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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Old Dogs up to Old Tricks
Joe Levit
November 17, 2004

Two weeks ago I highlighted five veteran wide receivers who all had big outings on the same Sunday, and made a point about how they still have it in them to post a huge game, so you can’t count them out. The oldest of those players was Rod Smith, a ten-year NFL player who is igniting a Denver offense that needs his flame. It was an impressive showing, and especially good for guys like Mushin Muhammad and Plaxico Burress, who hadn’t done much in a couple of seasons. Still, it paled in comparison to something I stumbled upon this week that really made me sit up and take notice: Three greybeard running backs are among the top ten in the league in scoring this season.

That’s right, Curtis Martin (C-Mart), Jerome (Bus) Bettis and ancient Emmitt Smith all have more touchdowns this season than Ahman Green, Jamal Lewis, Edgerrin James or Corey Dillon. Talk about veteran value. Martin could be had in the third round of most drafts, and both Bettis and Smith at least three or four rounds later than that. Clearly the thing that is most impressive about this trio is their longevity.

Ten years is a good, long career for any NFL player, but especially so for a running back. Though backs are now more able to return from serious injury (Willis McGahee, Edgerrin James) there are still a large number of large names whose careers were essentially ended by this kind of catastrophe (Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson). Not surprisingly, none of these three old hands have ever dealt with a serious knee injury.

Emmitt Smith has been playing in the NFL for 15 seasons. He is 35 years old. Bettis left Notre Dame over 12 years ago. Martin, who had good yardage last year but only two touchdowns, has been playing for 10 seasons, and is 31 himself.

But what else do they have in common. For one, they are all running behind strong offensive lines. The Jets have all-world Center Kevin Mawae to run things in New York, Alan Faneca is a load for Pittsburgh and Leonard Davis is no slouch out in Arizona. The teams have filled in the slots around these premier players and have them pulling and trapping as a team.

Second, they all have head coaches who are motivational mavens. Bill Cowher is a fire-and-brimstone soul, who happens to currently be the longest tenured head coach in the NFL. He may have down years, but he expects everything from his players every week, and they deliver very often, sometimes with a cumulative effort greater than their talent. Herm Edwards knows how to get his troops ready for a game day. He has remained a steady force for the Jets after the Tuna left town. Denny Green simply knows what it takes to win, and the attitude adjustment he is accomplishing in Arizona this season, which is as big a problem for pretenders as a lack of talent, is going to take Arizona places in the coming years.

So here’s how these guys stack up this season....

Rank Player Team TDs Run Rec Rets Def
1 Priest Holmes KC 15 14 1 0 0
2 Shaun Alexander SEA 12 9 3 0 0
3 Curtis Martin NYJ 10 9 1 0 0
4 Jerome Bettis PIT 10 10 0 0 0
5 Tiki Barber NYG 10 9 1 0 0
6 Terrell Owens PHI 9 0 9 0 0
7 Antonio Gates SD 8 0 8 0 0
8 LaDainian Tomlinson SD 8 8 0 0 0
9 Emmitt Smith ARI 8 8 0 0 0
10 Javon Walker GB 8 0 8 0 0
11 Randy Moss MIN 8 0 8 0 0

...and what it means to their overall careers:

Emmitt Smith

Year Team G GS Att Yards Avg Lg TD
1990 Dallas Cowboys 16 15 241 937 3.9 48 11
1991 Dallas Cowboys 16 16 365 1563 4.3 75 12
1992 Dallas Cowboys 16 16 373 1713 4.6 68 18
1993 Dallas Cowboys 14 13 283 1486 5.3 62 9
1994 Dallas Cowboys 15 15 368 1484 4.0 46 21
1995 Dallas Cowboys 16 16 377 1773 4.7 60 25
1996 Dallas Cowboys 15 15 327 1204 3.7 42 12
1997 Dallas Cowboys 16 16 261 1074 4.1 44 4
1998 Dallas Cowboys 16 16 319 1332 4.2 32 13
1999 Dallas Cowboys 15 15 329 1397 4.2 63 11
2000 Dallas Cowboys 16 16 294 1203 4.1 52 9
2001 Dallas Cowboys 14 14 261 1021 3.9 44 3
2002 Dallas Cowboys 16 16 254 975 3.8 30 5
2003 Arizona Cardinals 10 5 90 256 2.8 22 2
2004 Arizona Cardinals 9 9 170 632 3.7 29 8
TOTAL   220 213 4312 18050 4.2 75 163

Emmitt is adding at a very fine pace this year to his records of most career touchdowns by a running back and most rushing yards ever. He is now over 18,000 yards rushing, and will probably end the year close to 2,000 yards beyond the once unthinkable total of 16,726 that Walter Payton put up.

Jerome Bettis

Year Team G GS Att Yards Avg Lg TD
1993 L.A. Rams 16 12 294 1429 4.9 71 7
1994 L.A. Rams 16 16 319 1025 3.2 19 3
1995 St. Louis Rams 15 13 183 637 3.5 41 3
1996 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 12 320 1431 4.5 50 11
1997 Pittsburgh Steelers 15 15 375 1665 4.4 34 7
1998 Pittsburgh Steelers 15 15 316 1185 3.8 42 3
1999 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 16 299 1091 3.6 35 7
2000 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 16 355 1341 3.8 30 8
2001 Pittsburgh Steelers 11 11 225 1072 4.8 48 4
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 13 11 187 666 3.6 41 9
2003 Pittsburgh Steelers 16 10 246 811 3.3 21 7
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 9 2 114 381 3.3 29 10
TOTAL   174 149 3233 12734 3.9 71 79

Bettis is enjoying one of his best seasons ever rushing in touchdowns. His yardage is not terrific, but it appears that he can gain some ground as long as Staley is out.

Curtis Martin

Year Team G GS Att Yards Avg Lg TD
1995 Patriots 16 15 368 1487 4.0 49 14
1996 Patriots 16 15 316 1152 3.6 57 14
1997 Patriots 13 13 274 1160 4.2 70 4
1998 New York Jets 15 15 369 1287 3.5 60 8
1999 New York Jets 16 16 367 1464 4.0 50 5
2000 New York Jets 16 16 316 1204 3.8 55 9
2001 New York Jets 16 16 333 1513 4.5 47 10
2002 New York Jets 16 16 261 1094 4.2 35 7
2003 New York Jets 16 16 323 1308 4.0 56 2
2004 New York Jets 9 9 218 984 4.5 25 9
TOTAL   149 147 3145 12653 4.0 70 82

Amazingly, Martin is on pace to destroy his career best outputs in both single-season rushing touchdowns and rushing yards. He gained 14 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons, and already has nine this year. He topped out at 1,513 yards in 2001, but already has 984 in 2004, only 529 yards shy.

Simply put, you are witnessing three backs doing incredible things in the twilights of their careers, and Hall of Fame careers at that. Currently, Smith, Bettis and Martin rank 1rst, 6 th and 7 th all time in rushing yards. Both Bettis and Martin will likely finish the season ahead of Dorsett, and one or both could end up ahead of Dickerson as well, good for fourth and fifth place as they work on Barry Sanders.