If there is a time in an era where a watershed moment takes place, it typically isn't fully recognized until years after the fact. It starts like drips off an icicle. Some keep a close eye on it. Most catch up in time.
Those with foresight knew that rules changes that were going to hamstring defenders who had previously gotten away with downfield justified assault of receivers. That was 10 years ago when the rules started to get skewed toward offense. The result has been a proliferation of points and the road to extinction of the NFL running back.
Fortunately for the Vikings, the spoiling of the fan base is entering its eighth year with a once-in-a-generation running back in Adrian Peterson. Every offensive mind and defensive mind spews the same rhetoric – it goes something like this: "If we can establish/stop the run, the rest will take care of itself."
In the postseason, that would be an accurate statement. In the regular season? Not so much.
Teams with potent offenses make the playoffs every year. They tend get weeded out quickly, but they get there. Most of them have a quarterback credited with their success. Running back is a different story.
We're more than a month into free agency. Players who were mid-level to low-level paid players have been reaping the harvest. Jared Allen "settled" for $8 million a year when the $10 mil deals came off the table.
Who leads the current running back free agent crop for the most money paid out? Toby Gerhart. Three years, $10.5 million. The Pro Bowler he replaced – and the fan favorite – Maurice Jones-Drew signed for less with the hapless Raiders. And the only reason he signed there was that they offered more than the other 31 teams.
Chris Johnson, who once was put on the media scale of greatness with Peterson, quit producing once he got paid and remains unsigned in a league devoid of elite running back talent.
Five years ago, under identical circumstances, three or four teams would have been in a bidding war for Johnson. Now? Not so much.
Sad to say, the true value of running backs is maintained by fantasy football. Running backs still dominate the early rounds of any fantasy draft, because, when a team has a running back that dominates, he is a commodity.
Last year, Peterson was the unquestioned first running back selection in any fantasy draft that didn't include a blood relative of a different running back. The other "can't miss" running backs ranked at the top included Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, MJD and Johnson.
Those five guys were viewed as peers of Peterson eight months ago. Three of them aren't with the teams they were the focal point of and the other two (Foster and Rice) are subject to the "how much would we lose?" release scenario.
Most NFL fans have been envious of Vikings fans in terms of having a dominant running back. Peterson is peerless. He is the standard-bearer of a dying breed.
Elite running backs will always be the straw that helps stir a championship drink because if you can control the clock in a one-and-done scenario, your odds of winning increase dramatically.
But, at the same time, the position is dying on the vine.
There won't be a running back taken in the first round of this year's draft. There may not be one taken in the second round.
By the end of the second round, there may be as many as eight quarterbacks taken – none of whom have a guarantee for success.
It's the New World Order of the NFL. The running back is the dinosaur. It's the typewriter. It's a dying position and we may be on the cusp of its collapse. The shelf life of a running back is dropping and the draft value of running backs is dropping to the point that, until the next Adrian Peterson comes along, the dinosaurs will continue to near extinction.
Unfortunately, the next Adrian Peterson may currently be in seventh grade.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Peterson is peerless with RBs devalued
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