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

Follow @footballpost on Twitter for the latest news

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Matt JonesMay 20 02:15p

Washington Redskins RB Matt Jones said that he loves the offense and has a chip on his shoulder after not being used properly while in college. 'My college career [ More ]

Derek CarrMay 20 08:53a

Updating a previous report, Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr (finger) is experiencing numbness in his right ring finger. He hopes to avoid surgery through rest and rehab, and no [ More ]

Derek CarrMay 19 06:13p

Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr (finger) has a right ring finger injury that could be surgically repaired. A return for training camp is still achievable, however, according to a source.

L. WashingtonMay 19 05:23p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR L'Damian Washington (undisclosed) was waived/injured Tuesday, May 19.

Shayne GrahamMay 19 03:03p

New Orleans Saints PK Shayne Graham was released Tuesday, May 19. Subsequently, free-agent WR Lance Lewis (49ers) was signed.

Joseph BarksdaleMay 19 02:23p

Free-agent OT Joseph Barksdale (Rams) will sign a one-year deal worth $350,000 with the San Diego Chargers, according to a source. The deal also comes with more than $1 million in incentives available.

Tom BradyMay 19 01:43p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady will continue to appeal his four-game suspension, despite owner Robert Kraft saying the team will not appeal the discipline levied against them.

Jed CollinsMay 18 03:32p

Dallas Cowboys FB Jed Collins was released Monday, May 18, and FB Tyler Clutts was re-signed to an undisclosed contract.

Tyler CluttsMay 18 03:32p

Dallas Cowboys FB Jed Collins was released Monday, May 18, and FB Tyler Clutts was re-signed to an undisclosed contract.

Lache SeastrunkMay 18 02:42p

Tennessee Titans RB Lache Seastrunk was released Monday, May 18.

Jimmy GaroppoloMay 17 08:42p

New England Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo's quick decision making and accuracy fit well with New England's playbook that includes quick-rhythm passes as part of the foundation, and Bucky Brooks [ More ]

Zach HockerMay 17 04:42p

The New Orleans Saints have signed free-agent PK Zach Hocker (Dolphins).

Joseph RandleMay 16 07:32p

Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle has the skills to lead the team's backfield in 2015 but he'll need to work on his off-field issues, according to Jon Machota of [ More ]

Matt CasselMay 15 07:52p

Buffalo Bills QB Matt Cassel is likely to enter Week 1 of the season as the team's backup quarterback, in the opinion of The Buffalo News' Vic Carucci. He [ More ]

Santana MossMay 15 07:12p

Free-agent WR Santana Moss (Redskins) is not ready to hang up his cleats and retire this offseason. 'I'm a free agent right now, you know how they do [ More ]

Robert TurbinMay 14 05:32p

Seattle Seahawks RB Robert Turbin (hip) underwent hip surgery this offseason, according to sources. No timetable was disclosed for his recovery.

Tom BradyMay 14 03:52p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has officially appealed his four-game suspension.

Greg SalasMay 13 02:23p

Free-agent WR Greg Salas (Jets) signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions Wednesday, May 13. Financial terms were not disclosed.

John ConnerMay 13 12:03p

Free-agent FB John Conner (Jets) signed with the Buffalo Bills Wednesday, May 13. FB Corey Knox was waived to make room for him.

Tom BradyMay 13 10:03a

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady's four-game suspension could be reduced significantly, and possibly overturned, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Brady has put together a renowned legal team to appeal his suspension.

D.J. SwearingerMay 12 05:22p

Free-agent SS D.J. Swearinger was officially claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tuesday, May 12.

Fred JacksonMay 12 03:13p

Buffalo Bills RB Fred Jackson may not make the final roster if the Bills end up keeping only three running backs, according to Mike Rodak of ESPN.com. RB LeSean [ More ]

Lance MooreMay 12 01:23p

Free-agent WR Lance Moore (Steelers) signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions.

Justin BlackmonMay 12 11:02a

Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon was denied reinstatement by the NFL this offseason, according to The Associated Press' Mark Long. It's unclear whether Blackmon failed a drug test or [ More ]

Joseph RandleMay 12 10:42a

Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle could see the bulk of the carries as the season weighs on, in the opinion of beat writer Todd Archer. Archer pegged Randle for [ More ]

Jimmy GaroppoloMay 11 09:42p

New England Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo is expected to start while QB Tom Brady serves his suspension for 'DeflateGate'. Brady was suspended four games by the National Football League [ More ]

Tom BradyMay 11 07:12p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady will appeal his four-game suspension, according to his agent.

Tom BradyMay 11 05:52p

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady has been suspended four games for his involvement in the deflated-football incident in the AFC Championship. In addition, the Patriots will lose their [ More ]

D.J. SwearingerMay 11 04:12p

Houston Texans SS D.J. Swearinger was officially released Monday, May 11.

Carey SpearMay 11 01:22p

Cleveland Browns PKs Travis Coons and Carey Spear will compete for the kicker job this offseason, and the competition is wide open at this point, according to special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.

Garrett HartleyMay 11 01:12p

Cleveland Browns PK Garrett Hartley was released Monday, May 11.

Kyle ArringtonMay 11 10:32a

New England Patriots CB Kyle Arrington was released Monday, May 11, according to a source. The team left the door open for him to return.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group