You guys knew it was a matter of time before I could somehow talk about an Ohio State grad here, didn't you? Some of the best players to ever wear a Vikings uniform were graduates of Ohio State, but the two best, Jim Marshall and Cris Carter, weren't draft picks of the team, making them ineligible for this sponsored post.
But Robert Smith was drafted by the Vikes, and he went to Ohio State, so BOOYA!
Let's talk about the Vikings all time leading rusher, shall we?
In 1993, the Vikings had a first round draft pick for the first time since 1988, all because of The Running Back Who Shall Not Be Named. They didn't really need a running back, because Terry Allen had just rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored 13 TD's in 1992, and seemed like a long term answer. And that made the Smith pick all the more surprising, seeing as how he had been viewed as, essentially, a brittle malcontent coming out of OSU. He had openly criticized the coaching staff for pressuring him to forego going to class and devote more time to football, but then he declared for the draft as a redshirt sophomore. Because of his injury history and perceived attitude, not a lot of people had Smith as a first round guy, but the Vikings took him with the 21st overall pick.
Smith had a hard time staying healthy at Ohio State which carried over to the NFL, and in his first few years in Minnesota, he seemed like he was on his way to bust status. He was constantly hurt, and when Allen tore his knee up and couldn't play in 1993, Smith hurt his knee and played sparingly. In 1994, a hip injury caused him to miss two games, in 1995 he missed half the season because of a bad ankle sprain. In 1996, it was an MCL tear that caused him to miss half the season, and the fans were ready to move on, despite some flashes of true brilliance when he was actually on the field.
Although Smith would only play 16 games once in his career, starting in 1997 he was able to stay relatively healthy, and his career took off, running for over 1,200 yards while averaging 5.5 yards a carry.
In 1998, the Vikings set the NFL on it's collective ear offensively, steamrolling through the NFL on their way to a 15-1 record. Smith was a key component of that team, earning his first Pro Bowl nod, while averaging just under 5 yards a carry and rushing for 1,187 yards. He also answered some durability questions by carrying the ball 249 times, while catching another 28 passes for nearly 300 yards, a career best. In the playoffs, he ran for 124 yards in the steamrolling of the Cardinals, and was a horse in what most of us thought was the game-clinching drive against Atlanta in the NFC championship game. Until, you know... Excuse me while I go outside and cuss.
There, much better.
Smith battled some injuries in 1999, but still had over 1,000 yards rushing and was a key guy in getting the Vikings back in to the playoffs. He set the Vikings single game playoff record when he shredded the Cowboys for 140 yards in the Wild Card round (his 124 against the Cardinals was the second best) and he is second best all time rushing in the playoffs for the team.
2000 was Smith's best year. He started all 16 games, set career bests in rushing and receiving (1,521 yards rushing, 348 receiving) and touchdowns for both rushing and receiving. It was also his career best in carries (295), and second best in yards per carry (5.2).
Smith abruptly retired after 2000, right when he was at the height of his career, and as a free agent he had a big payday coming due. After a rough start, he ended his career with 4 straight 1,000 yard rushing seasons, a team record (which has been tied by Adrian Peterson and will probably be broken in 2011), 6,818 yards rushing, also a team record, and was second in team history in playoff rushing yards while posting the two best rushing days in Vikings post season history.
Not too shabby for a guy that got off to a rough start, and earning his way onto our list.
But Robert, would it have killed you to stay in bounds?
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