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The Hall of Fame case for former Colts running back Edgerrin James

Taking a look at the Hall of Fame case for Edgerrin James, the former Colts running back who is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016. The class will be announced on Saturday, February 6, 2016.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

A few days ago, we looked at the Hall of Fame case for former Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who is a no-brainer to one day get in and will likely be inducted this year.  Today, we take a look at another former Colt who is a finalist this year, though Edgerrin James' case is far less certain than Harrison's.

James is in his first year as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being a semi-finalist last year in his first year of eligibility.  During his prime, he was fantastic and among the best backs in the NFL.  In eleven seasons, James played in 148 games and rushed for 12,246 yards and 80 touchdowns, averaging four yards per carry, and caught 433 passes for 3,364 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He ranks seventh all-time in rushing attempts, 11th all-time in rushing yards, and 19th all-time in rushing touchdowns, also ranking 12th in career yards per game average with 82.7 (he averaged 96.1 yards per game during seven seasons with the Colts, which would rank fifth).  He had seven 1,000+ yard rushing seasons and led the league in rushing twice (his first two seasons).  He had four seasons with double-digit rushing touchdowns and averaged more than four yards per carry in six seasons.  In three different seasons, James topped 2,000 total yards from scrimmage.  James' 15,610 yards from scrimmage is the 13th-highest total in NFL history.  James is a member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 2000s and is a member of the Colts' Ring of Honor, holding nearly every significant rushing record in franchise history (such as rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns).

He was drafted by the Colts in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft and immediately took the league by storm, leading all backs by rushing for 1,553 yards (along with 13 touchdowns while averaging 4.2 yards per carry) en route to winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.  He topped that performance the following year as he rushed for a league-leading 1,709 yards while adding 13 touchdowns and averaging 4.4 yards per carry.  In both seasons, he topped 2,000 total yards and quickly established himself among the best backs in the game.  Unfortunately, six games into the 2001 season, James tore his ACL and was lost for the year.  He never quite returned to his previous form, though he still was a very good running back post-ACL surgery.  From 2003-2007, James topped 1,000 yards rushing in five straight seasons, and in 2004 he again topped 2,000 yards from scrimmage.  He made four Pro Bowls in seven seasons in Indianapolis and was a one-time first-team All-Pro (and a two-time second-team All-Pro).  After the 2005 season, James left in free agency for the Arizona Cardinals, where he enjoyed a few good years before dropping off.  He spent the final year of his career with the Seattle Seahawks, but he played in just seven games with them and received just 46 carries.

Without a doubt, Edgerrin James was fantastic during his career, but it seems many have forgotten just how good he was (particularly early on).  But does he belong among the game's legends in Canton as a member of Hall of Fame?  After all, that's the pertinent question right now.  James thinks so, as he has said that "the body of work is there" and especially cites his blocking, something most people don't notice or pay attention to, as an additional component of his game that should garner him consideration.  He was, truly, an all-around back, capable of rushing, receiving, and blocking.

As already noted, James ranks 11th on the NFL's all-time rushing list.  Of the ten players ahead of him, nine of them are in the Hall of Fame and one is not yet eligible (LaDainian Tomlinson, who is fifth, will become eligible next year and appears to be a lock to get in).  Furthermore, numbers 12 through 14 on the list are both in the Hall of Fame as well.  In other words, if Edgerrin James never gets into the Hall of Fame, he could very well be considered as the best running back in NFL history never to make it.

Perhaps the most telling aspect, however, is this: Edgerrin James absolutely belongs in the same category as Hall of Fame running backs.  Last year, we looked at James' numbers compared to the average modern-era Hall of Fame back (there are 30 of them), and he actually compares very favorably.  Take a look:

Games Attempts Yards YPA TD Rec. Rec. Yds. Rec. TD Total Yds. Total TD Yds/Game TDs/Game
HOF Backs (Average) 147.8 2,146.60 9,386.20 4.4 71.3 289.3 2,808.40 15.1 12,194.60 86.4 82.5 0.58
Edgerrin James 148 3,028 12,246 4 80 433 3,364 11 15,610 91 105.5 0.61

In other words, here's what we found: Edgerrin James has better numbers than the average modern-era Hall of Fame back when it comes to games played rushing attempts, yards, touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards, total yards, total touchdowns, total yards per game, and total touchdowns per game.  The only two categories that we looked at in which James doesn't fare better is in rushing yards per attempt and receiving touchdowns.  So it's very clear that Edge belongs in the conversation among other Hall of Fame running backs.

Ultimately, I believe that Edgerrin James is a Hall of Fame-caliber player and that he will and should get in at some point.  With that said, though, I think he'll still have to wait.  I don't think he gets in this year, and with LaDainian Tomlinson eligible next year, I don't see any way Edge gets in next year.  So I think that there will still be a bit of a wait for James, but his numbers should continue to look better over time as the league goes more and more towards a passing era.  So if we're making the case for James, I think it's a compelling one that should get him into the Hall of Fame at some point, but I don't expect it to come right away.