337 carries, 2019 yards, 8 touchdowns combined with 45 catches, 645 yards and 5 touchdowns receiving. 300 carries, 1953 yards and 22 touchdowns.
I am old enough to remember when the running back position was something to be sought after by young men in high school. Everybody wanted to be Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and others. The NFL has rid itself of the feature running back for each team. More and more are we seeing a running back by committee, situational backs and running backs who go undrafted but still make it in the league.
Naturally when something goes away in football, outsiders will concede that there aren’t any good ones anymore. That is definitely not the case. As the pass attack has risen for all teams, the quality of quarterbacking has not risen as coaches have replaced the run game with 2 right end sets and 4 wide receiver combinations that keep defenses in a pass defense strategy. There are still good running backs on this league, but the starting running back has dwindled over the years. Not only had their playing time decreased, so has their money.
As we know the NFL is leaning towards a much safer game “cough cough” by eliminating kickoff returns, wedges, big hits on receivers and quarterbacks (unless you are Cam Newton). The running back is just as injured as any other player on the field. They are the one player that everyone is trying to take out on any given play. We know their shelf life is always around 3 years or less, and even if they make it past that number, getting past 30 is near impossible. There are always outliers, but those injuries and hits will pile up eventually, making them disposable and replaceable to the team, and by their contract.
There are a few theories as this phenomenon has slowly taken place.
1. The salary cap.
The salary cap has made it difficult to keep star and decent running backs on the team, while also allowing more of them on the roster due to injury concerns. Remember when Lamar Miller was a free agent, but the Dolphins needed to sure up the defense and offensive line again? They let Miller walk and replaced him with a cheap and injured Arian Foster.
2. Less positions to pay.
Once offenses started moving towards the pass friendly concept, money began to open up. Running backs got more team friendly deals, Fullbacks became obsolete, Defensive tackles became defensive pass rushers, and linebackers became safety’s with 20 extra pounds. Remember how Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher couldn’t stay on the field because teams had 4 wideouts and a tight end faster than your safety? They were there for stopping the running game, but with no running game, they became unneeded, which means you can pay them all less.
3.Wide receivers are cheaper, and more useful in today’s game.
Instead of paying Le’veon Bell to a super contract, the Steelers can let him go, give a raise to Antonio Brown and the other nameless, small receivers ready to take his place. Teams could pay one Good running back, maybe two or they could draft and sign 5 wide receivers and a few tight ends.
We know the running defenses in college don’t compare to the NFL, so guys who are averaging 5.7 yards per carry in college won’t see that in the league. They probably couldn’t get that average in screen passes. Not only are the defenses not up to par, guys are carrying the ball 250/300+ times a year in less games in college. We’ve seen the toll those carries have taken on the Alabama running backs that have made it to the NFL who can’t stay healthy nor produce. If you’re a feature back in college, that’s 3 years at the least of caring the ball 600+ times, not counting practice, catches and pass blocking. Most of our running back stars are done by their 2nd year in the league as they adjust to defenses.
I miss running backs, especially the star ones. I miss the 1500 yard rusher. I miss CJ2k. I know it’s not the most exciting thing to watch a 13 play drive with 10 runs, but I miss it. I also miss the fact that these guys use to get paid. Now they get used in their rookie contract, only to not be resigned, then get injured and are never heard from again.
The running backs are gone, the fullbacks are gone and now the Kirk Cousins’s of the world are getting 20 million a year to throw 6 yard passes and bubble screens.
Oh Yea, those stats at the beginning belong to Leonard Fournette and Christian Mccaffrey who are juniors and will be drafted. The way the NFL works, probably in the second round. KiJana Carter and Curtis Enis. Oh the glory days.