Tuesday, August 12, 2014
The Best and Worst of Times: NFL
This is an NFL column, but let's start in baseball. In 1999, Dante Bichette had the worst season ever by a player who drove in 125 runs. Coors Field in '99 was a shooting gallery, so Bichette's .298/.354/.541 batting line was barely average that year. He was the 3rd-best hitter on a team that lost 90 games. Bichette in '99 played some of the worst left field defense in the history of Major League Baseball (13 errors), and was a very poor baserunner. He knocked in 133 RBI because of the park and because he hit cleanup all year, with teammates who were always on base.
Weird stats like that interest me: the worst season with 125 RBI. The best by an NBA player who averaged single-digit scoring. The worst season by a running back who gained 1,000 yards. That's our mission here. In this article, we'll look at NFL quarterbacks and running backs.
Best Season By a QB Who Missed the Pro Bowl: Jim Everett, 1989 Los Angeles Rams
It is shocking how many quarterbacks failed to make the Pro Bowl following tremendous seasons. These aren't just potential snubs, there are 15-20 really stunning omissions. Just from the last few seasons, Aaron Rodgers didn't make the Pro Bowl in 2010 (when Green Bay won Super Bowl XLV), nor did Matthew Stafford in 2011 (when he became the 3rd player in history with 5,000 passing yards and 40 TDs in a season). Established stars aren't immune. In 1988, Dan Marino led the AFC in passing yards (by 862), tied for the conference lead in TD passes, and took sacks at the lowest rate in NFL history (6 sacks in 606 attempts, 0.98%). He didn't make the Pro Bowl.
It was agonizing to narrow this down to Everett. He ranked first or second in the NFC in passing yards, TDs, and passer rating. Everett threw for only 8 yards fewer than league leader Don Majkowski, he led the NFL in TDs, and he trailed only Boomer Esiason and NFL MVP Joe Montana in passer rating. Everett had also been a serious snub the season before, when he led the NFC in passing yards and TDs, and ranked 2nd in passer rating.
Honorable Mention: Steve DeBerg, 1990 Kansas City Chiefs
DeBerg passed for 23 TDs and only 4 INTs.
Worst Season By a QB Who Made the Pro Bowl: Jack Kemp, 1969 Buffalo Bills
First, I have to explain why this isn't Mike Boryla, of the 1975 Philadelphia Eagles. Boryla only started five games, and he threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns (12-6), earning a 52.7 passer rating. I have no idea how he ended up in the Pro Bowl. But with the NFC trailing 20-9 in the fourth quarter, Boryla came off the bench to throw two TD passes and lead the NFC to victory. Kemp had no such heroics. He was elected to the final AFL All-Star Game on the memories of what he once was. In that season, Kemp was probably the worst full-time QB in either league. He threw 13 TDs and 22 INTs, with a 53.2 passer rating, and the Bills finished 4-10. Kemp retired after the season.
Honorable Mention: John Hadl, 1972 San Diego Chargers
If you want a more recent player, you might look at Vince Young as a rookie, or Brett Favre with the 2008 Jets.
Best Season By a QB Who Started the Year as a Backup: Randall Cunningham, 1998 Minnesota Vikings
Randall Cunningham left football after the 1995 season. Following a year out of the NFL, the Vikings talked him out of retirement, and it paid off when Brad Johnson got injured during the second game of the '98 season. Cunningham passed for 34 TDs and 10 INTs, leading the NFL in passer rating (106.0) and net yards per attempt (8.0). Cunningham took only 20 sacks, and tied for the fewest fumbles (2) of any QB. The 1998 Vikings went 15-1 and set a single-season scoring record.
Honorable Mention: Earl Morrall, 1968 Baltimore Colts
The Colts went 13-1 and Morrall was named NFL MVP. However, you could actually argue for another 1998 season: Vinny Testaverde with the New York Jets. He led the AFC in passer rating (101.6) and went 13-2 as starter.
Worst Season By a QB Who Started 16 Games: Dave Brown, 1996 New York Giants
There actually aren't a lot of really terrible seasons by quarterbacks who start every game. No matter how bad the backups are, at a certain point the starter has to get benched. Among players who met that standard, Brown's '96 season might be the worst. He passed for only 151 yards per game, yet he led the NFL in sacks (49 for 276 yards). He passed for 12 TDs and 20 INTs, with a passer rating of 61.3. Brown rushed for 170 yards but no touchdowns. He started only 13 more games in his NFL career.
Honorable Mention: David Carr, 2002 and 2005 Houston Texans
The '02 Texans were an expansion team, but by '05 Carr didn't have an excuse.
Best Season By a QB Who Rushed For 500 Yards: Randall Cunningham, 1990 Philadelphia Eagles
In NFL history, there have been 48 documented seasons in which a player passed for at least 500 yards and rushed for at least 500 yards. Fifteen of those were between 1933-51, all but one by single-wing tailbacks known more for their legs than their arms. The best of these seasons was Spec Sanders in 1947, when he passed for 1,442 yards and 14 TDs, while rushing for 1,432 yards and 18 TDs (both records at the time). The other 33 seasons were all after the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, by modern quarterbacks.
Twelve of those 33 are by Randall Cunningham or Michael Vick, and the standout is Cunningham's 1990 campaign. The Eagles' leading receivers were Keith Byars, Fred Barnett, Keith Jackson, and Calvin Williams. The leading rusher was Cunningham himself, followed by Heath Sherman. With basically no help from his offensive teammates, Cunningham passed for 3,466 yards and rushed for 942 (with an 8.0 average), scoring a combined 35 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions. He ranked 2nd in the NFL in net yardage (Warren Moon) and led the NFL in TD/INT differential.
Honorable Mention: Steve Young, 1992 San Francisco 49ers
Young passed for 3,465 yards, rushed for 537, and was named NFL MVP.
Worst Season By a QB Who Rushed For 500 Yards: Terrelle Pryor, 2013 Oakland Raiders
Maybe Terrelle Pryor will be a great quarterback one day. That day did not come in 2013. Pryor rushed for 576 yards and 2 TDs, which is good, but he also passed for 7 TDs and 11 INTs, with a 69.1 passer rating and a league-worst 10.2% sack percentage. If it's any consolation to Pryor fans, Cunningham's 1986 season wasn't much better (72.9 rating, 25.6 sack%), and he rebounded to have a great career.
Honorable Mention: Tim Tebow, 2011 Denver Broncos
The Broncos made the playoffs, but Tebow made Bobby Douglass look like Joe Montana.
Best Season By an RB Who Missed the Pro Bowl: LaDainian Tomlinson, 2003 San Diego Chargers
Tomlinson rushed for 1,645 yards, with a 5.3 average. He caught 100 passes, for 725 yards. And he scored 17 touchdowns for a 4-12 team. LT gained over 200 yards from scrimmage in each of the four wins, scoring six TDs in those games. Tomlinson was the best RB in the NFL, and it is criminal that he didn't make the Pro Bowl.
Honorable Mention: DeAngelo Williams, 2008 Carolina Panthers
Williams rushed for 1,555 yards, with a 5.55 average, and scored 20 TDs, most in the NFL.
Worst Season By an RB Who Made the Pro Bowl: tie in the 1980 AFC
Pittsburgh's Franco Harris rushed for 789 yards, 16th in the NFL and 7th in the AFC. He averaged 3.8 yards per attempt and finished the season with more fumbles than touchdowns. Oakland's Kenny King rushed for 761 yards — 20th in the NFL, 9th in the AFC, and 2nd on his own team. King was ineffective as a receiver, and he also fumbled more often than he reached the end zone.
Baltimore's Curtis Dickey wouldn't normally be a huge snub, but Dickey rushed for 800 yards, with a 4.55 average. He gained more receiving yards than Harris or King, scored 13 TDs (more than Harris and King combined), and fumbled only three times. Compared to Harris and King, Dickey was Jim Brown.
Honorable Mention: Sammy Winder, 1986 Denver Broncos
Winder scored 14 touchdowns, but he rushed for just 789 yards, with an average under 3.3. This on a John Elway offense whose opponents focused on stopping the pass.
Best Season By an RB Who Rushed For Under 1,000 Yards — 16 games: Charlie Garner, 2002 Oakland Raiders
One of four seasons in which a player gained over 900 yards as both a rusher and receiver; the others were Roger Craig in 1985 and Marshall Faulk twice. Garner averaged 5.29 yards per carry, scored 11 TDs, and didn't fumble all season.
Honorable Mention: Herschel Walker, 1986 Dallas Cowboys
Despite splitting time with Tony Dorsett, Walker averaged 4.9 ypc, gained 1,574 yards from scrimmage, and scored 14 TDs.
Best Season By an RB Who Rushed For Under 1,000 Yards — all-time: Steve Van Buren, 1945 Philadelphia Eagles
Van Buren led the NFL in rushing, tied the single-season TD record, and had the longest kickoff return of the season, a 98-yard TD. This was a 10-game season, and Van Buren was one of only two players to rush for over 500 yards. He gained 832. Van Buren averaged over 5.8 yards per carry, and his TD record stood until 1962, when it was broken in a 14-game season.
Honorable Mention: Lenny Moore, 1958 Baltimore Colts
Moore led the NFL in rushing average (7.3), gained 938 receiving yards, and scored 14 TDs: 7 rushing and 7 receiving. This was a 12-game season.
Worst Season By an RB Who Rushed For 1,000 Yards: Eddie George, 2003 Tennessee Titans
George carried 312 times for 1,031 yards. That tied for 15th in the NFL, so it wasn't an extraordinary accomplishment. Six players out-rushed George by at least 500 yards. He averaged 3.3 yards per attempt and scored only five TDs, on a team that made the playoffs.
Honorable Mention: Garrison Hearst, 1995 Arizona Cardinals
1,070 yards, 3.77 avg, 1 TD. Hearst fumbled 12 times.
None of this is meant to be earth-shattering — just interesting. Trivia is half the fun of being a sports fan.