Matt Waldman’s RB Cut-Down No.10: RB Eric Dickerson


Running back is the most talent-dense position in the history of the league. It’s why narrowing the choice to a single player is insanity.

I’m sharing my process of finding my runner to defend the planet. The criticisms I have for these players are so minor that normally, I’d echo Jim Brown’s sentiments about rating players across eras:

I don’t deal with who’s the greatest. That’s very limited, I’m sorry to say, and I think this is an example of it. Why would anyone want to say that what Adrian has done this year isn’t what someone else did years before? It’s what you do when you do it, and it should not be compared. We don’t have to compare it. It’s unnecessary. And it’s taking something away from someone to give someone else something. You don’t have to do that. Because what Adrian is doing now doesn’t hurt anyone else who’s ever run the football.

I’m not going to look at Walter Payton and take anything away from Walter. I’m not going to look at John Riggins and take anything away from him. I’m only going to look at the positive things of each individual.

I get Brown’s point. My exercise comes from a place of love for the abilities of all of these backs. It’s not a “who is the best” ranking, it’s a “who is the best for this situation based on my needs.”

The backs I’m profiling this week are listed in the order I cut them from consideration for the starter’s role. I said before if I could do it, I’d start five backs for my team. It’s just not feasible.

Eric Dickerson

He’s the prettiest runner I’ve ever seen and it’s not even close. Bill Walsh gushed about Dickerson like a pre-teen girl at a boy band concert.

I love Marcus Allen’s point that big backs take more punishment and that Dickerson’s greatness appeared deceptively easy in this respect. Dickerson was arguably the best breakaway threat at the position.

He was incredibly light on his feet with his graceful cuts, stop-start timing, and acceleration. Although powerful, Dickerson’s strength seemed more like a change-up in his arsenal as a runner. Dickerson was masterful at setting up and exploiting a crease.

One of the more underrated aspects of Dickerson’s game was catching the ball. He earned 51 receptions as a rookie, but only had one other season in L.A. where he earned half that total.

It’s a skill that helped Dickerson earned a combined 2000 yards four times during his career with two teams. The former SMU great routinely faced 8 and 9-man boxes and, according to Chase Stuart, “is the only player with two seasons in the top 15” of Yards From Scrimmage as a Percentage of Team Total .

“One other Dickerson note: while he has “only” five seasons in the top 400, he’s hurt by this analysis because his 1987 season — when he played for two teams — is excluded,” says Stuart. “But for those scoring at home, Dickerson gained 1,144 yards with the Colts that year, and during that stretch, the Colts totaled 3,175 yards. So Dickerson accounted for 36% of the 1987 Indianapolis offense when he was on the roster, which would have given him another top-75 season.”

The all-time workhorse had top-shelf assistance. Dickerson’s offensive line in L.A. featured HOFer Jackie Slater and Pro-Bowl linemen Kent Hill and Doug Smith. With the Colts, Dickerson ran behind Pro-Bowl linemen Ray Donaldson and Chris Hinton. It doesn’t rob anything from Dickerson’s standing as an all-time great, but there are backs on this list that were forced to perform to a high standard with less surrounding talent.

If ranking these backs by the caliber of their athleticism, Dickerson is easily top-five. If choosing a running back based on versatility, ball security (Dickerson fumbled every 42 touches), selflessness as a teammate, and a portfolio of plays where he illustrated high marks for creativity, reckless abandon, and a full display of all of his athletic traits integrated into his style, Dickerson is in the middle of this illustrious pack.

Saying no to Eric Dickerson as your running back to defend the planet feels a little like saying no to Secretariat to represent you in a horse race. Watching Secretariat win the Belmont the way he did was one of the most inspiring athletic events I’ve ever seen on film.

Dickerson has that Secretariat-like athleticism. Neither beat a champion nor had scenarios where they had to display amazing guts and grit in the face of adversity or intense competition. It’s why I’m seeking a running back with more qualities akin to Man o’ War and the competitive fire of Sea Biscuit.

What is the RSP Writers Project (RSPWP)?

The RSP Writers Project is a goodwill community effort among writers that is designed to spur conversation about the game. Here’s the back story for this year’s project and the directory of participating writer-built teams.

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