Running Back Theorem-Chapter 1: Why they Fail

When we spend an early rookie draft pick on a RB, we all have that moment of “what if!” What if he is the next Walter Payton, Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson. We have seen that glint of greatness in their college tape, and now they are going to rule the world! We will be the envy of our league mates for the next decade. The trade offers we receive will be insulting. Nothing can justify moving this player. It would be ludicrous to think otherwise.

Essentially now we are all searching and hoping the next Todd Gurley or Ezekiel Elliott. Come on now, don’t lie, you know you have been there. The likes of Bishop Sankey, Trent Richardson, Montee Ball and Ryan Mathews have shattered many trophy hoisting dreams.

(Please recognize I am being facetious and that am not still an irrational/desperate Bishop Sankey owner. I did draft him once, it sank me, and I moved on. Imperfections made me wiser.)

Why Running Backs Fail:

1. Injury: This is a major culprit and crusher of souls. The dreaded anterior cruciate ligament or ACL is a nightmare causing happenstance. In the 1960’s it meant certain retirement. Just ask the  “Kansas Comet” Gale Sayers who joked “If they’d had arthroscopic techniques in those days, I’d have been back in a couple of weeks.” Sayers claimed, “the injury was only serious because they had to saw through muscles and nerves.”

Adrian Peterson might be the best example of modern medicine and recovery speed. He tore his ACL on Christmas eve 2011, and he was in the starting lineup September 9th, 2012. This particular injury is believed to slow initial burst and cause trust issues when planting. The main recovery time 10-15 years ago was 18 months. Nowadays 12 months is a realistic timetable. This is another reason why Peterson’s early bounce back period was so outrageous.

Like a cyborg AP nearly broke the NFL single-season rushing yards mark as he rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012. That was a mere eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s record. The important thing to remember here is that AP’s story is one of the few gleamingly successful ones. This is nowhere near the norm especially considering AP was 27 years old. Injuries are also very hard to predict. 2. Lack of Vision: I am sure most you have seen the priceless images of Trent Richardson’s vision, or lack thereof. Running backs that cannot find the open hole suffer in the yards per carry department. Sometimes a lane or hole is only temporarily open. If you are not able to react and hit it quickly you are doomed. Plays are designed to maximize yardage. If the RB hits the hole for three positive yards, the play is a success.

Too often athletic marvels and plodders alike fail to gain positive progression. The athletic types dance around looking the next gap to appear. They also believe that they have to agility and burst to rattle off chunk yardage plays or take it to the house. Again, if the RB gains three positive yards, the play is a success. Sometimes there is a would-be tackler lurking five to 10 yards deep in the gap. That does not mean the ball carrier should find another lane. The play is designed to open up the at a certain point. Sure sometimes things do not always go according to plan, but if the lane is there, you must take what is given to you. Having patience is one thing but having too much is detrimental. There is also such a thing has impatience, but as long as the runner is moving north/south and finds the hole, I am okay with that.

3. Poor Contact Balance: Any RB that cannot run through contact is doomed in the NFL. When reading scouting notes, you will see things like “runs to high” or upright runner” filed under weaknesses. That is being put forward as a concern because it is hard to absorb contact when your back and neck are straight up and down. I am sure you have seen a ball carrier lower his and shoulders to protect himself and the ball when a tackle is coming.

That is the simplest explanation I can paint of contact balance. Now if a player is an upright runner, his contact balance will suffer because it will take him to long to get in that protective position. This is also why sub-six-foot RBs have better success. This is especially true in the game presently.

Backs can still be in control of their vision and balance if their head is even with their shoulders. That way they can extend their body through contact to break a tackle. This is the first step in creating chunk plays. It is not often that one defender is way ahead of his teammates. Therefore if the ball carrier breaks one tackle, he usually has a chance to gain five more yards. This is not always the case, but I am sure you likely remember a highlight when a player broke first contact to rattle off a huge gain. Balance starts with bent knees and strong thighs. Those 5’10”220-pound types are usually very balanced runners. When your lower half is balanced you are in turn able to absorb hits by shifting your weight from side to side.

I not trying to diminish the fact that is incredibly hard to succeed on the NFL stage. I am merely trying to simplify or summarize why the overwhelming result failure.


I am searching for the meaning of every bump on the pigskin. From leather helmets to a league with no point after attempts, I am researching with a wide shovel. -married/father/music fan/Raider Nation baby/deli meat enthusiast/three-cone extremist

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