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Friday, January 09, 2015

The Bettis vs. Davis debate

Now that both are among the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the debate will begin over which running back is most deserving of induction, Jerome Bettis or Terrell Davis.

Bettis, as we know, has the better career numbers, while Davis had the better individual seasons.

Bettis supporters will correctly point out that he is the NFL's sixth all-time leading rusher and that of the top 10 players on that list, only Bettis and LaDanian Tomlinson - who is not yet eligible - are not in the Hall of Fame.

Davis, meanwhile, ranks 53rd on the all-time rushing list, tucked in between Chris Warren and Mike Pruitt, a pair of good, but not great, running backs.

In terms of individual seasons, Davis had one good season and two great ones. After his first four seasons, in which he rushed for 1,000 or more yards each year, including a 2,000-yard season in 1998, Davis didn't appear in more than eight games in a season over his final three years.

He led the NFL with 2,008 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1998 after rushing for 1,750 yards and a league-best 15 touchdowns in 1997.

Those are two great seasons, to be sure. But do they outperform Bettis' best seasons and longevity?

Bettis' best two seasons came in 1996 and 1997 when he rushed for 1,431 and 1,665 yards and scored 18 combined touchdowns.

He also had 1,429 yards as a rookie in 1993 and 1,341 in 2000, two other strong seasons. So the argument that Bettis was never a "dominant" running back don't hold water. Those are four very dominant seasons.

In fact, the totals from those seasons - 5,886 yards - compare very well with Davis' best four seasons - 6,413 yards.

Add in the fact that Bettis had eight 1,000-yard seasons compared to four for Davis and Bettis wins in that area.

But, his supporters argue, Davis had a Gayle Sayers-like career. Short but great. Yes, Davis was great - for three seasons.

In his rookie season in 1995, he was OK. Do the names Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson ring a bell?

Gary rushed for 1,159 yards in 1999 in the same system in which Davis flourished, while Anderson had 1,497 in 2000 and scored 15 touchdowns.

Not that any running back could be a star in Denver's system, but it certainly seems like it was conducive to that happening.

The Broncos had a very good blocking scheme and still had John Elway at quarterback when Davis was having his best seasons. Bettis' best seasons came with Jim Everett (and T.J. Rubley), Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart and Kent Graham at quarterback.

None of those guys were going to be confused with Elway at any point in their career.

I'm not saying that Davis isn't worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His four-year run was a good one.

But Bettis' career was better and he deserves to get into the Hall of Fame this year.


adamg said...

Bussie played 13 years in the NFL which is an amazing feat for any RB and moreso for one who is 250+lbs. Only in one of those years did he carry the ball fewer than 200 times. Even in his last full year of 2004, he gained nearly 1000 yds on 250 carries and scored 13 TDs. And Bussie wasn't dancing around tacklers either, he was running in a pure power blocking scheme.

And any RB who could bowl Urlacher over on his way to the endzone deserves to be in the HoF.

joe said...

every now and then i send the you tube video of bettis crushing urlacher to my bears fan friends here in illinois. that was a great game played on grass in the it should be

DD said...

If Davis gets in over Bettis that is a joke. Forget the yards and TD's. Who was more important to their team? The Steelers offense was designed to do what it did, especially later in the Bus's career. Score enough to get a small lead, and kill the clock with Bettis picking up first down after first down after first down. And that is exactly what he did. That is MVP type stuff to those who know football. Doesn't have any flash factor whatsoever, but I would like to think that the voters would look past that and see the true value of Jerome Bettis's contributions.

kyle said...

I've repeated this many times but...Jerome Bettis was the best "big back" ever. His power, longevity, and even his ability to thrive in a niche role are clear evidence.

The thing that sets him apart from all of the other big power backs is his feet. No running back that size has ever had feet that quick. Whenever Steeler fans say "we need another Bettis" it bothers me because there isn't another Bettis. You can bring in all the fat rumblers you want; they won't have Jerome's feet and that's why they'll never be as good.

Davis was great but to me he's like Sterling Sharpe. Absolutely dominant but over too short a period of time. He has a more convincing case than Sharpe and I'm sure he'll get in eventually but it should not be over Bettis.

joe said...

yep, bettis had unbelievable footwork for a big guy. i consider campbell a big back(maybe you don't?)would have to consider him the best big back.

Patrick said...

Jim brown and it's not even close

kyle said...

Jim Brown is the best running back ever. He is taller than Bettis but I think his playing weight was probably 25 to 30lbs less than Bettis at his lightest.

Earl is Jerome's height and closer to his weight. I guess I never really thought of Campbell as a "big back" since power running was so common in those days.

I guess what I mean when I say Bettis was the best "big back" I mean it more stylistically. Nobody would disagree that Brown and Campbell were extremely powerful runners but I suppose I never compartmentalized them the same way.

Regardless, I'd put Jerome's footwork up against either of them. And I think he had a more Hall of Fame worthy career than Terrell Davis.

marc said...

bettis will get in sooner or later. the more the voters see RB's having great 2-3 seasons then fading away will make bettis' accomplishments look better and better.

John Kang said...

Without TD, I don't think Elway ever gets his rings. Does that make him HOF worthy? Sure, but The Bus was better for longer.

drinkyourmilkshake said...

Ya know Dale the mere fact that Bettis isn't a lock for the hall of fame this year is a clear sign of Tomlin's lack of leadership. When are they going to start holding him accountable. Also considering Terrell Davis was found on the scrap heap and Colbert continues to waste draft picks on the Jarvis Jones/Ryan Shazier's of the world it's no wonder this team is so Pathetic year in and year out. Also, I coached my son's pop warner football squad this fall and our defense was ranked among the top 10 (out of 12 teams) so I clearly know about defensive schemes and I can't understand why they continue to allow that old piece of gristle LeBeau to have a job. The game has changed and passed him bye because as you and I both know it's impossible for someone to learn anything or change or adapt once they get to a certain age.

Alan G Melville, Edinburgh , UK said...

Uhuh. What you miss is the post-season. The greatest palyers get it done in the biggest games: (Big Ben vs Peyton, anyone?)

Davis in the post-season was unbelievable: 1140 yards in 8 games, and over 100 yards in 7 of those, at an average of 5.6 yards a carry and 142.5 yards a game. And he scored 12 RDs in those 8 games. That's god-like.

To put it into HoF perspective, the best HOF RB numbers in the post-season is 5.1 yds (Marcus Allen), and 110 yd a game (John Riggins). Only Emmitt Smith has the 7 100+ yard post-season games that can match TD, and he played in 18, not 8 playoff games. Jerome? 14 games, for 674 yd and 9 TDs. Good, but not legendary. Franco Harris? 19 games for 1554 yards and 19 TDs, over 100 yds 4 times. Which IS legendary and HoF worthy.

TD also, by the way, averages 97.5 yards per game in the regular season. Only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders are better.

The Bus was good for a long time, and occasionally very very good. BUT TD was great, supremely so, even if for a much shorter career. There's a reason TD is in the 90s all-decade team and the Bus isn't. TD was simply better. Sorry, Pittsburgh, but he was.

Anonymous said...

Not sure you can have an honest debate on this subject when the season you describe for Davis as merely 'good' was still better than the same season you describe for Bettis as 'dominant'.

Both are fringe candidates. Although I agree that Bettis belongs and Davis doesn't. Davis had a super nova career. Burned intensely bright, but way too short. Sorry, body of work just isn't there. But I'm not going knock what was a brilliant career, short as it was. Gale Sayers is the only argument that can be made on Davis's behalf. And he's an outlier. Much like Csonka is with Bettis. Outlier comparison's are never a persuasive argument. For me anyways.

Bettis had a long string of pretty good seasons. But only 3 were top 5 in those respective seasons. Outside of that he was never part of the best at his position. All-Pro just twice. Kinda like Ben, almost always just outside that elite group. He did accumulate an impressive body of work over an even more impressive length of time. Especially for a guy his size. But by the time he was spent as a starter, his career was lacking two things that I thought might keep him out of the HOF. TDs and a ring. He was a fringe HOFer, and while he had a lot of yards, he didn't quite measure up outside a stray Csonka. He ended up padding his TDs as a backup ala Marcus Allen toward the end and got that ring as a passenger. Doesn't matter to me when he got the ring, just that he got it. And it is an important marker on an HOF resume, especially the fringe guys. Same with the TDs. And pro bowls. Doesn't matter if you shouldn't have earned a pro bowl and got it on name only. If you got it, it counts. And pro bowls (and rings) count to voters. Bettis had 6. IMO, all that pushed Bettis from boarderline to HOF.

But maybe the voters don't quite agree. Yet, anyways. Since this is his 6th attempt afterall. Obviously he's still on the fringe in many voter's minds.

There's been a lot of voters come out over the years saying they just can't vote for Davis because his career was too short. And he's been up for HOF much longer than Bettis. I haven't really heard any voters campaign 'against' Bettis like they have with Davis. So I take that as a good sign that it's more a case of him having to wait his turn. But I also thought Curtis Martin getting would lurch open the door for Bettis. But that was 3 years ago now. Could be his year finally. Weak group of finalists IMO. Not sure if Davis on the ballot helps or hurts Bettis. Warner is in the same boat as TD. Sorta. Just didn't do enough. Brilliant for a short span, then squat for half a decade before going out with a pretty good/not great stretch. Great made-for-tv script, but no cigar.

Dale Lolley said...

I called Davis' seasons great. Don't know where that is coming from.
He had three great seasons in his career

adamg said...

Bettis is the 6th all-time leading rusher in NFL history. Let's not forget that.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you misspoke, but you did say:

In terms of individual seasons, Davis had one good season and two great ones.

I can only assume the "one good season" was the least productive of his 3 best seasons, 1996. The first of his 3 consecutive All-Pro seasons, and first of his two NFL Offensive Player of the Year awards. Which was significantly better than the output Bettis achieve in what you characterized as one of his "dominant seasons".

Jay Schroe said...

Please keep in mind that Terrell Davis played with THREE GUYS WHO ARE ALREADY HALL OF FAMERS. Gary Zimmerman , Shannon Sharpe, and John Elway. He also benefited from 5-time Pro Bowler and 2 time 1st team All-Pro Center Tom Nalen, who may also be inducted some day. Elway retired, Sharpe went to Baltimore, Zimmerman retired and TD disappeared off the face of the earth. Even prior to his injury, the Broncos were 0-4 and Davis was averaging 3.1 YPC. BETTIS WAS THE RAM AND STEELER OFFENSE FOR A DECADE.

MaskedNinja said...

I would also like to point out that TD had John Elway (Hall of Famer) as his quarterback. Jerome Bettis had 11 different QBs during his career. Big Ben was a rookie and second year player when Bettis won the Super Bowl. Take away John Elway had TD's stats look average.