Michael Turner has shot at history

I just came across one of the most obscure, yet amazing, statistics I’ve ever seen.

While leafing through Football Outsiders Almanac 2012, I spotted an item that said Atlanta running back Michael Turner has a chance to make history. If Turner can rush for 638 yards before he catches four more passes (and I’m thinking he has a good chance), he will pass George Rogers as the most one-dimensional prominent running back NFL history. Turner is closing in on 7,000 career rushing yards, yet he has only 51 career catches. Rogers finished his career in 1987 with 7,176 rushing yards and 55 receptions. That currently is the lowest reception total for any running back with at least 7,000 career rushing yards.

It’s long been known that Turner isn’t much of a receiving threat out of the backfield. But he is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-high 17 receptions. I’d look for that number to drop significantly in 2012. The Falcons have been making noise about how they want to lighten Turner’s work load.

Turner still has plenty of value as a runner, so I’m guessing his total carries won’t fall that dramatically. I think the Falcons will look for other ways to keep him fresh. Early in Turner’s Atlanta days, the Falcons tried to break up his load by using Jerious Norwood as a receiver out of the backfield. The problem was Norwood never could stay healthy enough for that tandem to really work. The Falcons drafted Jacquizz Rodgers last season and he gained the confidence of the coaching staff as the season went on.

New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has pledged to make the screen pass a staple in Atlanta’s play book. That’s great news. But let’s take it one step further. The numbers say there’s no sense throwing screen passes to Turner. Rodgers is quicker and can make things happen when he catches passes. That could help assure Turner of his place in history.