Recently we’ve had a lot of people sharing their opinion about Brian Westbrook, the face of the Eagles’ running game for the last decade. Most of us are sad to see him go, but understand why he had to be released (he’s simply not worth the money anymore). With that being said, most Eagles fans love the guy and believe that he’s one of the (if not the single) greatest running backs in Philadelphia history.
Yet some people on these boards don’t feel the same way. In fact, some people say running backs like Thomas Jones, formerly of the Bears and Jets, are better than Brian Westbrook. Sure, Westbrook’s career numbers haven’t been huge, but he’s still one of the greatest Eagles ever, and arguably one of the best all-purpose RBs in NFL history. The only thing that kept Westbrook from being known as one of the top five running backs EVER was his injury problems. Why do I say this? Well, I’m about to continue my legacy of writing posts that offer extreme uses of stats that many of you will discredit, but hopefully some of you will take a serious look at. Anyways, I’m sure this argument is a little less ridiculous than my Kolb stat line from a few weeks back.
In my opinion, there is one category that makes a running back dangerous: yards per carry. It doesn’t matter if you rushed for 2,000 yards and 20 TDs in a season if it took 800 carries to do so. I’d rather have a running back who can pick up 4.5 yards every time he touches the ball than a RB who will rush for 1500 yards every season with less than four yards per carry. Yards per carry is the true mark of a great running back. Yards per reception is also important, particularly to the modern NFL offense, which throws far more than runs. So let's take a look at yards per touch and see where Westbrook ranks.
Westbrook: 1308 carries, 5,995 rushing yards, 426 receptions, 3,790 rec. yards = 5.7 yards per touch
Thomas Jones: 2,280 carries, 9,217 rushing yards, 289 receptions, 1,858 rec. yards = 4.6 yards per touch
Well I think that makes my point for Thomas Jones, now let check all time…
Jim Brown: 2,359 carries, 12,312 rushing yards, 262 receptions, 2,499 rec. yards = 5.7 yards per touch
Marcus Allen: 3,022 carries, 12,243 rushing yards, 587 receptions, 5,411 rec. yards = 4.9 yards per touch
Earl Campbell: 2,187 carries, 9,407 rushing yards, 121 receptions, 806 rec. yards = 4.4 yards per touch
Eric Dickerson: 2,996 carries, 13,259 rushing yards, 281 receptions, 2,137 rec. yards = 4.7 yards per carry
Tony Dorsett: 2,936 carries, 12,739 rushing yards, 398 receptions, 3,554 rec. yards = 4.9 yards per touch
Gayle Sayers: 991 carries, 4,956 rushing yards, 112 receptions, 1,307 rec. yards = 5.7 yards per touch
Barry Sanders: 3,063 carries, 15,269 rushing yards, 352 receptions, 2,921 rec. yards = 5.3 yards per touch
Walter Payton: 3838 carries, 16,726 rushing yards, 492 receptions, 4,538 rec. yards = 4.7 yards per touch
O.J. Simpson: 2,404 carries, 11,236 rushing yards, 203 receptions, 2,142 rec. yards = 5.1 yards per touch
Emmitt Smith: 4409 carries, 18,355 rushing yards, 515 receptions, 3,224 rec. yards = 4.4 yards per touch
LaDainian Tomlinson: 2,880 carries, 12,490 rushing yards, 530 receptions, 3,995 rec. yards = 4.8 yards per touch
Well I think you get the picture. Westbrook’s stats are actually quite similar to Gayle Sayers’, and his yards per touch are the best of the best running backs of all time. If not for injuries, he could have put up some monster numbers. That’s not to say he definitely would have, but lets just have some fun with it for a minute.
When Westbrook was healthy(ish) he was getting about 250 carries per year and 75 receptions. Using his career averages that would give him a stat line looking like this for an average, 15 game season:
250 carries, 1150 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 6 rushing TDs, 75 receptions, 668 yards, 4 receiving touchdowns
Pretty solid in an Eagles’ passing offense. Now let's take that line and stretch it out over his eight NFL seasons:
2,000 carries, 9,200 rushing yards, 48 rushing TDs, 600 receptions, 5,344 rec. yards, 32 receiving TDs
In my opinion, this clearly makes the argument that Westbrook could have been one of the best running backs in NFL history if he had remained healthy. I still think he needs to at least be considered when we think of the top 25 running backs in NFL history.
And he kicks Thomas Jones’ ass.
*NOTE: I just realized that my title makes no sense. I believe I meant overrated (used to say "Underrated"). Sorry about the confusion, I'm an idiot. Feel free to point and laugh.