Friday, March 19, 2010

Old RBs

Sweet, an old ass running back from Latrobe!

But that's not what I meant by old. I mean old as in, they are old men. They are over 30! OMG! Old ass men toting the rock. And during my rounds today, I came across an article at Bleacher Report (I don't know why I even bother with that site, but I do) questioning that notion because, well, I mean...Thomas Jones ran for a lot of yards last year and he was old!

The running back used to be the premier position in the National Football League, but in recent years teams have adopted a platoon or running back by committee approach. Not long ago we were talking about Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Herschel Walker, and players of that caliber.

Ahhh, yes...Herschel Walker. He of the one season over 270 carries and 1,100 yards. He was the definition of "feature back". But I digress...I get the point. Many more RBs by committee these days, it seems. That is purely anecdotal and I'm not researching it either, because I have THINGS TO DO.

Every year there is a new young running back that breaks on the scene; Chris Johnson, Beanie Wells, and Ray Rice. Those names do not invoke the type of nostalgia, or even excitement for the most part.

Yes, Chris Johnson had a good season, coming close to breaking the single season rushing yardage record and many exciting runs of 50-plus yards along the way. But none of the players I named have any signature moments that will last for decades, because in the next four years most of them will have diminished playing time or looking for another team.

Hmm. Maybe. Quite possibly so. Outside of the part where Chris Johnson doesn't invoke excitement. That's ridiculous. The mere mention of Chris Johnson's name could get Terri Schiavo's dick hard. Saying "CJ" around the elderly is considered more dangerous than yelling "bomb" in a movie theater. would be if people still went to movie theaters. But you get my point. Chris Johnson is so exciting that I have to go and change my pants. I'll be right back. In the meantime, take it away, "Marcus S" of Bleacher Report:

If you doubt this theory, see if you can name the backup running backs for Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Herschel Walker, and Eric Dickerson. But I am quite sure you can name the backups for the former three players I mentioned., I can't. want to cite Eric Dickerson and Herschel Walker as players who wouldn't change teams or have diminished roles? Dickerson peaked in his second year. Check it out for yourself. He set the NFL record for yardage that season and averaged 5.6 yards per carry, however, he never exceeded 4.6 in that department during the remainder of his career. He was at least a full yard-per-carry worse for the remainer of his career. He ran for 2,105 at age 24 and then exceeded 1,500 yards in a season only twice before he retired, needing NFL-record levels of carries to do so. In fact, he is a perfect argument against what Marcus S is trying to suggest. Same with Walker. Huge peak season at 26, barely anything after being traded to Minnesota. These guys kill your argument, Marcus!

Teams are finding more creative ways to save money and maximize their talent, but to in essence de-emphasize a position across the board is almost unheard of.

Yeah, if they don't have players of Walker's or Dickerson's caliber. Chris Johnson had almost 360 carries last year. Steven Jackson is definitely the go-to guy on the Rams. These guys do exist. But when you're the Houston Texans and you have someone like Steve Slaton leading the way, you may mix some other guys in. Look at the 1983 New Orleans Saints. They didn't have any Hall of Famers at RB and split carries almost evenly between George Rogers and Wayne Wilson (who?). In fact, they beat Rogers to death in his first year, giving him 378 carries as he rushed for almost 1,700 yards. He only exceeded 300 carries once more in his career, five years later in Washington. You know, maybe more teams do this kind of stuff now, but it really is starting to look to me like it's not some kind of crazy new NFL wizardry. It's been going on for as long as running backs have been getting repeatedly tackled by large men.

This strategy has reached a new level in the past few weeks as Brian Westbrook, former standout running back for the Philadelphia Eagles, LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers, and Thomas Jones from the New York Jets were all cut by their respective teams.

Yeah, because they are all old. And they are under contract for a fuckton of money. You don't think that their original teams would have liked to keep them around at lower rates?

Emmitt Smith finished his career washed up in Arizona. He started to decline much like Tomlinson did, only he was about 2 or 3 years older when it happened. Probably helped that he was running behind an offensive line of Giant Sequoias. Sanders retired at 29. Who knows what would have happened to him had his numbers fallen off and had he been owed like, $5 mil. This isn't a strategy so much as it's admitting that there is a bevy of cheaper, younger, and frankly, better options out there to replace them.

If you had to name the top 10 running backs in the NFL a few years ago, all of these players would be in the conversation, but only a few seasons later all of them are looking for a new beginning with a new team.

There are inherent problems with this philosophy. Sure, any team with a good offensive line can put even a decent running back in there and he will have success. Having an elite running back is not just about running the football; the biggest thing young running backs struggle with is the pass protection and hot reads that are required from the running back position.

This is of paramount importance because your $100 million dollar quarterback’s last line of defense is most often times the running back blocking for him or catching a dump pass out of the back field. Now, in order to save a little change they want to roll the dice with inexperienced players protecting the backside of your highest paid one?

Who cares what you could have said 4 years ago? If you asked me 4 years ago who the best QB was, I wouldn't have said Michael Vick. Although some people may have. And now he's like, 8th string behind Kevin Kolb. If you would have asked me 60 years ago what the coolest new country was, I probably would have said India.

As far as these RBs being awesome pass blockers, I'll need a bit more info to make that determination. Thomas Jones, in the role of "last line of defense in the form of a dump off pass", had 10 catches last season. He's caught over 40 passes exactly once in his illustrious, Walter Payton-esque career. Speaking of Payton, Marcus, you should have cited Sweetness. He was 30 years old during that great 1984 season and had a hell of a late-career resurgence.

The myth that running backs get burned out at age 30 is a bit of a white lie. What has started to happen is teams migrate to run primarily a passing offense because the Colts, Patriots, and others have been successful with it. This is de-emphasizing the running game, as New England, Arizona, and Indianapolis have never really been known for their running game.

It is a white lie smothered in blatant anecdotal evidence. There is so much evidence that this lie is actually truth that anybody who wades into it may actually suffocate. Let's take a look-see.

Here is a list of the greatest single-season yardage outputs by NFL running backs. Tiki Barber is the only 30-year old in the top 25. Barry Sanders is the only other player in the top 25 who is even aged 29 at the time of their big year. The list is chock-full of 24s, 25s and 26s. Thomas Jones' 2009 season, which Marcus will reference in a bit, is the fourth-greatest single season by a 31+ year old running back in NFL history, going by yardage.

By yardage, it's tied for THE 121st BEST SEASON OF ALL-TIME.

One more time. 121st. Now let's look at passing yardage.Quite a different story...sure there are some young guys up there, but look at all of the 30+ year seasons. Warren Moon threw for the 10th most single-season yards in history at age 35!!! I don't know if a 35-year old running back has ever even lead his family in rushing yards, let alone all but like, 6 or 7 other NFL players ever. If youth was overrated for a running back, we'd surely see some seasons of at least 30 or so years old popping up on that initial list. But we just don't. Marcus, conveniently, doesn't cite any numbers except:

As a result, these teams have not given these running backs the same amount of carries that they had in previous years, so of course their numbers are going to drop. On top of that, teams have started to acquire pass blocking specialists at the offensive line positions, and some of these players are only average run blockers.

Thomas Jones did more to dispel the myth than anyone else last season; he rushed for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. This was the best season of his career, and he is 31 years old, so is Jones some type of exception to the rule?

Yep, Thomas Jones. Along with Tiki Barber, John Riggins, Walter Payton, and maybe Ricky Williams and Curtis Martin, exceptions to the rule. I guess it's almost impossible to prove, but the statistics strongly suggest that these guys are exceptions. And they don't get the ball as much because they aren't nearly as good as they used to be. Funny how that works.

His career was average before the past two seasons, and he all of a sudden turns in his rocking chair for a career season?  Even with all of that, the Jets still jettisoned him in favor of Shonn Greene, who has yet to play a 16 game season in the NFL.

Money, first and foremost. He was commanding a high salary and they had a younger, cheaper guy right behind him that may have ran even better. It's simple.

I think Greene is a good player, but he does not have the experience of Thomas Jones and has not proven he can make it through an entire season healthy. He fumbled away the game against the Dolphins earlier last season, and had his moments where he was lost in pass protection.

I'd like to see one of those moments where he wandered over to the sideline, begging Thomas Jones to tell him who he should pick up on the blitz.

Jones signed with the Chiefs, taking about a $4 million dollar pay cut in the process. All of these signs point to one truth; Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record will last for decades.  No running back for the foreseeable future is going to get the same opportunity to be the featured guy for over 13 years.

Emmitt Smith ran for a total of 18,355 yards during his 15-season NFL career; LaDainian Tomlinson (who just signed with the Jets) has rushed for only 12,490 yards and is now considered “over the hill.” There is no way Tomlinson will get another 5,000 or 6,000 rushing yards because he will not get enough opportunities to get to that number.

LaDainian Tomlinson absolutely would have gotten that opportunity had he not swan-dove off a cliff following the 2007 season. Let's compare his late 20's numbers to those of Smith.

At 27, he ran for over 1,800 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, scoring a record 27 TDs in the process. He followed that up at 28 by slowing a bit to 4.7 YPC. In the past two years he's fallen to 3.8 and, last year, an abysmal 3.3 yards per carry. But, he didn't get enough carries! He had 292 two years ago and 223 this past season. 223 is wayyyyyyy way way too many carries to give to a guy averaging 3.3 yards per carry. They gave him every opportunity to challenge Emmitt's record in the past two years. He took those 515 carries and turned them into 1,840 yards. Even Eddie George (another perfect case of a guy falling off) thinks that's horrible. Eddie George was ran into the ground just like the old-timers that Marcus noted earlier. He responded with 3.0 yard/carry seasons.

Emmitt, on the other hand, did not run like he did in his youth when he got to Tomlinson's age, however, he still produced. During his age 29 season, he took his 319 carries and averaged 4.2 yards per carry with them. The next season at age 30, he received 329 carries because he was still averaging 4.2 yards per carry. That's a full yard better than Tomlinson's age 30 season. That's why Tomlinson won't break his record. Smith fell only to 3.9 and 3.8 yards/carry at 32 and 33 before playing out the string in Arizona. So, when Smith was run out of Dallas, he was STILL performing at a level greater than Tomlinson did in the past two years. So, the plight of LaDainian Tomlinson will have fuckall to do with whether or not some player eventually breaks Smith's yardage record. Also, after Smith's huge 25-TD, 1,700+ yard age 26 Super Bowl season? He never received the same workload again.

Looking at the statistics, the only active players who have over 10,000 yards are as follows:
LaDainian Tomlinson (Jets) – 12,490
Edgerrin James (No Team) – 12,246
Fred Taylor (No Team) – 11,540
Jamal Lewis (May Retire) – 10,607
(Statistics courtesy of
As you can see, none of them are even close to Emmitt and the only one that has a real shot is LT, but his contract in New York is only for two years and he isn’t the featured guy.

I don't even know what the point of that was. Now the purpose of the article is to point out how safe Emmitt Smith's record is? Again, I have no idea why I waste my time responding to Bleacher Report articles, but here I am.

The NFL running back is now dead or in a state of hibernation depending on how you look at it. Maybe in the next five to 10 years the league will change back to a more balanced set of offenses that once again emphasize the run.

 The reasons for which have already been covered. Yes, it's a passing league now. I'd also add that there are more young, cheap running backs available that can do an adequate job and that collisions are probably much more violent these days. Players have gotten faster. Players have gotten bigger. Joints have NOT gotten bigger. Knee ligaments have NOT gotten stronger. Science and drugs have helped our musculature skip an way ahead in their evolution, which has not been the case elsewhere in our bodies. At least, that's my theory. Someday I think the rest of our body will evolve and catch-up. But by that time, middle linebackers may be able to shoot laser-beams out of their eyes.

No comments: