There are certain individual records in sports that are talked about as unbreakable. Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak (2,632), Cy Young’s 511 wins, Wayne Gretzky’s points total (2,857), Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in a game, Byron Nelson’s 11 tour wins in a row. There are certainly others. But is Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing yardage going to become one of them?
On the surface, you wouldn’t think so. After all, Smith broke Walter Payton’s previous record in 2002 which is not that long ago in the unbreakable argument. Additionally, Smith’s record (18,355 yards) doesn’t stand out as an outrageous total like Ripken’s consecutive games played streak.
But, the game of professional football is changing. The emphasis is on passing so the opportunities for the carries needed to challenge Smith’s record could be diminishing, and may never return.
LaDainian Tomlinson, he of the seventh-place 13,684 yards, believes that Smith’s record will not be challenged again. There are currently only two active players anywhere close to Smith, and it certainly doesn’t look like they will make it. Adrian Peterson is fifth all time with 14,216 yards and Frank Gore is third with 15,347. For Gore to catch Smith, he would need three more 1,000+ yard seasons. Gore hasn’t had a 1,000-yard season since 2016.
Here is Tomlinson’s take:
Tomlinson said on NFL Network that Emmitt Smith’s all-time record of 18,355 yards will never be broken. It wasn’t broken by Tomlinson, who retired with 13,684 yards, and he says it won’t be broken by Gore, who has 15,347 yards, or by Peterson, who has 14,216 yards.
“No one will ever break this record,” Tomlinson said. “There’s not enough opportunities that running backs will get. We know the shelf life is a lot shorter for running backs. I just don’t see guys getting a lot of opportunities. That’s a lot of yards for a guy to amass and I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Longevity and the number of carries a season are the two biggest obstacles to someone breaking Smith’s record.
Given the way the game has changed, Tomlinson is probably right. Last year, Derrick Henry led the NFL with 303 rushing attempts. Smith had more than 303 rushing attempts in seven different seasons of his career. NFL running backs just don’t pile up carries like Smith did, and until that changes, Smith’s record appears safe.
For anyone wondering. Ezekiel Elliott currently has 5,405 rushing yards. for him to catch Smith, he would need roughly 9.5 more years at his current yearly average of 1,351. So that would put us roughly on the doorstep of 2030.
Is Smith’s record ready to become of of the “unbreakables”? Or is there a talent out there that will run him down? What’s your call BTB?