A lot is made of the league leaders in touchdowns, passing yards, rushing yards, or receptions each season and deservedly so. But, what about the biggest work horses in the league? What about the players that when you add up receptions, rushing attempts and any kickoff or punt returns, lead the league in touches. There are a number of players who have lead the league in touches once or twice in their careers, but who has lead the league in touches three or more times during their playing time?
O.J. Simpson (1969, 1973, 1975) burst onto the scene in Buffalo in 1969 and in his first year in pro football he lead the league in touches. He would accomplish this again in 1973 and 1975, again with the Buffalo Bills.
Eric Dickerson (1983, 1986, 1988) made the Los Angeles Rams something to contend with and lead the league in touches during his rookie season in 1983 and then again in 1986. After being traded to the Indianapolis Colts, he would lead the league in touches again during his first full year with his new squad, 1988.
LaDainian Tomlinson (2001, 2002, 2007) was the league leader in touches during both his rookie and second year in the NFL. Then he accomplished the feat again five years later for the San Diego Chargers too.
Four of a Kind
Steve Van Buren (1945, 1947, 1948, 1949) is tied for second in number of years leading the league in touches. Van Buren was a star running back for the Philadelphia Eagles during the 1940s and lead the league in touches his second season in the league, and then three years in a row later in his career.
Emmitt Smith (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995) is second all time in the amount of times he was the league leader in touches. He did it four times, both times back-to-back. First in 1991 and 1992, then again in 1994 and 1995 during the Dallas Cowboys early 1990s dynasty years.
Head and Shoulders Above the Rest
Jim Brown (1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1965) played what many regarded as a shortened career. During the Cleveland Browns all-time great’s nine years in the league he was the league leader in touches seven times, even during his final season before he retired. The only seasons he didn’t lead the league in this category were his rookie season of 1957 and also 1962.
It may indeed be tougher to lead the league in touches during modern times than it was during the 1950s and 1960s, but the many accomplishments and statistics put up by the great Jim Brown are impressive just the same. Here are a couple of other interesting facts surrounding the league leader in touches.
-Only one player who has been the league leader in touches three or more times during their career has done so for more than one team, Eric Dickerson. All other players to accomplish this did so for the first team they started playing for during their pro career.
-Being a work horse in the NFL is a job for a young man. The oldest player to lead the league in touches was Curtis Martin who did so for the New York Jets in 2004 at the ripe old age of thirty-one.
-The career leader in touches in the NFL is Emmitt Smith, who during his fifteen year career touched the ball 4,924 times.
-The most touches ever in one NFL season by one player is 492, this mark was set by James Wilder at the age of 26 while he was a member of the 1984 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
-The most career touches by a player who played their whole career with just one team is 4,347, Walter Payton accomplished this over thirteen seasons with the Chicago Bears.
-The first non-running back to appear on the career touches list is Jerry Rice. His 1.637 career touches place him 82nd all-time in the category of career touches. The first 81 players on the list are all running backs.