NFL Nation: Earl Campbell
Of the five players profiled in this project, Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson might be the most accomplished relative to his career span. And yet his case exemplifies, more than any other, the difficulty of separating yourself as one of the all-time elites at your position.
Peterson has effected one of the most productive starts to a career for any running back in NFL history. And still, he'll probably need to repeat that output to land in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As the first two charts show, Peterson rushed for more yards (5,782) in his first four seasons than all but five running backs in NFL history and more touchdowns (52) than all but four. That measure quantifies what we already knew: Peterson has been the best back in the NFL over the past four years. It also gives us some perspective on how the start of his career compares to the best who ever played the game.
But four years of elite play doesn't necessarily qualify a running back for the Hall of Fame, not when players like Emmitt Smith endured for 15 years or Marcus Allen for 16 or Walter Payton for 13. The threshold for Hall of Fame running backs is the ability to sustain near-elite production beyond the short career arcs of most players at the position.
The next chart shows the 13 Hall of Fame running backs whose careers took place mostly in the post-merger era. Eleven eclipsed the 11,000-yard mark, and the two that didn't -- Larry Csonka and Earl Campbell -- were enshrined amid understandable mitigating factors. Csonka was the lead runner for the best team in NFL history, the 1972 Miami Dolphins. Campbell's white-hot career was cut short after 115 games.
Let's say Peterson doubles his current rushing total to get to 11,564 career yards. Currently, there are 18 players who rushed for at least 11,000 yards. Of the seven who aren't in the Hall of Fame, only two are eligible. Curtis Martin (14,101) and Jerome Bettis (13,662 yards) missed out in their first year of eligibility in January, but both seem likely to be elected within a few years.
Of course, it will be no small feat for Peterson to double his total -- and it isn't likely to come in the four years it took him to get this far. Take another look at the first two charts, which illustrate the historical company Peterson has kept early in his career.
Quite simply, running back is a brutal position. Terrell Davis rushed for a stunning 6, 413 yards during his first four seasons with the Denver Broncos. Slowed dramatically by health issues, Davis managed only 1,194 yards during the final four seasons of his career.
Another former Broncos running back, Clinton Portis, rushed for 5,930 yards in his first four seasons and 3,993 in the five seasons since.
It's possible that history will grade Davis and Portis with a "Broncos curve," a reference to the annual success of running backs in the system of former coach Mike Shanahan. Regardless, both had more production in their first four years than Peterson but slipped off that Hall of Fame pace thereafter.
Since the moment he arrived in the NFL, Peterson has drawn comparisons to Campbell, Eric Dickerson and some of the NFL's other all-time great running backs. His production over that stretch, relative to their early career performances, has justified those associations.
But there is a reason why football people caution such early comparisons with Hall of Famers. Even the all-time greats slow down in the second half of their careers. But importantly, they still reel off a number of highly productive seasons after their early explosions.
Dickerson rushed for 6,291 yards over his final seven seasons after opening his career with 6,968 yards in his first four. Jumping ahead, the still-active LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for 7,505 yards over six seasons after amassing 5,899 yards in his first four.
So let's arbitrarily say Peterson's cumulative production drops by 25 percent over the next four seasons. That means he averages 1,083 yards per season instead of his current 1,445. At that relatively optimistic rate, Peterson would need to play at least five more full seasons to eclipse 11,000 yards and demonstrate the kind of production over time that would give him the Hall of Fame spot he has positioned himself for.
Obviously, voters don't hold fast to the 11,000-yard barrier and have been known to consider mitigating circumstances. Campbell, for example, took a bruising 1,404 carries in his first four seasons. That's an average of 50 more per season than Peterson has taken, and it almost assuredly contributed to Campbell's short career.
It's easy to say that Adrian Peterson just needs to keep on running like Adrian Peterson in order to make the Hall of Fame. The history of running backs suggests he will slow down at some point in the next four years. The question is how much Peterson produces at a lower rate. To me, another five seasons of 75 percent Adrian Peterson should do the trick.
Earlier: Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has put himself on the path toward Canton. Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers and the Vikings' Jared Allen face stiff competition. Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson has all the credentials. Packers cornerback Charles Woodson is a lock.
"If you don't approach the season thinking that, then you shouldn't be playing football," Williams told me Tuesday afternoon. "The reason he said that is he probably heard Coach [Tony] Sparano say it, and that takes a lot of balls for a head coach to say it.
"He raised the bar, and it's our job to reach it."
When it came to the Henne comments, Williams looked at it from his quarterback's perspective and didn't think what Ross said was unfair at all.
"Who would Chad Henne be if he said 'I want to be the second-best quarterback in Miami Dolphins history?' " Williams said. "I don't want a quarterback like that on my team. I think you set the bar and you work hard.
Williams can relate to chasing greatness. When he enrolled in college, Texas Longhorns fans probably would've scoffed at the idea of a kid from San Diego breaking all the records owned by their beloved Earl Campbell.
"When I went to Texas on my recruiting trip, I walked into the T-Room, where they have all the pictures and the trophies, and I saw Earl Campbell's Heisman Trophy," Williams said. "At the time, I just said 'Wow, I'd like to put my trophy right next to it.' I didn't mean anything by it. It just touched me and thought it would be cool to have that happen.
"Through my whole college career, I always had that in the corner of my mind, and I think it motivated me, pushed me, kept me out of trouble and eventually it happened. If you set the bar and are serious about it, that's when great things happen."
Of course, Williams is looking at Ross remarks from the perspective of a prideful player on that team. There is a difference between internal pressure and outside pressure brought on by high expectations, as ESPN analyst and former New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi explained earlier.
Williams couldn't contain his smile when he thought about the upcoming season, which will provide him unprecedented stability. Until Williams mentioned it, I hadn't realized 2010 will be the first time in his career he has played for the same coach three seasons in a row.
"I'm just excited about the season," he said. "One thing I haven't experienced in my career is having the same coaches, the same players for more than a year or two.
"This regime is coming into Year 3, and it's nice to see how we've been able to build something. We've grown through our work ethic. We've added more talent. I think we’ve learned from our mistakes the last couple of years. It's exciting."
It was that good.
"I think if you asked each guy to a man, in particular the Hall of Fame guys, there has always been a pride about our class," said cornerback Darrell Green, the 28th overall choice in 1983 and a Hall of Famer. "Without ever discussing it, we knew we were a pretty special class of athletes."
The class produced six Hall of Famers –- Elway, Kelly, Marino, Green, Eric Dickerson and Bruce Matthews -– in addition to recent Hall finalists Richard Dent and Roger Craig. Of the 335 players drafted, 41 combined for 142 Pro Bowl appearances.
No other draft class has produced more than 34 Pro Bowl players since the NFL and AFL combined for a common draft in 1967, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That year served as the starting point for this project ranking the five best draft classes. The 1996, 1981, 1969 and 1985 drafts also made the cut.
Not that making the cut was good enough for some.
"If you took the defensive players in our draft and put them on the field against any class, we would shut them out," said Ronnie Lott, one of the more decorated members of a 1981 class featuring Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Rickey Jackson, Howie Long and Kenny Easley.
The project was biased against recent classes because their players haven’t had time to achieve in ways that set apart the older classes. The 2001 class has already produced 33 Pro Bowlers, same as the 1996 class and more than every other class but 1983, 1987 and 1988. But the best players from that class aren't finished achieving.
The biggest challenge, at least to me, was settling on the right criteria. ESPN Stats & Information provided an updated version of the spreadsheet used to identify elite draft classes for a previous project . The spreadsheet awarded points to players based on:
- Hall of Fame enshrinement (15 points)
- MVP awards (8)
- Player of the year awards (6)
- All-Pro first-team awards (4)
- All-Pro second-team awards (3)
- Super Bowl victories (3)
- Pro Bowls (2)
- Rookie of the year awards (2)
- Super Bowl defeats (1)
I used the spreadsheet as a starting point.
From there, I assigned 15 points to current or recently retired players likely destined for Canton. The players I singled out were: Troy Polamalu, Dwight Freeney, Ed Reed, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher, Tom Brady, Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Alan Faneca, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Taylor, Jonathan Ogden, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, Derrick Brooks, Marshall Faulk, Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Brett Favre, Junior Seau and Deion Sanders.
I added five points for Hall of Fame finalists not yet enshrined -- Cortez Kennedy, Shannon Sharpe, etc. These changes allowed the rich to get richer, of course, because all those players already had lots of Pro Bowls on their resumés. But if it was important to recognize current Hall of Famers -- and it was, I thought -- then it was important to acknowledge the strongest candidates not yet enshrined.
Another thing I noticed: These changes didn't significantly alter results, which were predicated mostly on Pro Bowl appearances, a statistical correlation revealed.
The next challenge was making sure the formula didn't acknowledge great players at the expense of good ones. ESPN's John Clayton and Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. felt the formula should take special care in this area. I wasn't as adamant.
"You love the Hall of Famers," Horton said, "but I like the class where the guy plays at a high level for a long time. I love those third-round picks that just play and play. We shouldn’t make a mistake at the first pick. That guy should be a great player."
Clayton used approximate-value ratings from Pro Football Reference to produce averages for each draft class. The 1993 class produced the highest average, followed by the 1996, 1983, 1975 and 1971 classes. Clayton also plugged in total games played. The 1983 class edged the 1993 class for the most, followed by the 1990, 1976 and 1988 classes.
A few key variables changed along the way.
Teams drafted at least 442 players annually from 1967 to 1976. They drafted more than 330 players each year from 1977 through 1992. The 1993 class featured only 224 players, fewer than any class under consideration. The first 224 players drafted in 1969 had much higher average approximate-value ratings than the 1993 class, for example. More recent draft classes also benefited from league expansion, which opened roster spots and opportunities for additional players.
NFL regular seasons also grew in length from 14 to 16 games beginning in 1978.
My focus was more on what the draft classes produced and less on extenuating circumstances.
The 1993 class is among those deserving honorable mention. Do the most decorated members of that class -- Strahan, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, John Lynch, Jerome Bettis and Drew Bledsoe among them -- hold up to the best from other years?
Take a look at my top five classes and decide for yourself.
Why it's the best: No other class came close using the point system from ESPN Stats & Information. The 1983 class finished in a virtual tie with the 1996 and 1981 classes even when I removed from consideration the three Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- Elway, Marino and Jim Kelly. No class had more combined Pro Bowls from its top-10 picks (42) or more combined Pro Bowls from players drafted later than the 200th overall choice (26). Five of the six Hall of Famers played their entire NFL careers with one team for 83 combined seasons, or 16.6 on average.
Hall of Famers: Elway (Broncos), Kelly (Bills), Marino (Dolphins), Green (Redskins), Dickerson (Rams), Matthews (Oilers)
Hall of Fame finalists: Richard Dent (Bears), Roger Craig (49ers)
Other big names: Karl Mecklenburg (Broncos), Joey Browner (Vikings), Chris Hinton (Broncos), Charles Mann (Redskins), Dave Duerson (Bears), Leonard Marshall (Giants), Albert Lewis (Chiefs), Curt Warner (Seahawks), Jimbo Covert (Bears), Henry Ellard (Rams), Mark Clayton (Dolphins), Tim Krumrie (Bengals), Greg Townsend (Raiders), Gill Byrd (Chargers), Don Mosebar (Raiders), Darryl Talley (Bills).
Late-round steals: Mecklenburg was the 310th overall choice. Dent went 203rd overall. Clayton went 223rd. They combined for 15 Pro Bowls.
Ah, the memories: Green grew up in Houston rooting for the Oilers, but his hometown team wasn't very accommodating on draft day. His family didn't have cable TV, so they couldn't watch the draft on ESPN. They had heard the Oilers would be showing it at their facility, or at least providing real-time updates, but Green was turned away.
"They sent my little behind on out of there," Green said. "That is the way that went. What is funny, I’m a Houstonian, I played 20 years in the NFL, started 18 years and I never played in Houston but one time, so I couldn’t stick it to them. ... But you always love your hometown. I was a Luv Ya Blue, Bum Phillips, Kenny Burrough, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini fan."
Green was used to the cold shoulder. Tim Lewis, drafted 11th overall by Green Bay, was supposed to be the superstar cornerback that year. Looking back, Green liked going one spot after Marino. Green also values being a bookend to a first round featuring Elway on the other side.
"[Redskins general manager] Bobby Beathard told me if I was there, he would take me," Green said. "I'd always been told by pro players, 'Hey, don’t believe anything they say.' As an adult, I know why. Things change. But the man told me. We got down to Dan Marino at 27 and I knew I wouldn't be 27. Then when we got to 28, the last pick of the first round, now I’ve got nothing else to do but believe it. I was extremely excited he maintained his word."
Why it's No. 2: Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis arguably rank among the three best players at their positions in NFL history. Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens arguably rank among the 10 greatest receivers. Between four and seven members from this class have strong credentials for Canton. Only the 1983 class produced more total Pro Bowl appearances. Unlike some other classes -- 1988 comes to mind -- this one provided star power deep into the draft.
Hall of Famers: none yet.
Hall of Fame finalists: none yet.
Strongest Hall credentials: Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), Marvin Harrison (Colts), Ray Lewis (Ravens), Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Terrell Owens (49ers), Zach Thomas (Dolphins), La'Roi Glover (Raiders).
Other big names: Mike Alstott (Bucs), Willie Anderson (Bengals), Simeon Rice (Bucs), Lawyer Milloy (Patriots), Tedy Bruschi (Patriots), Eddie George (Titans), Jeff Hartings (Lions), Keyshawn Johnson (Jets), Donnie Edwards (Chiefs), Jon Runyan (Oilers), Amani Toomer (Giants), Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers), Stephen Davis (Redskins), Joe Horn (Chiefs), Marco Rivera (Packers).
Late-round steals: Fifth-rounders Thomas, Glover and Horn combined for 17 Pro Bowls. Another fifth-rounder, Jermaine Lewis, added two more. No other fifth round produced more total Pro Bowls during the period in question. Although expansion added additional picks to more recent fifth rounds, those picks were also later in the draft. Thomas and Glover should get strong Hall of Fame consideration.
Ah, the memories: Glover was the 16th defensive tackle drafted in 1996. He wasn't even invited to the combine initially, and when he did get the call, there wasn't enough time to prepare for the specialized events. Glover, who weighed about 265 pounds at San Diego State, was in trouble and he knew it.
"It's funny to me now, but it wasn't funny then," Glover said. "I got a call maybe a week before the combine, so I wasn’t prepared. I was out there doing my long-distance conditioning training and I wasn’t doing speed-type training. I may have ran like a 5.1 or 5.2, a very bad time."
Glover performed much better at his personal workout, dropping those times into the low 4.9s. Oakland made him the 166th player chosen that year.
"I just remember feeling goosebumps and I started sweating -- the dream is coming true," Glover said. "And then I was put on the phone with Mr. Al Davis. He asked me a very specific question: 'How would you like to be an Oakland Raider?' And I damn near lost it. I didn’t cry or anything. I kept my composure over the phone. As soon as I hung up and saw my name come on the ticker -- I lived in a tiny 2-3 bedroom home -- the place just erupted. All the women were crying and all the men were asking for tickets."
Why it's No. 3: This was arguably the greatest defensive draft under consideration, particularly near the top. The NFL's best athletes typically played offense, but 1981 draftees Taylor, Lott and Easley helped change the dynamics. This draft wasn't as strong as some throughout, but its star power on defense set it apart. Key players from this draft helped the 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Bears and Raiders dominate at times during the decade. Only the 1986 draft produced more Super Bowl winners.
Hall of Famers: Taylor (Giants), Lott (49ers), Mike Singletary (Bears), Howie Long (Raiders), Rickey Jackson (Saints), Russ Grimm (Redskins).
Hall of Fame finalists: none.
Other big names: Easley, Eric Wright (49ers), Dennis Smith (Broncos), Cris Collinsworth (Bengals), Hanford Dixon (Browns), Freeman McNeil (Jets), James Brooks (Chargers), Brian Holloway (Patriots), Hugh Green (Bucs), Carlton Williamson (49ers), Neil Lomax (Cardinals), Dexter Manley (Redskins), Mark May (Redskins), E.J. Junior (Cardinals).
Late-round steals: Charlie Brown, chosen 201st overall by the Redskins, caught 16 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors both years. Wade Wilson, chosen 210th, played 19 seasons and earned one Pro Bowl berth, in 1988.
Ah, the memories: Once the 49ers drafted Lott eighth overall, the USC safety headed to the airport to use a ticket the team had held for him. Easley, chosen sixth by the Seahawks, was the other great safety in that draft class and the two were so closely linked that the person behind the airline counter mixed up Lott's destination.
"You are going to Seattle?"
"No, San Francisco," Lott replied.
Lott often looks back on how things might have been different if the Saints had drafted Taylor instead of George Rogers first overall. That wasn't going to happen because the Saints wanted a running back to help them control the clock, and they were especially particular about character in that draft -- their first with Bum Phillips as head coach.
"Lawrence Taylor, I didn't realize he was going to be that type of player, but Rickey Jackson did turn out to be the player we needed [in the second round]," Phillips said. "We needed a great player and a great individual. We needed some leadership and we needed the right kind of character to be leaders."
The 49ers needed a new secondary. They used that 1981 draft to select Lott, Wright and Williamson.
"I talked to Bill Walsh and his statement was, 'If I see it on film once, then my coaches should be able to get it out of a guy,'" said Horton, the Scouts Inc. founder and veteran NFL talent evaluator. "That always stuck with me. He was amazing at seeing things on tape. That '81 draft was a smart draft. You could look at that draft and you could see what teams were thinking."
Why it's No. 4: Roger Wehrli's 2007 Hall of Fame enshrinement gave this class five inductees. Only three other classes managed more combined Pro Bowl appearances. Some of the names in this class won't resonate with recent generations, and that is understandable. But this was still a strong class and one worthy of our consideration.
Hall of Famers: Joe Greene (Steelers), Ted Hendricks (Raiders), O.J. Simpson (Bills), Wehrli (Cardinals), Charlie Joiner (Oilers).
Hall of Fame finalists: L.C. Greenwood (Steelers), Bob Kuechenberg (Eagles).
Other big names: George Kunz (Falcons), Bill Bergey (Bengals), Bill Stanfill (Dolphins), Calvin Hill (Cowboys), Ed White (Vikings), Gene Washington (49ers), Jack Rudnay (Chiefs), Bill Bradley (Eagles), Ted Kwalick (49ers), Jim Marsalis (Chiefs), Ron Johnson (Browns), Fred Dryer (Giants).
Late-round steals: Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowl choice and was the 238th overall pick. The Falcons found five-time Pro Bowler Jeff Van Note with the 262nd choice. Larry Brown, chosen 191st overall, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
Ah, the memories: There was no scouting combine back then. Wehrli couldn't remember seeing a pro scout, even at Missouri practices. He had never even run a 40-yard dash until a Cardinals scout asked him to run one at the Hula Bowl all-star game in Hawaii.
Wehrli agreed to run on the spot even though he was wearing pads, the playing surface was natural grass and the stakes were higher than he realized.
"At the time, I didn’t know it was a Cardinals scout," Wehrli said. "I ran the 40, came back and he said, 'Man, we didn’t realize you were that fast.' Later, he told me that timing moved me up to a first-round draft choice [from the third round]."
Wehrli had clocked in the 4.5-second range. He would run 4.4s on Astroturf later in the pros.
"You never really trained for it back then," he said.
Why it's No. 5: Just as the 1983 class featured more than quarterbacks, the 1985 version offered much more than the most prolific receiver in NFL history. Yes, Jerry Rice was the 16th overall choice, helping set apart this class from some others. But the supporting cast featured elite talent, from Bruce Smith to Chris Doleman and beyond.
Hall of Famers: Rice (49ers), Smith (Bills).
Hall of Fame finalists: Andre Reed (Bills).
Other big names: Lomas Brown (Lions), Steve Tasker (Oilers), Ray Childress (Oilers), Kevin Greene (Rams), Jay Novacek (Cardinals), Bill Fralic (Falcons), Jerry Gray (Rams), Randall Cunningham (Eagles), Ron Wolfley (Cardinals), Al Toon (Jets), Jim Lachey (Chargers), Kevin Glover (Lions), Mark Bavaro (Giants), Herschel Walker (Cowboys), Duane Bickett (Colts), Doug Flutie (Rams), Jack Del Rio (Saints).
Late-round steals: Tasker became a seven-time Pro Bowl choice on special teams as the 226th overall choice (albeit with Buffalo, after the Oilers waived him). Greene was a fifth-rounder, Novacek was a sixth-rounder and Bavaro, one of the toughest tight ends, provided excellent value in the fourth round.
Ah, the memories: Bill Polian was a little-known pro personnel director with USFL roots when Bills general manager Terry Bledsoe suffered a heart attack two months before the draft. The Bills had already landed their franchise quarterback in Kelly two years earlier, but his two-year detour through the USFL had set back the organization. Buffalo held the No. 1 overall pick, and the stakes were high.
Polian took over GM duties. Norm Pollom, a holdover from the Chuck Knox years, headed up the college scouting side.
The Bills were in great hands. Although some fans hoped the team would draft Flutie, Polian and Pollom found building blocks.
Aggressive wheeling and dealing allowed Buffalo to land cornerback Derrick Burroughs with the 14th choice, acquired from Green Bay, even after drafting Smith first overall. Reed was a steal in the fourth round. The decision to draft Smith over Ray Childress was the right one even though Childress became a five-time Pro Bowl choice for the Oilers.
|Crystal LoGiudice/US Presswire|
|Versatile running back Reggie Bush may be ahead of his time.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
They are not the same guy.
If you still want to compare Bush to someone, stay in the Gulf Coast region, but switch sports. Think basketball. Think Pete Maravich.
Think about guys who were, depending how you look at it, either on the cutting edge or ahead of their times. About 40 years and a sport apart, Bush and Maravich might have a lot more in common than you think.
I picked up a copy of Mark Kriegel's fine book "Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich'' in the Tampa airport before I flew to New Orleans for Saints minicamp last week. I was somewhat intrigued because I have some vague memories of Maravich playing in the NBA in the mid-1970s when I first became interested in sports. I kind of recalled that Maravich had been a pretty good player at Louisiana State.
Kriegel filled me in on the rest and it was a lot. The short version of it is that, back in the late 1960s, Maravich introduced basketball to a region that only had known football. Maravich made passes behind his back, dribbled between his legs and averaged around 45 points in his college career. He set himself up for a high draft selection and a contract that seemed absurd at the time. Although Maravich had a very good NBA career (including a stint with the New Orleans Jazz), the tragic undertone of the book is that he was born 10 or 15 years too soon.
The suggestion is, had Maravich played in the NBA in the glory days of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, his talents might have been fully appreciated because they would have fit the time frame. Instead, Maravich never quite lived up to the hype and expectations that followed him out of college.
That's where Bush comes in. When he came out of USC as the No. 2 overall pick in 2006, the natural assumption was that Bush would run for 1,500 yards a season because that's what great running backs are supposed to do. Instead, Bush has run for 1,550 yards -- in three seasons.
But let's not go calling Bush a "bust" because he hasn't run for 1,500 yards a season. There's still time for him to be a whole lot more.
"I think the direction where the NFL is headed toward, you don't see those type of running backs anymore,'' Bush said between minicamp practices Saturday. "You see guys splitting time. Guys who are able to play running back and multiple positions. I think those days of the one-running back system are over.''
Think about it a bit and look around the NFL. The days of the Saints giving the ball to McAllister up the gut 25 or 30 times a game are over in New Orleans. They may be over in a lot of places. Look at Carolina's "Double Trouble'' with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart or Tennessee's "Smash and Dash'' with LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
Maybe Bush is right. Maybe this is a turning point in the NFL, a time when running backs don't have to fit the profile of Earl Campbell or Jerome Bettis.
"I hear it debated about because I think the framework of how people try to fix the position and we don't have to worry about that,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. "Since he's been here, we've changed a lot in how we move the football. The most important thing is, are we scoring points and are we moving the football? If the answer is yes to that and he's a big part of that, then all that other stuff will sort itself out.''
There are some people who will say Bush isn't a true running back and can't run between the tackles. Let's get this out of the way now because Bush resents that.
"I can run the ball between the tackles,'' Bush said. "Anybody can run the ball between the tackles. I don't feel like that is going to make me or break me. I don't feel like running the ball between the tackles is going to win us the Super Bowl or help me win the MVP. It's being versatile, being able to run the ball between the tackles, outside the tackles, returning punts, catching the ball out of the backfield and catching the ball down the field. That's what I do. That's who I am.''
Maybe, just maybe, Bush realizes who he is before the rest of the world. He's right about the versatility thing. Think about it -- there have been running backs who could catch the ball out of the backfield (LaDainian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk for example) and running backs who could return punts (Gale Sayers).
But has there ever been a running back who could line up at receiver and beat just about any cornerback in the league, who could return two punts (almost three in one half against Minnesota last year) and run inside and outside the tackles?
Go ahead and say Bush is less than a running back. I say he's more than a running back.
Give him a full and healthy season. Bush missed six games last year and four in 2007 because of injury. As a rookie, he sat a lot because of McAllister.
"(The coaches) know I can run the ball between the tackles,'' Bush said. "That's not a question. It's just a matter of me staying healthy. I think that's more of the question.''
Give him a full season of Pierre Thomas sharing the duties at running back. Give him a full season with quarterback Drew Brees. Give him a full season with Payton, who just might be the most progressive offensive mind in the league. And give him a season where the New Orleans' defense gets off the field every now and then.
Let it all come together and let Bush be Bush. Maybe then Bush can avoid the same fate as Maravich. Maybe Bush isn't too late or too early. Maybe Bush has arrived at just the right time to redefine the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Three wins for the division, a clinched playoff spot and bye for the Titans, and a lot to sort through on the Monday after Week 14 games.
Did I miss something? I welcome your comments, suggestions, criticism and opinions in the mailbag.
- The Texans overcame a lot and proved mentally tough during their win in Green Bay, writes John McClain.
- A record day was tarnished by turnovers, says Dale Robertson.
- Richard Justice thinks the Texans may very well be changing in fundamental ways.
- Kris Brown nailed the 40-yard field goal as time expired, writes McClain.
- Gary Kubiak's two-point gamble paid off, says McClain.
- Matt Schaub gets quarterbacks an "A" in the Chronicle's report card.
- Skill players and offensive linemen were sleeveless even though the temperature was in single digits at Lambeau Field, says Dale Robertson.
- The Colts needed a laugher and got one with a route of Cincinnati, writes Phil Richards.
- Bob Kravitz's report card runs from "A" to "D-minus."
- Peyton Manning and Dominic Rhodes decline to admit this one was easy, writes Mike Chappell.
- The Colts stuck with two tight ends a lot, which meant only six plays for Anthony Gonzalez, who made the most of them, according to Chappell.
- All was well with a defense that got Bob Sanders back but was missing Gary Brackett, says Phillip B. Wilson.
- Wilson's running blog entry on the game.
- Tom James' game story.
- Keiwan Ratliff can't believe how far the Bengals have fallen, writes James.
- Clark Judge puts Manning's MVP campaign on the list of things he likes.
- The Jaguars lost their fourth straight and look like they've forgotten how to win, says Vito Stellino.
- Maurice Jones-Drew was responsible for a big share of the Jaguars' offense, write Michael C. Wright.
- David Garrard had a passer rating of 7.6 at the half, according to Wright.
- Fred Taylor moved into 16th all-time on the rushing list, passing O.J. Simpson and Corey Dillon, says Wright.
- Gene Frenette says the Jaguars were painful to watch.
- Frenette's report card includes a "D" for coaching.
- This can't end soon enough, says Cole Pepper.
- The Titans accomplished the first of their goals, winning the division, says Jim Wyatt.
- Tennessee undid three turnovers with some big plays, writes Gary Estwick.
- Chris Johnson joined Earl Campbell and Eddie George as the franchise's 1,000-yard rookies backs, according to Estwick.
- David Climer's quick hits on the game.
- Wyatt's report card features three "As."
- Penalties bogged down the Titans. Details in The Tennessean's notebook.
- The Titans clinched the AFC South, writes Terry McCormick.
- LenDale White missed 100 yards because his final carry was a 2-yard loss, says McCormick.