Sometimes you need to take a closer look at a guy's statistics to realize how valuable his career has been, especially when the guy only has 42 career starts in 11 seasons. Like when Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch tweeted recently that Patriots RB Kevin Faulk happens to be heading into the 2010 season 70th all-time with 12,140 all-purpose yards.
A stat like that begged for more, as it is just part of the story of Faulk's value to the Patriots this past decade. Take this stat from last season, which helps explain the Patriots' desire to re-sign Faulk in March: despite having plenty of capable running backs, Faulk received 38.9 percent of playing time in 2009 amongst the RB corps — eight percent more than starter Laurence Maroney.
In head coach Bill Belichick's conference call following the Patriots' preseason loss to the Rams, the coach had few positive things to say, but he had no problem raving about Faulk, his longest-tenured player.
"He's got great leadership and is a great example to really all the players with his preparation, his dependability and his unselfishness," Belichick told PFW.
Faulk's unique talents have allowed him to contribute in the running game, passing game and return game, but he was never dynamic enough of a running back to be a No. 1. As a senior at LSU in 1998, Faulk led the SEC in rushing and all-purpose yards. In PFW's 1999 Draft Preview, the late draft analyst Joel Buchsbaum said that Faulk "has had a problem with fumbles throughout his career and "may not have the size or durability to be a workhorse NFL tailback." Buchsbaum added, "at the very least, Faulk will be a dangerous third-down back and return man."
Fumbles were an issue when Faulk, the 46th overall pick in the 1999 draft, began in the NFL, coughing the ball up 16 times in his first five seasons, including a career-high six fumbles in 2000. In the past four seasons, spanning 61 games, he has fumbled only four times. Consider his bout with fumblitis cured.
Durability? Faulk silenced those doubts by playing at least 15 games in eight of his 11 seasons, including each of the past four campaigns.
In franchise history, no one has accumulated more all-purpose yards or return yards than Faulk, and no Pats running back has more career receptions (418). No Patriot has amassed more than 3,000 rushing yards and 3,000 receiving yards except Faulk, and only five Patriots have played more games for New England. He's New England's Mr. Do-It-All.
"[Kevin] is so dependable and can really handle any role for us on offense, in the return game or on special teams. It's just a question of which ones we ask him to do," Belichick said.
His place in NFL history also highlights his versatility. Assuming another Faulk-like performance in 2010, he will move into the top 60, or even the 50s in the all-time ranking for all-purpose yards. Faulk may not be the Patriots' return man anymore, but he's available if necessary, and he's 78 punt-return yards away from 1,000 for his career.
No NFL player has reached numbers as high as Faulk in all four categories (rushing yards, receiving yards, kickoff-return yards and punt-return yards).
Other return specialists have amassed more all-purpose yards than Faulk, but no one beats him in all four categories. Brian Mitchell had more punt-return and kickoff-return yards, but trails Faulk in rushing and receiving yardage. Same with Dave Meggett. Eric Metcalf came close with more punt-return, kickoff-return and receiving yards, but he did not surpass 3,000 rushing yards like Faulk has. Herschel Walker had more kickoff-return, rushing and receiving yards, but he never returned punts.
Sure, it's an obscure stat, and Faulk is not going to parade around as the "only player with at least 3,000 rushing yards, 3,000 receiving yards, 900 punt-return yards and 4,000 kickoff-return yards," but it's just another example of his unique versatility and skill.
But the biggest reason why Faulk is Belichick's most dependable player is his role as the team's trusted third-down back. Since 1991, Faulk is third in franchise history with 117 receptions on third down and 157 targets on third down, and no Patriot has more third-down rushing yards (472). Just as importantly, his blocking and blitz-pick-up abilities have made him crucial to the Pats' efforts to convert third downs.
"He adds a lot to our football team and his roles are the type of things that as coaches, we can really count on because he has just come through so many times," Belichick said. "I hate to say you take it for granted, but you start to just expect it because it has happened so often."
At age 34, Faulk isn't slowing down, gaining 5.4 yards per carry in 2009. Overshadowed by QB Tom Brady, WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker, and the other veteran RBs on the Patriots' roster, you have to do what I did and actively look for his stats to realize his value.
Belichick perfectly summed up Faulk's accomplishments by simply saying, "it's impressive."
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