Brian Westbrook: Hall of Fame RB?

I wrote a similar article to this one when Brian Westbrook left the Eagles, so I apologize if this looks familiar. Joe_D’s post reminded me about this topic, so I suppose he deserves some credit here as well. If you haven’t checked it out yet I suggest you do.

Shady McCoy is turning out to be everything that we hoped he could be and more. Arguably the best running back in the game right now, I’m very excited to see what he can do for the rest of his career. But if he hadn’t turned out so great we’d still be pining for the days of Brian Westbrook. McCoy’s brilliance often makes me (and others, I’m sure) forget just how special Brian Westbrook was. In his nine years in the NFL (eight of those with the Eagles) he racked up over 10,000 all-purpose yards and 71 TDs. Injuries prevented him from ever playing a complete 16 game season, but his two best seasons (2006-07) saw him post 2,800 total yards and 23 TDs, and he was arguably the most important player on the Eagles team. Here’s a reminder of what the guy could do…

(My apologies for some of the video quality)

More after the jump...

I don’t think that most fans outside of Philadelphia (and perhaps New York) understand just how good Westbrook was. In my opinion, Westbrook is one of the 10 best RBs to have ever played the game. While his rushing stats may not smash any records, his skills as a receiver out of the backfield are simply unmatched. He was an insanely dangerous weapon who could break off a score whenever he got the ball. He made the screen into an Eagles staple, and it remains so (in various forms) today. But does Westbrook belong in the Hall of Fame. I think most people, Eagles fans or not, would answer "no" to that question. But I’m going to show you why he should.

The two stats that the average fan uses to measure a skill player are yards and touchdowns – quantity. This makes sense, because you want your players to get the ball up the field and generate points. But this ignores a really important component of those stats, quality. David Akers had a record-breaking season this year by kicking 44 successful field goals, leading a lot of fans to question whether or not we should have let him walk in favor of our rookie kicker. What the average fan fails to recognize, however, is that Akers’ 84.6% accuracy falls short of Alex Henery’s 88.9%, which makes the decision to get younger look a lot smarter than it does when you simply compare the number of field goals.

So how does this relate to Westbrook? His numbers may not be earth shattering when you look at quantity, but when you start looking at quality, Westbrook compares favorably with the best running backs of all time. The number that shows this best is Yards Per Touch. This looks at the yards gained running and receiving and divides them by the number of carries and catches. A high number here means that a player is picking up a lot of yards every time they touch the ball. Check out where B-West lands among the best of all time.

Jim Brown: 2,359 carries, 12,312 rushing yards, 262 receptions, 2,499 rec. yards = 5.7 yards per touch

Gayle Sayers: 991 carries, 4,956 rushing yards, 112 receptions, 1,307 rec. yards = 5.7 yards per touch

Brian Westbrook: 1,385 carries, 6,335 rushing yards, 442 receptions, 3,940 rec. yards = 5.6 yards per touch

Barry Sanders: 3,063 carries, 15,269 rushing yards, 352 receptions, 2,921 rec. yards = 5.3 yards per touch

O.J. Simpson: 2,404 carries, 11,236 rushing yards, 203 receptions, 2,142 rec. yards = 5.1 yards per touch

Tony Dorsett: 2,936 carries, 12,739 rushing yards, 398 receptions, 3,554 rec. yards = 4.9 yards per touch

Marcus Allen: 3,022 carries, 12,243 rushing yards, 587 receptions, 5,411 rec. yards = 4.9 yards per touch

Eric Dickerson: 2,996 carries, 13,259 rushing yards, 281 receptions, 2,137 rec. yards = 4.7 yards per carry

Walter Payton: 3838 carries, 16,726 rushing yards, 492 receptions, 4,538 rec. yards = 4.7 yards per touch

Earl Campbell: 2,187 carries, 9,407 rushing yards, 121 receptions, 806 rec. yards = 4.4 yards per touch

Emmitt Smith: 4409 carries, 18,355 rushing yards, 515 receptions, 3,224 rec. yards = 4.4 yards per touch

When only Jim Brown and Gale Sayers sit above you, you know you’ve done something right. The last time I posted these stats, however, some individuals (*cough* JIBTA *cough cough*) argued that YPT was not a satisfactory statistic, due in large part to the importance of scoring TDs. I agree that this is an important statistic, so I’ve included it here. But again, other than simply looking at the quantity of TDs, we need to look at the quality of those statistics – how often did he score TDs and how does that relate to the other HoF greats? To analyze this we will look at TDs per game (because TD per touch takes more math than I feel up to doing tonight).

Name: TD/game

Brown: 1.07

Smith: .77

Sanders: .71

Dickerson: .66

Payton: .66

Allen: .65

Campbell: .64

Westbrook: .59

Sayers: .57

Simpson: .56

Dorsett: .52

While admittedly less impressive, Westbrook scored an average of more than one score every two games and sits directly in between Earl Campbell and Gale Sayers. Again, great company for Westbrook. His legacy is a rather quiet one, perhaps due to his injuries. His stat totals aren’t crazy, but his skill is undeniable, and even a marginally more in-depth look at his stats proves just how good he really was. When you compare his stats to those of Gale Sayers, arguably a top three RB of all time, Westbrook’s numbers are nearly identical. Not only should Westbrook go to the Hall of Fame, it would be crime if he was omitted.

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