We all know what the NFL has become.
It’s a week-to-week aerial circus that promotes scoring and keeps fans interested with countless big plays.
Thirteen teams accounted for at least five 300-yard passing games last year with the Broncos and Saints leading the way with 12 and 11.
The 300-yard passing game used to be the litmus test for solid quarterback play. But with the increased number of passing attempts and the stricter rules for defensive players, it’s tougher for a receiver to be guarded man-to-man.
With the passing game the way it is now, will we ever see the running back be revived? The running back used to be not only the focal point of an offense but of a team. He was the guy that was in charge of softening up the defense and also took the reins when it was time to salt the game away.
This has been a pretty pathetic offseason if you’re a running back. Fifteen backs have signed for an average contract of two years, $4.17 million. Contrast that with kickers and four of those signed for an average of three years, $6.4 million.
I never thought I’d see the day when kickers would be netting more than running backs. But kickers can be an equalizer with a strong foot for field goals and kickoffs.
Another factor that has really hurt the running back position is the recent trend of platooning the position. It really never allows a running back to get into a rhythm and see the changes and shifts the defense is making during the course of a game. There’s something to be said about bringing a running back in that is a change-of-pace. For example, DuJuan Harris would be the perfect home run threat to the battering ram that is Eddie Lacy.
The West Coast offense has also played a part in the running back’s slow demise. Bill Walsh was a genius for coming up with a system that uses precision short passes to take the place of plodding runs. And that has also put more pressure on players and coaches to draft the right quarterback.
The Baltimore Ravens proved that you can win a Super Bowl with a game manager thanks to a nasty defense, but Trent Dilfer only started eight regular season games that year beginning with Oct. 29. Getting another game managing quarterback to hoist a Super Bowl trophy isn’t just difficult, I doubt it will happen again.
The top two running backs in the league are LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson. And both guys aren’t used just for traps, counters and sweeps. They both can catch the ball out of the backfield and have even lined up as a receiver. They are excellent as a vintage-style running back but are versatile enough to do other things.
Which brings me to the future. Last year, five running backs were taken in the second round and this year looks to be the same with Carlos Hyde projected as a late second rounder. Teams don’t want to put a lot of money and faith in a player that has at least 10 years of tough mileage by the time they get to the NFL. Positions like quarterback or wide receiver will not only have a longer career but will also be utilized more. If you’re an athletic kid, you want to play quarterback because you’re more than likely going to rack up a decent amount of rushing yardage as well.
The running back position will never be completely dead. There will always be a need to keep defensive lines honest as a way to open up the pass.
However, with the passing game that is going on, now might be the best time for running backs to show signs of life. Teams have been gearing up to stop the pass for years by drafting or signing big defensive backs and defensive ends that are sack machines. Will this be the year the running back position breaks through and proves its worth?
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn