Sunday, May 13, 2001

Hall of Fame in Dillon's future?

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In five years, Corey Dillon could own every Bengals rushing record and make a case to join tackle Anthony Munoz as the second Bengals player in the Hall of Fame.

        What Dillon wants is wins and playoffs and Super Bowls, but in the wake of his Friday night signing of the richest contract in Bengals history, it's interesting to project what Dillon himself might accomplish, if he stays healthy, now that he'll wear Bengals stripes through 2005.

        If he maintains the 1,224-yard rushing average of his first four seasons, Dillon would have 11,012 yards after nine NFL seasons. He would be in the same neighborhood with Hall of Famers John Riggins (11,352) and O.J. Simpson (11,236), although Walter Payton owns the record of 16,726.

        Dillon would have bypassed 15 other modern-day running backs enshrined at Canton who never reached the 10,000-yard mark, including Earl Campbell (9,407), Jim Taylor (8,597) and Larry Csonka (8,081).

        Of course, projecting and performing are different matters, and nobody knows that better than Dillon, Bengals president Mike Brown said.

        “He knows every year is a new challenge,” Brown said. “He knows he's going to be a marked man. He knows he's the guy they set their defenses for.”

        Dillon seems to have more help next season than he did last year, when defenses stacked the line with eight players. Dillon still was the NFL's fifth-leading rusher with 1,435 yards.

        The Bengals hired a new offensive coordinator, Bob Bratkowski, who has installed a wide-open pass offense, and the club signed free agent quarterback Jon Kitna and blocking fullback Lorenzo Neal and drafted speedy wide receiver Chad Johnson in the second round. Veteran wide receiver Darnay Scott, who missed 2000 with a broken leg, appears to be coming back at full strength.

        “They couldn't throw the ball ... last year,” said Dave Lapham, a former Bengals offensive lineman and current radio broadcaster. “His yards-per-carry number (4.6) should go up if they can throw the ball at all.”

        Looking ahead five seasons, Lapham sees Dillon getting more than 1,000 yards each year.

        “It's hard to keep a guy with 11,000-12,000 yards out of the Hall of Fame,” Lapham said. “I respect the heck out of him for how he prepares and competes. I would have loved to have been in the huddle with him and block for him.”

        With one more comparable season to 2000, Dillon (4,894 yards) should approach the Bengals' career rushing record of 6,447 yards compiled by James Brooks over eight seasons. Pete Johnson is second with 5,421 yards.

        “From a coaching perspective, I'm never ready to put a player in the Hall of Fame until they do it over a long period of time,” said former Bengals head coach Sam Wyche. “I hope he does it.”

        Wyche sees Dillon's signing as both short- and long-term positives for the Bengals.

        “You have one of the best running backs in the league to keep pressure off the passing game,” he said. “You also have one of the key players in the NFL who wants to play in Cincinnati. When free agents look around and talk to other players, they'll see Corey in Cincinnati, and that will mean a lot.”

        Dillon is durable. He has played in 62 of a possible 64 games, starting 53.

        He started all 16 in 2000, and after rushing for only 82 yards on 41 carries in the first three games, he had seven games with 90 or more yards and two games of more than 200. He averaged 104 yards in the the final 13 games.

        He was entering his first offseason as an unrestricted free agent and salary drive could have played a part in his second consecutive Pro Bowl season.

        He has two of the best seven single-game rushing performances in NFL history. He is first with 278 yards (2000 against Denver) and seventh with 246 yards (1997 against the Oilers).

        Still, he has scored only 28 touchdowns in four seasons, partly because the team has struggled offensively — he had seven (33 percent) of the Bengals' 21 touchdowns last season — while winning only 18 of 64 games during his career.

        “He's not like Emmitt Smith, who has scored tons of touchdowns,” draft guru Jerry Jones said of the Dallas running back, who has scored an NFL-record 145 rushing touchdowns in 11 seasons. “But (Dillon) has proved himself. When the list of free agents is published, he's the only Bengal who's desirable.

        “He is the marquee Bengal.”

        Dillon is the seventh player in NFL history to rush for 1,100 or more yards in each of his first four seasons, and his rushing total has increased every year.

        Dillon, who has had periods of moodiness in his four years in Cincinnati, appears happy with his contract. His agent, David Dunn, said Dillon's deal exceeds the value of Eddie George's deal in the first three seasons. George signed a seven-year extension worth $42 million last summer.

        Dillon's deal is believed to include more than $10 million to sign and to be worth more than $17 million the first three years. It is estimated to be worth more than $27 million overall and is not padded with incentive clauses.

        “Corey deserved to be paid at the top of the running back market, and, fortunately, the Bengals agreed,” Dunn said. “He is excited by what they have done recently (with free agency and the draft). Winning is a high, high priority for Corey. With its cap situation, recent high draft choices and new stadium with new revenue streams, Cincinnati is uniquely positioned to improve. It wasn't too long ago St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Baltimore were in similar states of development.

        “Corey is very happy.”


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