Dying Day of the Running Back

Looking back on the past decade, I have seen a number trends, great games, and great players. But one thing I wanted to look at was how the offense in the NFL has been changing. Very few will debate that the NFL is becoming a passing league and that has put a great deal of pressure of quarterbacks and coaches to produce results quickly. My last post looked at two teams, the Eagles and the Chargers who have had success but with different methods. But I wanted to look at the players who are suffering even more then the quarterbacks who get dumped.


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This past season, three top running backs were dumped from their teams, Brian Westbrook, Thomas Jones and LaDainian Tomlinson. Both of these players struggled this past season with injuries and LT and Westbrook will turn 31 and Jones will turn 32 this year. Just a decade ago, most backs lasted past 30 pretty often, yet it's rare to see a player stay with a team past that age. I just wanted to take a look at these three players as well as another running back that was dumped, Shaun Alexander.

Brian Westbrook:

While Westbrook has never been a league leader in rushing yards, his versatility is what made him great. With five season with over 600 receiving yards and six seasons with over 600 yards rushing, he has produced over 1200 yards in five seasons. A threat out of the backfield, he was considered one of the best receiving backs in the league. A 2 time Pro Bowler and a 1 time All Pro. With two 1200+ yards rushing seasons, he was one of the top running backs in the NFC as well as the NFL. Yet this past season was a bad one for Westbrook, with injuries forcing him to miss half the season, his production was obviously much lower. That combined with his age was the cause for one of the main faces of the Eagles to be cut loose. Now he is without a bidder and this aging legend is without a team.

LaDainian Tomlinson:

The face of the Chargers for the past decade, has been struggling to produce like he did early in his career. With eight 1000+ yards season, five Pro Bowls and three time All Pro, and a league MVP crown to his name, he has one of the best resumes of any back in the league. While this past season was considered bad, he still produced 730 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, not a bad year for any other back in the league, especially when you consider he was splitting downs with Darren Sproles. Yet with the arrival of Norv Turner, Philip Rivers and the passing game became the focus of the San Diego offense and the running game has slowed down over the past three years. Plus with the weakening of the San Diego offensive line has contributed to his slowing in production. After being released he was on the market for just a short time before being picked up by the New York Jets. While his role as an every down back is over, his future in New York could be interesting.

Thomas Jones:

For the past five seasons Jones has rushed for over 1000 yards, gone to a Pro Bowl and been cut by two teams after a fantastic season. After having some success with Arizona and Tampa Bay, Jones arrived in Chicago and had a career year with 900+ yards and 7 touchdowns, for the following two years he produce 1200+ yards rushing a season. Yet despite this he was cut in favor of Cedric Benson, who was released on two years later anyways. On a side note, Chicago seems to have trouble knowing when to release running backs. Continuing on, Jones was picked up by the Jets and immediately started producing. In his three season in New York, he rushed for over 1100+ yards a season and set career highs in yards and touchdowns. Despite leading the league high rushing attack he was cut, and coincidentally replaced with LaDainian Tomlinson. He was quickly picked up the by Kansas City Chiefs, and will probably be splitting carries with Jamaal Charles.

Shaun Alexander:

This three time Pro Bowler, one time All Pro, league MVP and the player who set the league record for rushing touchdowns, which was again coincidentally was broken by Tomlinson. He had five 1100+ yards rushing and help the Seahawks in 2005. He is the leading rusher in Seattle and was the face of the franchise for almost a decade. Injuries slowed him down in his last two seasons with Seattle. Because of this, he was cut and played four games for the Washington Redskins, and hasn't found a team willing to pick him up. While it's risky to pick up a back after a season or two out of the league, but Alexander is only 32, but it seems his return is unlikely.

As the average career length of the running back shrinks, the running backs in the leagues feel greater pressure to produce, but as we can see even a 1000 yard season isn't enough to keep you around. Growing up a Bears fan, I love smash mouth, power running games, but those days are dying, few backs manage to staying in the league longer then ten years, let alone with the same team. Other backs have struggled to find teams after injuries or after turning 30, Ricky Watters, Edgerrin James, and Cedric Benson come to mind. While I love to see long passes from Peyton Manning, I still enjoy watching Steven Jackson pound it through, hopefully the running back won't slip too far into the shadows.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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