Rankings are arbitrary and often pointless, yet everybody loves them in the offseason because it gives us something to talk about - which, from my vantage point, is a win. But that doesn’t mean that these rankings always make sense.
Case in point: Gil Brandt’s rankings of the best running backs in NFL history. Last week, Brandt - a respected former executive (who spent 29 years with the Dallas Cowboys) and current NFL Media employee - released his rankings, and there were a couple of curious choices.
Perhaps most notable: Brandt snubbed Edgerrin James, who is nowhere to be found on the list of 27 backs, but stunningly included Ezekiel Elliott - who has played exactly one year in the league. Yeah, Elliot was really impressive last year as a rookie, but putting him over Edge is laughable and ridiculous.
Elliot has played one year and has 1,631 rushing yards; Edge played eleven years and has 12,246 rushing yards - 12th most all-time! In fact, even if we’re just looking at each player’s first year you could still make a case for Edge.
As a rookie in 1999, James was named to the Pro Bowl, was a first-team All-Pro, won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and led the league in rushing yards. He rushed for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 62 passes for 586 yards and four touchdowns - in all, totaling 2,139 yards and 17 touchdowns. In Elliot’s rookie season in 2016, he was named to the Pro Bowl, was a first-team All-Pro, and led the league in rushing yards. He rushed for 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns while catching 32 passes for 363 yards and a touchdown - in all, totaling 1,994 yards and 16 touchdowns.
So if we’re only looking at each player’s first year you could still make a case for Edge, and that’s not including what he did throughout the rest of his career. He became one of the most prolific rushers in NFL history, racking up 12,246 yards and 80 touchdowns while also catching 433 passes for 3,364 yards and 11 scores. He ranks 12th all-time in rushing yards and 14th all-time with 15,610 total yards from scrimmage. He made four Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro teams, and led the league in rushing yards twice, all while putting together seven 1,000 yard seasons.
The thing is, this shouldn’t even be that surprising anymore - we’ve seen Edge discredited for years, with the only attempt at explaining it simply being that, “he played with Peyton Manning” as if that invalidated all he did. Guess what? Marvin Harrison still made the Hall of Fame even after playing with Peyton, so why can’t Edge? It seems that people nationally have simply forgotten Edgerrin James.
And, for that matter, what about Frank Gore - another player who was nowhere to be found on Brandt’s list? He’s eighth all-time in rushing yards and looks poised to potentially move into the top five this year, yet he couldn’t even beat out Ezekiel Elliot on Brandt’s list of the top 27 running backs in NFL history?
Again, lists are always an arbitrary and subjective venture, but sometimes there comes along something so hilarious - like putting Elliott over Edge and Gore - that it’s worth discussing a bit further. If Elliott continues producing at the level he did as a rookie, then he someday will very much deserve a spot on a list like this - but it doesn’t guarantee it. After all, Edge had a rookie season very similar to Elliot’s and did carry it on for a decade but still gets snubbed.