2014 DRAFT GUIDE
The death of the workhorse running back

Mon Apr 9, 2012 5:00pm
By the National Football Post

If we’ve learned anything from the theory of evolution as it relates to sports it’s that those who are able to adapt to their constantly changing surroundings are more likely to find success than those who remain content with the status quo.

Take newly crowed Masters Champion Bubba Watson as an example. The current toast of the PGA Tour, Watson averaged 290.38 yards off the tee at Augusta National last week (fourth) with a pink Ping driver that will soon be coming to a municipal golf course near you—much to the dismay of golf purists who likely believe that anyone walking the links with a pink driver is probably better-suited to playing each hole from the red tees.

Bubba WatsonThe improvements in golf club technology allow players like Bubba Watson to drive the ball well over 300 yards consistently.

While Watson’s success at Augusta can be attributed to more than just a powerful tee shot, the 33-year-old from Florida would never have been in position to win his first green jacket had he been playing with the same type of wood driver that Byron Nelson used in 1937. The evolution of technology in the game of golf has allowed players to hit the ball farther, which in turn has made it easier to splash down on the greens now that golfers are hitting their approach shots from closer distances.

And it should come as no surprise that the two golfers who led the field in driving distance on Sunday (Watson and Louis Oosthuizen) were the same two players competing for the green jacket as the Masters went into a sudden-death playoff.

NFL offenses have evolved for the better in a similar fashion to how drivers have improved scoring in the game of golf. Golf club manufacturers have turned to composite metals over wood in the same way that NFL coaches have turned to receivers over running backs.

There was a time when a workhorse running back was a highly coveted commodity in the NFL. Over a five-year span from 1986-1990, 27 running backs were selected during the first round of the NFL Draft, for an average of 5.4 per year.

Compare that to the 28 running backs who were drafted in the first round over a ten-year span from 2002-2011 (2.8 per year) and you will quickly realize that the position doesn’t carry the same level of importance that it did 20-25 years ago.

To put it bluntly, the workhorse running back is a dying breed that finds itself on the brink of extinction in today’s NFL.

Many of you will be quick to point to the success and gaudy stat lines of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. But Peterson is the once-in-a-decade outlier in this equation. And while the rare specimens with his unique skill set will always have a place in professional football, their presence doesn’t necessarily translate into Super Bowl wins today like it did 20 years ago.

odds chart

As you can see from the chart above, the last five Super Bowl Champions reached the sport’s ultimate game with running backs who came nowhere near the production or talent levels of a guy like Peterson. Those five teams won the title because they played excellent defense and got solid play out of the quarterback position. The running game was important, but it wasn’t the reason a Vince Lombardi Trophy was achieved.

But if you compare the last five Super Bowl winners to the five champions from 1995-1999, you’ll notice the featured running backs on the latter teams played a far more significant role in their team’s success. In fact, Terrell Davis won the NFL MVP award in 1998 and Emmitt Smith took home the same prize in 1993. Over the last 11 years, only two running backs (Shaun Alexander, LaDainian Tomlinson) have been named the league’s Most Valuable Player and neither has a Super Bowl win on their resume.

odds chart

*Note: The category “Average Total Carries” reflects the average carries of the playoff running backs listed in column 2.

The chart above illustrates another example of how workhorse running backs are no longer as integral to the achievement of regular season success and trips to the postseason as they were in years past.

At the turn of the millennium, NFL offenses relied on 300+ carry running backs to help get their teams to the playoffs. But take notice that the average amount of carries for workhorse running backs on playoff teams over the last three years has plummeted as low as 259.1 in 2010 as compared to the staggering 317.8 carries that were averaged just 12 years before.

From 1998-2002, four of the five Super Bowl Champions had a running back on the roster who recorded 287 or more carries en route to a title. But in the ten Super Bowls since then, only one team has featured a running back who amassed more than 255 carries in a season (Corey Dillon in 2004 with New England). It’s not rocket science. As NFL offenses continue to build around the passing game, the demand for a workhorse running back who can pound the football 300+ times a season decreases. In fact, only two players eclipsed the 300-carry mark last season (Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner) and neither player notched a playoff win.

But the New York Giants, on the other hand, won February’s Super Bowl with the league’s 32nd-ranked rushing offense and a handful of running backs, none of whom carried the football more than 171 times during the regular season.

This research isn’t meant to imply a lack of value in the running back position. Multi-tool ball carriers like Alabama’s Trent Richardson who can block and catch the ball out of the backfield will almost always have a place in the draft’s top-ten picks.

Just don’t be surprised if he’s the only running back selected during this year’s first round.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Giovani BernardOct 31 11:12a

Cincinnati Bengals RB Giovani Bernard (hip, shoulder) is unlikely to play in Week 9.

Trent RichardsonOct 31 10:32a

Indianapolis Colts RB Trent Richardson (hamstring) is not on the injury report for Week 9, and should be able to play Monday, Nov. 3.

Rashad JenningsOct 31 10:12a

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings (knee) is aiming to return for the Week 10 game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Ronnie HillmanOct 31 09:12a

Updating previous reports, Denver Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (shoulder) is expected to have his normal workload in Week 9, despite his limited practice repetitions.

DeAngelo HallOct 31 08:52a

Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall (Achilles') tore his Achilles' again at home and had surgery to repair it Thursday, Oct. 30.

Ron JohnsonOct 30 08:22p

Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman (back), DE Michael Bennett (toe), C Stephen Schilling (knee), CB Tharold Simon (knee), CB Byron Maxwell (calf), LB Malcolm Smith (groin), DT Jordan Hill [ More ]

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San Francisco 49res CB Tramaine Brock (toe) and LB Patrick Willis (toe) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Jimmie Ward (quadriceps) and CB Chris Culliver (hamstring) practiced in full.

Chris MatthewsOct 30 07:42p

The Seattle Seahawks re-signed WR Chris Matthews and TE Brett Brackett to their practice squad Thursday, Oct. 30.

Scott WellsOct 30 07:42p

St. Louis Rams OG Rodger Saffold (shoulder), CB Janoris Jenkins (knee), DT Aaron Donald (shoulder) and S Cody Davis (concussion) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Rodney McLeod [ More ]

Luke JoeckelOct 30 07:22p

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Pierre ThomasOct 30 07:22p

New Orleans Saints RBs Khiry Robinson (forearm) and Pierre Thomas (shoulder) are both inactive in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers Thursday, Oct. 30.

Arian FosterOct 30 07:12p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (knee) was limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Johnathan JosephOct 30 07:12p

Houston Texans LBs Brian Cushing (knee), Brooks Reed (groin) and Jeff Tarpinian (knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. RB Alfred Blue (ankle), LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), CB Johnathan [ More ]

David HawthorneOct 30 07:12p

The New Orleans Saints have declared LB Austin Johnson, LB David Hawthorne, C Jonathan Goodwin, RB Khiry Robinson, WR Nick Toon, RB Pierre Thomas, CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste inactive for Week 9.

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The Carolina Panthers have declared OG Amini Silatolu, CB Bene Benwikere, OT Byron Bell, RB Fozzy Whittaker, WR Philly Brown, FS Thomas DeCoud, OG Trai Turner inactive for Week 9.

Justin TuckOct 30 06:42p

Oakland Raiders TE David Ausberry (foot), WR Vincent Brown (hamstring), CB Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring), CB Keith McGill (groin), CB Carlos Rogers (knee) and WR Kenbrell Thompkins (non-injury) did not [ More ]

Anthony CollinsOct 30 06:42p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers OT Anthony Collins (foot) and LB Brandon Magee (knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), WR Trindon Holliday (hamstring) and DE Michael Johnson (hand) were limited.

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Minnesota Vikings DT Shariff Floyd (ankle, knee), TE Chase Ford (foot), CB Jabari Price (hamstring), CB Josh Robinson (ankle) and DE Brian Robison (glute) were limited in practice Thursday, [ More ]

Louis VasquezOct 30 06:22p

Denver Broncos S Quinton Carter (hamstring) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Lamin Barrow (concussion), TE Virgil Green (calf), LB Steven Johnson (ankle) and OG Louis Vasquez (illness) [ More ]

Ronnie HillmanOct 30 06:22p

Denver Broncos RB Ronnie Hillman (shoulder) was limited in practice for the second straight day Thursday, Oct. 30.

Billy WinnOct 30 06:22p

Cleveland Browns WR Rodney Smith (hamstring) and DE Phil Taylor (knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. DE Desmond Bryant (wrist), S Jim Leonhard (ankle), LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), [ More ]

Jordan CameronOct 30 06:12p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30.

Chris JohnsonOct 30 06:12p

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Tom CrabtreeOct 30 06:02p

The New Orleans Saints waived TE Tom Crabtree Thursday, Oct. 30.

Patrick PetersonOct 30 05:42p

Arizona Cardinals S Tony Jefferson (head) and TE Troy Niklas (ankle) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. DE Calais Campbell (knee), LB Kenny Demens (knee), S Rashad Johnson [ More ]

Cyrus GrayOct 30 05:22p

Kansas City Chiefs CB Jamell Fleming (hamstring) and LB Josh Martin (hamstring, knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. S Eric Berry (ankle) and CB Christopher Owens (knee) were [ More ]

Demario DavisOct 30 05:22p

New York Jets CB Darrin Walls (calf, knee) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OT Oday Aboushi (shoulder), CB Phillip Adams (groin), LB Antwan Barnes (knee), OG Willie Colon [ More ]

Keenan RobinsonOct 30 05:12p

Washington Redskins S Ryan Clark (ankle, shoulder) and OT Trent Williams (knee) were limited in practice Thursday, Oct. 30. LB Ryan Kerrigan (wrist), LB Trent Murphy (knee), CB Tracy [ More ]

R. Griffin IIIOct 30 05:12p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (ankle) practiced in full for the second straight day Thursday, Oct. 30.

R. Griffin IIIOct 30 05:02p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (ankle) will start against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 9, barring any setbacks this week in practice, according to head coach Jay Gruden. [ More ]

Mike PounceyOct 30 05:02p

Miami Dolphins OG Daryn Colledge (illness, back) LB Chris McCain (foot) and TE Dion Sims (toe) did not practice Thursday, Oct. 30. OG Nate Garner (neck), LB Koa Misi [ More ]

Andre BranchOct 30 04:42p

Jacksonville Jaguars CB Will Blackmon (finger), DE Andre Branch (groin), DE Chris Clemons (non-injury), LB Geno Hayes (non-injury) and DT Roy Miller (non-injury) didn't practice Thursday, Oct. 30. CB [ More ]

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