There is a curious thing happening in the NFL.
The quarterback-friendly league has turned its back on the running back.
Most 100+ yard rushing games in NFL since 2016….
Derrick Henry, 34
Ezekiel Elliott, 30
Nick Chubb, 29
Dalvin Cook, 21 pic.twitter.com/zeeRB3FgmU
— 🏈TitansFanatic🏈 (@titanfan8) March 17, 2023
Consider the recent examples of Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook being shopped by the Tennesse Titans and the Minnesota Vikings, respectively.
Then, there is the Cowboys’ release of Ezekiel Elliott.
And finally, the crazy rumors that are appearing more often than necessary on social media that the Cleveland Browns should trade Nick Chubb.
Henry and Elliott have combined to win four rushing titles in the past eight years.
Cook and Chubb have been workhorses for their teams.
Most rushing yards in the NFL since 2018
Derrick Henry: 7,101 (1,464 attempts)
Nick Chubb: 6,341 (1,210 attempts)
Ezekiel Elliot: 5,648 (1,317 attempts)
Dalvin Cook: 5,639 (1,208 attempts)
Aaron Jones: 4,836 (954 attempts) pic.twitter.com/Jo5Hi5TTR7
— Stephen (@Scuba_Steve26) March 17, 2023
Austin Ekeler’s situation is an odd one, and it is not clear how it will be resolved.
This is interesting. Austin Ekeler's on the final year of a four-year deal he did in early 2020. He's owed $5.75 million in 2023. And it's always going to be tough sledding for a running back to find a third big contract in the NFL. https://t.co/SgCbRg459C
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 13, 2023
Kareem Hunt is a free agent at 27 years old and the 2017 NFL rushing yards leader.
Source: There’s still a decent chance RB Kareem Hunt signs back with the #Browns. Hunt was hoping for a bigger opportunity and more money elsewhere on the open market. There’s still a good shot he’s not on the Browns in 2023, but it remains in the cards and is possible, I’m told.
— Noah Weiskopf (@BrownsWithNoah) March 16, 2023
What Is Happening?
There are a variety of factors contributing to this phenomenon.
In the case of Elliott, his contract was ridiculous and over-the-top.
For the others, it has to do with the short career span of the NFL running back.
Their best years are presumably over after they reach 30 years of age.
The physicality of the game takes its toll on their performance.
If injuries do not plague them early on in their careers, they inevitably slow down when the dreaded 30th birthday approaches.
At about the age of 27, they look to negotiate extensions to carry them to 30, and that could be troublesome.
They are constantly looking over their shoulders at who is coming to take their job.
Those players most likely are rookies or young players from recent NFL drafts.
What Does It Mean?
It means there may not be another Walter Payton who plays into his thirties with one team.
It could also mean that the NFL rushing leader is unique each season with no more repeat performances.
What Should It Mean?
The role of the fullback should come back in vogue in the NFL.
Fullback? In 2023?
We still have fullbacks in the NFL??? pic.twitter.com/Zw1TPqkd18
— Max Powers (@MaxPowers44) March 15, 2023
A blocking fullback can extend the career and add to the achievements of the NFL running back.
The most obvious example of this is the relationship between Daryl Johnston and Emmitt Smith for the Dallas Cowboys.
Johnston made Smith better, and everyone knows it.
NFL coaches need to rethink their strategies and go back to the use of a fullback on offense (not just special teams) to help these guys have longer and more prolific careers.
Quarterbacks can play into their mid-40s with all the protections afforded to them (including questionable roughing-the-passer calls) so it is time to look out for the running backs too, and reintroducing the fullback seems the best way to do so.
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