Why don’t Hall-of-Fame voters warm up to Edgerrin James?

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

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.


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  1. Rob
    February 17, 2018

    Do you think not winning a Super Bowl has hurt Edgerrin James case?

    • February 17, 2018

      Doesn’t help. Except it didn’t hurt Randy Moss or Terrell Owens … and they were up against another guy, Isaac Bruce, who not only won a Super Bowl but had the game-winning catch in it. Didn’t hurt Brian Dawkins, either, and John Lynch won one.

  2. bachslunch
    February 18, 2018

    I’m actually not surprised Edgerrin James has struggled a bit to be elected. Compared to other HoF RBs, he’s clearly deserving but also a second tier level guy. He isn’t a significant compiler like Bettis or Martin, both of whom took a few years to make it in, he doesn’t have the type of peak someone like Gale Sayers or Terrell Davis had, and he’s not an elite high peak/strong career player like Jim Brown, Walter Payton, or Emmitt Smith. He’s most like guys such as Thurman Thomas, Tony Dorsett, and Marcus Allen, with a few elite level seasons and solid filler without big compiling numbers but enough to matter, though they didn’t wait as long.

    Agreed that a lack of postseason exposure doesn’t help him, nor does his career shape, which is heavily front loaded with a long tapering off stretch.

    But he did reach the 12K career rushing yard mark, he has a decent enough profile of 3/4/00s (and being 1st team all decade should carry weight), and he was clearly the best back in the league a few times. It all adds up to eventual induction but a solid wait. Being the only viable RB candidate for the next 5-plus seasons helps, too — he’s the kind of player who will likely bide his time and slip in though the cracks like Morten Andersen did. He has a lot of eligibility left, too. I’ll be very surprised if he falls to the Senior pool.

    • February 18, 2018

      Hope you’re right. He’s just not getting any traction, though, failing to make finals two of his four years. And there is little debate about him once in room. Look, I’m not saying the guy is a slam dunk, but I am saying I’m surprised there’s not more support. He was first-team all-decade, but, as we’re learning, that doesn’t seem to mean all that much … especially when it comes to OL. We’re more interested in pushing guys in high-profile positions. Running back should be one of them … why I’m not sure why there’s such an indifference about James … much as there was about Roger Craig. Never got why he didn’t make it.

      • 1976 Pitt Panthers
        February 19, 2018

        I have theories why James hasn’t received more HOF support. First, having the Colts win the SB the year after James left for Arizona wasn’t helpful. Second, Peyton Manning struggled in a number of big games when he couldn’t produce enough points, and I’m having a difficult time coming up with times when James saved the day.

        Thirdly, James kind of faded away after leaving Indy. He did lead Arizona in rushing in their SB year, but wasn’t the same player. While Curtis Martin had a sensational next to last season, and Jerome Bettis was ripping off six 100 yard games for a 15-1 team, James had a weaker conclusion to his career. We also can’t forget Bettis had a signature moment in a crucial regular season game against the Bears in his final season.

        Agree about James having a compelling case for enshrinement, but the competition is very fierce for a small number of spots.

        • February 19, 2018

          Agree, but that’s all I’m trying to say. I’m not saying he should’ve been inducted this year, as some critics mistakenly suggest. I’m simply wondering why he doesn’t get more traction. One first-team all-decade RB from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s not in Canton, and it’s James. But he hasn’t even been a finalist in two of four years. Just wondering why. I think you can make a case for him. But there’s virtually no conversation about him and you can feel the chill in the room. Not sure why.

  3. Rich Quodomine
    February 19, 2018

    I would think this also reflective of the recent de-valuing of RBs in general. So the thinking goes: “IF Olandis Gary can get 1000 yards in a season, how hard can it be to be a great RB?” It’s a weak take, but that’s what people think. Edge James deserves to get in, and he will. He was much like Thurman Thomas a generation later, though a better runner, lesser catcher, with a longer tail end to his career where he compiled his finishing stats.

    • February 19, 2018

      I’m wondering, Rich, if voters don’t see him as more like Roger Craig … and let him drift to the senior pile. Hope I’m wrong. Has a lot of eligibility left, but, man, the indifference toward him is surprising.

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