson* 156 3099 13404 4.3 144 582 4323 15 5 3 5 13
Priest Holmes 113 1780 8172 4.6 86 339 2962 8 3 3 2 7
Terrell Davis 78 1655 7607 4.6 60 169 1280 5 3 3 4 9
Clinton Portis* 113 2230 9923 4.4 75 247 2018 5 2 0 1 9
Shaun Alexander 123 2187 9453 4.3 100 215 1520 12 3 1 3 9

Hall of Famers in italics. Active players have an asterisk. Grey ink requires a top 5 finish in yards, YPC, or rushing touchdowns.  Faulk and Bettis are Hall of Fame finalists this year.

A couple of players are clearly lacking.  Fred Taylor has almost no grey ink or Pro Bowls and was never one of the best backs in the league.  The same goes for Corey Dillon and Warrick Dunn.  Some of the contemporary players simply weren’t good enough long enough (Holmes, Portis, Alexander).

The first 10 names are spots 11-20 on the all time rushing list.  The second seven names are contemporary backs.  What is striking is how short Edge’s career really was.  He played far fewer games than most of the other names in the top 20, but had more carries.  James was clearly a work horse back.  What hurts Edge as much as anything is his relatively low touchdown numbers. He also falls into the same category of Ricky Watters, who had a similar career.  To too many people, he just doesn’t have the pizazz necessary to get a second look.

On this list, Faulk and Tomlinson are locks for the Hall of Fame.  Bettis is highly popular, and ultimately his inclusion would help Edge’s case dramatically.  Curtis Martin, who ranks higher than James on the all time rushing list also has a decent shot.  However, James compares very favorably to both Bettis and Martin (and Thurman Thomas).  He has the same YPC as Martin and virtually identical receiving numbers. Martin has him in total rushing numbers in part because he carried the ball 500 more times for about 2000 more yards.  Those carries have value, and in the end it could be the thing that does James in.

If James had managed to be productive for even one more full season, his chances of enshrinement would have skyrocketed.  As it stands, he probably won’t make the Hall anytime soon.  Oddly enough, his numbers stack up pretty well, and there’s a good chance that as football changes, Edge will get a second look in a few decades.  If running backs put up huge numbers and he slides down the all time leaderboard, he’ll be in trouble, but as football moves away from the run to the pass, it’s possible Edge will stay in the top 15 or 20 for several decades. The longer he does, the better his chance for enshrinement. 

James is exactly the kind of player who gets in via the veterans committee.  His numbers look good next to Martin and Bettis.  If both of them make Canton, then someday, perhaps in 20 or 30 years, Edge will too. Some day, someone will take up James’ case.  Armed with comparable numbers to other guys already in Canton, Edge will go down as one of the great overlooked players of the past decade.

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