Ezekiel Elliott is suspended until Christmas, Alvin Kamara is becoming a star in New Orleans, and no one cares about Marshawn Lynch’s antics anymore. This has just been another standard year for NFL running backs, right?
Normally, we’d put a “YEAH!” there because Lynch is a running back, but the future Hall of Famer has been pretty bad this season. In fact, Lynch could join the club of the worst single-season running backs since 2000…also known as today’s article.
Our only true ground rule for this list is that the running back in question – yes, a running back, so no fullbacks – has to have been among the league’s qualifier in carries. We don’t care about someone who had -5 yards on four carries and fumbled on two carries because they don’t qualify for the leaderboards. We’re looking for players who all got a decent amount of snaps, started a good chunk of games, and did absolutely nothing with that opportunity.
Because the 2017 regular season is still ongoing at the time of this article, we have decided to omit this season, although Green Bay’s Aaron Jones or Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin would likely be our choice. No, we didn’t decide to go with Adrian Peterson, especially after how he’s been somewhat productive since joining the Cardinals.
2000: Darnell Autry, Philadelphia Eagles
Stats: Autry carried the ball 112 times in 11 games (seven starts) for 334 yards, three touchdowns, and two fumbles. Carrying the ball three yards per rush, Autry also added 24 catches for 275 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Why was he so bad? Autry has one of the more intriguing stories on this list, having been a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 1997 after a star-studded career at Northwestern, took a break from football for personal issues (including being turned down by a reality TV show because “he didn’t look like a running back”), and made it back with the Eagles in 2000. While this may have sounded like a heartwarming tale guaranteed to work, Autry was mediocre and out of the league the following season.
2001: Warrick Dunn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats: Dunn carried the ball 248 times in 13 games (12 starts) for 447 yards, three touchdowns, and two fumbles. Carrying the ball for 2.8 yards per rush, Dunn also added 68 catches for 557 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
Why was he so bad? Are we cheating because Dunn saw slight action at fullback? Given Dunn was not a full-time fullback, the potential future Hall of Famer is still eligible for this list and was a clear option to make it here. Dunn did add an element in the passing game, catching a career-high 68 passes, but how much does that alleviate averaging 2.8 yards per carry? At least Dunn was able to figure things out in Atlanta and during a second stint in Tampa.
2002: Jonathan Wells, Houston Texans
Stats: Wells carried the ball 197 times in 16 games (11 starts) for 529 yards, three touchdowns, and three fumbles. Carrying the ball for 2.7 yards per rush, Wells also added nine receptions for 48 yards in the air.
Why was he so bad? One of the few rookies on this list, fourth-rounder and Ohio St. alum Wells struggled behind the same offensive line that killed David Carr’s career before it even began. Not even averaging three yards a carry, watching Wells try to run and immediately get stuffed was absolutely dreadful. Now, you can make the argument that Wells only struggled because of how bad the Texans were, but like Jay-Z said: men lie, women lie, numbers don’t. Sorry, Jonathan, but at least you’re not the worst Texans running back on this list.
2003: Amos Zereoue, Pittsburgh Steelers
Stats: Zereoue carried the ball 132 times in 16 starts (six starts) for 433 yards, two touchdowns, and no fumbles. Carrying the ball for 3.3 yards per rush, Zereoue added 40 catches for 310 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Who is this man and where is Jerome Bettis? A change-of-pace backup for the bruising Bettis, Zereoue continued a downward trend from his 441 yard, 5.2 yards per rush season in 2001. Despite running for 762 yards and four touchdowns in 2002, Zereoue averaged only 3.9 yards per rush, a number that only dropped to 3.3 in 2003. By 2004, Amos was with the Oakland Raiders and averaging 3.8 yards-per-rush, but was out of the league by 2005 after a stint with the New England Patriots.
2004: Eddie George, Dallas Cowboys
Stats: George (wait, when did he play for the Cowboys!?) carried the ball 132 times in 13 games (eight starts) for 432 yards, four touchdowns, and three fumbles. Averaging 3.3 yards per rush, George added nine receptions for 83 yards in the air.
Why was he so bad? Can we get back to the point where Eddie George played for the Dallas Cowboys? Did you remember this? At 31 years old, Dallas was probably hoping George could bring to the table what former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith was providing in Arizona: leadership and some flashes of his older self. Instead, George played like he was five years older and like the 2,733 carries he had with the Oilers and Texans had caught up to him in a big way.
2005: Marcel Shipp, Arizona Cardinals
Stats: Shipp carried the ball 157 times in 15 games (11 starts) for 451 yards, no touchdowns, and four fumbles. Averaging 2.9 yards per rush, Shipp also added 35 yards for 255 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? You thought Edgerrin James was disappointing in Arizona? Had Shipp not put up these type of stats in 2005, maybe the Cardinals wouldn’t have spent so much money on a player who was already primed for a downfall. No touchdowns in 15 games and on 157 carries?
But given where Shipp came from in gang and crime-filled Paterson, New Jersey, that he even made it to the NFL is a feat that can never be taken from him. That really puts this season in perspective, huh?
2006: Kevan Barlow, New York Jets
Stats: Barlow carried the ball 131 times in 12 games (three starts) for 370 yards, six touchdowns, and one fumble. Averaging 2.8 yards per rush, Barlow added seven receptions for 21 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Yes, I know Barlow scored six touchdowns, but no Jets fan who remembers watching him desperately run will shrug that off. If the Jets were using Barlow as essentially a fullback and goal-line back, we could forget about the yards per rush (he wouldn’t be eligible for this list if he were a fullback either), but it’s hard to when you don’t even average three yards per carry when you get the ball that much. Somehow, the Jets still made the playoffs, but this was Barlow’s last season in the NFL.
2007: Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: Johnson carried the ball 170 times in 11 games (nine starts) for 497 yards, three touchdowns, and three fumbles. Averaging 2.9 yards per rush, Johnson also added 13 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Why was he so bad? Given Johnson had carried the ball a combined 1,039 times from 2004-06 after Corey Dillon’s departure, maybe we should have seen this coming. Even crazier to think about was in 2007, Johnson was 28 when he carried the ball like someone ten years older, earning himself a trip to the worst possible place in 2008: Detroit.
2008: Chris Perry, Cincinnati Bengals
Stats: Perry carried the ball 104 times in 13 games (six starts) for 267 yards, two touchdowns, and five fumbles. Averaging 2.6 yards per rush, Perry also added 20 receptions for 71 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Because Chris Perry had shown some talent as a change-of-pace running back behind Johnson in 2005 (61 rushes for 279 yards and an additional 328 through the air), it only made sense to give him a fair share of reps following the veteran’s release. Well, given that Perry ran for 2.6 yards per carry in 13 games and was replaced by Cedric Benson midway through the season as the starting running back, maybe such a move was a mistake. At least the Bengals made the postseason in 2009…
2009: Steve Slaton, Houston Texans
Stats: Slaton carried the ball 131 times in 11 games (ten starts) for 437 yards, three touchdowns, and seven fumbles. Averaging 3.3 yards per rush, Slaton added 44 catches for 417 yards and four touchdowns through the air.
Why was he so bad? Rather than go into an in-depth explanation here, I’m instead going to show you Slaton’s stats from his 2008 rookie season.
2008 stats: Slaton carried the ball 268 times in 16 games (15 starts) for 1,282 yards, nine touchdowns, and three fumbles. Averaging 4.8 yards per carry, Slaton added 50 catches for 377 yards and one touchdown through the air.
2010: Chester Taylor, Chicago Bears
Stats: Taylor carried the ball 112 times in 16 games (one start) for 267 yards, three touchdowns, and no fumbles. Averaging 2.4 yards per rush, Taylor added 20 catches for 139 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad?
When we say this was tough to watch, we’re not being overdramatic or anything. If you find any of Taylor’s 2010 highlights on YouTube, NFL.com, or even MySpace (!), try to turn away before it’s too late among some of Taylor’s more notable games in 2010 include…
– Ten carries for 13 yards against Buffalo;
– 11 carries for 10 yards against Miami;
– Six carries for -3 yards against Philadelphia;
– 11 carries for five yards against Minnesota.
2011: Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs
Stats: Jones carried the ball 153 times in 16 games (eight starts) for 478 yards, no touchdowns, and no fumbles. Averaging 3.1 yards per rush, Jones added five receptions for 43 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Believe it or not, 2011 was actually a pretty great year for running backs around the league, so our options are fairly limited. Because Jones failed to score on any of those touches and only averaged 3.1 yards per rush, we’re going to give him the nod here while noting he had one of the better seasons on this list. There’s no fumbles, no huge errors, just a fairly empty statline. We’re not quite sure if that will make Jones feel better, but who’s next on our list?
2012: Rashad Jennings, Jacksonville Jaguars
Stats: Jennings carried the ball 101 times in 10 games (six starts) for 283 yards, two touchdowns, and three fumbles. Averaging 2.8 yards per rush, Jennings added 19 catches for 130 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Unlike the other running backs on this list, Jennings had his worst season in the middle of his career and was even able to rebound afterwards. In fact, Jennings averaged 4.5 yards per rush the next season with a career-best rushing six touchdowns, so he didn’t let a poor final season with the Jaguars get him down. Not bad! Unfortunately, the bad came in a season that saw him fumble more times than reaching the end zone. That fact is almost as ugly as the Jaguars’ average attendance.
2013: Willis McGahee, Cleveland Browns
Stats: McGahee carried the ball 138 times in 12 games (six starts) for 377 yards, two touchdowns, and one fumble. Averaging 2.7 yards per rush, McGahee added eight receptions for 20 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Given how McGahee was a Pro Bowl running back in 2011 with the Denver Broncos and still managed to have a solid 2012 season before sustaining a season-ending injury (731 yards and four touchdowns on 4.4 yards per rush in 10 games), seeing the two-time Pro Bowler put up such dismal numbers in Cleveland of all places was disheartening. On another note, can you believe how it long it took for a Cleveland Browns running back to wind up on this list? Well they’re not done yet…
2014: Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns/Minnesota Vikings
Stats: Tate carried the ball 119 times (106 times for the Browns; 13 for the Vikings) in 11 games (six starts, all of which came with the Browns) for 371 yards (333; 38), four touchdowns (4; 0), and zero fumbles. Tate also added nine receptions for 60 yards in his time with the Browns and did not record a catch in Minnesota.
Why was he so bad? The only running back on this list to play for two teams in the same season, Tate was signed by the Browns as not only a replacement for McGahee, but a young player (26-years-old) they could pair with a young quarterback (Johnny Manziel) and young star receiver (Josh Gordon) to build a potential dynasty. With that said, I get the feeling I really don’t need to say much else other than Tate also played for the Vikings after being cut midseason.
2015: Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers
Stats: Gordon carried the ball 184 times in 14 games (13 starts) for 641 yards, no touchdowns, and six fumbles. Averaging 3.5 yards per rush, Gordon added 33 receptions for 192 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Melvin Gordon’s 2015 rookie season has been discussed so much because he was a first-round pick that essentially went the entire season without scoring a touchdown. That is extremely, extremely rare of someone who gets as much playing time as the former Wisconsin Badger did. But, is that why he winds up on this list? When you average 3.5 yards per rush and fumble six times as a rookie without even coming close to touching the end zone, there’s not much of a defense we have for you.
2016: Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stats: Martin carried the ball 144 times in eight games (all eight were starts) for 421 yards, three touchdowns, and one fumble. Averaging 2.9 yards per rush, Martin added 14 catches for 134 yards through the air.
Why was he so bad? Realistically, Martin would wind up being our pick for the NFL’s worst running back this season as well after another dismal year, but last year was shockingly bad. After battling injuries in 2013 and 2014, Martin was a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in 2015 when he ran for 1,402 yards and six touchdown for the Buccaneers, so what went wrong? Did injuries truly catch up to the Muscle Hamster, or was he just not a solid running back anymore? More importantly, who’s ready to see him in Jets green next year?
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