kadeem

Are running backs becoming extinct?

We should have gotten the clue when fullbacks starting dying out a decade ago. But we really didn't. 

The last time we had a running back taken with the first or second pick of the NFL draft, it was 2006. That year, 23 backs ran for 1,000 yards. In 2013, only 13 backs were able to hit that plateau, which is the lowest total this century and a 43 percent drop off from that '05 campaign. 

Three backs were selected in the top five in 2005. In the last three years combined, only one — eventual bust Trent Richardson — has been selected in the top 25. And this past season, zero backs were selected in Round 1 for the first time in NFL history.

The growing emphasis on passing is a factor, of course, but this also has to do with the fact backs truly have become a dime a dozen. Guys like Alfred Morris (sixth-round pick who was the league's No. 2 rusher in 2012), Arian Foster (led the league in rushing in 2010 despite not being drafted) and Jamaal Charles (third-round pick with the highest yards-per-carry average in NFL history) have taught front offices to stay away. And Richardson might have been the straw that broke the camel's back.

Hell, everyone would love an Adrian Peterson, but those types of backs are too rare and the top-10 risk isn't worth the potential reward. It's not as though Peterson has led his team to a Super Bowl. In fact, this past year, Marshawn Lynch became the first Pro Bowl running back to win the Super Bowl since Marshall Faulk in 1999. Backs don't carry teams to Super Bowls, which is why "franchise backs" have pretty much become extinct. 

Less than a week ago at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde didn't, um, hide his frustration regarding what's happening to his chosen position. 

"It does kind of bother me," he told the media, according to USA Today

"I feel like they are just down on us," he added. "They don't think we are capable of doing what we know we can do. They are kind of just downplaying us: 'We can just wait to get ya'll' (later in the draft)."

Hyde wasn't the only frustrated back at Lucas Oil Stadium. 

"I feel like they think the running back spot is going extinct for some reason," said Ka'Deem Carey out of Arizona, "(but) they definitely need us."

The league's all-time leading rusher understands why it's happening. 

"I think a lot of teams are starting to think that way," Emmitt Smith told me last week, " but you gotta have your system in place and your team has to have a clear direction.

"I think that's the mentality that you're starting to see right now," Smith added. "Do I agree with it? It works for some and it doesn't work for others. You've gotta figure out what works for you as an organization and you gotta maximize that." 

But Smith wouldn't use the word extinction, because he believes this might be a trend. He also puts the onus on the backs themselves. 

"The question is, Is there a back in the NCAA that stands out so much that he is a No. 1?" Smith told me. "And so far I haven't seen a back that has done that. I haven't seen somebody take the nation by storm."

So it's on you, Ka'Deem and Carlos. 

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

Quantcast