The Cowboys' Emmitt Smith (right) entered his seventh NFL season with plenty of wear on his tires, but it's still his fervent hope to one day surpass Walter Payton's career-rushing record of 16,726 yards. The question is, Will Smith—who has been tackled more in his first six years than any other player over a similar span—last long enough to do it? Over their first six seasons Smith rushed and caught the ball a combined 516 times more than Payton did. Eric Dickerson, the No. 2 alltime rusher, ran for 1,311 yards in his seventh year, but he was caught up in contract squabbles and troubled by nagging injuries, and his numbers eventually dropped off a cliff.
Smith entered this season with a sprained left knee, then suffered neck and shoulder injuries late in Dallas's season-opening 22-6 loss to the Bears. Despite being carried off the field on a stretcher, he was back in the lineup on Sunday for a 27-0 win over the Giants. He carried 25 times for 94 yards and caught three passes for 12 yards, but with Dallas leading 24-0 early in the fourth quarter, he was still on the field.
Smith has a fatalistic view of his career. "Having more carries than anybody at this point doesn't mean I'm more likely to get hurt now," he says. "It's in God's hands." Here's how Smith's annual workload (including playoffs) compares with the first six years of the top five rushers of all time.
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