The running back position has become a center of massive debate; dividing fans, insiders, and league front offices alike. With Indianapolis Colts star running back, Jonathan Taylor, getting the green light to seek a trade, calculating the value of running back in today’s NFL is not that simple.
Year by year, NFL teams have become more pass-happy in their offensive schemes, making old-school, workhorse running backs either left out or pushing them into an additional pass-catching option. Many will argue that running backs have arguably the shortest careers in the NFL out of all positions, and the beatings received in the trenches make most teams hesitant to pay them more.
Others say that the running backs are vital in setting up the passing game and taking pressure off of the quarterback, keeping defenses on their heels, and taking pressure off of the signal callers. There are a handful of teams where the position carries the offense all by themselves.
Today, we look at said franchises that cannot afford to let their running backs walk away.
NFL Teams Who Can’t Afford to Lose Their Running Backs
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry
One can make the argument that Derrick Henry IS the Tennessee Titans’ offense, with good reason. The three-time All-Pro led the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in two consecutive seasons. Plus, he was 2020’s Offensive Player of the Year for rushing over 2,000 yards. He may be closing in on the age of 30. But Henry does not show much signs of slowing down.
Needless to say, the rest of the Titans’ offense is not anything to write home about. Ever since they foolishly traded star wide-receiver, A.J. Brown, to Philadelphia in 2022, the passing attack took a significant blow to their production. Things would have been worse if Henry hadn’t erupted with over 1,500 yards and 13 touchdowns.
With lots of questions at both the wide receiver and quarterback positions, it will be wise for Tennessee to start building around #22. Without him, the Titans will descend into irrelevance in no time.
Cleveland Browns: Nick Chubb
The four-time Pro-Bowler is arguably the best player on the Browns’ offense. With over 6,000 rushing yards and averaging over five yards a carry in his first five seasons, Nick Chubb is always a problem with the ball in his hands. But it goes without saying, the rest of the offense needs to catch up to #24.
The quarterback position is under the most scrutiny on this team. Deshaun Watson had a shaky start to his Browns tenure last season and needs to produce as he did with Houston. Luckily, he will have a list of veteran targets to choose from. Said veterans include Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Back-up signal callers, Kellen Mond and Dorian Thompson-Robinson have shown promise in the current preseason. But both are young and will need more time to get acquainted with the playbook.
The phrase, “Help me help you” rings true in this situation.
If Watson and company can get the passing game off the ground, it will be of huge help for Nick Chubb. This will lighten #24’s load, so he can continue to perform at a high level, and for longer, too.
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley
The New York Giants had a 2022 season nobody could have predicted. Not only did they catch a spot in the playoffs, but they also knocked off the Minnesota Vikings on the road. 2022’s good fortunes came in no small part from Saquon Barkley.
After fighting injuries for two seasons, Barkley let loose with a career-high in rushing yards (1,312) and tallied 10 touchdowns on the ground. Grabbing his first Pro Bowl honor since 2018, #26 seems back to his old self. This past March, Barkley and the New York Giants agreed to a non-exclusive franchise tag adjusted to add a $2 million bonus and incentives.
In a manner similar to Chubb, Barkley needs his teammates to step up on offense. Quarterback, Daniel Jones, does show signs of improvement. But last year proves how well Jones and Barkley work together. With more weapons coming to the Big Blue, like Jalin Hyatt and Darren Waller, New York can bid for a deeper playoff run.
New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara
Alvin Kamara has been a force to be reckoned with ever since his rookie season. Having head coach, Sean Payton, and quarterback Drew Brees, around helped Kamara find his footing quickly. Five Pro-Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections later, Kamara’s utility in the running and passing games has made him a go-to guy to bail the Saints offense out of sticky situations.
The 2022 season, however, was a down year for New Orleans. Both Payton and Brees moved on in 2021, and the Saints went 7-10 under new head coach, Dennis Allen. In addition, Kamara got into some legal trouble after an altercation in Las Vegas and will serve a three-game suspension to start 2023.
Luckily for New Orleans, the issue at the quarterback position seems to have an answer. Longtime Raiders signal caller, Derek Carr, will dawn the black and gold in time for the new campaign. Carr will have to wait a bit for Kamara to come back. But once #41 returns from suspension, New Orleans can start to revamp the electrifying offense it once had.
Check back next week as we examine more teams who need to keep their running backs around.