Durable running backs are a dying breed in the NFL. Every year, we see one of the top running backs get injured and never return to form, or they get released from their team because of an injury. Also, this is due to them being hit many times during a season.
We define durability as an athlete’s ability to withstand multiple hits without giving up the ball or getting injured. This article will discuss why running backs don’t last long in the league and what the NFL and players can do about it!
What is the average career of an NFL Running Back?
The average career of an NFL running back is only around three years. Studies have shown that the more a player carries the football, the higher the chance of injury.
Also, this is because of being in one place and taking hits repeatedly. Thus, this doesn’t just happen to running backs but also to quarterbacks! If the NFL did anything about this issue, it would limit the number of hits backs take during a game or season.
The most durable NFL running back
The Most Durable Running Back in NFL history would be Emmitt Smith. He played for 14 years and amassed 18,355 rushing yards from scrimmage to go along with 164 touchdowns! The NFL also selected him to many Pro Bowls while being named an All-Pro and won three Super Bowl championships.
Some other durable NFL running backs
Some durable running backs in the league would include LaDainian Thomas (10 yrs), Adrian Peterson (14 yrs), Frank Gore (15 yrs), Curtis Martin (12 yrs), and Walter Payton (12 yrs), and Jerome Bettis (13 yrs). All these players have played ten or more years in the NFL and are on the top 10 all-time NFL leading rushers list.
Common traits found in the most durable NFL running backs
The most durable running backs in the NFL have some things in common. They are all very shifty and can evade tackles easily. Durable running backs don’t run into offensive linemen or defensive linemen.
They know how to avoid contact, rush for yards, and score touchdowns! Durable running backs have impeccable vision and elusiveness. Emmitt Smith used perfect vision and got little credit for it. When asked why Emmit was so great, All-pro offensive guard Nate Newton said, “while others run to darkness, Emmitt runs to daylight.”
Here is a list of why so many NFL Running Backs don’t last long:
1. Failure to Prepare
Not studying film can lead to running backs getting injured in the NFL. Also, they do not prepare for what will happen during game time!
Durable running backs study film to know how teams play against them, how the holes will open, and who will be on defense during each snap of a football game.
Durable running backs prepare for what is about to happen. They knuckle down and do extra work after practice to stay ready for the next game! Also, they know how defenders can tackle them, where their blockers will be on each play, and how other teams’ defense plays against them!
2. Poor Vision
Durable running backs show impeccable vision while reading the defense. They can read the defense and know where each play will succeed on the football field! Durable NFL Running Backs also know when to get out of bounds to limit the number of hits taken during a game or season.
They will never take a hit; they don’t need to. Durable running backs know how far they can get when the time is right for them to run out of bounds, go down, and where their blockers are on each play!
3. Bad Maintenance
A running back’s diet and fitness affect their durability in the NFL. If overweight, it is harder for them to run away from defenders or avoid unnecessary hits.
Therefore, many teams require running backs to maintain a specific weight and how much speed and strength they need throughout a season.
A few physical skills running backs need to avoid big hits are speed, agility, flexibility, vision, and endurance. Unfortunately, many players underestimate the importance of endurance.
Jimmy Johnson, Fox NFL Analyst, once said, “fatigue will make a coward out of you.” It will also cause you to make bad choices and impair your physical abilities.
Poor endurance for an athlete is like driving while under the influence of alcohol. When an athlete becomes tired, they slow down and make poor decisions.
Also, eating healthy and staying fit are major components of an athlete’s performance. If they are not eating right, it could affect how their body moves and performs.
Players can train to become durable by lifting weights or doing specific exercises that will help improve their strength. This way, they can withstand multiple hits during games because of how strong they have become.
Oddly, the word durability is one of the few abilities that have the word ability written within it, yet many athletes do not consider it an ability.
Bill Parcells, former coach of the New York Giants and two Super Bowl champions, once said, “you can’t play if you are hurt.” Durability in the NFL is an ability that running backs can develop. Durable running backs are always prepared to play and have a great work ethic.
Durability and longevity do not happen overnight; it is a process that takes hard work and dedication every day! Durable running backs know they have to practice just as much, if not more, than everyone else on their team to continue playing football after high school or college.
Durable players do everything to ensure they can average at least one hundred yards per game and carry the ball twenty or more times a game!
Durability is not given; it has to be earned. Durability is a skill every running back should work on and develop to make it in the NFL!
5. Wrong Mentality
Durable running backs know how to work with offensive and around defensive linemen. They also know that football is a team sport, and those who play like a team last longer than everyone else.
Durable backs use blockers as weapons, knowing where they will be during each play! They learn how to catch and block, so coaches ask them to do other things besides running away or through 300 lb defensive linemen.
They use the team concept to get the job done and play for good teams, so the defenses don’t just focus on stopping them.
In addition, other skilled players surrounded some of the most durable and successful running backs in NFL history, making it easier for them to do their job without getting hurt.
Thus, durable running backs think about the big picture and how to best fit within it.
Ways the NFL can make it safer for running backs
- Running backs should have fewer contact practices during the season and training camp. Players must devote more than half of the on-field time to blocking and tackling drills as a contact practice. In addition, professional trainers train NFL players to prepare themselves for the upcoming season. This training helps reduce injuries.
- Expand NFL rosters to include over 45 active players per team. One method the NFL could take is expanding rosters so teams can have more running backs available. Currently, only 46 active players may play per game; teams typically only carry two or three running backs unless there is an injury. The NFL should raise that number to 50-55 for more durable and experienced talent to fill the position.
According to pro-football-reference.com, the average NFL career lasts 3.3 years, with running backs lasting 2.57 years. As a result, the NFL has been trying to keep players durable and protect them from injury.
Many of the rules made in the last twenty years have helped protect players, such as safeguarding quarterbacks and wide receivers from hits and having penalties for “defenseless” hits on a player.
However, those rules do not fully address running back injuries. Football is a contact sport, and while the NFL may offer some help, it is up to the players to make intelligent decisions and protect themselves.
Last word on durable running backs
Durable running backs have the mental toughness that every football team needs! Teams want players who will show up and perform at their best.
Therefore, durability is an essential factor when evaluating talent in the NFL draft, especially for teams on the cusp of making it to the next level or not.
Durable running backs know they will play until the clock hits zero! They know they are the reason their team can win or lose. Durability can separate average teams from playoff contenders, so do not underestimate its importance when it comes down to success on the football field.