Since organized play began, the running back position has been a game staple.
Names such as Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Emmitt Smith, OJ Simpson, Barry Sanders, and LaDainian Tomlinson come to mind when you mention the greats enshrined in Canton, Ohio.
But in recent years, the running back position has seen a decrease in value around the league.
So how could such a pivotal position in football no longer be necessary as an ingredient in a winning formula?
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk believes he has the answer: “Blame Mike Shanahan and the analytics community.”
In 1999 when Terrell Davis tore his ACL, Shanahan replaced the future hall of famer with Olandis Gary. Gary finished the ‘99 season with 1,159 rushing yards, 61 first downs, and seven touchdowns for the Denver Broncos.
Then in 2000, Mike Anderson ran for 1.489 rushing yards, 78 first downs, and 15 touchdowns for the Broncos.
That same year, Bill Belichick took over as head coach for the New England Patriots and implemented the ‘Next Man Up’ mentality.
Since the Belichek era started in New England 23 years ago, he has had 13 different running backs lead the team in rushing yards.
The Cleveland Browns have had more downs than ups since their return in 1999.
Since 1999, 34 quarterbacks have started for the Browns and 14 different running backs have lead the team in rushing.
Thankfully since the arrival of Nick Chubb with the Cleveland Browns, that number has remained stagnant.
1999 - Terry Kirby
2000 - Travis Prentice
2001 - James Jackson
2002-03 - William Green
2004 - Lee Suggs
2005-06 - Reuben Droughns
2007-08 - Jamal Lewis
2009 - Jerome Harrison
2010-11 - Peyton Hillis
2012 - Trent Richardson
2013 - Willis McGahee
2014 - Terrance West
2015-17 - Isaiah Crowell
2018-2022 - Nick Chubb
But only four players have had seasons over 1,000 yards before Chubb.
2005 - Reuben Droughns (1,232)
2007 - Jamal Lewis (1,304)
2008 - Jamal Lewis (1,002)
2010 - Peyton Hillis (1,177)
*Trent Richardson finished 2012 with 950 yards and was the only player since 1999 to have 250+ rushing attempts and not to reach 1,000 rushing yards.
Nick Chubb has broken the 1,000-yard mark each of the past four seasons.
2019 - 1.494
2020 - 1.067
2021 - 1,259
2022 - 1,525
Seasons of being banged up year in and year out take their toll on running backs, who have the shortest playing life of all NFL positions, averaging 2.57 years due to the physicality of the sport.
The running back truly is a pivotal position in the NFL, but teams feel there isn’t enough security for the amount of money they are asking for.
To blame one coach for teams being cautious when giving out large contracts is asinine.
Unfortunately, if you aren’t a game-changer like Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, or Christian McCaffery, don’t expect to top the league's highest-paid list.