NFL

NFL Analysis: Does Edgerrin James Belong in Hall of Fame?

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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:

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  • 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.