Pre-ACL Tear Edgerrin James Could’ve Been The Best. Even After, Hopefully A Hall of Famer.


Former Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James is one of fifteen Modern-Era Finalists, who will be considered for the NFL’s 2016 Hall of Fame Class–which will be chosen this Saturday.

Along with former teammate Marvin Harrison and head coach Tony Dungy, James should warrant his own serious consideration for a future bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.

Originally the 4th overall pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL Draft, James was as good–if not as great as initially advertised coming out of the “U”.

Indianapolis Colts' Edgerrin James runs into the end zone to score during the third quarter as Seattle Seahawks defenders Anthony Simmons (51) and Jay Bellamy watch from behind Sunday, Oct. 15, 2000 in Seattle. Edgerrin rushed for 219 yards in the 37-24 win for the Colts. (AP Photo/John Froschauer) ORG XMIT: SEA105 Less TEXT SIZE 0 0 EMAIL PRINT MORE No NFL rushing leader has played on a Super Bowl-winning team since Denver’s Terrell Davis during the 1998 season. A look at the rushing leaders since 1999:1999: Edgerrin James, Indianapolis, 1,553 Won AFC East, No. 2 seed, lost first game to Titans 2000: Edgerrin James, Indianapolis, 1,709 Colts lost to Dolphins in wild-card game. 2001: Priest Holmes, Kansas City, 1,555 Did not make playoffs. 2002: Ricky Williams, Miami, 1,853 Did not make playoffs. 2003: Jamal Lewis, Baltimore, 2,066 Won AFC North, lost first game to Titans.
Indianapolis Colts’ Edgerrin James runs into the end zone to score during the third quarter as Seattle Seahawks defenders Anthony Simmons (51) and Jay Bellamy watch from behind Sunday, Oct. 15, 2000 in Seattle. Edgerrin rushed for 219 yards in the 37-24 win for the Colts. (AP Photo/John Froschauer) /

Not only was he replacing a future Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk with the franchise, but the Colts also passed over 1998 heralded Heisman Trophy Winning running back Ricky Williams–who was taken just one pick later.

In his rookie season, James led the league in rushing with 1,553 rushing yards with 13 rushing touchdowns and and went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors en route to becoming a First-Team All-Pro.

In Indianapolis, it was the birth of the NFL’s first set of “Triplets”.

While Peyton Manning provided the brains, Marvin Harrison the quiet production, it was James with his dreads, gold teeth, and overall flare that provided his Indy “older brothers” with some much needed swagger and officially capped the transformation of a football city.

James went on to follow up his rookie performance by leading the league in rushing yet again in 2000, rushing for 1,709 rushing yards while putting up 13 rushing touchdowns in back-to-back seasons.

He was the 2nd fastest running back in NFL history to put up 2,500 rushing yards.

Unfortunately for James and the Colts, the running back tore his ACL just a season later in a Week 7 game against the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001. Before the injury, James was well on his way to another monster season, having already rushed for 662 rushing yards in 6 games.

Honestly, I’m no scout–but I mean this when I say that “pre-ACL tear” James was one of the greatest running backs I’ve ever had the luxury of seeing play.

No, maybe he wasn’t quite the Detroit Lions Barry Sanders, but I would put him right up there in elite company with some true freaks like the St. Louis Rams Marshall Faulk, San Diego Chargers LaDainian Tomlinson, and the Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson respectively.

If you don’t believe me, see for yourself:

James ran with the vision, speed, power that was reminiscent of a young Earl Campbell.

It never looked like he was running full speed, because James never had to. His vision and cutting ability to find the proper running lane always placed him at the right place at the right time, and he always seemed to churn any play into positive yards:

"“If you overplay him, he’s going to make you look ridiculous,” said former 5x First-Team All-Pro and 7x Pro Bowl Miami Dolphins inside linebacker Zach Thomas of James–the running back he least enjoyed facing. “He doesn’t so much cut as he stops on a dime and then takes off again at full speed.”“Edgerrin James,” replied former All-Pro and 4x Pro Bowl defensive end Bryant Young of the San Francisco 49ers–when asked who was the hardest running back to bring down. “He was a guy that was elusive. He ran so low to the ground. Even when you got him, he could wiggle his way for another two or three yards.”"

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It’s not just that James ran well either, as he could seemingly do it all:

"“James’s hands and receiving skills are as good as any halfback’s I’ve graded in the last 20 years,” said ESPN NFL Draft Guru Mel Kiper Jr. in 1999 before the NFL Draft."

James brilliantly blocked and caught passes from Manning–finishing 2nd behind Faulk in most single season yards from scrimmage with 2,139 yards as a rookie and later leading the league with 2,303 yards from scrimmage just a season later in 2000.

James didn’t just “talk the talk” with his unorthodox NFL look, but he “walked the walk”. This was a kid who didn’t just live the life, but embodied the life of a rags to riches story.

He gave the Colts much needed swagger because he earned every bit of it.

What I mean is, some football players are “fake tough”, but James was “tough” in every sense of the word:

"“The thing that immediately stands out about him is his toughness. In this league you’ve got to be tough,” formerly said Manning of James."

After all, as a kid, he grew up on food stamps in South Florida. In a 2000 ESPN the Magazine article, James talked about his humble beginnings and love for his hard working mom:

"“My mom is my heart, dawg,” said James. “I don’t get emotional. I never cry anymore because of everything I seen in my life. Why should I? You cry and you stop and you haven’t fixed anything. But I get weak when I think of what I been able to do for my mom. I freed her, man. She worked in a school cafeteria all her life. She never made more than $17,000 a year. Growing up, it was me, my mom and four brothers and sisters living in a one-room efficiency with a toilet and a stove. She worked so hard she looked tired even when she was sleeping. I remember that on days I don’t feel like lifting.”"

Of course, James went on to spend his summers hauling watermelons into a pickup truck in Florida heat with crackheads:

"“She (my mom) hasn’t had to worry about me for a while, because I was a man by middle school,” James added. “For three summers before college I would go to Georgia with my uncles and harvest those watermelons with the crackheads. Do you know how hard that is on your back and body? Pickin’ up watermelons all day in the heat and putting ’em on a truck? Football is easy compared to that, man. I bought a car with my watermelon money at the end of one summer in Georgia, and drove it back to Florida alone at midnight. I was 14.”"

No wonder James ran with such power, he was downright chiseled from hard physical labor by the time he was a teenager–years that many of his fellow youths spent at swimming pools and playing video games.

He was taught the value of hard work at an early age, and it clearly paid off in what should soon become a Hall of Fame career.

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Even after his ACL tear–despite perhaps some diminished explosiveness, James rushed for over 1,000 yards in 5 of his remaining 9 NFL seasons and even made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2005.

This isn’t a sob story by any means. 

Certainly not from where James was, to what he eventually became.

No, following the injury, maybe James no longer quite ran like the greatest running back of all-time, but he reinvented himself into a veteran power back–a grinder, who like in his younger days, always seemed to turn a play into positive yards.

While James was just one season short of winning a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2006, he finished as the Indianapolis Colts all-time rushing leader in attempts (2,188), rushing yards (9,226) and rushing touchdowns (64). He was later inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2012.

He went on to rush for 12,246 rushing yards in 11 career NFL seasons, which ranks 11th all-time. 

That’s more career rushing yards than inducted NFL Hall of Famers such as Marcus Allen (12,243), Franco Harris (12,120), Thurman Thomas (12,074), John Riggins (11,352) and O.J. Simpson (11,236); and just 66 and 33 career rushing yards behind Jim Brown (12,312) and Marshall Faulk (12,279) respectively.

Also, he ranks 19th all-time with 80 rushing touchdowns.

That’s more career rushing touchdowns than Hall of Famers such as Tony Dorsett (77), Earl Campbell (74), Leroy Kelly (74), Thurman Thomas (65), and O.J. Simpson (61) among others.

He may not be the greatest running back of all-time after such an unworldly start to his career, but even after the torn ACL, James went on to have every bit of a great Hall of Fame career.

Hopefully, the selection committee honors that this Saturday–by completing James transformation from humble beginnings to Hall of Famer.

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