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Does He Still Have the Edge?

As training camps creep closer and closer, there is undoubtedly at least one position on most teams where fans can look and see a hole that could be filled with a capable veteran. While these players are not expected to come in and shine for an organization, it is typically thought that they can offer unparalleled knowledge and can serve the role of a capable backup in case the main guy at a position goes down with an injury. Ten years removed from being the NFL Rookie of the Year, Edgerrin James is fitting that mold in 2009.



James was drafted fourth overall out of

Miami
in 1999 and dazzled the football world when, in his first two years, he became the perfect complement to budding quarterback Peyton Manning. He ran for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns his rookie year and followed up with a sophomore surge of 1,709 yards and another 13 touchdowns. Clearly, James was on the road to becoming one of the greatest of all time. However, in 2001, James tore his ACL and following the surgery put up only 1,600 yards over the next two years and a combined five touchdowns which led critics to believe that another knee injury had claimed yet another talented running back.



James proved the naysayers wrong when from 2003-2007 in his time in
Indianapolis and

Arizona
, he never posted less than 1,150 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Despite recording over 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in 2007,

Arizona
decided that they would focus on their passing game and abandoned the ground attack for the better part of 2008 which significantly hindered James. He only had 133 carries (the lowest of his career) and reached the endzone just three times. In fact, over the course of Weeks 8-16 in which James played in six games, he had just 18 carries. With Tim Hightower already in the fold, the Cardinals drafted
Ohio
State running back Chris Wells in this year’s draft which was consequently Edgerrin’s ticket out of

Arizona
.



Here we are as July comes to a close and James still hasn’t signed on with a team. His name has been linked to
New Orleans and

Philadelphia
at different times throughout the offseason, but still no team has even stepped up to make an offer. In a recent article in the

Fort Myers News-Press
, James was candid about his thoughts on playing again when he said, “There are not 32 backs out there who are better than me … I want to continue to play. I can play at a high level.”


There is no doubt in this writer’s mind that James can still bring it on the football field. Despite having passed the foreboding age of 30, James stepped it up last year as the Cardinals began to balance their offense toward the end of the season. He recorded a 100-yard game in Week 17 against Seattle on just 14 carries and had almost 75 yards rushing against both Atlanta and Philadelphia in postseason play (in each of those games he averaged 4.6 yards per carry). If James had not stepped it up when his number was finally called as the season wore on, the Cardinals may not have made it to the Super Bowl.



For some reason, James has been given a bad label of being injured and not quite the player he once was. But since his injury season of 2001, James has missed just nine games in seven seasons and continues to increase his career totals in yardage which now stands at 12,121. If James were to have a 1,000-yard season in 2009, he would jump to seventh on the all-time rushing list just behind Eric Dickerson and would only be looking at Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith in front of him.



James has been around the block for quite some time in the NFL. While he is not looked at as the flashy Rookie of the Year winner that he was in the early and mid-parts of the decade, James still has gas left in the tank and if he were to sign on with a team, would immediately provide the squad with a more than dangerous backup to spell a starter. Not only that but his successes in the league would be invaluable from a teaching standpoint.


Even when James is signed, he will most likely not be the number one guy in a given city.
New Orleans loves what they have in Pierre Thomas behind Reggie Bush and

Philadelphia
is slowly falling in love with rookie LeSean McCoy who is seated nicely underneath Brian Westbrook on the team’s depth chart. No matter what team James ends up with (and trust me, he’ll be playing in 2009), he will immediately become a stellar fantasy handcuff to a franchise’s lead back. Keep an eye on news surrounding James as the weeks go by and when he signs, don’t hesitate to give him a good look.

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