Just for kicks, forget everything you know about NFL running back workloads prior to the 1995 season. We just want to focus on the last two decades for this exercise, because 20 years is a nice, round number, and a super long period of time to examine, especially by NFL standards.
A very large number of excellent running backs have come and gone in that 20-year window, but only 14 of them have had the luck of durability, the opportunity, and the level of production to warrant receiving 300 or more carries in three straight seasons. Many of these running backs are already in the Hall of Fame, and a few more will be eventually... and none of them are still playing today.
|Player||Team(s)||300+ carry streak||More 300+ seasons|
|Barry Sanders||Lions||1995-98 (4 seasons)|
|Jerome Bettis||Steelers, Rams||1996-98 (3 seasons)||1994, 2000 (2 seasons)|
|Terrell Davis||Broncos||1996-98 (3 seasons)|
|Curtis Martin||Jets, Patriots||1998-2001 (4 seasons)||1995-96, 2003-04 (4 seasons)|
|Corey Dillon||Bengals, Patriots||2000-02 (3 seasons)||2004 (1 season)|
|Eddie George||Titans||1996-2003 (8 seasons)|
|Jamal Lewis||Ravens||2000-03 (4 seasons)||2006 (1 season)|
|Priest Holmes||Chiefs||2001-03 (3 seasons)|
|Ricky Williams||Dolphins, Saints||2001-03 (3 seasons)|
|Shaun Alexander||Seahawks||2003-05 (3 seasons)||2001 (1 season)|
|Tiki Barber||Giants||2004-06 (3 seasons)||2002 (1 season)|
|Rudi Johnson||Bengals||2004-06 (3 seasons)|
|LaDainian Tomlinson||Chargers||2001-07 (7 seasons)|
|Edgerrin James||Colts, Cardinals||2003-07 (5 seasons)||1999-2000 (2 seasons)|
The 2007 season brought an end to consecutive-season streaks of 300 or more carries for both LaDainian Tomlinson and Edgerrin James. 2007 was the year that Buffalo Rumblings was founded; we are about to cover our ninth NFL season. 2007 was the year that Buffalo drafted Marshawn Lynch; he hasn't played for our favorite football team in almost five years. I don't want to alarm you, but 2007 was quite a while ago.
Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy has a chance to become the next NFL running back to eclipse 300 carries in three straight seasons if he can hit that number in 2015. Many have come close in that same time frame (some current players have even done it three times, just not consecutively), but McCoy would be the first to do it in nearly a decade. It would be a distinctly unique feat in today's pass-happy pro football game.
The fact that we're even discussing the possibility of McCoy carrying the ball 300 times this year speaks volumes not only about McCoy's status as one of the best and most productive running backs in the league, but about his vital importance to a 2015 Bills team that is trying to make the playoffs without a legitimate starting quarterback and with major question marks along the offensive line. The Bills' bread and butter this year will be playing great defense, continuing their upward trajectory on special teams, and hoping that McCoy can milk enough big plays out of his 1,461-carry-old legs to put the offense over the hump.
Ironically, many league experts panned Buffalo's decision to trade third-year linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 27-year-old McCoy back in March precisely because of his recent workload. He earned All-Pro honors in 2013 with 1,607 yards and nine touchdowns on 314 rushes, but his production slipped quite noticeably (1,319 yards, five scores on 312 rushes) last season. Chip Kelly and the Eagles weren't alone in seeming worried about McCoy having possibly reached the end of his peak-production NFL years, but the Bills clearly do not agree. Shortly after acquiring him, they handed him a five-year contract extension worth $40 million and containing $26.5 million guaranteed. And they might hand the ball off to him 300 times this season.
The rare opportunity for McCoy comes with unusually high expectation levels from a playoff-starved fan base. Few running backs in the past decade will have faced this level of on-field scrutiny. That comes with the territory; McCoy has been that good, and the Bills are banking on his continuing to be that good for the foreseeable future. If they're wrong, it'll be one of the biggest veteran-acquisition flubs in recent memory - and the Bills have had quite a few of those.
Then again, the 300-carry mark may not be a slam dunk for McCoy, after all. Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman joins the team after a four-year stint in San Francisco, where he coached a player widely regarded as one of the most consistent and durable workhorse runners in the last decade in Frank Gore. In their four years working together, Gore averaged less than 270 rushing attempts per season. That's a lot by today's NFL standard, and Gore is not on McCoy's level as a player, but perhaps the Bills will plan on conserving McCoy's legs more readily than most believe at this juncture.
Even if the Bills do hold McCoy back enough to prevent him from hitting that 300-carry mark, there is little doubt that McCoy is Buffalo's most important offensive player heading into the 2015 season. They're banking on an MVP-level performance from the seventh-year pro. If he's able to muster that level of production despite his circumstances, McCoy will belong on that list of Hall of Fame caliber runners we covered above.