There has been a lot of debate recently about the title of best running back in football. With apologies to Edgerrin James, who by all accounts and in any fantasy football scoring system is having a spectacular season, the award is being contested between Seattle’s Shaun Alexander and San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson.
Though Tomlinson has a versatility (three passing and two receiving touchdowns to complement 14 rushing scores) that ranks right up there with Michael Vick, there are other people to do those jobs. Drew Brees has 18 touchdown passes against only eight interceptions so far this season, after all.
The best running back in the NFL right now is Alexander. And even if he doesn’t rank at the top of your fantasy league because of certain scoring criteria, he should be at the head of your rankings. His reliability and production have helped the Seahawks to an 8-2 mark, best in the NFC. To get a full sense of what Alexander is accomplishing this year, and some characteristics that make him a brilliant back, let’s look at a few key categories.
When you think of Alexander, you automatically picture multiple-touchdown games. In fact, he has scored four touchdowns in a game twice this year, and in 2002 recorded a memorable five-touchdown game against Minnesota. He was recently recognized everywhere in the media for being the first player in NFL history to score at least 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons. That is an astonishing feat.
His consistency is what makes him such a valuable player in fantasy leagues. If we extrapolate his current 1.9 touchdown/game average over the season’s final six contests, it quickly becomes apparent that Alexander is on the cusp of something extraordinary. Should he stay his course, he will finish with 30 touchdowns, breaking the mark for most touchdowns in a season that Kansas City Chiefs star Priest Holmes set in 2003, just two years ago.
In fact, since all 19 of his touchdowns have come on carries this year, it is likely that he would simultaneously set the record for most rushing touchdowns in a season. As was often said about former Vikings star wide receiver Cris Carter, “all he does is score touchdowns.”
After 10 games this season, Alexander is currently outpacing every other player in the NFL with 114 points. That includes every kicker, a remarkable feat this late in the season. Even Arizona Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers, who has been getting a lot of publicity of late for his perfection this season (31 straight field goals and 12 for 12 on extra points) trails Alexander by nine points, the equivalent of three field goals.
But looking closely at the numbers, we see that Alexander is running for something that could rank him as truly special. At his aforementioned 1.9 touchdowns per game, his finishing total of 30 touchdowns would equal 180 points, which would surpass nonpareil Packers great Paul Hornung’s 176-point season, thereby establishing a new NFL record.
Hornung’s mark has remained for 45 years, surviving recent assaults by Priest Holmes (162 points in 2003) and Marshall Faulk (160 points in 2000). While it is true that he accomplished his feat in only 12 games, he had the distinct advantage of being the team’s kicker in addition to its star halfback.
At his present rate of 122.9 yards per game, Alexander would add 737 more yards to his current total of 1,229 to end up with 1, 966 yards. If he can up his average just a little, he has a shot at a 2,000-yard season, where he would be immortalized with five other players – Eric Dickerson (2,105), Jamal Lewis (2,066), Barry Sanders (2,053), Terrell Davis (2,008) and O.J. Simpson (2,003).
Alexander’s yards per carry this year = 5.3, behind only Tatum Bell (6.0), who breaks off long touchdown runs (he has five runs of 30+ yards already this year) but also cannot carry a full load. Alexander is tied with Larry Johnson at 5.3 yards/carry after Johnson’s 200-yard effort last Sunday. Warrick Dunn is the only other back averaging five yards or better.
Alexander’s greatest asset may not be his superb vision, balance or burst through holes his offensive line manufactures, but instead his ability to avoid serious injury. He himself said the unnatural way he knocked his knee into his own leg earlier this season usually results in ligament tears, instead of the bone bruise he sustained.
Alexander has never suffered a major injury. He had a slow start to his career, gaining only 313 yards and two touchdowns in his rookie year behind veteran Ricky Watters, who himself ranks 15th on the all-time rushing yards list directly after John Riggins and O.J. Simpson. Alexander has been the model of consistency. Since 2001 he has been the model of consistency, not missing a single game. He played in the four games he didn’t start in 2001, and finished with a solid 58 yards on 14 carries in the one game he didn’t start in 2003. In 2002, 2004 and so far in 2005 he has not missed a start, let alone a game. The man simply does not sit on the sidelines.
Maybe it was the insecurity of his contract situation during the off-season, or perhaps he is still peeved about losing out on the league rushing title by one yard last year to Curtis Martin, but whatever the reason we are clearly witnessing what is probably the career year of a back who will rank really soon as one of the all-time greats. If the Seahawks can do anything with the home-field advantage they are shooting for in the NFC, his overall recognition should jump considerably. If you haven’t been a fantasy owner enjoying his jaunt toward the record books this year, be sure you do what is necessary to get him next season. You won’t be disappointed.
Hire Joe Levit for corporate or client appreciation events at fantasyfootballspeaker.com. His fantasy football columns appear on SI.com and thehuddle.com. Joe, a PFWA and FSWA member, writes about the NFL for patriotsinsider.com and is a fantasy football analyst on radio. He is the creator of the Sleeper League and FF Hold ‘em League concepts.