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Earl Campbell: Today’s running backs look average

Earl Campbell, Shana Campbell Getty Images

Jim Brown grabbed some attention this offseason when he called Browns first-round pick Trent Richardson an “ordinary” running back.

One of Brown’s fellow Hall of Famers doesn’t think Richardson is the only back out there deserving of the label. Earl Campbell told NFL.com that he doesn’t see any dominant backs in today’s game, largely because of the way the game is played.

“I think it’s because the way the game has changed, to where all of them just look like they’re average backs because they pass the ball so much,” Campbell said. “I don’t think there’s a runner in pro football you could say was like a Jim Brown.”

This sounds a bit like a cranky old man saying things were better in the old days, but Campbell’s not really knocking the backs of today as much as the style of football. You don’t have many backs in the NFL right now who carry a workload remotely like the ones that Brown and Campbell carried back in the day and the shift to pass-happier offenses has also changed line play to focus on pass blocking at the expense of three yards and a cloud of dust. That means teams have a harder time holding onto leads by running out the clock on the ground than they did in the past and, as a result, the league moves more toward passing.

Could some of today’s backs have thrived in the style that Brown and Campbell rode to Canton? Probably, but there doesn’t seem to be a high likelihood that they’ll get the chance in today’s NFL.

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40 Responses to “Earl Campbell: Today’s running backs look average”
  1. bucrightoff says: Aug 3, 2012 4:18 PM

    One of the baddest guys to ever run the ball. Ran with angry and fury. Not too many guys like that today, except maybe AP.

  2. admiralgeneralaladeen says: Aug 3, 2012 4:23 PM

    Adrian Peterson begs to differ.

  3. tkesteve says: Aug 3, 2012 4:23 PM

    I don’t care what any old timer has to say. Shut up and let these dudes play. You’ve had your chance.

  4. mwatts1 says: Aug 3, 2012 4:26 PM

    I’m too young to have seen Earl play live, but I’ve seen a lot if highlights and heard a lot of stories about the man. From what I’ve seen, only a hand full of guys can hold a candle to Earl, so all the respect to him and his opinion.

  5. ghostofgilchrist says: Aug 3, 2012 4:29 PM

    Earl would be on the short list of NFL all time backs I’d *least* like to have running at me with a full head of steam.

  6. canadianvikingfaniii says: Aug 3, 2012 4:31 PM

    There is this one guy, I think his name is Adrian Peterson.

  7. yahmule says: Aug 3, 2012 4:33 PM

    During his first few years in the league, linebackers on opposing teams used to develop mysterious back spams the week they were due to face Campbell.

  8. hulkhogansays says: Aug 3, 2012 4:33 PM

    Campbell can say WHATEVER he pleases. I have TOTAL respect for him because he literally gave everything for this game and didn’t turn around to complain /sue like alot of the HOF’ers did. He’s a real MAN. Salute to Earl!

  9. EJ says: Aug 3, 2012 4:35 PM

    The defenders that these guys like Jim Brown and Earl Campbell were running against were very small and slow compared to defenders today. As a matter of fact I bet that Linebackers of todays game run their 40 times on average a full second faster than back in the day, same goes for strength and conditioning. Defenders today are much bigger, faster and more dominant than defenders of the past. I’d like to see Jim Brown running against a team like today’s Ravens or Giants, I’m willing to bet that he doesn’t look half as good as he did in his time period. Comparing past and present is not fair, everything is much different than before.

  10. dcbronco says: Aug 3, 2012 4:49 PM

    How long was Earl Campbell’s career again?

  11. dariusmyles says: Aug 3, 2012 4:50 PM

    AD is the only one

  12. mikea311 says: Aug 3, 2012 4:55 PM

    im sure it not because the defenses aren’t bigger an stronger and beat them up more either..

  13. whowhatwherefootball says: Aug 3, 2012 4:58 PM

    Anyone else notice houw much better tackling has gotten? Lol old guys make me laugh

  14. trollhammer20 says: Aug 3, 2012 5:01 PM

    The very first time Earl Campbell touched a football in a regular season game, he went 75 yards for a touchdown.

    If you have only heard about his performance in the legendary Monday Night game in Miami, do what you need to do to see at least part of it.

    In a way, he is right. The days of the dominating feature back are over. At some point, the league figured out that it’s a lot more important to have a great offensive line, and that even an average-skill RB can put up numbers if he’s got holes through which he can run. As a result, feature backs are less important than having a good committee, with one “feature-sh” back for 20-25 carries a game, one “change of pace/reserve” back, and one “third down” back.

    But you are still going to get guys who can do the amazing, like AP or Marshawn when they go all highlight reel and push aside DBs like they were small children. You just aren’t going to see guys carrying 30 times a game week in and week out like they did in Campbell’s day.

    Another reason why is backs as durable as Brown and Campbell and Emmitt Smith are actually quite rare. More common are guys like Terrell Davis or Jamaal Anderson, who were huge for a year or two and then simply just wore down from overuse.

  15. mvp43 says: Aug 3, 2012 5:03 PM

    No disrespect to Earl Campbell, because he was a great back, but keep in mind he was also running through defenders who weighed in at probably 260 pounds on average.

    He was 5’11 – 244# , huge for a RB by 1978 standards. The only other back that is similar in today’s game is Michael turner.

  16. dizzle69patsfan says: Aug 3, 2012 5:19 PM

    Earl was a beast today game is about money that’s why you can’t slam dunk a QB less physical more glamour earl is right he ran the rock on every play who was his back up exactly

  17. fcoprado says: Aug 3, 2012 5:20 PM

    Steven Jackson is probably the only workhorse RB aside from AP today.

  18. kcchief402 says: Aug 3, 2012 5:23 PM

    Larry johnson was that kind of back until herm had him carry the ball 500 times in a season

  19. peytonsneck18 says: Aug 3, 2012 5:28 PM

    back then the players tackling him wasnt like the defensive players today

  20. dizzle69patsfan says: Aug 3, 2012 5:28 PM

    and for whowhatwherefootball tackling is not better sorry to break it to you it’s all arm tackling unless they got a free shot

  21. steeelfann says: Aug 3, 2012 5:28 PM

    Earl Campbell was a beast. But I do remember the Steelers Safety hitting him up the middle on a plunge and broke his collar bone. I also remember Earl’s monster thighs running that 80 yards on MNF. And finally, the SKOAL commercial with the hottie.

  22. cwubz says: Aug 3, 2012 5:29 PM

    Defenders back then knew how to tackle and wrap up unlike todays players. Players now just wanna hit and be on sportcenter. I would LOVE to see todays players try to run through the the iron curtain or the purple people eaters. Ha that would be great!!!

  23. ibreathefootball says: Aug 3, 2012 5:30 PM

    Is Campbell for real? He would his head knocked off by Patrick Willis! This isn’t the 70’s Earl, a 4.70 forty is for the scrubs now old man!

  24. saintsfan26 says: Aug 3, 2012 5:36 PM

    AP is good when he is healthy. But he has proven to be very fragile. Earl Campbell would play through pain and injuries and continue to run people over. Campbell > AP

  25. faultylogic29 says: Aug 3, 2012 5:37 PM

    There is one running back in the game like that, and that’s Adrian Peterson. He runs angrier than any back in the past 20 years. I’m a Packers fan, but I do hope he returns to form after his knee injury. Fun to watch.

  26. skinsfanwill says: Aug 3, 2012 5:50 PM

    Sorry Earl, linebackers back in your day ran 5.5 40 and that was good. The average lineman was only 250 pounds. So a 250 lb running back would have a field day on those guys. If AP or any of these current backs played back ,they would have had 3000 yard seasons. And if the old Jim Brown was put into this day and age, he would be cut at the end of a season. Tackling was horrible back then. Watch any highlight and the defenders looked horrible.

  27. nagasakee says: Aug 3, 2012 5:57 PM

    Campbell was fabulous in his day, but he was a one-trick-pony and the bulldozer style probably shortened his career. He also really was not an outside runner.

    Today the only runner people would fear more is Viking Adrian Peterson, who can either overpower you, or run around you. He has both power and speed…something Earl never had.

    Someone made a point earlier that today’s defenders are much better than the smaller, slower guys Campbell played against. That’s very true, they were,

    …which makes Peterson’s single game yardage record even more impressive.

  28. beardown2489 says: Aug 3, 2012 6:14 PM

    The don’t get the oppotunity to like they did in the old days. There are plenty of backs who could carry the load just like that. Steven Jackson is as big of a beast as there has ever been. AP could for sure. Johnathan Stewart has never been able to prove it but he has every bit of talent that Steven Jackson has. Cambell needs to be quiet.

  29. huskersrock1 says: Aug 3, 2012 6:25 PM

    Whatever you say Earl, you will always get the benefit of the doubt from me.

  30. dizzle69patsfan says: Aug 3, 2012 6:41 PM

    If you are on here saying tackling is better now stop it and how fast they are now really how fast was curtis martin HOF how fast was marcus allen two different eras and you think earl was slow mon. night 1980 toss sweep for 80 on the fins and he wasn’t sittin out cryin bout money he just balled hard every play C’mon man

  31. bulldogslc says: Aug 3, 2012 6:58 PM

    Some of you need to take a reading comprehension class. He did say a huge reason is because of the league changing into a passing league….Earl is one of the all time greats! And he still hasn’t lost the classiness that the whole league endeared!

  32. defscottyb says: Aug 3, 2012 7:09 PM

    Earl Campbell played in a different era and he was a bad bad man for sure. Kind of like when Wilt scored 100 points, the defense hadn’t caught up yet. Would Earl of been as good vs today’s defenses? Probably! he was a rare breed but probably not quite as great. Respect to Earl, he was awesome.

  33. trevor123698 says: Aug 3, 2012 8:14 PM

    Nobody is too young to see him play live. Im 23 and I’ve seen at least 3 live games of his. Its called youtube

  34. infamoushp says: Aug 3, 2012 8:15 PM

    I see where Earl is coming from, but the physicality of the game was much much different back in the day versus now. I respect his opinion as a “Valid” HOFer, but everyone throwing Adrian Peterson into this conversation C’MON SON! All of AP’s highlights are basically him running outside, or him breaking tackles off of CBs. He’s nice don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t belong in the same conversation as Earl Campbell let alone a comparison of running styles.

  35. prplpuzzetrz says: Aug 3, 2012 8:17 PM

    Love all the thumb downs! If you posted a negative comment regarding Earl, you had negative votes!
    Funny, actually. Appreciating what these guys did in the past is one thing! But, to compare to athletes of today??? That’s just Hollywood fiction!
    So, let the old guy say what he wants, smile, nod your head, be respectful! But, to say, that AP, wouldn’t compare? That’s just downright silly!
    Watch the 09/10 NFCCG…… He did
    Have fumblia that year, but watch when he did , he is gle handedly threw everyone out of his way to recapture that ball! He plays violently & with desire. His size , speed, and desire are unparalleled!

    So, read my intelligent comment , agree or disagree, but agreeing with Earl, is downright foolish! Because it is not a try statement!

  36. tennesseeoilers says: Aug 3, 2012 8:57 PM

    Earl Campbell … as tough as John Riggins and even scarier to tackle.

  37. bobzilla1001 says: Aug 4, 2012 10:48 AM

    Steeelfann: I don’t recall Campbell ever breaking a Steelers defender’s collar bone, but I do remember Steelers safety Donnie Shell cracking/fracturing Campbell’s ribs once upon a time with a bone-jarring hit in the Astrodome.
    Campbell never fared all that well against the Steelers defense. There was a 1978 Monday night game in Pittsburgh, won by the Oilers, 24-17, when Campbell rushed for 109 yards on THIRTY-THREE carries. I think that was Earl’s best game ever against the Steel Curtain.

  38. matthewcarlson1 says: Aug 4, 2012 7:52 PM

    What a joke! Try telling AP or MJD that they’re not dominant. Also today’s players are much better athletes than when Campbell played.

  39. devo2the9s says: Aug 4, 2012 8:24 PM

    Adrian is gonna surprise a lot if people this year. Man on a mission. It may be a passing league, but 2nd down and 4 or 5 to go never gets old.

  40. ansteele2003 says: Oct 9, 2012 8:16 PM

    I’ve been watching football for nearly 50 years
    and most of the comments here are from people
    who are very young and arrogant or don’t know
    anything about the history of the game. Today’s
    average quarterback would have been a superstar back in Brown’s day and today’s receivers are unbelievable in ability as to speed and catching the ball. To say that the old timers were small is somewhat true, but there were plenty of big tough, downright mean players-some actually tried to blind Brown with no penalty called. The front seven of the top four teams in Brown’s day averaged 10 lbs. heavier than him. Blocking rules for the linemen were much more difficult in his day. Earl Campbell was one total badass-that Ram linebacker he flattened was Isaiah Robertson 230 lbs and ran pro track. That hit on the Raiders goal line was by Jack Tatum, a rocket powered 210lb. badass himself and a very much feared man. If you read Brown’s comments on Richardson he actually said that he would draft a couple of hot receivers, which to me is an endorsement of the way the game is played today.
    So why all the snide comments.

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