Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
NFL: With passing trend, is Adrian Peterson the last great back?
NFL » Trend focuses on passing, so RBs are losing star power.
First Published Aug 16 2014 08:19 pm • Last Updated Aug 16 2014 11:01 pm

Mankato, Minn. • Jim Brown spinning his way through the line and breaking loose in the secondary with a burst of speed.

Walter Payton lowering a stiff arm and tearing away from the tackler with those long, almost-straight-leg strides.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Barry Sanders slithering around in the backfield and finding a seam to dart through.

Those are the enduring images of grit, perseverance and even elegance on which the NFL’s multibillion-dollar empire was first built.

These days the workhorses have become a fading breed. Quarterbacks are the unquestioned stars of the modern game.

"We’re not getting the ball 30 times or 20-something times a game. Sometimes I get the ball 10 times and the rest of it is catches," Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles said. "It’s just the way they use me now. The game has changed."

Adrian Peterson nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season rushing record in 2012 on his way to winning the league’s MVP award for Minnesota. At this rate, though, Peterson could be the last running back to get one. Even he, with that relentless nature and throwback style, has acknowledged an acceptance of the shift in this role.

"I’m trying to win a championship, so if that’s taking less of a pounding and being more productive in the pass game, I’m all in for it," Peterson said.

At age 29, Peterson is perhaps the NFL’s last great workhorse running back.

Maybe someone a year or two younger like Charles or Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch or Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy will pass Peterson on the all-time list and defy the trend with a productive career into his mid-30s. But there are many signs that won’t happen:


story continues below
story continues below

• For the second straight draft, no running backs were selected in the first round, an absence not seen since 1963. Over the last five years, a total of seven running backs were first-round picks. From 2000-2004, there were 15. From 1985-1989, there were 25.

• Last year, only McCoy and Lynch ran the ball 300 or more times. In 2003, 13 players did.

• Only nine teams in the league last season had one player take 60 percent or more of their rushing attempts, down from 14 in 2003 and 14 in 1998. Nine teams also had two players with 30 percent or more carries last year, up from five in 2003.

• Last season’s leader in team rushing attempt percentage was Chicago’s Matt Forte with 72 percent, and he’s not close to appearing on an all-time list. According to STATS research, the most recent player in the top 20 was Edgerrin James with 81 percent for Arizona in 2007. Even Peterson has never topped 72 percent in his career. James has the most in history, according to STATS, with 89 percent for Indianapolis in 2000.

• Only two of the last 10 Super Bowl champions have featured a 300-carry running back: Lynch last season and Corey Dillon for New England in 2004-05. The New York Giants finished last in the league in rushing in 2011 and still went on to win the title.

So how in the name of Emmitt Smith did the game get to this point?

With players bigger, faster and stronger, the guys running the ball now are simply more prone to getting beat up than their predecessors from the previous generations.

Teams must constantly develop replacements not only for down the road when the featured runner turns 30 but for in-game breaks to keep him fresh. The committee approach can also help prevent the defense from getting too comfortable with one particular style. The evolution of the passing game, with Charles and the Chiefs as an example, has also essentially transformed several running plays per game into short throws.

Thus, teams have a hard time justifying paying running backs as their franchise players. Peterson is the outlier with a salary cap hit this year of more than $14 million. The next-closest running back is McCoy at $9.7 million. The money has been shifting not only toward the quarterbacks, but also the guys paid to protect them or catch their spirals. Even the guys who try to sack quarterbacks and intercept passes are making more than running backs.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.