Mike Shanahan Shuns 1st Round Running Backs and Still Produces Big Rushing Seasons

By Chris Malumphy

No Mike Shanahan coached team has ever drafted a running back in the first round. That is merely an interesting fact when you consider that he will be entering his 20th season as a head coach in 2013. But it is astounding when you realize that five of the rookie running backs he has coached have gained over 1,100 yards in their rookie seasons, including 2012 sixth round pick Alfred Morris who gained 1,613 yards and scored 13 rushing touchdowns as a rookie.

Rookie Running Backs Who Exceeded 1,000 Yards
Coached by Mike Shanahan
Year Name Team Round Pick Player College Team Rushes Yards Avg TD First
2012Alfred MorrisRedskins63173Florida AtlanticRedskins33516134.81383
2002Clinton PortisBroncos21951Miami (FL)Broncos27315085.51579
2000Mike AndersonBroncos623189UtahBroncos29714875.01576
1999Olandis GaryBroncos432127GeorgiaBroncos27611594.2759
1995Terrell DavisBroncos625196GeorgiaBroncos23711174.7758

What makes Shanahan's record even more incredible is that since 1991, there have been only 10 other running backs drafted after the first round who gained 1,000 yards rushing in their rookie season. Imagine that, Shanahan coached rookies accomplished that feat in 5 of his 19 years (26.3%), while other teams only did it 10 times in approximately 600 opportunities (roughly 1.7%). No other coach had more than one 1,000 yard rookie drafted after the first round during that time. Also note that one of the other coaches who did, Gary Kubiak, is a Shanahan protege. Kubiak also had the undrafted Arian Foster gain over 1,000 yards in his rookie season.

Rookie Running Backs Drafted Later than the First Round Since 1991
Who Gained 1000+ Yards Rushing
Year Name Team Round Pick Player College Team Rushes Yards Avg TD Coach
2012Alfred MorrisRedskins63173Florida AtlanticRedskins33516134.813Mike Shanahan
2002Clinton PortisBroncos21951Miami (FL)Broncos27315085.515Mike Shanahan
1995Curtis MartinPatriots31074PittsburghPatriots36814874.014Bill Parcells
2000Mike AndersonBroncos623189UtahBroncos29714875.015Mike Shanahan
2008Steve SlatonTexans32689West VirginiaTexans26812824.89Gary Kubiak
2008Matt ForteBears21344TulaneBears31612383.98Lovie Smith
2001Anthony ThomasBears2738MichiganBears27811834.37Dick Jauron
1999Olandis GaryBroncos432127GeorgiaBroncos27611594.27Mike Shanahan
1997Corey DillonBengals21343WashingtonBengals23311294.810Bruce Coslet
1995Terrell DavisBroncos625196GeorgiaBroncos23711174.77Mike Shanahan
1996Karim Abdul-Jabbar Dolphins 3 19 80 UCLA Dolphins30711163.611Jimmy Johnson
1993Reggie BrooksRedskins21645Notre DameRedskins22310634.83Richie Petitbon
2003Domanick Williams (Davis) Texas 4 4 101 Louisiana State Texans23810314.38Dom Capers
1993Ronald MooreCardinals4387Pittsburg State (KS)Cardinals26310183.99Joe Bugel
1994Errict RhettBuccaneers2534FloridaBuccaneers28410113.67Sam Wyche
Undrafted Rookie Running Backs Who Gained 1000+ Yards Rushing
Year Name Team Round Pick Player College Team Rushes Yards Avg TD Coach
2010Arian Foster         Tennessee Texans32716164.916Gary Kubiak
2001Dominic Rhodes         Midwestern State Colts23311044.79Jim Mora
2010LeGarrette Blount         Oregon Buccaneers20110075.06Raheem Morris

Shanahan began his head coaching career with a short one and a quarter season gig with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988-89 where his relationship with managing partner/owner Al Davis lasted just as long as Davis' relationship with Lane Kiffin nearly 20 years later. Shanahan achieved greater success and fame leading the Denver Broncos for 14 seasons from 1995-2008. Although his start with the Redskins, and another enigmatic owner Daniel Snyder, initially looked rocky, his three years with the Redskins (2010-date) began trending significantly upward last season.

Shanahan is known as a quarterback guru and achieved his greatest successes, including back-to-back Super Bowl victories with John Elway, and last season, with Robert Griffin III. Shanahan has also won games with lesser names like Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler. In Los Angeles, he was saddled with Jay Schroeder and Steve Beuerlein and in Washington he had to rely on the broken-down Donovan McNabb and the erratic Rex Grossman his first two seasons.

But Shanahan's real coaching mettle might be in implementing superb running games, using the zone blocking schemes first installed in Shanahan's offense by former long-time aid Alex Gibbs, who coached his offensive lines for many seasons.

Shanahan coached running backs have gained 1,000 yards rushing on 12 occasions, including 6 seasons above 1,500 yards and another that fell just 13 yards short of that benchmark. The dozen 1,000 seasons were accomplished by seven different running backs. Thus far, only Terrell Davis (4), Clinton Portis (2) and Mike Anderson (2) have surpassed 1,000 yards on multiple occasions for Shanahan. Shanahan has coached up near forgetables like Reuben Droughns, Olandis Gary and Tatum Bell to big seasons. For instance, Shanahan turned Droughns into a 1,240 yard rusher in his fourth season after the third round pick of the Detroit Lions gained only 97 yards total with a miserable 2.4 yard average during his first three seasons. And Tatum Bell's best season under Shanahan probably wasn't when he surpassed 1,000 yards in 2004, but rather in 2005 when he gained 921 yards on only 173 rushes for a 5.3 yard average and eight rushing touchdowns.

1,000 Yard Seasons
by Mike Shanahan Coached Running Backs
Year Name Team Rushes Yards Avg TD First
Draft Team Round Pick Player College
1998Terrell DavisBroncos39220085.1211001995Broncos625196Georgia
1997Terrell DavisBroncos36917504.715991995Broncos625196Georgia
2012Alfred MorrisRedskins33516134.813832012Redskins63173Florida Atlantic
2003Clinton PortisBroncos29015915.514762002Broncos21951Miami (FL)
1996Terrell DavisBroncos34515384.513921995Broncos625196Georgia
2002Clinton PortisBroncos27315085.515792002Broncos21951Miami (FL)
2000Mike AndersonBroncos29714875.015762000Broncos623189Utah
2004Reuben DroughnsBroncos27512404.56692000Lions31981Oregon
1999Olandis GaryBroncos27611594.27591999Broncos432127Georgia
1995Terrell DavisBroncos23711174.77581995Broncos625196Georgia
2006Tatum BellBroncos23310254.42432004Broncos2941Oklahoma State
2005Mike AndersonBroncos23910144.212622000Broncos623189Utah

Unfortunately, Shanahan missed out on having a fair shot at coaching arguably one of the potentially greatest running backs of his era during his aborted two years as head coach of the Raiders. Bo Jackson was on the Raiders' roster when Shanahan arrived in Los Angeles. Thing was, he was also playing major league baseball at the time, and missed training camp and the first five games of each season Shanahan was with the Raiders. In his career, Jackson never played in more than 11 games, and never started more than nine. In 1988, the only season he was coached by Shanahan, Jackson only ran the ball 136 times for a 4.3 yard average and three rushing touchdowns. It was by far the worst of his four pro football seasons, a career that was cut short by a devastating hip injury. In 1989, his best season as a pro, when Bo gained 950 yards, a 5.5 yard average on 173 carries, Shanahan had already been fired by the time Jackson rejoined the team after his season with the Kansas City Royals ended.

Although many running backs have reached their zenith playing for Shanahan, as Terrell Davis did when he gained 2,008 yards and scored 21 touchdowns rushing in 1998, perhaps they should be leery of playing for him. Shanahan uses up running backs fast, and tosses them away even quicker. Davis had four of the most productive years ever for a running back. But injuries, perhaps caused by wanton overuse, limited his career to seven seasons, the last three of which he never played in more than 8 games. Clinton Portis saw another side of how Shanahan views running backs. The second round pick gained over 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons under Shanahan. But rather than pay Portis for those accomplishments, Shanahan traded him to the Redskins for Champ Bailey before the third season began. Shanahan then turned to Droughns, Anderson and Tatum Bell to top 1,000 yards over the next three seasons.

Those should be words of warning to last season's rushing phenom Alred Morris. Morris was called on to carry the ball 335 times his rookie season and surpassed everyone's expectations averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring 13 rushing touchdowns. As long as he remains healthy, Shanahan is likely to call on Morris just as frequently in 2013 in order to continue his game plan and protect the health of the Redskins' true franchise player, Robert Griffin III. Even if Morris continues to star, he is unlikely to ever cash in big with the Redskins, who got him cheap as a 6th round pick. If the day comes when Morris seeks big money, history shows that Shanahan is likely to send him packing quickly and just plug in another late round selection in his place.

Running Backs Drafted by Mike Shanahan Coached Teams
(Rookie Season Rushing Stats)
Year Name Team Round Pick Player College Team Rushes Yards Avg TD First
1988Reggie WareRaiders96227Auburn            
1989Doug LloydRaiders617156North Dakota State            
1989Derrick GainerRaiders810205Florida A&M            
1995Terrell DavisBroncos625196GeorgiaBroncos23711174.7758
1996Detron SmithBroncos3465Texas A&M            
1996L.T. LevineBroncos726235Kansas            
1998Curtis AlexanderBroncos430122Alabama            
1998Chris HowardBroncos530153MichiganJaguars7162.300
1999Olandis GaryBroncos432127GeorgiaBroncos27611594.2759
2000Mike AndersonBroncos623189UtahBroncos29714875.01576
2002Clinton PortisBroncos21951Miami (FL)Broncos27315085.51579
2003Quentin GriffinBroncos411108OklahomaBroncos943453.7014
2003Ahmaad GallowayBroncos721235Alabama            
2004Tatum BellBroncos2941Oklahoma StateBroncos753965.3318
2004Brandon MireeBroncos746247Pittsburgh            
2005Maurice ClarettBroncos337101Ohio State            
2008Ryan TorainBroncos54139Arizona StateBroncos15694.614
2008Peyton HillisBroncos720227ArkansasBroncos683435.0524
2011Roy HeluRedskins48105NebraskaRedskins1516404.2231
2011Evan RoysterRedskins612177Penn StateRedskins563285.9017
2012Alfred MorrisRedskins63173Florida AtlanticRedskins33516134.81383