Two weeks ago, Hall-of-Fame voters were told how much productivity matters — and they responded by voting two of the most productive wide receivers in NFL history into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But if productivity matters so much, why isn’t anyone buying into Edgerrin James?
Because they’re not.
Two years ago, he was a Hall-of-Fame finalist in his second year of eligibility … and, OK, so he didn’t make the first cut. It happens. At least he reached the room.
Except … then he didn’t. He failed to become a finalist in 2017, and don’t ask me why. He just didn’t. Then he reappeared this year, only to fail to make the cut to 10 again.
But productivity is supposed to matter to voters, and Edgerrin James had so much of it as first-team all-decade running back that he was part of a three-pronged monster in Indianapolis. There was Peyton Manning throwing the ball, Marvin Harrison catching it and Edge running it and catching it. It was the Colts’ answer to the Dallas Cowboys’ Triplets.
Except, apparently, it wasn’t. Not in the eyes of Hall-of-Fame voters it wasn’t.
They ignored the fact that in six of James’ seven years with Indianapolis, the Colts reached the playoffs. The only year they missed was 2001 … when James missed all but six games with a serious knee injury. They ignored the fact that he led the league in rushing in his first two years as a pro and was the last rookie to lead the NFL in rushing … until Ezekiel Elliott did it in 2016. They ignored the fact that he had 57 career 100-yard rushing games, behind Emmitt Smith (78), Walter Payton (77), Barry Sanders (76). Eric Dickerson (64), Jerome Bettis (61) and Jim Brown (58) and with as many as Curtis Martin (57).
All are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
They ignored the fact that he had 25 games of 100 or more yards rushing in his first 40 starts, eclipsing the NFL record (41) of Earl Campbell, another Hall of Famer. They ignored the fact that in seven of the first eight years when he played at least 14 games he ran for no fewer than 1,159 yards a season and averaged 1,422.2 yards a year. They ignored the fact that he scored at least 11 times in four of those seasons and 14 or more in three of them.
They ignored the fact that he averaged 125.7 scrimmage yards per game during his career with the Colts — the best mark at the time of his departure of any all-time performer with a career of at least 60 games. They ignored the fact that he became the fastest … and youngest … player in league history 10,000, 11,000 and 12,000 yards from scrimmage. And they ignored the fact that from 1999-2005, he eclipsed 1,500 yards rushing four times, tied with Walton Payton and Eric Dickerson and just one behind Barry Sanders.
All three are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When he retired following the 2009 season, James ranked 11th all-time in rushing … and that despite playing much of his career on an offense where passing were the first and second options. But that’s not all. He ranked 19th among running backs in career receptions, too, as well as 13th in first-down receptions.
Bottom line: The Indianapolis Colts weren’t just Manning, Harrison and, later, Reggie Wayne. They were Edgerrin James, too.
“Edgerrin James was one of the best all-around running backs to ever play in the NFL,” said Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy, who coached James in Indianapolis. “He could run, catch and pass protect, and he was the missing piece to the offensive puzzle when he came to the Colts in 1999.”
So how come it’s taken voters so long to warm up to the guy? I don’t know, either, but time is on his side. He has 16 years of eligibility left, and there’s no Hall-of-Fame worthy back looming in the next few classes. That’s the good news. The bad is that there is a raft of Hall-of-Fame worthy talent everywhere else, and that may divert attention from someone who always commanded it from opponents.
And that’s a shame.
“(Edgerrin James),” said Peyton Manning, “is a Hall-of-Fame running back, without a doubt.”
Someone remind voters. If productivity is supposed to matter — and they just told us it does — then Manning is right. Edgerrin James is a Hall-of-Fame running back … without a doubt.