“[LeGarrette Blount will have] more rushing yards than AP or CJ2K. Now, it’s a BOLD prediction – it has to be outrageous to be considered bold – but it could happen.”
So sayeth Matthew Berry, the award-winning writer and proprietor of RotoPass.com.
Both running backs – Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson – were Pro Bowlers in 2010, and each is regarded as a paragon for modern runners. Neither of them has run for fewer than 1,200 yards in a season, and between them, they’ve made seven trips to Hawaii. Matthew Berry’s prediction is bold, and Blount has his work cut out for him, but if 2010 was any indication, the forecast might not be as audacious as it sounds.
Here’s a fun fact: LeGarrette Blount, in 13 games, recorded the tenth best rushing season in Buccaneer history. Crazier still, he logged significant time in only 11 of those contests. 1,007 rushing yards in – essentially – 11 games, as a rookie, with no training camp or gestation period. That’s good for 13th on the Buccaneer’s all-time rushing list.
And he arrived at the perfect time. Cadillac Williams wasn’t scaring anyone with his 2.5 yards per carry, and the offense desperately needed a second dimension. Blount brought more. He became the workhorse. The grinder. The breakaway threat. He surprised us all with his open field agility – ask Kerry Rhodes and Lawyer Milloy – and spent 11 incredible weeks showcasing the league’s most unique running style. The dude’s a slashing bruiser; he bursts like gunfire through the cracks in the defensive line, exploding through linebackers, dragging corners, and leaping safeties. He’s Jamal Lewis with moves. Priest Holmes with meat on his bones. More than we could’ve asked for.
However, as unbelievable as his rookie year was, 2011 is a different season. Running backs tend to falter after explosive seasons; it’s not so much a descent toward ineptitude, but more of a falling back to earth. Ahman Green followed up his 1883-yard tour de force in 2003 with a respectable – if less spectacular – 1163 yards the following season. Steven Jackson led the league in yards in 2006, but came up 900 yards and ten touchdowns short of matching his totals in 2007. In 2009, Ray Rice averaged 5.3 yards per carry; still productive in 2010, Rice’s average fell more than a yard per carry.
There are dozens of examples. Jamal Lewis and Deuce McAllister, 2003 and 2004. Frank Gore, ’06 and ’07. Marion Barber’s ’07 and ’08. Injuries have a way of derailing a good season. Ditto playing for a poor team. But more than anything – outside of all the variables and circumstance – success is punished in the NFL. Defenses key on their biggest threat, and only the legends – the Barry Sanderses, Emmitt Smiths, LaDainian Tomlinsons, and Marshall Faulks – overcome consistently, and churn out elite numbers year after year.
Blount probably won’t average five yards per carry in 2011, and that’s okay. 16 games has a way of tempering the averages. But if we see anything resembling the man we saw in 2010 – the linebacker-sized runner with quick feet and great vision, capable of juking or trucking anyone on the field – then Berry’s prediction is a safe bet. And if Blount pulls it off – if he drops 1,500 in the stat book and outrushes the league’s two premier backs – he’ll join Johnson and Peterson as an NFL elite, and may be working his way toward something more.
So, Bucs fans, cross your fingers. Let’s hope Matthew Berry knows what he’s talking about.