Question Why is there no more longevity with today’s RB’s? (1 Viewer)

Trey W.

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With all the trade talks surrounding AK and the devalue of the RB position it’s left me wondering why today’s RB’s don’t seem to last like their predecessors.

Prior to say 2010, the Franchise RB was a staple of a strong dominate team. Barry Sanders, Emmit Smith, Terrell Davis, Marshawn Lynch, Deuce, Warwick Dunn, Eddie George, and so on and so on. These guys rarely ever came out of the game and were true work horses. Most have very long careers even though they carried the ball over 300 times a season. So why is today’s RB’s careers so low?

Don’t give me the “today’s game is more physical” because that’s not true. The Dome Patrol, The Steel Curtain, Monsters of the Midway, and individual players like Steve Atwater, Chris Speillman, Brian Urlacher, Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman, Troy Palomallu, Ronnie Lott, Kam Chancellor, etc would destroy RB’s consistently through those eras.

You would think in today’s modern medicine and training that RB careers would be longer and better but for some reason the opposite seems to be happening and I’m curious as to why?
 

St.Dan

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You've hit on something many of us have also realized. The "average" RB of course only enjoys a few seasons in the league, but this shorter "shelf life" has extended to the upper echelon as well. Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore are the exceptions, it seems, to a rule that for most RBs says that the moment you hit 30, you're done and you're not going to get another contract.

Part of this is indeed because the sport has changed, thanks to the way the rules are interpreted and the way it's coached. Every level of football is about the passing game now, with the running game de-emphasized. Still important, mind you, but it's not the main thrust of moving the football anymore. At every level now, you pass to set up the run later on in the game. Running styles like Derrick Henry's are the exception, not the rule. And not even he figures to still garner much interest by the time he gets in his 30s.
 

SweetT

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Possibly the new technology that teams use to assess a players performance, stamina, injury prevention, etc has something to do with it. I forgot the name of it, but SP talked about it at great lengths during the Super Bowl. The analytics these days are used in many games and sports. The days of good old fashion players grinding/gutting/with grit is a thing of the past. Not to mention, for instance, a RB by committee is a strategic approach to victories
 
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durability of most running backs was always below the expected longevity of other positions. I think I remember seeing the "average" was something like 5 years and that was maybe 2 decades ago. But the all time greats either ran on exclusively grass or mostly grass. Grass hurts less to fall on, and defenses do not get as much speed before they hit you. Couple that with overall greater speed and training for defenses and you have most of the culprits.
 
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also, old style running of getting on your guards back and trying to help move a pile, while strenuous, is far less likely to get you hurt than catching a pass in the flat turned away from a defender coming at full speed.
 

BIGRON

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Their durability is a big reason why most teams don't believe in drafting a RB in the 1st round. Most of them can't get a big payday after their rookie contract.
 

jasonsw

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Many of the best athletes also don't play running back anymore. The fact that The people who tackle running backs now are stronger and faster doesn't help now either. Plus they are put out in open space more makes them prone to taking harder hits. In addition the rules haven't been changed on what defenders can do to RBs. QBs, TEs and WRs have all benefited from rule changes.
 

TribuneUK

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Possibly the new technology that teams use to assess a players performance, stamina, injury prevention, etc has something to do with it. I forgot the name of it, but SP talked about it at great lengths during the Super Bowl. The analytics these days are used in many games and sports. The days of good old fashion players grinding/gutting/with grit is a thing of the past. Not to mention, for instance, a RB by committee is a strategic approach to victories
GPS tracking. I went to a seminar 8-10yrs ago and they showed us what could be done with one stitched into every player's shirt. Where they run, how fast they do it etc.

Further to your point, the lecturer gave the specific example of a great player who had been playing a 'full game' for most of his career. The analytics guys arrived, looked at the data and promptly advised exactly when in games the coaches should take him out, to preserve his overall health, based on the fact that his athletic performance and decision making fell off a cliff after that point, in game after game. It actually benefited both the team and the player to manage his workload that way.
 

sfidc3

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Most RBs are now smaller and quicker than those of the past. Also, they’re asked to catch more passes than any other time in history, which puts them at more risk of big hits from linebackers at full speed in open space.

This and I also think the lack of FB's have something to do with it as well. I remember the great FB's referred to as the RB's protector.....
 

Wild Magnolia

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A few possibilities:

1. Selection bias -- as others have mentioned, you're using HOF backs as your basis of comparison. We still have/had some of those in our era -- Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, etc. Are they the exception? Of course, but they were probably the exception in prior eras too. Surely the 1970s had guys along the same lines as Knowshon Moreno, or Doug Martin, or BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- guys that made a splash in the league but quickly fizzled. But we don't remember them.

2. Different usage -- RBs today are asked to do a whole lot, including playing WR. Elite athleticism is more important.

3. Teams run less -- this doesn't mean RBs break down earlier, but it does lead to many superstars like Leveon Bell getting shuffled around the league, because the team that drafted them doesn't want to pay them big money -- and oftentimes this leads to them joining a bad organization, and their career dwindles.

4. Maybe veteran RBs were never a good investment? Maybe modern NFL teams have just learned from experience, and are smarter about moving on before it's too late. I'm not sure I believe this one, but it's possible that teams should have moved on from the Emmitt Smiths and Eddie Georges of the world sooner than they did, but kept paying them big money for nostalgia reasons. For example, Smith never topped 4.0 yards per carry during his last four seasons. George averaged around 3.2 for his last four seasons.
 
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St.Dan

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A few possibilities:

1. Selection bias -- as others have mentioned, you're using HOF backs as your basis of comparison. We still have/had some of those in our era -- Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, etc. Are they the exception? Of course, but they were probably the exception in prior eras too. Surely the 1970s had guys like Knowshon Moreno, or Doug Martin, or BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- guys that made a splash in the league but quickly fizzled. But we don't remember them.

2. Different usage -- RBs today are asked to do a whole lot, including playing WR. Elite athleticism is more important.

3. Teams run less -- this doesn't mean RBs break down earlier, but it does lead to many superstars like Leveon Bell getting shuffled around the league, because the team that drafted them doesn't want to pay them big money -- and oftentimes this leads to them joining a bad organization, and their career dwindles.

3. Maybe veteran RBs were never a good investment? Maybe modern NFL teams have just learned from experience, and are smarter about moving on before it's too late. I'm not sure I believe this one, but it's possible that teams should have moved on from the Emmitt Smiths and Eddie Georges of the world sooner than they did, but kept paying them big money for nostalgia reasons. For example, Smith never topped 4.0 yards per carry during his last four seasons. George averaged around 3.2 for his last four seasons.

I'm guessing you meant to type the 2000s? Those guys didn't play in the 1970s. I remember them ;)
 

sainthood

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It is a moneyball argument. Adequate running backs are not rare. Running plays in the modern NFL are the minority. In the past they were the majority. As the game involved through the success of Bill Walsh, short passes to running backs replaced many rushing downs and rushing touchdowns. Quarterback play has elevated across the league to maximize the efficiency of the short passing game compared to the strong armed bombers of years past. Given the salary cap the maximum draft value to improve a running game is to have a strong offensive line and passing game and fill in a running back drafted outside the first two rounds. Running backs split time in a system and never get the bulk of carries of an Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton. Players like Marshall Faulk, Edjarin James, or Ladanlian Tomlison became the mold. The new guard of McCaffery, Elliot, or Gurley are bad financial decisions due to the efficiency of replacement compared to cap space and draft capital. It is not that they cannot play at all, but they are in general not as good as their younger selves. Their injury risk and cap requirement both increase. Moneyball says you do not re-sign running backs to large contracts because your overall team will suffer. Players like Mark Ingram and Latvious Murray can stay in the league and get second contracts but with lower cap numbers relative to a linebacker of lineman with a similar veteran contract, but this usually requires the player to switch teams to save face based on the human embarrassment of accepting the modern NFL running back's fiscal reality.
 

Wild Magnolia

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I'm guessing you meant to type the 2000s? Those guys didn't play in the 1970s. I remember them ;)
Sorry, I was less than clear. I meant, the 70s had guys similar/analogous to them, whom we do not remember.
 

UFCSaint

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My two cents:

1. Players and teams are wary of concussions now. So early retirements or other teams don't want to touch them if cut.
2. Because of how strict the helmet to helmet is now...defenders are going for the knees, legs, ankles. More season/career ending injuries there.
3. It's become a pass-happy game. So if you are not a running back who catches out of the back field...there is not as big of a market for you. Therefore teams can go with a cheaper option.
 

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