There's been a revolution underway in the NFL that Vikings fans have no clue about. Sure, we've heard the stories about the NFL and the devaluation of the running back position, but, when you have Adrian Peterson, it's like being a Broncos or Saints fans hearing other teams talk up young quarterbacks. It's an argument that just doesn't make any sense because we haven't lived it.
Believe it or not, half of the NFL's 32 team will be heading into training camp with projected starting running backs that hadn't played a down for their team heading into 2013 training camp.
There was a time when, if you didn't have a long-term workhorse running back, your offense sputtered. Teams that had running back-by-committee had offenses that struggled to avoid being one-dimensional.
Oh, how times have changed.
As we count down to the 2014 training camp, half the league either has a new featured back or someone who has been with his current team just one season. If there were a handful, that wouldn't be a surprise. Attrition, injuries, age and free agency all play into that. But when half the league is looking for a new direction, it's troubling.
Don't take our word for it. Let the numbers speak for themselves.
Atlanta – The Falcons haven't developed a running back since Jamaal Anderson. After spending years running the ball with Michael Turner, once he was let go last year, the Falcons went the free agent route again, signing former Ram Steven Jackson.
Arizona – The Cardinals have had the same problem as Atlanta, only worse. They've tried to develop young running backs, but always seem to end up with guys at the end of their careers whose former teams were no longer willing to pay – like Emmitt Smith, Edgerrin James and Rashard Mendenhall. They may have finally found one in 2013 rookie Andre Ellington, but he's undersized and there are questions about his ability to hold up under the strain of being a featured back.
Cincinnati – The Bengals spent years with plodding between-the-tackles running backs like Corey Dillon, Rudi Johnson and most recently BenJarvus Green-Ellis. When they drafted speedster Giovani Bernard last year, everything changed. Suddenly, there was a running back capable of breaking off long runs. The plan this time around is for Gio to be the main back in the system and his explosiveness could make him a bargain pick in the second round.
Cleveland – As a franchise, the Browns seem to make all the wrong moves. They actually bucked the trend of dying first-round running backs and used the third pick in the 2012 draft to take Trent Richardson, but gave up on him after a little more than one season. They signed Houston backup Ben Tate to be their opening-day starter, but, given his injury history, anything is possible.
Denver – The Broncos got one of the most productive seasons in recent franchise history from Knowshon Moreno, but when it came time to pay him in free agency, they said "thanks, but no thanks" and let him walk. Now 2013 rookie Montee Ball is now expected to be the primary back behind Peyton Manning.
Detroit – For years, the Lions have struggled to get a consistent running game going, so, as others have done, if they can't develop their own, they go outside to find it. The Lions signed Reggie Bush last year and, just ask the Vikings, he brought the big play back to the running game in Motown without using a draft pick to get there.
Green Bay – The Packers had arguably the worst running game in the NFL for the last several years. The last time they had a 1,000-yard rusher, Brett Favre was still their quarterback. But, after using a second-round draft pick on Eddie Lacy, Aaron Rodgers finally has a running back to help balance out the offense.
Indianapolis – About the only organization more blindly enamored with Trent Richardson than the Cleveland Browns are the Colts. The Browns wasted the third overall pick in 2012 on Richardson, but traded him three games into the 2013 season to Indy for a first-round pick in May's draft. Now the Colts realize what the Browns learned a year earlier – T-Rich has a low ceiling.
Jacksonville – When it came time pay Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jags opted to let the only player in the franchise who sold jerseys to leave via free agency. They decided to invest in former Viking Toby Gerhart in hopes that he can do on a full-time basis what he did on a part-time basis spelling Peterson.
Miami – The Dolphins have tried and failed to achieve anything resembling a consistent running game since Ricky Williams disappeared into the smoke and haze. They got the best of Reggie Bush for two years, but, when he became a free agent last year, he was allowed to leave. After a dismal ground game last year, Miami brought in veteran Knowshon Moreno to be the primary back. He may find it's easier to run in Denver when opponents don't dare drop eight in the box than it will be in Miami, where they're replacing 80 percent of their offensive line.
New York Giants – The Giants haven't had a consistent running game since injuries caught up to Ahmad Bradshaw. The latest candidate to be the main man in the Giants backfield is free-agent signee Rashad Jennings. He's far from a sure thing, but at least they're bringing in new faces.
New York Jets – Not too long ago, Chris Johnson was viewed as being on the same level as Peterson. But with nobody willing to take on his salary, Johnson was released and signed with the Jets for half the price. Seeing as he's gained 1,000 yards rushing or more every season of his career and has missed just one game due to injury, it goes to show how the value of running backs has dropped.
Oakland – The Raiders once touted Darren McFadden as the "next Adrian Peterson." He's been a monstrous disappointment ever since and, as a result, the Raiders have gone veteran shopping, adding unemployed Hall of Famer Maurice Jones-Drew to be the new old guy in the backfield.
Pittsburgh – The Steelers built a name for themselves as a running team, but after going through three starting running backs – none of whom were effective in 2012 – they invested a second-round pick in 2013 on Le'Veon Bell. He missed the start of last season, but is in line to be the primary back heading into this season.
St. Louis – Few franchises have had it as easy as the Rams. For the previous 15 years, St. Louis had dominant running backs in Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson. Unwilling to pay Jackson the kind of money he felt he deserved, the Rams drafted big back Zac Stacy, who became one of the most pleasant surprises as a 2013 rookie.
Tennessee – The Titans have been used to having elite running backs. Eddie George was the man for years and was almost immediately followed by Chris Johnson. With Johnson sent packing this offseason, the Titans drafted Bishop Sankey and are effectively willing to give him the starting job.
There has been a lot of talk as to how much the running back position has changed over the last few years. The Vikings have been spoiled by having a superstar running back since 2007 as the face of their offense. Considering that a year ago at this time, none of the players listed above was starting for the team he's with or hadn't played for them yet, it seems pretty clear that running back is starting to be viewed as a disposable position … and the revolution will be televised.
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.
RB disposable for many teams, not for Vikings
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