Terrell Davis belongs in the Hall of Fame

Terrell Davis belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Why? Because he is the best playoff running back of all time. End of story, there is no dispute. That alone should be enough to get him enshrined in Canton. However, his credentials do not end there.

Davis played a total of seven seasons (only four before tearing his ACL) and racked up 7,607 career yards with a career yards per game average of 97.5. His career yards per carry is a hefty 4.6. Davis put together arguably four of the best consecutive seasons of all time for a running back. He totaled 6,413 yards , 56 touchdowns and 105.1 yards per game in those four seasons. If you include the playoffs it was the best four consecutive seasons by any running back ever (See charts below for reference). He won the NFL MVP, two Offensive Player of the Year awards, a Super Bowl MVP and back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

regular season only:

  Games Rushes Yards TDs Y/A Y/G Fumbles
Terrell Davis 61 1343 6413 56 4.8 105.1 16
Barry Sanders 64 1287 6989 40 5.4 109.2 10
Emmitt Smith 60 1401 6456 73 4.6 107.6 16
Eric Dickerson 62 1465 6968 55 4.8 112.4 49
Walter Payton 62 1358 6317 45 4.7 101.9 28
Jim Brown 50 1067 5521 48 5.2 110.4 22

with playoffs:

  Games Rushes Yards TDs Y/A Y/G Fumbles
Terrell Davis 69 1547 7553 68 4.9 109.5 20
Barry Sanders 67 1328 7093 40 5.3 105.9 11
Emmitt Smith 71 1639 7488 88 4.6 105.5 19
Eric Dickerson 68 1598 7642 58 4.8 112.4 55
Walter Payton 64 1393 6444 47 4.6 100.7 29
Jim Brown 51 1074 5529 48 5.1 108.4 22

Davis is one of a select few to surpass the 2,000 rushing yard mark for a season. At the time there were only three others to do it and his season is better than any other in the 2,000-yard club. He rushed for 2,008 yards, scored 21 touchdowns and only fumbled twice. When adding his statistics from the playoffs for that season, he totaled 2,474 yards rushing, scored 24 rushing touchdowns and didn’t fumble in those playoff games. He was the best player in the NFL, the best at his position, and the best player on his team even when John Elway was still playing.

Those qualifications are worthy of a Hall of Fame nod. The big knock against him is he doesn’t have huge career statistics that comes from longevity. Davis got hurt on a play that had nothing to do with him. His quarterback at the time threw an untimely interception and while attempting to make the tackle, Davis’ own offensive lineman accidently leg whipped his knee and that was all she wrote. He was never the same player.

If statistics due to longevity are all you need to get into Canton then Fred Taylor and Warrick Dunn should hear their names called very soon.

Gayle Sayers had a career cut short due to injury and his career path was remarkably similar to Davis. Sayers had five good years and that was it. I have not heard anyone argue that his bust should not be sitting in the Hall of Fame. His numbers are not even close to Davis’. Furthermore, there are eight players in the Hall of Fame with seven or less seasons, four of them being running backs. If Davis had played two more healthy seasons he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Finally, let’s talk about the playoff greatness. When analysts and Hall of Fame voters argue about who is the greatest quarterback of all time the dispute always comes down to how good they were in the playoffs. Did they come through when it mattered most? Apply the same logic to the running back position. Davis came through when it mattered most better than any other running back in the history of the NFL.

In eight playoff games he rushed for 1,140 yards, 142.5 yards per game, 5.6 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns (1.5 per game). He rattled off seven straight 100 plus yard performances. No other running back has those kind of numbers. Not Emmitt Smith. Not Barry Sanders. Not Jim Brown. Davis was the reason the Broncos won their first Super Bowl. In that game he rushed for 157 yards and 3 touchdowns all while sitting out the entire 2nd quarter, earning the MVP award.

Those credentials are breathtakingly good. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is reserved for greatness. It is not the Hall of Longevity or the Hall of Padded Stats. Terrell Davis, especially when it mattered most, was greatness.

Thomas Hall

I have been a diehard Denver Broncos fan since the early 80s and have loved the game of football even longer. In the past three plus decades I have been involved in football one way or another; playing, coaching, writing, analyzing, and just being a fan. Writing about the Broncos on the web has given me an avenue to share my football thoughts that is much more therapeutic than yelling at the radio during a sports talk show. I am an analytics and research manager living in the New England area with my lovely wife and three wonderful children. GO Broncos!

One Comment

  1. In an age in which we admit the physicality of the NFL takes its toll and injuries can slice a man’s career in two, we should be smarter than dismissing Davis’ career because it ended abruptly.

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