For those of you who watch PFT Live and Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, you’re familiar by now with the notion that the devaluing of the tailback position eventually will trickle down to lower levels of the sport, prompting truly great players to shy away from running back and to move to other positions.
It could be happening sooner rather than later, if current NFL running backs start talking openly about their own regrets from choosing that position.
Browns running back Ben Tate has become the first to say he would have done things differently, if he’d known then what he knows now.
“I would’ve been something else, for sure. I’d have been a safety,” Tate told Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com. “I had the opportunity to play it in college, but I wanted to be the guy to get the ball. I had no idea the position would be devalued, but hopefully I can break that trend.”
He can’t. It’s a basic matter of supply and demand. There are too many guys who can move the chains if given proper blocking. And as those guys move the chains and score the touchdowns and take the poundings, they become less desirable in comparison to younger guys with full tread on the tires and lower financial expectations.
The trend toward having multiple running backs has helped teams avoid creating The Star Tailback that they must keep — and in turn overpay — for fear of alienating the fans. That’s the one lingering piece of leverage for tailbacks in the modern age; job security comes from winning the crowd and becoming the face of the franchise.
It doesn’t happen often (see Adrian Peterson), and it’ll happen even less frequently with two and three tailbacks sharing the touches.
Which means that, over time, those young players who stand out so clearly that it’s obvious they’ll play in college and possibly beyond will make different choices when the time comes to play in college and possibly beyond, if not earlier.
For the rare Sammy Baugh-style athlete who can do it all, it will pay even better — and for a lot longer — to be a kicker than to be a running back.