Running Backs Dont Matter – True or False?

Oct 24, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (26) talks with Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) following the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

“Running Backs don’t matter” has become somewhat of a buzz phrase in NFL circles in recent times. As the NFL becomes more of a passing league, the value of the Running Back is certainly decreasing. Of course, they still have a role to play. Leonard Fournette was a key figure in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recent Super Bowl win. Derrick Henry was the juggernaut the Tennesse Titans rode to the playoffs, but using 1st round drafts picks, or giving your Running back a big contract is seen as a no-no by many now. There are 7 Running Backs currently with contracts worth more than $10 million a year. Let’s take a look at what value they give to their teams.

Name Yearly Wage Year
PFFTeam Record
Christian McCaffrey$16 million202086.5*5-11*
Alvin Kamara$15 million20209212-4
Ezekiel Elliott$15
Dalvin Cook$12.6 million2020897-9
Derrick Henry$12.5 million202091.811-5
Aaron Jones$12 million202175.613-3
Joe Mixon$12 million202065.34-11-1
* Christian McCaffrey stats taken from 2019 due to only playing 3 games in 2020.

The first thing to say is all of those contracts are recently signed, Elliott’s dates back furthest to 2019, whilst Jones has the most recent contract. The rest were signed in 2020, so there are at least 7 teams who thought their guy “mattered” enough to give a big contract to.


The keyword is value. Alvin Kamara has the personal stats, and his team has been relatively successful. The same can be said for Derrick Henry, who rewarded the Titans with a 2000 yard season, after getting his new contract last year. In comparison two of the lowest graded players, Ezekiel Elliott and Joe Mixon. Play on teams with the worst records last season. Mixon did miss a lot of games through injury and will be hoping he can stay healthy and be a key part of an exciting young Bengals offense.

Aaron Jones got his contract this year, and although his PFF grade isn’t up there with the top Running Backs. He has been an effective weapon in Green Bay’s run to back to back Championship games. 11 Touchdowns and the 2nd most targets in the Packers offense. With the Aaron Rodgers situation still unresolved, he could be even more important this season. The Vikings paid Dalvin Cook last year, and in return, he delivered a first-team all-pro season. His healthiest season to date, and the small matter of 17 Touchdowns. Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t good enough to get the Vikings into the playoffs. As their injury-ravaged defense had a season to forget.


After making Christian McCaffrey the highest-paid Running Back following his infamous 1000/1000 season. The Carolina Panthers were dealt a huge blow. After playing just two games, he wound up on IR with a high ankle sprain. He came back for one game and went down with a shoulder injury. Then when he was due to come back in week 14, a thigh injury ended his season.

Therein lies the conundrum. Injuries to Running Backs are common, as heavy workloads take their toll. All the players one mentioned have had varying levels of injury problems. The shelf life of the Running Back at the top of the game appears short. Not long ago Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley were among the league’s best. Now at just 28 and 26 years old respectively, they have fallen away dramatically. Gurley doesn’t even have a team at the moment.

Playing with Rookies

Finding a talented rookie outside of the first round, and playing with them is seen by some as the best way to go. Not including any rookies from this year who may take a starting job. As it stands, 17 teams have their projected starting Running Back on a rookie contract. The highest performing rookies via PFF last season were Nick Chubb (88.3), Jonathan Taylor (80.7), and David Montgomery (80.2). Who all played in teams who made the playoffs.

The Cleveland Browns added Kareem Hunt (74.0) at a cost of just $6 million a year, alongside Nick Chubb to make by far the best Running Back duo in the league. With a game-plan centered around their two-star backs, the Browns are rightfully considered Super Bowl contenders in 2021.

With Chubb entering his 4th year in the league, the big question for the decision-makers in Cleveland. Is do they pay Nick Chubb? Or do they play out the season, and try and find the next Nick Chubb in the draft. It’s an interesting question that’s worth keeping an eye on. I believe if you can agree on the right deal, you pay Nick Chubb the money.

True or False?

To say Running Backs don’t matter is completely false, but that’s not what the statement means anyway. What it means is that the value of the Running Back has diminished, and that is a fair argument. In what is becoming more and more of a passing league, utilizing high assets (money/draft capital) on a Running Back is fraught with danger. I don’t see Christian McCaffrey’s place as the highest-earning Running Back being in danger unless the Browns go all-in on Nick Chubb. However, I can see teams still paying $10-12 million for a star Back, that some teams will still look to build around.