Thursday, January 2, 2020

Choosing Two Running Backs for All-Pro—A Review of the 1990-98

By John Turney
Sanders loses two All-Pros under purist standards.
The Associated Press (and almost all other All-Pro teams known to man) chose two runnings until 2016 or so. In the mid-1990s they added a fullback, making it a 12-man roster. We have no issue with this, as we mentioned two running backs were the norm and also there is no rule that says only 11 players per platoon is required. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, whatever is needed to honor the top players.

Previously we've looked at Zach Thomas' five All-Pro selection by the AP and showed all of them were the "second slot". That will certainly help him in any potential Hall of Fame discussion. So, looking at the same kind of thing for running backs could be useful, too.

What if a fullback were added in, say 1990 and at the same time one of the running backs were removed? What if the All-Pro team followed what teams were actually doing?

We go through this exercise to show the purists who, from time to time, pop up on social media saying only one running back should be All-Pro, not two. And we get it—since the 1980s teams moved to one-back sets with either a fullback or H-back to lead the way for the runner. But the 1990s is was standard—fullbacks don't run the ball.

So, year-by-year, who would have been the one running back, matched with a fullback and how would it have changed their "resumes"?

So, who gets cut from the AP All-Pro team each year? We are doing just the quick eyeball test of stats since all were great, great players and show AP voting to see who got the most votes as well.

Obvousily we are not saying we know who would have won the voting at the time (ahistorically) if the voters were forced to choose one runner and one blocker, just showing that regardless of who they picked it would make some difference in career resumes for the borderline HOFers.

(Hat tip to Pro Football Reference for graphics and search engine)
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (63 votes)
Thurman Thomas, Buffalo Bills  (58)
Added: Fullback—perhaps Tom Rathman

Thurman Thomas, Buffalo Bills (79)
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (79)
Added Fullback—perhaps Daryl Johnston.

Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys (72)
Barry Foster, Pittsburgh Steelers (67)
Added Fullback—perhaps Daryl Johnston or Tom Rathman

Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys (77)
Jerome Bettis, Los Angeles Rams (40)
Added Fullback—perhaps Daryl Johnston or Kevin Turner

Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (98)
Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys (93)
Added Fullback—perhaps Daryl Johnston or Kevin Turner

Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys (85)
Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (80)
Added Fullback—perhaps Daryl Johnston or Sam Gash

Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos (86)
Jerome Bettis, Pittsburgh Steelers (50)
Note: Barry Sanders was First-team All-Pro by PFWA and SN making him a tied as a consensus All-Pro and this one data point should end all the "AP-only" schools of thought. 
Fullback: Larry Centers, Arizona Cardinals

Barry Sanders, Detroit Lions (48)
Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos (44)
Fullback:  Mike Alstott, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos (47)
Jamal Anderson, Atlanta Falcons (39)
Fullback:  Mike Alstott, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

So, Barry Sanders loses two AP All-Pro seasons, Jerome Bettis loses both of his, Emmitt Smith and Terrell Davis lose one each as does Jamal Anderson, Barry Foster, and Thurman Thomas.

It would make some difference when evaluating careers, not for the top guys like Smith and Sanders but for Bettis and Davis it might.

1 comment:

  1. It's Barry b/c of his lack of a line. I submit T. Davis beats E. Smith for the same reason. Smith had a HOF line core; TD, marginal at best.
    I had Bronco season tickets during those years and admittedly am biased, but i NEVER saw him lose a yard. He always fell forward.
    NFL RB fans should watch the game film of TD those four years. He was electric.