Being a NFL running back is a risky business. Certain numbers essentially doom wannabe Jim Browns by the time many rookie bruisers make it to their first training camp. They can’t escape hearing that the average career span of an NFL player is four years. The stigma that all ball carriers will be washed up by age 30 is still prevalent. The ever present chance of concussions game makes one think twice about choosing a position.
These superstitions contributed to the majority of NFL teams employing two quality running backs to protect one another from taking a constant pounding throughout the season. Guys who had no shot at significant carries because they were buried on the depth chart are now getting 10 meaningful touches each week. Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and even Michael Turner owe their fame to relieving the household names of Tiki Barber, Laurence Maroney, and LaDainian Tomlinson.
There are implications of this movement in coaching philosophy, and it bears mentioning for the common fan.
The first consequence is, aside from a few elite backs, there is an incredible parody at the position in today’s league. Arian Foster led the league in rushing last year. Five bucks to whoever could name where he went to college last year the first time he appeared on your TV screen. There are a number of guys who are being called on to fill in certain spots in certain formations against certain opponents. Fifth round picks can contribute like we’ve never seen before. It used to be a unique combination to have “Thunder and Lightning” in the backfield; now it’s a requirement. This means your team’s feature back may change from week-to-week, let alone from one year to the next.
Don’t expect for an NFL team to have another situation like the Titans had this off-season with Chris Johnson. Few backs are even worth the trouble of a lockout, and most teams would rather rid the locker room of a distraction then fork over long-term money to guys who are now viewed as replaceable. A general manager can look like a genius when he’s paying his version of Peyton Hillis the league minimum and he breaks out for 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns.
It’s still a certainty that every team is going to have to establish the run to win games, but it’s anybody’s guess on who’s going to be doing the establishing.