One thousand yards on the ground or through the air has long been a benchmark of success in the NFL. Having a 1,000-yard season under your belt makes any defense have to account for you when game-planning. Sure, there are some lesser-known players who had a career year or two surpassing 1,000 yards — Brian Hartline, Harry Douglas, Kenny Britt, CJ Spiller, Peyton Hillis, Chris Ivory... you get the point — but it takes more than just luck to reach that milestone. It takes skill, consistency, and a system that plays to its players’ strengths.
Halfbacks have had a much harder time reaching this milestone in recent years. In the 2000 NFL season, 23 players eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground. That number fell to just nine in 2020. Since 2015, only once have more than 12 players hit the millennium mark on the ground: 2019 (16). In 2015, it was as low as seven.
Receivers have thrived in this new era. Last year, 18 receivers surpassed 1,000 yards and five more were within 33 yards of hitting the mark. Since 2010, there have been at least 15 receivers hitting 1K through the air every season. In 2019, there were 29 such receivers, the highest mark of all-time. This will be the year we see 30 players reach that threshold. Why? Well adding a 17th game to the schedule surely helps a lot. Now, receivers and running backs only need to average roughly 59 yards per game in order to hit 1,000 on the season. In 16 games, that number was 62.5. That may not seem like a big difference...but it is. That 3.5 yards per game adds up to 56 or 60 yards depending on whether we’re referring to a 16 or 17-game schedule.
Before I get into the list, I will be breaking down the players listed into categories:
- The No-brainers: players who will certainly reach 1,000 yards and need zero explanation
- The Probables: players who will likely reach 1,000 yards
- The Bubbles: players who will just barely reach 1,000 yards
- The Just Missed’s: players who will barely miss 1,000 yards (about 800-999 yards). Think of this as an honorable mentions list.
Oh, and before I forget, the likelihood that a player misses time due to injury will play a factor in this list. The best ability is availability. I don’t care how talented someone like Saquon Barkley is. If he can’t play, he won’t reach a grand on the ground.
Today we look at the rushers, tomorrow the wide receivers.
Let’s say a tailback averages 4.2 yards per carry — a good amount, but nothing insane. Despite having a whole extra game this season, that back would still need to average 14 carries per game to reach 1,000 yards. If that same running back were to average 5.0 yards per carry, he’d only need 12 carries per game. That’s how we’re going to measure each player’s potential to reach 1,000 yards on the ground: their yards per carry compared to the likelihood that they receive the number of carries per game necessary to reach the 1,000 yard milestone.
So here... we... go...