Friday, February 10, 2012

Herschel's NFL Career: HOF Worthy

Several weeks ago I made the case that Herschel Walker ranks first among all pro football players in total yards gained. The ex-Bulldog has been overlooked for enshrinement into the “Pro Football Hall of Fame” because 7,046 of his total yards were gained in the rival USFL, and not the NFL. So let’s base Walker’s HOF bid solely on his NFL career. A comparison of his NFL statistics with all running backs already in the Hall tells the story:

When Herschel retired after the 1997 season, his 18,168 all-purpose yards ranked second in NFL history. Only Walter Payton gained more. Walker’s total bests all fifteen other hall-of-famers from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s: Marcus Allen, Thurman, Thomas, Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Franco Harris, OJ Simpson, John Riggins, Joe Perry, Lenny Moore, Leroy Kelly, Floyd Little, Jim Taylor, Earl Campbell, and Larry Csonka.

Walker’s 8,225 NFL rushing yards are more than hall-of-famers Lenny Moore, Leroy Kelly, Floyd Little, and Larry Csonka. Additionally, Earl Campbell, Joe Perry, and Jim Taylor outrushed Herschel by only a nominal amount.

When Walker retired, only Marcus Allen and Lenny Moore had more receiving yards as a running back. Herschel’s 4,859 receiving yards are more than hall-of-fame running backs Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Franco Harris, OJ Simpson, John Riggins, Joe Perry, Leroy Kelly, Floyd Little, Jim Taylor, Earl Campbell, and Larry Csonka.
Herschel’s 5,084 kickoff return yards may be an NFL record. No hall-of-fame running back has more. He is the only player to gain 4,000 yards three different ways: rushing, receiving and kickoff returns.

Among hall-of-fame running backs, only Emmitt Smith (226), Marcus Allen (222) and Walter Payton (190) played in more NFL games than Walker (187).

It goes without saying that Herschel’s career NFL statistics dwarf those of HOF running backs from the pre-Super Bowl era: John Henry Johnson, Hugh McElhenny, Ollie Matson, Gale Sayers, Marion Motley, Paul Hornung, Charlie Trippi, and Doak Walker (several of whom began their careers not in the NFL, but the AAFC). Frank Gifford had more receiving yards, but he often lined up at flanker.

Herschel was the first player in NFL history to score touchdowns of more than 90 yards rushing, receiving, and returning, in the same year (1994). He is the only player to record an 84+ yard touchdown run and an 84+ yard touchdown reception, in the same game (December 14, 1986). That same day, he had 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving.

Walker is the only player besides Derrick Mason to have 10,000+ yards from scrimmage and 5,000+ return yards (kickoff returns).

He is one of six players (Jim Brown, Lenny Moore, Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, and Thurman Thomas) to exceed 60 touchdowns rushing and 20 touchdowns receiving.

Holding Herschel back: he played on losing teams. In the Super Bowl era, thirteen of the 21 HOF running backs played in the Super Bowl. Only four played on losers: Barry Sanders, OJ Simpson, Floyd Little, and Earl Campbell. Walker scored more NFL touchdowns than Simpson, Little, and Campbell. Often his team’s only offensive threat, Herschel produced these obviously hall-of-fame worthy numbers despite having entire defenses keying on him. Backs on winning teams often had numerous offensive threats. Emmitt Smith, Thurman Thomas, Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris, Joe Perry, Lenny Moore, Jim Taylor, Larry Csonka, and Paul Hornung are prime examples.

With these NFL career numbers, why is Herschel not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

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