Those too young to remember seeing him play may never grasp what it was like to watch Corey Dillon run.
The offensive lines he ran behind were inconsistent at best. The quarterback play for those offenses was mostly subpar. And the defenses were pretty forgettable.
And yet, he ran for at least 1,100 yards in each of his first six years in Cincinnati. That includes 1997, his rookie year, when he accumulated 1,129 yards on the ground in just six starts. In Week 8, against the Tennessee Oilers, he set a then rookie record with 246 yards rushing.
So how did he do it? Well, he was essentially a bowling ball of a human being, who watched would be tacklers bounce off him whenever he actually had room to operate beyond the line of scrimmage. Dillon was like Derrick Henry with his size and stiff arms but on arguably the worst team in the league. Defenses lined up to stop Dillon and only Dillon. And yet, on those days he actually received blocking, he punished them and wore them down early, which allowed him to break off huge runs later in the game.
Dillon’s talent was so undeniable that it’s hard to understand why he didn’t get a chance earlier in his rookie season. Apparently, a perceived lack of appreciation for his game fueled him throughout his career in Cincinnati.
“He was angry,” said Bengals.com’s Geoff Hobson on our show. “He was angry from the moment he got here. He was mad he went in the second round. He [thought] he was a first round guy, and clearly he was when you saw him play. He never forgot it.”
As a result of being snubbed, Dillon “ran angry,” Hobson recalled. The Bengals.com writer then described what led to the running back’s then-record rushing performance against the Denver Broncos in 2000. Apparently, Greg Robinson, the Broncos’ defensive coordinator, cheered on his second-ranked defense just as Dillon passed by him. That did not sit well with a man who was so large that “you could feel him” when he walked by.
Dillon proceeded to rush for an NFL record 278 yards on just 22 carries. While that record was broken by Jamal Lewis (295 yards) in 2003 and Lewis’ record was broken by Adrian Peterson (296) in 2007, Dillon’s performance may remain the most special. “Nobody will ever probably do it like Corey did,” Hobson opined. “I think nine of [his 22 carries] went for one or two yards. So he had these huge, gaping runs, and they didn’t complete a pass in the last three quarters!”
To Hobson’s point, quarterbacks Akili Smith and Scott Mitchell combined to go two of fourteen for a measly 34 yards and the defense allowed 500 yards to Denver, making Dillon’s performance as close to a one-man show as possible at the NFL level.
In terms of his personality, Dillon was quite candid, according to Hobson. The senior writer recalled that, right before he began working for Bengals.com, Dillon told him that he’d rather flip burgers than play for the Bengals again on account of the disrespect he felt in relation to his contract status. “He spoke his mind all the time. He never backed down from saying what he believed. That’s one of the reasons I liked him. He was a straight-shooter. You know right where he was coming from.”
Make sure to watch the entire interview below:
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