Matt Williamson is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and spent 10 years at ESPN as a scout and co-host of “The Football Today Podcast.”
The NFL season is right around the corner, and this year’s Hall of Fame inductions will rightfully kick off the campaign.
The 2017 class is composed of Morton Anderson, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Kurt Warner. Over the next two weeks, we’ll highlight the four best-known players – Warner, Tomlinson, Davis, and Taylor. This edition covers Davis.
Over the past few years, there has been a lot of back and forth debating if Davis is Hall of Fame worthy. Those against his induction cited that Davis didn’t have a particularly long career and that Mike Shanahan’s system inflates a running back’s production. No one suggested Davis wasn’t a great player, just not on par with Tomlinson and other enshrined running backs.
However, the case for Davis is strong. Does John Elway end his Hall of Fame career as a Super Bowl champion without Davis? Certainly not. Late in Elway’s career, that offense went through Davis.
Davis played in the NFL for seven seasons, but because of a terrible knee injury, only appeared in 17 regular season games during his final three years and only rushed for 1,194 yards over that final stretch.
However, Davis appeared in 14 games during his rookie season, averaged 4.7 yards per carry and eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards. His next three seasons were insane though. During the 1996-1998 regular seasons, Davis missed just one game. He rushed for just under 5,300 yards over that time including a 2,000 season 1998 when he averaged over five yards per carry. Davis also scored 53 touchdowns over that magical span. He was an unstoppable force.
Davis ran very hard and maximized his talents. He played the game the right way and got every yard out of his body that he possibly could. Compared to other Hall of Fame runners, Davis’ highlight tape won’t wow you, but he was nimble with light feet and explosive cutting skills.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Davis also broke off his share of long runs and had underrated pure speed. But the greatest thing Davis brought to the table during his four-year stretch was reliability and finishing skills. You could just lean on this guy and he would take care of business.
While he fit the Broncos’ system very well with his intelligence, vision and propensity for keeping his pads square to the line of scrimmage with great efficiency, he certainly wasn’t just a product of the system. While other runners posted big numbers under Shanahan, none of their tape was as impressive as Davis’.
And Davis was a mad man in the postseason. How about these stats: Davis appeared in eight postseason games from 1996 to 1998. Not only did he score a dozen touchdowns in those games, but he rushed for 1,140 yards against the best of competition at the most important time of the year including a record seven straight 100-yard games in the postseason. That’s an average of 142.5 yards per game in the playoffs!
In the receiving game, Davis was a solid option. He caught 49 passes as a rookie, but that was his highest seasonal output in that department. While Davis certainly had good hands and was a strong weapon in the screen game, he wasn’t nearly as dangerous or as versatile as someone like Tomlinson.
The first seven years that Davis was eligible for the Hall of Fame he wasn’t even a finalist, meaning he was not one of the final 15 players eligible for induction. With all due respect to Davis, who clearly was a great player, three historically great seasons and one very good rookie year isn’t enough to be a Hall of Fame running back. But he certainly was a heck of a player for a short period of time.
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