Who Ya Got? Anthony Thomas vs. Ron Dayne

Submitted by Maceo24 on October 28th, 2010 at 3:07 PM

An earlier MGoBoard post on Ron Dayne’s selection to Big Ten Icon #13 inspired this post.  Within the post, I got involved with a discussion on Anthony Thomas being Dayne’s better and it stirred up some thoughts.  I decided to start a series comparing a former Michigan player to a similar player and discuss their merits. 

I’m calling this “Who Ya Got?” and will compare stats as well as other factors to try and determine who was better.  We’ll start with Anthony Thomas versus Ron Dayne.  If this is a hit and/or I like doing it, some future topics may include John Navarre/Gino Toretta, Brandon Graham/Simeon Rice, and Braylon Edwards/Plaxico Burress. If you have anyone that you’d like to compare, let me know, and we could make it an off-season series.

Who Ya Got?  Anthony Thomas vs. Ron Dayne

Introductions

Anthony Thomas was a running back for the Michigan Wolverines from 1997-2000.  The 6’2”, 220-lb tailback came to Ann Arbor out of Winnfield, LA.  He set the Louisiana state record for career touchdowns (106) and came to Michigan as the #2 RB in the country per Prep Football Report.  At Michigan, Thomas used his 4.5 speed to set the UM career rushing yards and touchdown records with 4472 yards and 56 touchdowns.  Thomas went on to be NFL Rookie of the Year in 2001 and spent 7 years in the NFL on four different teams.

Ron Dayne was a 5’10”, 250-lb running back for the Wisconsin Badgers.  As a massive high school running back, Ron Dayne tore up the New Jersey prep fields.  In Madison, Dayne’s size combined with his 4.7 speed led him to set the NCAA career rushing record with 6,397 career yards (7,125 with bowl games) from 1996-1999.  Wisconsin’s powerful rushing attack garnered Dayne the Heisman trophy in 1999 before he went on to the NFL.  Dayne spent 8 years in the NFL on three different teams after leaving Madison.

Rushing Statistics

Obviously, rushing stats are the #1 measure for determining running back greatness.  In this way, Ron Dayne should probably be the sure winner given his NCAA record for career rushing.

 

Career Rushing Stats

Anthony Thomas Rushing Yards

Ron Dayne Rushing Yards

Year

Att

Yds

Yds/Att

TD

Year

Att

Yds

Yds/Att

TD

1997

137

549

4.0

5

1996

325

2109

6.5

20

1998

167

893

5.3

15

1997

263

1458

5.5

15

1999

301

1297

4.3

17

1998

295

1532

5.2

15

2000

319

1733

5.4

18

1999

337

2034

6.0

20

Career

924

4472

4.8

55

Career

1220

7133

5.8

70

Looking at these numbers, Ron Dayne wins the total yardage, yards per carry, and touchdowns (save 1999 when Thomas had 17 to Dayne's 15) for all years of eligibility.

However, there are some pieces of clarification.  Dayne had almost zero competition for carries through his entire career.  His only real competition was during his senior year when Michael Bennett came to town.  At this point, though, Dayne was established and Bennett had off the field issues and wasn't a real competitor.

Anthony Thomas had Clarence Williams and senior Chris Howard his freshman year and had to share carries with Clarence Williams his sophomore year.  The carries were basically all his for his junior and senior seasons.

Therefore, you could argue that only junior and senior seasons are comparable.  On the other hand, you could also argue that Ron Dayne was dominant and outshone all his competition while Anthony Thomas couldn't even beat out Clarence Williams.

There is a fairly vocal group that contends that Dayne only beat up on inferior out-of-conference competition.  So, I present a chart comparing only Big Ten games between our two challengers.

 

Big Ten Rushing Stats

Anthony Thomas Rushing Yards

Ron Dayne Rushing Yards

Year

Att

Yds

Yds/Att

TD

Year

Att

Yds

Yds/Att

TD

1997

97

381

3.9

4

1996

226

1306

5.8

11

1998

112

598

5.3

9

1997

190

976

5.1

8

1999

204

935

4.6

12

1998

235

1066

4.5

8

2000

226

1130

5.0

12

1999

224

1310

5.8

14

Career

639

3044

4.8

37

Career

875

4658

5.3

41

Here is where the Dayne deniers start to have a true argument.  If we compare only junior and senior year Big Ten stats, the two gentlemen are nearly equal.  Thomas had 935 yards and 12 TD as a junior while 3rd year starter Dayne had 1066 yards and 8 TD.  For their senior years, Anthony Thomas had 1130 yards and 12 TD while Ron Dayne had 1310 yards and 14 TD. 

It is this senior season that won Dayne the Heisman.  Yet, if you compare conference stats, he was only marginally better than senior Anthony Thomas who couldn't even sniff the award his senior year.

Receiving Statistics

Another important component of what running backs do is to catch passes out of the backfield.  Neither was a prolific receiver, but Anthony Thomas stands head and shoulders above Ron Dayne. 

 

Career Receiving Statistics

Anthony Thomas Rushing Yards

Ron Dayne Rushing Yards

Year

Att

Yds

Yds/Att

TD

Year

Att

Yds

Yds/Att

TD

1997

22

219

10.0

0

1996

14

133

9.5

0

1998

16

152

9.5

0

1997

10

117

11.7

0

1999

33

168

5.1

0

1998

6

45

7.5

0

2000

17

271

15.9

1

1999

1

9

9.0

0

Career

88

810

9.2

1

Career

31

304

9.8

0

Anthony Thomas was basically 3 times more prolific than Dayne at catching passes.  Later in their careers, Wisconsin completely abandoned throwing to Dayne, while Michigan stayed at or above earlier levels.

I don’t think pass catching is the deciding factor between the two athletes, but it is a data point.

Other Stats / Information

As with most running backs, you can have the Barry Sanders/Emmitt Smith argument.  This is the argument that the only reason Emmitt Smith was good was due to his awesome offensive line, while Barry had to waste most of his energy juking defensive lineman and linebackers who were already in the backfield.

In this case, Anthony Thomas comes out as Emmitt Smith.  Thomas had Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson, Jon Jansen, and David Brandt.  Wisconsin wasn’t hurting on the line, but as far as “name” offensive line goes, they had only Aaron Gibson and Chris McIntosh.

I don’t know enough about their other skill sets to make a valid argument, but I would guess they were both capable blockers with Anthony Thomas being a little quicker and more aggressive on picking up the blitz.

As far as further information goes, Dayne won his aforementioned Heisman without being anything extraordinary.  Other Wisconsin running backs have put up similar stats and Anthony Thomas wasn’t far behind (as stated above).  For instance, Michael Bennett (2000) rushed for 1600 yards and Anthony Davis ran for 1500 yards for two consecutive years.  Also, Dayne didn’t appear to show up for big games.  Michigan and Iowa basically shut him down.  On the other hand, he did well against average teams (MSU/PSU/etc.), and you don’t rack up stats like that by being a complete schmuck.

Anthony Thomas also doesn’t have a lot in the additional information category.  He dropped the ball in a game against Northwestern which lead to Michigan’s defeat and subsequently allowed Purdue to be the Rose Bowl representative in 2000.  On the plus side, he also returned kickoffs with a total of 31 returns for a 23.2 yard average.

One extra tidbit of information is nicknames.  Anthony Thomas was known as “A-Train” in Ann Arbor.  Dayne came through with “The Great Dayne.”  Neither of these nicknames are enough to sway me one way or the other, but I am partial to “A-Train.”

I don’t want to include NFL time in my comparison, but I would like to point out that they were basically the same NFL player.  Ron Dayne played 8 seasons and retired with 3,722 yards on 983 carries and 28 TD.  Thomas had 3,891 yards on 1,044 carries and 23 TD over 7 seasons, including the previously mentioned Rookie of the Year.

Final Verdict

After taking all of the information into account, I find that I have to side with the Ron Dayne camp.  This is distasteful to me in so many ways.  I dislike the other Big Ten schools, save Purdue and Northwestern, who I find cute; I am on the Anyone but Ron Dayne for Heisman Committee; I thought he racked up his yardage by being fat and running over MAC and WAC schools.  Despite all of these things, I think he was impressively athletic for a large man, was the top performing back in Big Ten history, and was a workhorse for 4 years behind a good but not great offensive line.

Who I Got?  Ron Dayne

Who Ya Got? Anthony Thomas v. Ron Dayne
Anthony Thomas
Ron Dayne

  
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Comments

Hannibal.

October 28th, 2010 at 3:12 PM ^

My heart will always be with Thomas since he is a Michigan guy, but Dayne was better and it's not close.  Thomas was a very mediocre back for the first few years of his career.  He had meh vision and he was tackled way too easily by his feet.  It wasn't until his senior season that he fulfilled his potential.

bronxblue

October 28th, 2010 at 3:37 PM ^

I agree wholeheartedly.  Thomas couldn't run through an ankle tackle to save his life until his senior year (so did Chris Perry), and while Dayne wasn't anything to write home about, he was a better RB.  I still think Dayne was immensely overrated later in his career as you realized he was just getting bigger and not faster or stronger.

Wolverine0056

October 28th, 2010 at 3:48 PM ^

I dislike the other Big Ten schools, save Purdue and Northwestern, who I find cute.

Ha classic. I have to go with Dayne as well. A-Train will always be one of my favorite Wolverine RBs but you can't deny what Dayne was able to do throughout his career at Wisconsin.  

BTW, this was fun, brought back some nice memories of Thomas. Please continue to do this.

UMaD

October 28th, 2010 at 3:53 PM ^

Not to change the subject, but if you ran the same analysis for V.Smith vs. M.Shaw, you'd find some interesting results, especially when it comes to ypc in Big10 play.

Papochronopolis

October 28th, 2010 at 3:59 PM ^

Ron Daynes YPC says it all.  Plus 2 x 2000 yard seasons?  Both areridiculous.

I loved A-Train, but he gave me nightmares for years after he dropped that ball after gaining a game winning first down in a 61-57 loss to NW

Maceo24

October 28th, 2010 at 4:29 PM ^

I'll work on tracking them down and editing in a new table.  I thought about it, but fumble stats are basically shown as team stats and not assigned to the player.  Therefore, I got lazy and stopped looking.  Dayne's stats were hard enough, as Wisconsin's website ignores historical stats.

M-Wolverine

October 28th, 2010 at 5:09 PM ^

But even though their styles were similar, Dayne was maybe Wisconsin's best RB (player?) ever. I'm not sure how far down Thomas would rank in RBs, but it wouldn't be #1.
<br>
<br>But a very interesting concept. I can see it bringing a lot of debate. Particularly in the off season, where it doesn't get lost in all the game week stuff. Good work and idea.

Yooper

October 29th, 2010 at 12:56 AM ^

His record was outstanding of course but he also was a big reason the Wisconsin program rose from the dead People forget how bad Wisconsin was for a very long time. Dayne led Wisconsin to a victory in the Rose Bowl, the first time that had happened for decades They have been competitive ever since.