In case you missed it, Jerome Bettis is in fact from Detroit. With Bettis playing in what is believed to be his final game on Sunday, many sportwriters have been harping on his place in football history. To be certain, Bettis is a Hall-of-Fame player, but where exactly does he rank? In the following paragraphs, I will try and shed light on the answer to this question.
If you didn't know this already, it may come as a shock to you. Jerome Bettis ranks 5th all time in rushing yards in NFL history with 13,662 yards. He is about 450 yards shy of Curtis Martin and 400 yards ahead of Eric Dickerson. He is tied for 8th all time in rushing touchdowns with 91. In a nice coincidence, he is tied with another Steeler legend, Franco Harris. Undoubtedly, he will fall on the all-time rushing touchdown list as soon as next year, as Curtis Martin has 90, Shaun Alexender has 89, Priest Holmes has 86, LaDainian Tomlinson has 72, and Corey Dillon has 69. Those numbers are nice and all, but is Jerome Bettis an 'inner-circle' running back, belonging in the Pantheon of all-time great backs? Here's an argument to the contrary.
Care to hazard a guess as to how many times Jerome Bettis has lead the NFL in rushing? The same number of times that you and I have. 0. Zero. Nada. In his rookie season of 1993, he finished 2nd to Emmitt. In 1996, he finished 3rd behind Barry Sanders and Terrell Davis. In 1997 he finished 3rd behind Sanders and Davis again. He's finished in the top 10 in rushing just twice more, a pair of 9th place finishes in 1994 and 2000. 5 top-10 rushing performances in 13 years.
Jerome Bettis has had 8 1,000 yard rushing seasons, but none since 2001. A very nice accomplishment, but not the feat it used to be. A runner only need average 62 and a half yards per game to reach this threshhold.
Of all the running backs in the top 25 for all-time rushing yards, only John Riggins (3.893) and Eddie George (3.644) have lower yard per rush averages than Jerome Bettis (3.927). In Jerome Bettis' 13-year career, he has average below 4.0 yards per rush 9 times, including 4 times in seasons in which he rushed for 1,000 yards.
Jerome Bettis is not a good receiver. For his career, he has 200 receptions for 1,449 yards and 3 touchdowns. With the St. Louis Rams in 1999, Marshall Faulk had 87 receptions for 1048 yards and 5 touchdowns. To put this in perspective, during a 16-game stint in his career, Marshall Faulk put up numbers that are roughly equivalent to what Jerome Bettis has done in 192 career games.
Does Jerome Bettis deserve the praise he has been given this week? Sure. He has been a very good running back for 13 seasons, but he lacks the great peak and all around game that the game's great backs have all had (Faulk, Sanders, Smith, Payton, Brown, Simpson, Taylor, etc.). Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame for the durability he has shown and the numbers he has put up, but to confuse him with the aforementioned legends of the game is a foolish endeavor.