NFL Z-Score All-Decade Team: 1970s
Missed out on the previous parts of this series? Check out our review of the 1950s, and 1960s.
The 1970s started off with the AFL/NFL merger that was completed in 1970, expanding the NFL from 16 teams to 26. The Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders, Cowboys, Vikings and Rams dominated the decade, winning at least five division titles a piece, and representing 17 of the 20 Super Bowl teams. The 72’ Dolphins are still the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, and they are the first team to make it to three straight Super Bowls. The Steelers of course are the dynasty of this decade, winning four Super Bowls in it. The 70s were also the height of the Tom Landry era in Dallas as he led the Cowboys to five Super Bowls, and 20 straight winnings seasons from 66’-86’.
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Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris became the first pair of teammates to each rush for 1,000 yards in a season. O.J. Simpson would be the first player to top the 2,000 yard rushing mark in a season. George Blanda retired in 1975 after 26 seasons in the league.
The league added the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks in 1976.
The most cosmetic change to the game occurred when the league decided to move the goal posts back to the end line. Sudden Death overtime was instituted for all games by this point (the OT rules prior to 2012). The “five yard bump” rule was put in place to give receivers more of an advantage, and in 1978 the schedule was expanded to its current 16-game format.
The Baltimore Colts were victorious in Super Bowl V, dubbed the blunder bowl because of the 11 turnovers committed in that game, seven by Baltimore. Colts kicker Jim O’Brien beat the Dallas Cowboys with a field goal in the closing seconds. Despite playing for the losing team, Dallas’ Chuck Howley was named SB MVP.
Outside linebacker Ted Hendricks is the only member of the Baltimore Colts to be named to the NFLs All-Decade team of the 1970s.
Those are the best of the best from the 1970s. But does Z-Score with our sRBZ metric agree? Z-Score is a measure of how far above or below the average something is. For a full explanation on Z-Score, refer to this article. Of the #1 ranked most above average players in a season according to our ranks, the AP agreed with us two times out of nine* (22.2%) in picking their MVP. We agreed one out of eight**(12.5%) in the 50s and three out of 10 (30%) in the 60s.
*nine, not including the 71’ season which they elected a defensive player.
** eight, not including the 50’ and 52’ seasons where no one was named MVP.
But, a score above 1.96 puts a player in the 95th percentile. Anyone in the top five percent named MVP, even if they are not number one by our metric, still should be considered ok. In those situations our metric agrees on 13 out of 27 seasons to this point from 1950-1979.
There were 1,282 qualifying seasons in the decade of the 70s. Let’s take a look at the top ten seasons form the 1970s, and who could have made cases for most valuable.
10 best seasons of the 1970s according to sRBZ
10. Sam Cunningham, RB, New England Patriots, 1974 – sRBZ: 2.7683 – Cunningham had a knack for finding the endzone as he scored 11 times in 10 games. His 81.1 yards per game was also better than O.J. Simpson who had just come off a historic season in 73’. 5.45 yards per touch was also one of the league’s best marks in 74’, not to mention he only coughed up the football twice, this being the era that three guys had double digit fumbles on the season.
9. Gene Washington, WR, San Francisco 49ers, 1970 – sRBZ: 2.7991 – What made Washington’s season a huge success was his remarkable 20.8 yards per catch. He was fourth in receptions in 13 games played, but still managed 1100 receiving yards. 12 TDs was a close second to the Bears Dick Gordon who hauled in 13. The quarterback who was responsible for Gene Washington’s big year in 70’, John Brodie, won the league MVP that season. He was our highest ranked QB of 1970, but not the best player overall.
8. Calvin Hill, RB, Dallas Cowboys, 1971 – sRBZ: 2.8326 – This season by Hill certainly falls in the what could have been category. Hill played just eight games in 71’, but did enough in those games to qualify for the season. His 4.4 yards per carry was solid, but he had an astounding by RB standards 12.8 yards per catch. Consider that in today’s game, some of the best pass catching backs don’t reach that number. (Matt Forte- 8.0, Chris Johnson – 8.2, Ray Rice – 5.5, C.J. Spiller – 9.6). Only Deangelo Williams put up a similar number in 2013. Hill found the endzone 11 times in eight games, only fumbled twice.
7. Harold Carmichael, WR, Philadelphia Eagles, 1973 – sRBZ: 2.8605 – Carmichael led the league in receptions and yardage. He was the only receiver to go over 1,000 yards in 1973 reaching 1,116. His 9 TDs tied him for fourth most among the receivers. It was still in this portion of the decade that receiving numbers were hard to rack up, considering that in 1979, 12 receivers went over the 1,000 yard mark. So 1,100+ in 73’ is quite impressive.
6. Don Woods, RB, San Diego Chargers, 1974 – sRBZ: 2.8726 – 1974 was a big year for RBs by this metric, as Woods comes in with our second best RB season of the decade. In fact, Woods joins Sam Cunningham and the next player on this list as three RBs who had some of the best seasons of the decade at the same time. He was second in yards per touch at 5.97, and second in yard per game at 96.8, with 10 TDs as well. The guy who edged out Woods in the yardage categories…
5. Otis Armstrong, RB, Denver Broncos, 1974 – sRBZ: 2.9001 – He led the league at over 6.0 yards per touch, and his 1,812 scrimmage yards are nearly 300 more than the next guy, Lawrence McCutcheon of the Rams. Armstrong’s 12 TDs tied him for second most behind Chuck Foreman’s 15. RBs averaged 47.1 yards per game in 74’ Armstrong was just over the 100 yard per game mark.
4. O.J. Simpson, RB, Buffalo Bills, 1973 – sRBZ: 3.0166 – This marked the first time that a RB notched 2,000 rushing yards in a season. Simpson rushed for 2,003 yards (2,073 total yards from scrimmage). Despite the average number of fumbles per touch, and finishing third in TDs with 12, his big yardage was far and away enough to carry his score to this level. He gained 641 more yards than second place, Calvin Hill of the Cowboys. Only five players averaged 100 yards per game, and Simpson led by a long way with 148 Y/G.
3. Walter Payton, RB, Chicago Bears, 1977 – sRBZ: 3.4344 – You couldn’t have a best of list and not have Walter Payton find his way onto it. Payton was voted league MVP after putting up a staggering 2121 total yards. 151.5 Y/G. 16 TDs also led the league and crushed the average for RBs of 4.25. Only Tony Dorsett and Franco Harris even cracked double digits. 11 fumbles and a below average fumble per touch ratio are the only thing that kept him from being higher on this list.
2. Cliff Branch, WR, Oakland Raiders, 1974 – sRBZ: 3.49 – Branch was the beneficiary of Ken Stabler’s MVP season in 74’. In this season, receiving TDs were hard to come by, as the players averaged 3.7 TDs. Branch put up 13 scores while only one other player had double digits. Believe it or not, 78 receiving yards per game by Branch led the league as well. A league average receiver racked up just 40.8 yards per game. His 1,092 yards led the league and his 60 receptions ranked third on the season. There were some very poor receiving efforts in the 70s which is why Branch’s season stands out so much.
1. O.J. Simpson, RB, Buffalo Bills, 1975 – sRBZ: 3.8589 – It would have taken a lot for someone to top Juice’s memorable 73’ season. But Simpson bested even himself just two seasons later. He set the record for most yards from scrimmage with 2,243 yards. It’s now the 14th most yards in a season, but each of the other folks who topped his mark did it in 16 games instead of 14. The league averaged 63.1 yards per game, which Simpson beat by nearly 100 yards per game. He amassed 160.2 yards per game to be exact, not to mention 23 TDs. Of course that led the league too. If you added two more games at his average yards per game to make 16 games, he would have gained 2,563 yards, which would still be the single season record. It’s blasphemous that Simpson didn’t take home MVP honors in 75’. The AP selected instead Fran Tarkenton. Tark’s league best 27 passing TDs isn’t that great considering seven other QBs threw for 20+ TDs. His 64.2% completion rate was tops, but his 7.0 Y/A was very meh (6.7 league average) Bert Jones also had a better TD/turnover ratio than Tarkenton. No one dominated their position more than O.J. Simpson did during the 75’ season. This could go down as the biggest MVP snub of all-time.
Quickly, the 10 worst seasons of the 1970s
10. Joe Kapp, QB, Boston Patriots, 1970 – sRBZ: – 2.0791
9. Willard Harrell, RB, Green Bay Packers, 1975 – sRBZ: – 2.0949
8. Don Hardeman, RB, Baltimore Colts, 1979 – sRBZ: – 2.1277
7. Ray Jarvis, WR, Detroit Lions, 1977 – sRBZ: – 2.1593
6. Tim Wilson, RB, Houston Oilers, 1978 – sRBZ: – 2.1661
5. Bobby Douglass, QB, Chicago Bears, 1971 – sRBZ: – 2.1738
4. John Beasley, TE, Minnesota Vikings, 1972 – sRBZ: 2.1907
3. Robert Holmes, RB, Houston Oilers/Kansas City Chiefs, 1971 – sRBZ: – 2.2957
2. Joe Pisarcik, QB, New York Giants, 1977 – sRBZ: – 2.311
1. Cid Edwards, RB, St. Louis Cardinals, 1971 – sRBZ: – 2.3198
What does the worst season of the decade look like for Edwards? 12 games, 2.9 yards per carry, 36.5 yards per game, four TDs, eight fumbles.
The most average season of the 1970s:
MacArthur Lane, RB, Green Bay Packers, 1972 – sRBZ: – 0.0006. 4.6 yards per carry, 5.4 yards per touch, 79 yards per game, three TDs, six fumbles.
In 1970, we ranked Steelers WR Ron Shanklin our top rookie (0.2144), with Dallas RB Duane Thomas(0.0368) also ahead of Dennis Shaw. You be the judge.
Shanklin – WR – 30 reception, 691 yards, 49.3 Y/G, 4 TDs
Thomas – RB – 876 yards, 5.4 yards per touch, 62.5 Y/G, 5 TDs. 6 fumbles
Shaw – QB – 55.5%, 2,507 yards, 7.8 Y/A, 10 TDs, 30 turnovers
How does anyone with 30 turnovers in 14 games earn any award?
In 1971 another debate as we ranked another men higher than John Brockington. Patriots WR Randy Vataha was our tops (1.522).
Vataha – WR – 51 receptions, 872 yards, 62.2 Y/G, 9 TDs
Brockington – RB – 1,203 yards, 5.2 yards per touch, 85.9 Y/G, 5 TDs, 4 fumbles
Once again in 1973, we ranked Bengals WR Isaac Curtis (1.1682) and Eagles TE Charle Young (1.187) ahead of Chuck Foreman.
Curtis – WR – 45 receptions, 843 yards, 60.2 Y/G. 9 TDs
Young – TE – 55 receptions, 854 yards, 61 Y/G, 6 TDs
Foreman – RB – 1,163 yards, 5.3 Y/T, 96.9 Y/G, 6 TDs, 6 fumbles
Here we go again in 75’. We ranked Falcons WR Alfred Jenkins (0.88) ahead of Redskins RB Mike Thomas.
Jenkins – WR – 38 receptions, 767 yards, 54.8 Y/G, 6 TDs
Thomas – RB – 1,402 yards, 5.1 Y/T, 100.1 Y/G, 7 TDs, 9 fumbles
Perhaps Thomas didn’t find the endzone enough, and coughed up the ball too much for our liking.
They get it right for a couple years, but then our largest disparity of all the rookies comes up in 1978. We ranked Earl Campbell a distant second to Chargers WR John Jefferson (1.9674) who we also ranked as our player of the year in 1978. In fact, Campbell was our fifth best RB in this season. Let’s see.
Jefferson – WR – 56 receptions (6th), 1,001 yards (4th), 71.5 Y/G(3rd), 13 TDs (1st)
Campbell – RB – 1,498 yards (4th), 4.8 Y/T (21st), 99.8 Y/G(5th), 13 TDs (2nd), 9 fumbles(9th most)
In the 50s and 60s our rankings of rookies lined up pretty much exactly with the experts opinions. The 70s, only 50% of the time did we see eye to eye. It’s a testament to how the competition begins to get fiercer as parity starts to take hold of the league with all of the new teams from the merger, and the new players.
Only did the Minnesota Vikings have more than one MVP in the decade, where as in the 50s, the Browns had five, and the Colts and Packers three each in the 60s. Plus, now that there are more players to measure against, the results may be more meaningful, or accurate with the larger the sample we are now getting.
30 years in and Baltimore has five sRBZ P.O.Y. winners. The Browns have six and the Bears and 49ers now have three.
Otto Graham in 1955 is still the only QB to win sRBZ P.O.Y honors, although guys like Ken Stabler, Roger Staubach, and the Colts Bert Jones came very close. (This will change in the coming years as passing becomes more of the focal point of the NFL game)
O.J. Simpson becomes the fifth repeat winner in our rankings, joining Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Raymond Berry, and Lenny Moore who is still the only three time winner.
John Jefferson becomes the second 22-year old to win our award, and still only Otto Graham, Pete Pihos, and Joe Morrison were over age 30 when they won.
Moving on, next up is the 1980s.