Insiders

Next Generation of Running Backs May Revive Position

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Over the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to NFL teams tossing the ball around the field at least 30 to 40 times a game. In some instances, you’ll see quarterbacks throw the ball over 50 times a game.

For entertainment value, the more points the merrier. On the flip side, this one dimensional offensive style of play isn’t ideal.

There’s no debating that in today’s game, in order for you to truly compete, you must have a competent leader under center. In that same breath, having a running back capable of taking pressure off your quarterback can lift your offense to another level.

Entering this season, the hope for lovers of the ground game were based on the highly decorated rookie class which consists of Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and T.J. Yeldon among others.

One man that’s clearly doing his part is Gurley. St. Louis Rams quarterback Nick Foles is definitely one of the many believers.

“The guy’s an extremely, talented, hard worker,” Foles stressed. “His vision, when he runs, like I’ve said before, just watching him run, he’s special. There’s not many people that can run like that, that have ever played this game. So, he’s a young guy that keeps working hard. So, the sky is the limit to what he can do throughout his career.”

Despite missing the first two games, Gurley is taking the league by storm. He leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (115.0), 20 plus yard carries (7) and he’s tied with Ryan Mathews for first in yards per carry (6.1).

Alongside the very talented rookie class, young backs such as Devonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell and Latavius Murray are doing a lot of the heavy lifting.

Unfortunately for Bell, his season will be cut short yet again, after tearing his MCL. When healthy, some will tell you Bell is the best running back in all of football, so if he’s able to stay healthy moving forward, he’ll be one of the cornerstone pieces for the Steelers offense heading into the forseeable future.

Freeman, has seemingly came out of nowhere and now burst onto the scene.

During his rookie year, Freeman only garnered 65 carries. He’s already doubled that total through eight games this season and he’s taking full advantage of every opportunity.

The 23-year-old currently leads the league in rushing yards (709) and rushing touchdowns (9)

However, don’t mistake Freeman’s youth for a lack of self awareness, because he isn’t shy about making the rushing title one of his goals.

“But that’s something I share with the offensive linemen,” Freeman said. “Credit goes to them because they are doing more than me. I am just using my athletic ability and making it happen.”

To a lesser extent, Murray is another second-year back raising eyebrows.

The Oakland Raiders are actually becoming looked at as a quality team and a fair share of that credit belongs to Murray. Oakland is 4-0 when he rushes for 70 or more yards.

Head coach Jack Del Rio stressed the importance of having a respectable ground attack.

“Without it, you can’t have the big play,” Del Rio explained. “Your receivers are going to be involved. When you have a group working for each other like ours is, it gives you an opportunity.”

Murray is 9th in rushing to go along with three touchdowns.

While it doesn’t appear the NFL will transition to a running league anytime soon, it’s refreshing to see teams rely on the next generation of backs.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.