The list of NFL running backs with more than 1,000 career carries who have averaged more than 4.85 yards a carry is a short one: It consists of two all-time greats, Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, and two active players who are at risk of falling off the list, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson.
At the moment, this is the yards per carry leaderboard in NFL history, minimum 1,000 rushing attempts:
5.45: Jamaal Charles.
5.22: Jim Brown.
4.99: Barry Sanders.
4.86: Adrian Peterson.
Brown and Sanders retired with such high averages in part because they retired on top: Brown walked away after his age-29 season and Sanders quit after his age-30 season. Running backs who don’t stick around for their inevitable decline in their 30s end up with higher career averages.
Charles and Peterson are not planning to do the same. Both were limited by knee injuries last year, both saw their original teams get rid of them this offseason, and both decided to sign with new teams and keep going.
That means they’re putting their places on the career yards-per-carry list in jeopardy. If Charles were to finish this season with 200 carries for 700 yards, it would drop his career average to 5.19 yards per carry, and he’d fall behind Brown on the all-time yards per carry list. If Peterson carries 200 times for 700 yards, his career average will drop to 4.75, behind Lenny Moore, Robert Smith and Joe Perry.
If Charles and Peterson were to stick around for two more such seasons, they’d run the risk of sliding even further down the yards-per-carry leaderboard. That wouldn’t detract from the great careers they’ve already had, but it would make their career stats look a little less impressive.