Let me start by saying that other the QB I think NFL Running Back’s are the most impactful position on the team. They’re also the one of the most immediate impactful positions coming out of college. With the 1st round contracts going for four years with an option for a fifth the NFL RB group got completely screwed.
If the NFLPA had proper leadership and foresight they would have drawn a "hard line" in negotiations with owners to have the length of those contracts position dependent. It makes perfect sense ( well kinda) for a QB or DB or OL to develop on a 4-5 year contract.
NFL QB’s careers can be 10-20 years, OL can play till late 30’s, DB’s till early to mid 30’s. A NFL Running Back has about 4-8 productive, lead back years in him, and he takes less time to develop.
The NFLPA SHOULD have negotiated for RB’s to have a 3 year contract ( if taken in the 1st round) with no chance of a franchise tag. This would have allowed this group, with disproportionately less career earnings and shorter "shelf life" to gain the benefits of a 2nd and perhaps 3rd contract cycle. The Owners completely won in that portion of the negotiations and the NFLPA should be ashamed that they "sacrificed" that group of young men with a lack foresight.
What we have though is is a group of men around 24-26 years old that rarely if ever live up to the second contract because of injuries and huge decline in production. We’ve all seen the McCaffery and Barkley experiment go horribly wrong. There’s no team with a competent GM that will ever take a RB early in the 1st and for the most part it’s the best choice to go for the 2nd round.
That isn’t likely, nor should it change and that’s based on physics. About 30 years ago the average weight of an NFL RB was about 220 LBS. Average weight of LB’s was about 230-240LBS and and DL were about 250-260lBs. Bruce Smith was a monster at 265LBS. 300LB DL and OL were rare and if that big, they were slower with less athleticism. Point is that the RB wasn’t giving up lots of weight and was generally faster and more agile.
Well, the weights and athleticism of ALL the positions on the lines have increased dramatically. Hell, it’s common to see a LB at 250LBS every bit as fast as a RB. Aaron Donald is a nightmare at 280LBS. So that RB is now surrounded by 1400LBS of DL, another 1500LBS of OL and some kamikaze LB that run a 4.45 crashing down on him. Hell, if his own OL man falls on him he’s giving up 80LBS. There’s just no way a human being can give up that much in regards to physics and last.
Think of it like this: I weigh 220LBS, I’m about 6’ and have about 13% body fat. From a purely metrics standpoint I look similar to Ezekiel Elliot. I’ve been next to guys that play the Line or LB. I look like a dwarf in comparison. If one of those dudes FELL on me let alone hit me "coming downhill" I’d probably break in several pieces. RB’s have to navigate that 20 times a game. It’s impossible for them to hold up physically.
That’s why the injuries to RB’s will continue to mount. That’s why RB’s will rarely if ever outperform ( or perform up to) that 2nd contract. it won’t change unless we clone Derrick Henry and somehow get RB’s that are 30-40LBS heavier and just as shifty. That seems unlikely since they’ve been kinda ‘frozen in time" size wise for decades now.
That’s why a continual rotation of NFL teams a getting top flight talent in the 2nd round and a trade of your RB who’s in his 3-5 year is the best strategy. it’s also why an NFL team, unless they’re just "that guy" away from 1-3 SB’s should never sign a RB to a 2nd contract and even then it’s a stupid idea that goes away with proper planning.
Really though the solution is that in the next CBA the NFLPA sees the flaw, grow some hairy balls and negotiates better for those young guys. Or clone Henry, whatever.
As always feel free throw some shade at my dog, tell my cat she’s ugly or DM me some hate mail. Cheers.