NFL Running Backs Feeling The Pain- The Short Life Of Halfback Stardom

Samuel Bell JrSenior Analyst IAugust 15, 2008

When I look at all of the NFL holdouts of recent memory, guys like Devin Hester, Plaxico Burress and Chad Johnson come to mind.

With the exception of Steven Jackson, who must believe that he doesn't have much money years left in him, running backs have been on good behavior this off-season.

After all, they take the most hits of any position on a football field. Quarterbacks take many hits too, but with all of the rules against hitting them hard, it's not comparable to the hits tailbacks take.

I would expect an influx of holdouts from RB's before wide receivers, because they have a shorter "prime-life" than any other position.

Football is a tough sport, and a career-threatening or even life-threatening injury can be waiting at every play, but the years of abuse on running backs make it tough to stay on top.

Also, the running backs considered the best in the last five to ten years have changed so frequently.

It's a fantasy nightmare sometimes picking running backs because the high potential for injury, but the ability for second-string backs to come in and make a difference can salvage a season.

Guys like Ryan Grant, Earnest Graham and Michael Turner have been valuable to teams although they weren't the starters in Week One.

Injuries have plagued stars like Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson and Frank Gore recently, and their teams suffered as a result.

The longevity enjoyed by former NFL stars like Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen and Larry Csonka is almost non-existent amongst today's running backs, and the speed of the game and more complex defenses may be the culprit.

Regardless of the reasons why, running backs haven't enjoyed the health of it's predecessors.

Maybe it's the steroids (just joking!), the fierce hitting, or the evolution of the players bodies, but the proof is in the Jello.

Running backs are being hurt more often, and the changing of the elite running back guard is happening faster.

Here is a look at the top 3 rushing leaders since 2003, and their production for the next season after their successful year.


1. Jamal Lewis, Baltimore- 387 car., 2066 yds., 14 TD (235, 1006, 7 TD in 2004) 1060 Yard, 7 TD Drop

2. Ahman Green, Green Bay- 355 car., 1883 yds., 15 TD (259, 1163, 7 TD in 2004) 720 Yard, 8 TD Drop

3. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego- 313 car., 1645 yds., 13 TD (339, 1335, 17 TD in 2004) 310 Yard Drop


1. Curtis Martin, New York B- 371 car., 1697 yds., 12 TD (220, 735, 5 TD in 2005) 962 Yard, 151 Carry, 7 TD Drop

2. Shaun Alexander, Seattle- 353 car., 1696 yds., 16 TD (370, 1880, 27 TD in 2005) 184 Yard, 11 TD INCREASE

3. Corey Dillon, New England- 345 car., 1635 yds., 12 TD (209, 733, 12 TD in 2005) 136 Carry, 902 Yard Drop


1. Shaun Alexander, Seattle- 370 car., 1880 yds., 27 TD (252, 896, 7 TD in 2006) 118 Carry, 984 Yard, 20 TD Drop

2. Tiki Barber, New York A- 357 car., 1860 yds., 9 TD (327, 1662, 5 TD in 2006) No Significant Drop

3. Larry Johnson, Kansas City- 336 car., 1750 yds., 20 TD (416, 1789, 17 TD in 2006) No Significant Drop


1. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego- 348 car., 1815 yds., 28 TD (315, 1474, 15 TD in 2007) 341 Yard, 13 TD Drop

2. Larry Johnson, Kansas City- 416 car., 1789 yds., 17 TD (158, 559, 3 TD in 2007) 8 Game, 268 Carry, 1230 Yard, 14 TD Drop

3. Frank Gore, San Francisco- 312 car., 1695 yds., 8 TD (260, 1102, 5 TD in 2007) 593 Yard, 3 TD Drop


1. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego- 315 car., 1474 yds., 15 TD

2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota- 238 car., 1341 yds., 12 TD

3. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia- 278 car., 1333 yds., 7 TD

As the stats tell, tailbacks don't stay at the top for long. Injuries and age take quick tolls on the NFL's rushing leaders.

With the exception of the NFL's most consistent, legitimate ground leader LaDainian Tomlinson, only Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander were able to stay in the top 3 for more than one year in that time period.

With all due respect to Curtis Martin, who retired in that span, the inconsistency is mostly due to injuries. Larry Johnson, Frank Gore and Shaun Alexander suffered significant injuries in that time period.

That means if your name isn't LaDainian, you will get hurt after a marquee season and kill many fantasy and REAL teams. That scares me with drafting a guy like Adrian Peterson or Larry Johnson, because history doesn't treat them very well.

I guess trying to find the next young stud, like a Darren McFadden is the key to success. Every year new stars emerge while the season stars from a year ago suffer, and that is a trend.

So before we christen the next RB star as a consistent threat, it might be smart to check the stats.

History always repeats itself.


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