Tony Dorsett always complained Tom Landry didn't give him the ball enough.
In his first three years in the NFL, from 1977 to '79, Dorsett logged 748 carries, or 17 per game, for the Cowboys -- but he thought that number should have been more like 25 per game. Though Dorsett was unhappy about it at the time, he later thanked the Dallas coach, because the judicious usage helped lengthen his career.
It seems safe to say few football players will ever chafe at being featured too heavily in the game plan. And yet, few are capable of being the sole driver of team success over the course of an entire season.
Below, I've identified six players who are being asked to do too much in 2020. I want to be clear that the players listed below are clearly capable of answering the bell -- their inclusion here is more about suspect workloads and an unsustainable lack of support.
With injuries sidelining Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders over multiple games, the Saints have been heavily reliant on Alvin Kamara this season -- and he has emphatically delivered, singlehandedly driving New Orleans' offense. The dual-threat running back has played on 76 percent of the team's offensive snaps over the past three games, including 78 percent in last Sunday's overtime win over the Bears. The fact that he leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (987) and first downs (50) heading into Week 9 becomes even more impressive when you consider he's played one fewer game than a significant portion of the league, thanks to the Saints' Week 6 bye (12 teams still had not yet taken their bye through Week 8). Kamara has posted 100-plus scrimmage yards in six straight games, the longest such streak in the NFL this season.
Of course, just because Kamara can put an entire team on his back week after week doesn't mean that he should -- history tells us players who maintain a workload like his for too long eventually become less effective and more susceptible to injury. Hopefully the foot injury that kept him from practicing Wednesday isn't a sign of trouble to come. Luckily for Kamara (and the Saints), his burden should get a bit lighter once Thomas and Sanders return to action (which could happen as soon as Week 9), with Kamara's snap percentage easing down to the mid-60s.
Derrick Henry is simply amazing. As usual, he's racking up rushing stats by the truckload -- but his impact on Tennessee's roster goes well beyond his status as both the reigning 2019 rushing champ and 2020 leader so far. Henry is also the key to the Titans' success with the play-action pass, helping Ryan Tannehill flourish since Tannehill's 2019 reemergence as a legitimate starting quarterback. The good thing for all involved is that Henry is no stranger to carrying a heavy workload; it's something he's done on every level of football, from high school (he carried the ball 1,397 times in four years) to college (he registered 395 attempts as a junior at Alabama) to the pros. And it looks almost like Henry gets stronger the more he works. So one could argue that he's being asked to do the exact right amount by the Titans.
The thing is, this approach works great -- until it doesn't. Henry lifted the Titans to the brink of a Super Bowl appearance last season, averaging 188.5 rushing yards in the Wild Card and Divisional Rounds. But he couldn't keep the Chiefs from overwhelming Tennessee in the AFC title game. Henry is a powerful force, but he's also so important that if an opponent can somehow stop him, they've got a good chance at stopping the whole team. And by virtue of his position, he's less capable of quickly helping make up the difference in games where the Titans fall behind. It makes sense to lean on Henry, but finding a bit more balance will help fortify their 2020 hopes.
Dalvin Cook generated 67.87 percent of his team's yards from scrimmage in the Vikings' upset of the Packers last Sunday, a share that has been topped only three times in a single game since 2010 (once by Adrian Peterson with the Vikings and twice by Matt Forte with the Bears). He's also responsible for 29.5 percent of the Vikings' scrimmage yards for the season, second-most in the NFL (behind Kamara's mark of 35.6%). He's scored more rushing touchdowns (10) than all but six teams in the league -- and he's scored more total touchdowns (11) than one entire team (the Jets, who've scored eight).
With QB Kirk Cousins struggling to find consistency, Minnesota's offense this season begins and ends with Cook. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- in games where Cousins attempts 30-plus passes (since he joined the team in 2018), the Vikings are 9-14-1, but in games where Cook attempts 16-plus carries (since he joined the team in 2017), they're 15-4. Cook will be central to any kind of turnaround Minnesota might make after stumbling to a 2-5 start. But it'll be tough to claw too far above .500 without Cousins and the 23rd-ranked aerial attack picking up more of the slack.
Only two receivers have been targeted at least seven times in every game this season: DeAndre Hopkins and Terry McLaurin. At least the Cardinals have other complementary pieces to utilize. McLaurin has racked up 69 targets through seven games, 42 more than the next closest receiver on the team (Dontrelle Inman). McLaurin is putting together yet another quality season, all things considered, with 43 catches for 577 yards and two touchdowns. But I'd love to see how much more effective he could be in an offense that includes a difference-maker at QB and another receiver who can draw defensive attention away from him.
It's become obvious why the Browns were seeking another edge rusher this offseason to pair with Myles Garrett, a pass-rushing machine currently tied with the Rams' Aaron Donald for the NFL's sack lead (nine). The amount of blocking attention Garrett demands should make it easier for his teammates to get to the quarterback with one-on-one matchups, but the Browns' three other defensive ends (Olivier Vernon, Adrian Clayborn, Porter Gustin) have four sacks and seven QB hits combined thus far. Garrett is a star, but at times it seems as if the only reliable arrow in the Browns' defensive quiver is Garrett's ability to sack QBs and force turnovers. Cleveland is tied for first in the NFL in takeaways (14) but ranked 19th in yards allowed, 27th in points scored and 26th against the pass through Week 8. Luckily for the Browns, their Week 9 bye comes just in time for Garrett to recover from the knee injury that limited him last Sunday against the Raiders.
There are plenty of reasons to consider Russell Wilson the front-runner for the MVP award, but we could start with the fact he's pushed Seattle to the head of the NFC pack without a reliable defense or ground game. The Seahawks' rushing attack has been decimated by injuries at the running back position, leaving Wilson to pick up the slack. After rushing for less than 400 yards in each of the last two seasons, the quarterback is on pace to finish 2020 with 594 rushing yards, which would be the second-highest rushing total of his career -- a reminder of a time when his passing skills weren't as developed as they are now.
Without Wilson, Seattle would average just 88.3 rushing yards per game, less than every team but the Bears (85.6) and Texans (84.9). The 32nd-ranked defense, meanwhile, had allowed the most yards in NFL history through a team's first six games before firming up in Sunday's win over San Francisco. It would be a shame if Wilson went on to be named MVP, only for the Seahawks to be felled in the playoffs because of their lack of balance.