When discussing the greatest running backs of all time, we usually tend to focus on a pretty one-dimensional element of the game. We look at these players and see a workhorse, one who takes the handoff from the quarterback and busts through the defense, picking up as many yards on the ground as humanly possible. But that’s hardly fair to the best backs in the game — particularly those who do much more than simply run the ball.
The elite backs in the National Football League, especially in today’s game, tend to be much more complete. Sure, they still run the ball with great skill, but they also have the ability to make things happen in the passing game. Having a player like this is a massive advantage to any offense and a complete nightmare for opposing defenses. And in 2016, few backs combine these two skill sets like Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell.
Thanks to his rushing and pass-catching abilities, Bell is on pace to finish among the single-season leaders in yards from scrimmage (YFS) per game in NFL history. In order to secure his spot in the record books, here’s a look at past players Bell is competing against.
5. Marshall Faulk
YFS per game: 156.4
In terms of individual accomplishments, the 2000 season belonged to Rams running back Marshall Faulk. The Hall of Famer topped the NFL in rushing touchdowns (18), rushing yards per attempt (5.4), and combined rushing and receiving touchdowns (26). Despite only playing in 14 games, Faulk finished the year with 2,189 total yards from scrimmage (1,359 rushing, 830 receiving), giving him 156.4 yards from scrimmage per game. It’s no wonder he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl, First-Team All-Pro honors, and was named MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
4. Chris Johnson
YFS per game: 156.8
Chris Johnson took the NFL by storm in 2009. The Titans running back led the NFL in carries (358), rushing yards (2,006), rushing yards per game (125.5), and total yards from scrimmage (2,509). Thanks to his incredible durability, Johnson played in all 16 games that season and averaged 156.8 yards from scrimmage per game. For his efforts, CJ2K earned a trip to the Pro Bowl and was named First Team All-Pro for the first and only time in his career.
3. O.J. Simpson
YFS per game: 160.2
O.J. Simpson was absolutely unstoppable during the 1975 season. The Buffalo Bills running back had 23 rushing and receiving touchdowns (tops in the NFL), 16 rushing touchdowns (tops in the NFL), and led the league in total rushing yards (1,817), rushing yards per game (129.8), and yards from scrimmage (2,243). Considering he amassed these figures in just 14 games, The Juice wound up averaging an impressive 160.2 yards from scrimmage per game.
2. Le’Veon Bell
YFS per game: 161.6
It took Le’Veon Bell just 10 games to remind the NFL that he is one of the most dangerous players in the game. Although he’s only reached the end zone seven times (six rushing, one receiving) in 2016, the Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowler has amassed 1,616 total yards from scrimmage, thanks to 1,053 rushing yards and 563 receiving yards.
If the season ended today, Bell’s per-game average of 161.6 yards from scrimmage would be the second-most in the history of the game. With the way he’s played lately, it wouldn’t surprise us to see Bell, by season’s end, climb all the way to the top of the list.
1. Priest Holmes
YFS per game: 163.4
In 2002, Priest Holmes put together a truly historic season. The Kansas City Chiefs running back had 1,615 rushing yards and a league-leading 21 rushing scores to go along with 672 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. With a total of 2,287 yards from scrimmage in just 14 games, Holmes finished with an all-time best 163.4 yards from scrimmage per-game average. Until further notice, this mark remains the one to beat.