The Cold, Hard Football Facts are always way ahead of conventional wisdom and the statistical curve. That's what happens when you rely only upon the data, and not upon flawed humans, as your primary inside sources.
The story of current NFL home-run king Chris Johnson -- the most explosive big-play scoring threat in football today -- is one of the most recent examples.
We declared the Tennessee running back the best ball carrier in the biz last November, back before it was popular, back when Minnesota's Adrian Peterson was still considered by almost everybody the best in the game.
Today, Johnson's stature is all but undisputed. His 2009 campaign was certainly one for the ages. Consider these four Cold, Hard Football Facts:
1. Johnson ran far in 2009. His 2,006 yards rank fifth on the all-time single-season list, just 99 yards behind Eric Dickerson's record-setting effort (2,105) in 1984.
2. Johnson produced with extreme durability. His incredible 5.60 YPA ranks fourth among players who carried the ball more than 300 times in a season, behind two fairly good runners, a couple guys named Barry Sanders (who topped 300/5.6 twice in 1994 and 1997) and O.J. Simpson (in his record-setting 1973 season).
3. Johnson produced over the long haul. He averaged 125.4 YPG on the ground last year. It's the sixth best average in the history of the NFL. But only the great Sanders averaged more YPG in a 16-game season (128.3 in 1997).
4. Johnson can hit the home run consistently. His 2009 effort included three scoring runs of 85 yards or longer. Perspective? Consider the case of Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers. He's often the first name that comes to mind when we think of explosive greatness. He was so quick and elusive that he was known as the Kansas Comet. But Sayers never scored a rushing touchdown of longer than 61 yards in his incredible but all-too-brief career.
Johnson in 2009 totaled seven touchdowns of greater than 50 yards (five runs, two receptions). In one game against Houston early in the season, he ripped off three scores of 57, 69 and 91 yards. It was the most explosive big-play scoring season any back has produced since Jim Brown scored seven 50-plus-yard touchdowns in his tremendous 1963 campaign.
A little more perspective? Emmitt Smith scored more rushing TDs than any player in history. But just six of those 164 scores were from 50 yards or more.
After two pro seasons, Johnson has a total of nine long-range TDs (50+), seven of those on the ground. Both figures already stand among the most in history.
Here's a look at all the running backs who scored seven or more rushing touchdowns of 50-plus yards. You'll see that Johnson is already on this very short list of 12 men. Of the eight players ahead of him on the list, six are in the Hall of Fame.
The list looks a bit different if we rank players by the number of total TDs they've scored from scrimmage. But again, Johnson is near the very top of the list, trailing only some of the most explosive Hall of Fame performers who ever buckled up a helmet.
These two tables tell us four things:
1. We should spend more time watching Lenny Moore game tape. The Hall of Fame back, and Johnny Unitas' batterymate in Baltimore during the franchise's glory days, is easily No. 1 on the list of most explosive scoring threats. He was listed as a running back, but he had the benefit of often lining up at flanker, and receivers have a much easier time producing long scoring plays than running backs. But no matter how you measure it, Moore's game-breaking capabilities are without peer. He's among the all-time greatest at producing both long TD runs and long TD receptions.
2. Ollie Matson is often forgotten in the discussion of all-time greats. He didn't touch the ball often, back when offenses relied on a spread-the-wealth team approach. In fact, he never topped 1,000 yards rushing in a season. But he was a constant threat to produce long touchdowns on the ground or through the air, as evidenced by his 17 50-plus-yard scores from scrimmage. He added nine 50-plus TDs in the return game, too. Truly a phenomenal big-play threat.
3. It's no surprise to see Barry Sanders and Jim Brown Nos. 1 and 2 on the list of long-range touchdown runs. Keep in mind, though, that Sanders produced his record 15 50-plus TD runs over the course of a 153 games and 3,062 attempts. Brown's 12 came in just 118 and 2,359. The Cleveland Hall of Famer produced long scores at a slightly higher rate than Sanders and his numbers are still awe-inspiring, nearly a half century after he last suited up for football.
4. Johnson can already be mentioned among these all-timegreats, at least when it comes to producing explosive scoring plays. At the rate we've seen in his first two years, Johnson will someday stand alone as the most thrilling big-strike running back that the NFL has ever seen.