A call for a running play seems to be a play that’s low risk for a high reward. Less of a chance of an interception being thrown, less of a chance of a turnover, and it’s a way to wear out an defensive line. It’s very vital to a good offense to have solid NFL running backs that can get a good amount of yards per attempt even in pass heavy offenses. That being said, paying them a ton of money makes no sense either. Solid NFL running backs are quite common, and you could arguably just draft a fresh pair of legs every 4-5 years.
“But superstar running backs are fun to watch!” you may say. “When I watched football, we grounded and pounded” you may say. “Hey didn’t you say the Browns should have Nick Chubb be the focal point of the Browns offense?” you also may point out. I’ll get to all of these points and more.
Superstar NFL Running Backs Are Short Lived
Arian Foster was 2010’s rushing leader, and he retired at the age of 30 after falling off in his final two seasons at 29 and 30. Maurice Jones-Drew won it in 2011, and never ran for 1,000 yards again, retiring after his age 29 season. Adrian Peterson won two rushing titles, one in 2012 and again in 2015, but after that he dropped off. LeSean McCoy stuck around since his rushing title in 2013, but he hasn’t rushed for 600 yards since his age 29 season. DeMarco Murray won the rushing title, had a good 2016, then fell off, never playing past his age 29 season. The guys after that are still young and so I can’t speak for them yet.
The point is, that these rushing titles and leaders fall off very quickly, and so while they are stars, they’re never NFL running back stars beyond their age 30 season usually.
A Changing Game
Today’s game simply is just more pass heavy. It makes sense as well, passers are better than ever and Quarterbacks play for much longer. The Quarterback position needs to be the one stable position on your offense. Everything else can be drafted, developed, or signed. While yes the run is still important, it doesn’t need a Barry Sanders anymore. It can be a LeSean McCoy past his prime and Damien Williams. This is all as long as you have the mainstay QB. NFL running backs simply have value merely in yards, not in their name or allure anymore.
Running Offenses Through the Run Works For Young QBs
The only time I’d shift an offenses focal point to the run is if it benefits the quarterback. To simply put it, play action passes make Baker Mayfield a ton better. That’s almost half of a running back’s value. Mayfield averaged over 8.4 yards per attempt on play action passes in 2019, which is much higher than his 7.2 Yards per Attempt normally last year. When I say “run the offense through a running back”it’s because right then and there the running back is better than the quarterback, and you want to help the quarterback eventually become better.
I still think the running back core is important, but the yards you get matter way more than how you get it and with which NFL running back(s) you get it with. No matter how you slice it, NFL running backs just don’t have the value to get paid huge dollars.