Will there ever be another Hall of Fame running back? The last first-ballot Hall of Famer at the position was in 2017. The last one before that was inducted in the year of 2010. It didn’t seem too impossible for another running back to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer back then but now with the way the running back position is in this age of football, will we ever have another one?
The End of First Ballot Running Backs?
The Most Recent Hall of Fame Running backs
Emmitt Smith was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010. Smith’s career lasted for 15 years. 13 years were with the Dallas Cowboys, and his last two were with the Arizona Cardinals. Within that 15-year career, Smith only had one season when he did not at least have 240 carries, with his highest carry total coming in the 1995 season where he toted the ball 377 times, he also had some receiving chops. Within that 15-year career, he ran and received for 21,579 yards. There was only one season that Smith did not reach his average total of carries and that was 2003 when he suffered a shoulder injury that had him sidelined for most of the season. That season he only carried the ball a total of 90 times.
LaDainian Tomlinson is the next running back, inducted into the Hall of Fame as a first ballot. Tomlinson played 10 years as a workhorse running back throughout his entire career. He had 3,174 carries with 624 receptions, that was definitely a Hall of Fame career. His most work on the ground was in 2002, with 372 rushing attempts and 79 receptions.
Even the great Barry Sanders gave us 10 years and retired before his time, with him still having a lot of juice in the tank was also the workhorse back for his team as well. We all know what he did for the game of football. He gave us a lot of great years.
There are two things that these Hall of Fame running backs have in common.
- They were workhorse backs for their respective teams their whole careers.
- All three of these running backs played for 10+ years at a high level.
The story is still out on Adrian Peterson, he meets both criteria that the two previous running backs that were just discussed have. He has played for 10 or more years and most of his career he has played at a high level as the workhorse back of his respective team. So he will more than likely be a first-ballot Hall of Fame running back, but we will see.
Why Will It Be a While Before We See Another First-ballot HOF Running Back?
There are running backs in this era that have the talent that Emmitt, Barry, and LaDaninan had, we will just never see the numbers because most running backs slow down by their sixth or seventh year on average. Nowadays if a running back gives you 8 years then that is considered a long career for a running back.
It seems that defenses have gotten a lot stronger and a lot faster than in the previous era of football. Running backs like Dalvin Cook, that have elite talent and get a lot of carries can give you six years of workhorse value and give you elite seasons but can never sustain that type of workload through a 10-year career. As you can see right now, Cook is waiting for a job as we speak and it more than likely will not be a workhorse role like we have been used to seeing with him, but we shall see.
Ezekiel Elliot has been the workhorse back for most of his career with the Cowboys as well and has given us elite production, but for the past two years, he has been sharing a backfield with Tony Pollard on top of the obvious decline in his explosiveness that he has shown throughout the early part of his career. Elliott has also only given us seven years of workhorse seasons.
There is one outlier, that could beat the odds and hit the mark of the Hall of Fame running backs I have discussed, and that’s Derrick Henry, but again we will have to wait and see.
Another reason why there probably will not be a Hall of Fame Running Back is because of teams having more than one running back getting carries. The fewer touches mean less wear and tear on a running back but also less production that a player can give. A player I would like to highlight in this scenario is Nick Chubb. He is a beast of a running back. In his career, he has given us an average of 5 or more yards a carry every year.
This should amount to a lot of yards, but the problem is that he has also shared the backfield for most of his career with Kareem Hunt. With Chubb sharing the backfield every season he has only eclipsed 300 carries one time. Can you imagine if he had the workload of Emmitt or Barry at five plus yards a carry where his yardage total would be at? This same scenario goes for a lot of other teams’ backfields around the NFL.
Again history shows us that the way to become a first-ballot Hall of Fame running back has to, of course, have the talent, and longevity, and also be the sole ball carrier in the team’s backfield. There are a few that are still out there that are on the right path but the way the running back market is right now, it’s not looking too promising. So will we ever see a First Ballot Hall of Fame running back again?
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