With five games left in the season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Warrick Dunn has a shot to go from possible NFL Hall of Fame contender to a lock.
The season-ending injury to Earnest Graham has given Dunn a tremendous opportunity: A chance to go over 1,000 yards rushing for the sixth time in his remarkable 12-year career. Entering the matchup against the Lions, Dunn has 476 yards on the season. But that’s a pretty good showing considering that in most games Dunn was splitting time with Graham. Only twice so far this year did Dunn get more than 20 carries. In one of those games, he rushed for 115 yards.
The brutal math is this: Dunn probably needs to get around 12,000 rushing overall to have a legitimate chance. Currently Dunn is just shy of 10,700 rushing yards and he is ranked 19th all-time in rushing. It would be reasonable to assume that he can probably top the 11,000 mark this year. Dunn is 33 years old but he’s played well enough to suggest he could squeeze out at least one or two more seasons barring serious injury. (UPDATE–Dunn rushed for an additional 90 yards on Sunday, bringing his total to 566 for the season, 10,747 for his career.)
Another plus for Dunn: Thanks to his skills as a receiver, he is ranked 20th all-time in all purpose yards. Dunn has 15,231 total yards, putting him ahead of Jerome Bettis, O.J. Simpson and even LaDainian Tomlinson, who everyone already considers a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. (UPDATE–His total all-purpose yards is now at 15,358.)
If the Hall of Fame were based on character, everyone knows there would be absolutely no debate. Dunn’s life of charitable giving in the wake of his mother’s savage murder has been inspiring.
But unfortunately, that won’t be enough to do the job for Dunn. It will come down to statistics. His longevity will help his reputation, but he also lacks another crucial characteristic for Hall of Famers: A championship ring. That’s because Tampa Bay foolishly allowed Dunn to leave their team for the Falcons the year before the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Since that time, the Bucs have been inconsistent at the position as potential superstars like Cadillac Williams have been sidelined to injuries.
Of course, the Bucs are happy that they have him back for this crucial stretch to the playoffs. And it gives Dunn a chance to prove that he’s one of the best the game has ever seen.