There was a time when running backs dominated the landscape of the National Football League. Jim Brown's title as the league's all-time leading rusher was the envy of the league and the Holy Grail of achievements. It was the equivalent to baseball legends chasing down Babe Ruth's all-time home run record.
Times change and the way running backs are perceived and used in the NFL has changed as the revolution emphasizes the passing game.
Under a month away from day one of the NFL Draft taking place in Las Vegas, it appears that no running back with be drafted in the first round. The only prospect getting legit consideration is Iowa State speedster Breece Hall.
Hall blazed an impressive 4.39 forty-time attending the NFL Scouting Combine at 5'11 and 217-pounds, one of the ideal height/weight metrics for running backs. No one knows until the draft unfolds where Hall will be taken, but it is safe to say if this were the 1980s, this former Cyclones star would be amongst the elite vying for the top overall selection in the draft.
Currently, he has an outside shot at sliding into round one.
It's not to diminish his talents. The facts are the league has diminished the position of running back. The proof is in the mega-contracts recently signed by DeShaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams.
Teams pay big money to positions that are in high demand, and the following table shows the value of running backs has decreased over the decades.
The power of the running back included the inaugural 1984 USFL Draft when six running backs were selected by the beloved but shortly-lived expansion league aiming to resurrect itself.
It should also be noted that until league expansion in 1995 with the addition of the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, only 28 teams existed. In a shortened draft, running backs still were a vital asset to building a winning franchise via the draft.
On the evening of April 28th, as folks flock to center stage in Las Vegas for the 2022 NFL Draft, nearly every position in the league will be called multiple times by Commissioner Roger Goodell. However, the position of running back will be cheapened by the rising cost of building an upper echelon passing game.
Very few teams are absent of a legit back who can carry the limited workload now required to keep the running game potent. Often these backs will find themselves as part of the committee approach, and although there are a few exceptions currently in the league, the wide majority of in-vogue offensive philosophies showcase two backs rather than one.
Those numbers can be misleading since Christian McCaffrey was hurt, and the 2021 rookie fourth-round selection Chuba Hubbard led the Carolina Panthers in rushing. Quarterback Jalen Hurts led the Eagles in rushing, not Philadelphia's second-round pick Miles Sanders. Another interesting first-round name is Cordarrelle Patterson, who was selected in round one of the 2013 NFL Draft via the Minnesota Vikings. He was one of the top receivers in that draft class that never materialized out of Tennessee.
So, the next young group of talented ball carriers will likely begin to hear their names come off the draft board on Friday night when rounds two and three commence. Their destination differs from previous generations when running backs were drafted to be the workhorse and backbone of every offense.
Obviously, day two of the NFL Draft and beyond does not garner the attention of the elite talent of round one, but if you are hungry to see running backs come off the board. Then day two is the menu you want to order from.