Behind the Numbers: The Overlooked Impact of NFL Running Backs


Aug 25, 2023

When we delve into the intricacies of the NFL and team gameplays, the running back position has recently sparked an overwhelming amount of discourse. Jonathan Taylor, Austin Ekeler, Josh Jacobs, Derrick Henry, Saquon Barkley, and Dalvin Cook are just a few names lighting up headlines. Their influence on games is undeniable. Yet, Taylor’s recent trade request forces us to confront a crucial question: Why is the running back position losing its value in today’s NFL?

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Historically, running backs have played pivotal roles in some of the most memorable moments in football. However, the current narrative suggests otherwise. For instance, when Ekeler sought a new deal, critics quickly pointed out how seldom a running back has clinched the MVP of a Super Bowl. But isn’t this a limited lens through which to view their worth?

New York GiantsBarkley serves as a prime example. He isn’t merely another player in the lineup. Barkley is a significant part of the Giants’ offense. Similarly, Ekeler plays a dynamic role in the passing offense of the Los Angeles Chargers. These players, among others, are not just numbers on a stat sheet; they are the pulse of their respective teams.

Teams and critics alike seem to be obsessed with numbers. Yet, much of what running backs do, like quarterback protection assisting offensive lines against daunting defensive threats like Von Miller and Aaron Donald, often goes unnoticed. It’s not about merely looking at rushing touchdowns or receptions. Their roles are multifaceted, requiring a keen understanding of various on-field scenarios. Even if a team boasts an all-pro left tackle, the running back will inevitably have to play a significant part in protecting the quarterback. Yet, this fundamental contribution goes unrecognized when the dust settles and stats are analyzed.

It’s high time the NFL and its audience broaden their understanding of the running back position. It’s not about reminiscing on past glory days but acknowledging the depth and importance they bring to the present game. Running backs lay it all on the line every single game, just as their counterparts do. The crux of the matter is simple: the value and compensation for running backs should be on par with their undeniable contribution to the sport.

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Thumbnail photo via Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

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