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

Adrian PetersonApr 23 05:22p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson may not be in the Dallas Cowboys' plans after all, according Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports. Robinson said the Cowboys have not spoken to the Vikings regarding Peterson.

Demaryius ThomasApr 23 03:32p

Denver Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas has decided not to participate in offseason workouts because he does not want to suffer an injury, but general manager John Elway does not [ More ]

Will HillApr 23 03:12p

Baltimore Ravens restricted free-agent FS Will Hill signed his tender offer Thursday, April 23, according to sources. Hill received a one-year deal worth $1.54 million.

Andre EllingtonApr 23 03:02p

Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington's (foot) injured foot is about 95 percent healed, and Ellington has not suffered any setbacks, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

M. Jones-DrewApr 23 02:22p

Free-agent RB Maurice Jones-Drew (Raiders) will sign a one-day deal to retire as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars next Tuesday, April 28. He played nine seasons and rushed [ More ]

Victor CruzApr 23 02:12p

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) said he believes that he will be ready to play in the season opener next season and play like he did before he suffered the injury.

Justin TuckerApr 23 01:52p

Baltimore Ravens restricted free-agent PK Justin Tucker has signed his one-year tender offer. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Bear PascoeApr 23 12:52p

Free-agent TE Bear Pascoe (Falcons) signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears Thursday, April 23. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Sam BradfordApr 23 01:53a

The Philadelphia Eagles and QB Sam Bradford have yet to make significant progress on a contract extension sparking speculation the quarterback might be traded again, although head coach Chip [ More ]

Brandin CooksApr 22 11:43p

New Orleans Saints WR Brandin Cooks (knee) spent time training together with QB Drew Brees during the offseason in San Diego. 'Man, I love everything about him, his makeup, [ More ]

Greg JenningsApr 22 06:13p

Free-agent WR Greg Jennings (Vikings) signed an undisclosed deal with the Miami Dolphins Wednesday, April 22.

Philip RiversApr 22 05:33p

San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers may be losing faith in the organization, according to NFL Network analyst and former Chargers' RB LaDainian Tomlinson. 'The parts around him keep [ More ]

Jacques McClendonApr 22 04:13p

Free-agent OG Jacques McClendon (Jaguars) signed an undisclosed deal with the Miami Dolphins Wednesday, April 22.

Adrian PetersonApr 22 02:23p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is not expected to be traded by the Vikings unless the team is overwhelmed by an offer from another team, according to a source. [ More ]

Antonio BrownApr 22 02:23p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown said he is not participating in voluntary workouts because he is spending time with his newborn child. Brown said he will report to offseason [ More ]

Marvin LewisApr 22 11:33a

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis signed a one-year extension Wednesday, April 22. He's under contract through the 2016 season.

S. RichardsonApr 21 05:23p

Kansas City Chiefs CB Shaquille Richardson (undisclosed) was released Tuesday, April 21, with a failure to disclose physical condition designation.

Adrian PetersonApr 21 01:52p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson remains a candidate to be traded, and a source close to the situation believes that if he isn't traded before or during the 2015 [ More ]

Dennis PittaApr 20 06:52p

Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip) is participating in the team's voluntary conditioning program that started Monday, April 20. Pitta's career remains in doubt after fracturing his right hip [ More ]

Prince AmukamaraApr 20 05:22p

New York Giants CB Prince Amukamara (biceps) said he's about 90% recovered from a torn biceps he suffered last season.

Adrian WilsonApr 20 05:02p

Updating a previous item, free-agent SS Adrian Wilson (Bears) signed a contract to officially retire with the Arizona Cardinals.

Tim TebowApr 20 03:52p

Free-agent QB Tim Tebow (Patriots) officially signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, April 20. Financial terms were undisclosed.

Adrian PetersonApr 20 01:42p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is not in attendance for the start of the team's offseason workout program Monday, April 20, according to league sources. However, Peterson hasn't attended [ More ]

Antonio BrownApr 20 11:02a

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown is seeking a new contract and could hold out from minicamps and training camp, according to sources.

Adrian WilsonApr 20 07:22a

Free-agent SS Adrian Wilson (Bears) is expected to retire Monday, April 20, and join the Arizona Cardinals coaching staff. The Cardinals, the team Wilson played for from 2001-2012, have announced a press conference.

Tim TebowApr 19 07:42p

Free-agent QB Tim Tebow (Patriots) is expected to sign a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles Monday, April 20.

Stefen WisniewskiApr 18 01:02p

Free-agent C Stefen Wisniewski (Raiders) signed a one-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars Saturday, April 18. Financial terms were undisclosed.

Ryan JensenApr 17 05:02p

Baltimore Ravens exclusive rights free-agent TE Phillip Supernaw, SS Brynden Trawick, CB Rashaan Melvin and OT Ryan Jensen re-signed with the team Friday, April 17. Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

Adrian PetersonApr 17 12:42p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson said earlier this week that he's not sure if he'll participate in the team's offseason program. Minnesota is set to start their offseason workouts [ More ]

Adrian PetersonApr 16 03:02p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson will not receive any further suspension after he is reinstated from the commissioner's exempt list, according to a source.

Adrian PetersonApr 16 02:22p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has been informed that he will be reinstated from the commissioner exempt list starting Friday, April 17.

Sammy WatkinsApr 15 11:33p

Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins (hip) is able to work out in some capacity during the team's offseason program, although head coach Rex Ryan indicated Wednesday, April 15, that [ More ]

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