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What happened to the Running Back?

Well the football hobby has made strides in recent years but most know it's a quarterback driven hobby and that makes sense. It's arguably the most important position to a team's success, it's the position that the MVP award almost always goes to, the position that usually wins the Super Bowl MVP and the quarterback is the guy that touches the ball on every snap. It doesn't hurt that recently we've seen some great young quarterback talent enter the league, such as Mahomes, Hurts, Burrow, Allen, and Tua to get people excited about adding their cards to their collection.

However this article is not about the quarterback but more as to why the running backs have fallen out of favor hobby wise and league wise. Once again it starts with the NFL itself. Running backs used to be some of the highest picks in the draft but the league has become a passing league. Even the short routes have been used as a replacement for the running game. Many teams have also gone to a running back by committee approach, employing two to three running backs to utilize the running game rather than a feature back who totes the ball 20 to 25 times a game. The theory is to keep fresh legs in the backfield, avoid injuries and the wear and tear and also to make it difficult for defenses to key on one back only. This approach has devalued the position on and off the field. Many recent drafts have not even seen a running back get drafted in the first round although this year in 2023 we did see two go early in the first, but to go in the first round nowadays you better have pass catching ability to go along with your running back skill set.

Another issue is that running backs have the shortest NFL careers by average at just 3 to 5 years and many backs are onto their life after football just one to two years after draft day. To collectors that short shelf life is just not an attractive asset. Years ago the league was run driven, that's just no longer the case.

There are some exceptions to these rules and yes there will be running backs who put together Hall of Fame careers, please don't lose sight of that. Let's look at some current backs in this author's humble opinion who still have collectible viability along with potential Canton enshrinement. Let's start with a few backs who are still the focal points of the offenses they are in. Derrick Henry continues to go strong despite the fact that everyone and their mother knows he's getting the ball. Christian McCaffrey is a wonder back who can speed through a hole or take a pass to the house, if he can avoid the injury bug he could be in Canton. Another back I love if he can stay healthy is Saquon Barkley and his '22 season was encouraging again. He's doing it quietly in Cleveland but Nick Chubb is building a potential Hall of Fame resume. Austin Ekeler is the AFC version of CMC and is becoming a force to reckon with. The next tier has names like Joe Mixon, Josh Jacobs and Dalvin Cook although in Dalvin's case I think his injuries might cost him a bust in Canton.

Young guns to watch in my mind are Jonathan Taylor and Kenneth Walker. Stud workhorses that even as a Steeler fan I love to watch tote the rock. Yes the running back position is taking a back seat, however I just illustrated above some players who are very viable, especially when you consider some of them will eventually make their way to Canton.


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