In two weeks, two running backs will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and neither is Fred Taylor or Corey Dillon.
Apparently, that’s a problem … for Fred Taylor and Corey Dillon.
Each believes he should be in. So each has taken this month to knock the Hall-of-Fame process, saying they belong in Canton over running backs already there and questioning why voters haven’t warmed up to their candidacies.
It’s a good question. And there’s a good answer.
Taylor is the 17th all-time leading rusher, and that’s pretty damned good. He has more career yardage than, say, Hall-of-Famers John Riggins (19th), O.J. Simpson (21st) and Terrell Davis (55th), who will be enshrined Aug. 5.
Dillon, meanwhile, is the 20th all-time rusher, and that puts him ahead of Simpson and Davis, too. And that’s pretty damned good. But it doesn’t make either Hall-of-Fame ready.
Tell me, for instance, which one led the league in rushing. OK, then, tell me which one led the league in rushing touchdowns or was a first-team All-Pro. Or how about this: Which one was all-decade … I don’t care first-or-second team … just which one was included among the best backs of his era?
If you’re having trouble, get in line.
Taylor was a second-team All-Pro in 2007, the same year he was named to his one and only Pro Bowl. Dillon was chosen to four Pro Bowls but never to an All-Pro team. Neither led the league in rushing, neither led the league in rushing touchdowns and neither was an all-decade choice.
But Edgerrin James was. He also led the league in rushing. Twice. He was named to four Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams, was the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and was a first-team all-decade choice for the 2000s.
So what does Edgerrin James have to do with Fred Taylor and Corey Dillon? This: He’s not in the Hall of Fame, either. In fact, he wasn’t even a finalist a year ago.
Then there’s former Seattle star Shaun Alexander. He’s a second-team all-decade running back from the 2000s’ team and was a league MVP and NFL Player of the Year. He also led the league in rushing and twice led the league in rushing touchdowns.
But he’s never been a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist.
The same goes for former running back Jamal Lewis. He led the league in rushing and is one of only seven backs to break 2,000 yards in one year (2,066 in 2003, the third-most in league history). He’s also an all-decade choice and former NFL Offensive Player of the Year who ranks 24th in all-time rushing. Yet he can’t get a sniff of Canton, either.
Like Alexander, he’s never been one of the Hall’s 25 semifinalists.
And I didn’t even mention Steven Jackson. He ranks 18th in career rushing, one spot below Taylor and two ahead of Dillon. He had fewer career scores (78) than either, though he’s close (Dillon had 89; Taylor 88), but more career 1,000-yard seasons. Jackson had eight. Jackson and Dillon each had seven. He also had more career scrimmage yards (15,121, three shy of Hall-of-Famer Tim Brown) and was named to three Pro Bowls and two All-Pro teams.
So he’s right there with these guys. But let me ask you: When’s the last time you heard someone say, “Steven Jackson belongs in the Hall of Fame and is better than some of the guys … no, most of the running backs … in there?”
So don’t tell me the process is unfair to Fred Taylor and/or Corey Dillon. If they want to complain, they’re going to have to take numbers after James, Alexander and Lewis. And while we’re at it, they can make way for Ricky Watters and Roger Craig, too.
None is in Canton, and only two — James and Craig — have been finalists, as they should have been.
Craig was the first to gain 1,000 yards as a running back and 1,000 yards as a receiver in the same season, a feat equaled by only one other — Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk. Craig went to four Pro Bowls and is the only player in league history chosen as a halfback AND as a fullback. He was a two-time All-Pro. He was also a league MVP, an Offensive Player of the Year and member of the 1980s’ all-decade team. And he was part of a team that won three Super Bowls.
Yet he can’t get into the Hall without a ticket, with his time as a modern-era candidate near its end.
Craig has been Hall-of-Fame eligible for 19 years. Dillon, on the other hand, has been eligible six. And Taylor? Two. You heard me: Two. Yet he’s the guy who last week said he’s better than running backs already in the Hall.
Except he’s not. What’s more, he’s not better than guys not in the Hall.
The same goes for Corey Dillon. Unlike Taylor, he played for a Super Bowl champion. He was part of the 2004 New England Patriots. Unlike Taylor he was never an All-Pro, first or second team. Yet he claims he’s more deserving of Hall-of-Fame recognition than Davis, a two-time Offensive Player of the Year, a league MVP and a Super Bowl MVP?
Pardon me, but uh-uh.
Look, I get the push-back on Davis. His career was short — basically three-and-a-half years — and that’s going to cause problems going forward for voters asked to reconsider candidates with brief tenures. I also get where Dillon and Taylor are coming from. They had the longevity and career numbers that Davis … OK, Gale Sayers, too … did not.
But what mark did they make on the league? Davis was the catalyst to John Elway’s two Super Bowl victories. He had a 2,000-yard season. He had seven 100-yard performances in eight playoff games, scoring 12 times in those games. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career and scored 53 TDs in three seasons. He led the league in rushing. He led the league in touchdowns. In short, when he played, no back was better.
And he didn’t run out of gas. His career was ended when he suffered a knee injury chasing down a defender who had intercepted a pass.
But forget about Davis. He’s already in the Hall … or will be soon. What about James? And Alexander? And Lewis? And Watters? And Craig? They’re not. And until or unless they make their runs at Canton, Fred Taylor and Corey Dillon can’t be, either … and not because I say so.
But because reason does.
Look, this isn’t the Hall of Very Good we’re talking about. It’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Fred Taylor and Corey Dillon were outstanding running backs. But when you’re not considered among the best four backs of your era … and three of the four who are (James, Alexander and Lewis) can’t reach Canton … then, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to wait until the queue is cleared.
If it ever does.