Arian FosterWhat do Eric Dickerson, Jamal Lewis and Chris Johnson have in common, besides rushing for 2,000 yards in a single season?

They all did it at the age of 24.

The 1984 season opened on Sept. 2 – Dickerson’s 24th birthday – and Dickerson and the Los Angeles Rams opened their season the following night, on Monday Night Football.

In just his second full season in the league, Dickerson set the NFL standard with 2,105 rushing yards.

Lewis turned 24 about a week before his 2003 season started, and he wound up rushing for 2,066 yards that year, which was his third as a pro.

Johnson played two games of the 2009 season (totaling 154 rushing yards) before turning 24 prior to a Week 3 game against the New York Jets.

Three other running backs have reached the 2,000-yard plateau, with Barry Sanders reaching the milestone at the oldest age (29) and with the most pro seasons under his belt (eight).

Terrell Davis turned 26 after seven games of the 1998 season, gaining 1,001 yards in those first seven games, and an additional 1,007 yards in the final nine games. O.J. Simpson was also 26 during the 1973 season in which he became the first back to cross the 2,000-yard threshold; that he did it in a 14-game NFL season is even more impressive (he may have approached 2,300 yards in a 16-game season).

ERIC DICKERSON

  • 2,105 rushing yards in 1984
  • Second season in NFL
  • Rushing yards the prior season: 1,808
    • Yardage increase in 2,000-yard season: +297

JAMAL LEWIS

  • 2,066 rushing yards in 2003
  • Third season in NFL
  • Rushing yards the prior season: 1,327
    • Yardage increase in 2,000-yard season: +739

BARRY SANDERS

  • 2,053 rushing yards in 1997
  • Ninth season in NFL
  • Rushing yards the prior season: 1,553
    • Yardage increase in 2,000-yard season:  +500

TERRELL DAVIS

  • 2,008 rushing yards in 1998
  • Fourth season in NFL
  • Rushing yards the prior season:  1,750
    • Yardage increase in 2,000-yard season:  +258

CHRIS JOHNSON

  • 2,006 rushing yards in 2009
  • Second season in NFL
  • Rushing yards the prior season: 1,228
    • Yardage increase in 2,000-yard season: +778

O.J. SIMPSON

  • 2,003 rushing yards in 1973 (in a 14-game season)
  • Fifth season in NFL
  • Rushing yards the prior season: 1,251
    • Yardage increase in 2,000-yard season: +752

Of the top nine rushing seasons in league history, eight were produced by running backs aged 24-26.

SO WHICH RUNNING BACKS, who are in that prime age of 24-to-26 heading into the 2012 season, might have a chance at chasing history?

24 YEARS OLD

Ben Tate, Houston

  • Turned 24 on Aug. 21
  • 2011 rushing yards: 942
  • Tate would have to increase his total by 1,058 yards in 2012, which would be a far larger increase than any of the previous 2,000-yard rushers have recorded. Considering he’s on the same team as Arian Foster, Tate will have to be content trying to reach for 1,000.

Bottom line:  No chance.

 

DeMarco Murray, Dallas

  • Turned 24 this past February
  • 2011 rushing yards: 897
  • Murray went crazy in the second half of the 2011 season, rushing for all but 73 yards in the final eight games. Murray would have to more than double his 2011 output to reach 2,000.

Bottom line: A 1,300-yard season would secure Murray’s spot among the best young RBs; anything more is icing on the cake.

 

Beanie Wells, Arizona

  • Turned 24 on Aug. 7
  • 2011 rushing yards: 1,047
  • Wells played in 14 games last season, but tallied 366 of his season’s total in just two games; he didn’t reach 100 yards in any other game. Wells is just getting back onto the field after knee surgery, and his durability issues make a run for 2,000 a mere fantasy.

Bottom line: Unless he can run for 200 yards 10 times, it’s not happening.

 

LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia

  • Turned 24 in July
  • 2011 rushing yards: 1,309
  • If he can maintain his career average of 4.8 YPC, McCoy would need about 417 carries this season to reach 2,000 yards. While an increase of 140 more carries than the 273 he had in 2011 seems implausible, it’s not impossible – especially considering that Ronnie Brown (42 carries in 2011) is gone and QB Michael Vick is already banged up, meaning he’ll likely be running less often. McCoy is hitting his peak years, and should only get better.

Bottom line: A great candidate to make a charge toward 2,000.

 

25 YEARS OLD

 Ryan Mathews, San Diego

  • Turned 25 this past May
  • 2011 rushing yards: 1,091

Bottom line: Will likely miss some games with his broken collarbone – not even a candidate.

 

Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh

  • Turned 25 this past June
  • 2011 rushing yards: 928

Bottom line: Will miss at least the first quarter of the season rehabbing his knee injury – not even a candidate.

 

Jonathan Stewart, Carolina

  • Turned 25 this past March
  • 2011 rushing yards: 761

Bottom line: 1,000 yards is an appropriate goal – no chance.

 

Felix Jones, Dallas

  • Turned 25 this past May
  • 2011 rushing yards: 575

Bottom line: Still shooting for his first 1,000-yard season – no chance.

 

Darren McFadden, Oakland

  • Turns 25 this month (Aug. 27)
  • 2011 rushing yards: 614
  • Limited to just seven games last year due to injury, McFadden has played in just 45 games in four years (out of a possible 64). McFadden is in the same camp as Beanie Wells as far as durability is concerned.

Bottom line:  A healthy McFadden could go for 1,200 or more, but 2,000 is out of reach.

 

Ray Rice, Baltimore

  • Turned 25 this past January
  • 2011 rushing yards: 1,364
  • Rice has become one of the premiere backs in the league, leading the league in yards from scrimmage in 2011 with 2,068.  Rice’s flexibility is actually a problem in terms of a 2,000-yard rushing season; he has averaged 73 receptions the past three seasons, and would need to cut down on his catches in order to get enough carries out of the backfield. 
  • Dickerson, Sanders, Davis and Lewis averaged 26 catches in their 2,000-yard seasons while Simpson caught just 6 passes in his. Rice could model his season after Johnson’s 2009 campaign: CJ caught 50 passes (to go along with 358 carries).

Bottom line: Certainly has the ability, the only question is will he get enough carries.

LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay

  • Will turn 26 in December (between Weeks 13 & 14)
  • 2011 rushing yards: 781
  • Blount may not be ready in Week 1 due to injury, and he was benched late in 2011 for ineffectiveness and fumbling. He’ll do well to equal last season’s totals.

Bottom line:  No chance.

 

26 YEARS OLD

 Peyton Hillis, Kansas City

  • Turned 26 this past January
  • 2011 rushing yards: 587

Bottom line: With a new team, 1,000 yards is the goal – no chance.

 

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle

  • Turned 26 this past April
  • 2011 rushing yards: 1,204
  • Lynch will try to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the first time since 2007-08.

Bottom line: CJ went from 1,228 to 2,006, can Lynch do the same thing? Seems improbable, but if Lynch can get 800+ in the first half of the season…

 

Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants

  • Turned 26 this past March
  • 2011 rushing yards: 659
  • Bradshaw has reached 1,000 yards just once in his career; reaching it again is more than enough challenge for him.

Bottom line: No chance.

 

Matt Forte, Chicago

  • Turns 27 in December (between Weeks 14 & 15)
  • 2011 rushing yards: 997
  • Considered to be one of the league’s top all-around backs when healthy, Forte still has never rushed for more than 1,238 yards in a season – and that was his rookie year in 2008.

Bottom line: Might hit 1,500 yards from scrimmage, but has almost no realistic shot at 2,000 rushing yards.

 

Arian Foster

  • Turns 26 in September (between Weeks 3 & 4)
  • 2011 rushing yards: 1,224
  • The league’s leading rusher in 2010, Foster missed three games last season due to injury.  Foster’s 2010 campaign, in which he rushed for 1,616 yards despite starting only 13 games, makes a run for 2,000 seem plausible.  Foster also catches a lot of passes, averaging 59.5 receptions the past couple seasons, which may hinder his chances of reaching 2,000.

Bottom line: Entering his peak years, Foster is a prime candidate to chase after 2,000… if he can stay healthy.

 

Chris Johnson, Tennessee

  • Turns 27 on Sunday, Sept. 23 (Week 3 game vs. Detroit)
  • 2011 rushing yards: 1,047
  • Already a member of the 2,000-yard club, CJ can try to become the first rusher to accomplish it twice. He knows what it takes to accomplish it, and he should be back on track this season after a sub-par 2011 season. The main question is whether or not he can get enough carries, seeing as his totals have dropped from 358 in his magical ’09 season, to 316 the following year, down to 262 a year ago.

Bottom line:  This year could be his last best chance at doing something no other back has ever done.