By Shane Tidrick
Does it seem like QB is the position on every NFL team that is being leaned on more and more? It feels like every draft, every free agency, every preseason preview, all of the hype circles around the guy playing under center. Without question, it’s a very difficult position to master, arguably the toughest in all of sports. But it wasn’t too long ago, teams raved about nothing but potential star running backs. However in today’s game the running back seems to be less of a corner stone and more of a puzzle piece.
The NFL that we know today focuses on building teams around the QB. It was always that way to an extent, but certainly much less so than it now. There was once upon a time when teams felt that you absolutely couldn’t win without big time runners. “Build around them!”, or at least attempt to do so.
Let’s take a look at two superstar RB’s; Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson. Sanders was leaned upon to be a one man wrecking crew, just as Peterson is today. Neither has ever really had dynamic QB support, with the exception of Brett Favre finishing out his career with the Vikings. Adrian Peterson has played seven seasons, three where he had 300 or more rushing attempts. In his ten years in the league Barry Sanders only went less than 300 touches on three occasions. The 2013 season saw Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy lead all NFL runners in rushing attempts with 314.
Emmitt Smith, who played alongside Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, was the Cowboys workhorse with more the 300 carries in multiple seasons, including the Super Bowl runs in 1992 and 1995. So what’s the reason today’s backs aren’t getting the ball ? Clearly it’s not a question of talent, with guys like Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore, and Arian Foster the league is loaded in the backfield.
One theory might possibly be the game has gotten a bit easier for both QB’s and receivers. The QB has always been more or less “protected” by the officials, but with rules in place to protect defenseless receivers, what constitutes pass interference, and of course the ruling of helmet to helmet contact, wide outs appear to have a growing advantage over their defenders. Meanwhile the rules for running backs haven’t changed much, besides the fact they can’t lead with their helmet, which many suggest poses a more dangerous situation for the runner than the defender. Rules against cut and chop blocks have severely limited offensive lines in creating the gaping holes that so many zone scheme runners took advantage of for years. So while QB’s and WR’s are being taken care of, it seems the RB’s are still being tossed to the “Lions” every time they touch the ball. Shout out to Detroit’s run defense in 2013….
Another factor could be how popular the read option has become. Most recently Mike Vick and Donovan McNabb showed the football world how lethal a mobile QB could be, paving the way for guys like RG3, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick. There were scrambling passers before these guys, but this young group of talented QB’s are being utilized more today as legitimate running threats.
It could be a long time before we see a team totally dedicated to the running game like the days of old. It’s kind of sad to see, especially if you are a fan of Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Franco Harris, Tony Dorsett, Jerome Bettis, (the list goes on and on). I feel as though they should receive more money and recognition regardless, considering the amount of punishment they take play after play, season after season. But it’s a new era in the NFL and the only one thing for certain is things never remain the same. But hear this, one thing has remained constant and that is a Super Bowl contending team needs a good RB to complete their offense. Though perhaps undervalued today’s game, the modern runners deserve as much credit as the old pioneers to and will forever be (at least in my opinion) one of THE MOST exciting positions to watch perform on the football field.
Note – Interesting point made by Shane Tidrick on the heels of Ron Pickett’s post yesterday. Click here if you missed it.
The Football Eductaor