It's simple supply and demand — there are plenty of running backs out there, and the difference between the impact of great running backs versus the average ones just isn't worth overpaying for. This dynamic has driven a wedge into many a football family. It's currently doing so in Las Vegas, where running back Josh Jacobs is holding out for a new deal, and in Indianapolis, where Jonathan Taylor has demanded a trade:
Add in the fact that teams have decades worth of data now that shows most running backs that experience heavy usage fall off around the age of 27 or 28, and it gets really messy between the players and their employers. Hell, messy may be understating it, as guys get downright angry over the perceived fiscal slight their position gets. Take Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, for example:
Sources: The #Colts have given star RB Jonathan Taylor permission to seek a trade, and conversations to find potential landing spots are ongoing. Several GMs and talent evaluators were informed earlier today that Taylor is available. pic.twitter.com/RSrgaszhnj— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 21, 2023
Thankfully, in Houston, we're at least two years away from this being an issue with RB Dameon Pierce, but make no mistake — I shudder at having to take sides between my favorite team and one of my favorite human beings. Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
This is the kind of trash that has artificially devalued one of the most important positions in the game. Everyone knows it’s tough to win without a top RB and yet they act like we are discardable widgets. I support any RB doing whatever it takes to get his bag. https://t.co/sRYfAKwrpQ— Austin Ekeler (@AustinEkeler) July 17, 2023
In the bigger picture, it's fair to wonder where the running back position is going, in general. Gone are the days when teams are riding a running back to glory for the better part of a decade like Dallas did with Emmitt Smith, Detroit did with Barry Sanders, and any number of other backs during the '80s, '90s, and early 2000s.
The whole dynamic begs the question — will we see anymore running backs go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Let's explore this, by looking at the list of all time leading rushers. Right now, here are the most prolific (by total rushing yards) RETIRED running backs who are currently NOT in the Hall of Fame:
3. Frank Gore, 16,000 yards
5. Adrian Peterson, 14,918 yards
17. Fred Taylor, 11,695 yards
18. Stephen Jackson, 11,438 yards
20. Corey Dillon, 11,241 yards
Of the above listed backs, I think Peterson, a former league MVP and 2,000 yard rusher in 2012, is a lock. Some will make a case for Gore, merely based on where he is in the standings for total rushing yards, but he was named second team All Pro once (2006) and never first team All Pro. In short, he was never one of the elite backs in the league. Taylor, Jackson, and Dillon probably all remain on the outside looking in, as well.
Now, let's look at the ACTIVE running backs with the highest rushing totals:
42. Derrick Henry, 8,335 yards
43. Ezekiel Elliott, 8,262 yards
79. Melvin Gordon, 6,462 yards
81. Nick Chubb, 6,341 yards
85. Latavius Murray, 6,252 yards
99. Dalvin Cook, 5,993 yards
Of these half dozen running backs, the only one I give a shot to is Henry, and there is a really good chance that his performance falls off soon, as he's led the league in carries three of the last four seasons, and the one in which he didn't, it's because he played only eight games and had a whopping 219 carries! Elliott, Gordon, and Cook are now committee backs, and Murray has been the quintessential committee back for basically his while career.
Bottom line is, aside from Peterson and maybe Henry, the next Hall of Fame running back is probably a rookie (Bijan Robinson, anyone?) or playing on Fridays or Saturdays right now.
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