Where Are All the Running Backs?
by Chris Stansbury

The start of the NFL season is a couple weeks away (Sept. 6th to be exact) and I have watched some of the preseason football games.  Sadly, they are only interesting for about 15 minutes, but I am in full NFL withdrawal, so I endure it for a bit longer.

I came to a stark realization while watching the Monday Football Game between the Bears and Colts.  First of all, sorry Bears fan (aka Troy D.) Rex Grossman still looks the same this year as he did last year.  And secondly, what happened to all the good running backs?

Backing up a night to the Sunday Night game between KC and Miami, the only running back making headlines was Chiefs RB Larry Johnson and that was because he is still holding out for more money. 

But seriously, there are about four or five great running backs, even less if you discount Johnson who may or may not make it for week one of the season.   LaDainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, Shaun Alexander, Johnson and Frank Gore and that is about it. 

Relax crazed Steeler fan or rambunctious Redskin fan.  Willie Parker is still emerging and Clinton Portis has been injury-plagued.  They are just outside the top tier of backs along with Willis McGahee, Reggie Bush and Brian Westbrook.  These guys are either with new, unproven teams (McGahee) or split time with other backs (Portis and Bush) or just aren't the focus of the offense as a whole (Westbrook).

The days of big boss backs are gone.  Welcome are the days of splitting time, having a capable backup and finding a change of pace.  In 2006, I counted 19 teams in the league with a running game that featured no dominant single player.    For example, Dallas has both Julius Jones and Marion Barber.  Carolina used Deshaun Foster and Deangelo Williams.  Even the Super Bowl champion Colts worked with Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes.

So what happened to all the running backs?  Nothing.  The offensive styles have changed, not the running backs .  Here is the worst kept secret in pro sports, money rules.  NFL teams couldn't afford to back the Brinks truck up to a running back's door for fear of injury.  Blown ACL.  Broken foot.  Turf toe.  Coaches had to have two backs ready to play at any moment.  And in the meantime, they'll play both of them. 

It happened too many times with quarterbacks and now teams are fighting to keep good backups ready when their star goes down (i.e. Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Daunte Culpepper).  Each of those teams dropped off the radar that season. 

NFL players and fantasy footballers hate it because the stats sink.  But the coaches, GM's and owners love it, because of insurance and job stability. 

So, the running backs are still there, you just have to keep a roster handy to figure out who they are.

Chris Stansbury