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Almost Feel Bad For RB’s:


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Cause I don’t see many more getting lucrative deals once their rookie contracts expire.  Their value to the success of a team is still tremendous, but their bodies simply can’t hold up through their 2nd contract.  I think RB contracts should be fully guaranteed.

My view: draft a running back in the 1st round, but don’t give one a 2nd contract


All the NFL running backs who could get paid in 2020, and why recent deals look like disaster 

The 2017 running back class is something special. Five of the league's seven leading rushers -- Christian McCaffrey (first), Dalvin Cook (second), Marlon Mack (fifth), Leonard Fournette (sixth), and Chris Carson (seventh) -- are from the 2017 draft. McCaffrey is tied for the league lead in touchdowns with Aaron Jones, who is also from that 2017 class. Alvin Kamara and James Conner have struggled with injuries, but they're also 2017 studs. Throw in undrafted free agent Matt Breida and 10 of the league's 32 starting backs are from the 2017 class, and that's without getting to secondary options such as Tarik CohenKareem Hunt and Austin Ekeler.

Many of those backs are going to get paid. The 2017 class becomes eligible for extensions for the first time this offseason, but it's a strange time to be a running back. Running back salaries were grossly depressed before a recent run, but in 2019, virtually every back on a significant long-term contract has struggled to reproduce his prior form. Contracts few would have argued with at the time they were signed are now underwater. Backs who looked like stars have turned into ordinary, replacement-level runners.


I find this juxtaposition interesting. It's easy to talk about not paying running backs in the abstract, but just about every team knows it can probably get away with shuffling players in at the position, and many still hand out multiyear deals to veterans anyway. A draft class full of successful backs in the mid-to-late rounds is about to ask for a lot more money. Teams that have witnessed expensive backs fail in 2019 are going to have to decide whether they're going to rely on academic principles or fall in love with their guy as the exception to the rule.

Let's look at the backs who are playing on contracts worth more than $15 million and see what has happened to them, both over the course of their current deal and specifically in 2019. Then, I'll get to the backs from 2017, project what their teams will do, and try to give some insight into what each organization with a 2017 draftee should do with their existing starter. Naturally, let's start with the most expensive running back in football.


Jump to a RB who got paid:
Barkley | Bell | Elliott
Freeman | Gurley | Johnson

Jump to a RB who could get paid soon:
Carson | Conner | Cook
Fournette | Gordon | Henry
Jones | Kamara | McCaffrey


The big-money backs


Ezekiel ElliottDallas Cowboys

The deal: Six years, $90 million

I covered Zeke's season in my column on Monday, when I noted how he has created far fewer big plays and hasn't been as efficient in 2019. The arguments that Dak Prescott needed an effective Elliott to move the ball as a passer weren't supported by past evidence and look downright foolish now.

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Elliott isn't holding the Cowboys back by any means, but they have actually been slightly more efficient on offense with backup Tony Pollard on the field than him. Elliott has been on the field far more frequently, but the offense has generated 0.21 points of additional expected points per play with Pollard on the field and 0.17 points with Elliott in the lineup.


That doesn't sound like much, but over the course of a full game's worth of snaps, it factors out to about 2.6 points for the Cowboys. That stat doesn't tell the whole story, but the most expensive back in football should look more productive than a rookie fourth-rounder who will make $3.2 million over the next four years. (Elliott, by comparison, is penciled in for just over $50 million over that same time frame.)


Todd GurleyLos Angeles Rams

The deal: Four years, $57.5 million

Gurley's enormous volume as a runner and receiver and gaudy touchdown totals made him a fantasy darling and an MVP candidate during 2017 and the first half of the 2018 season. He seemed like the most important part of the Rams' offense, which is why it was no surprise when Los Angeles signed him to a massive extension after his third season. If any player was an argument against the idea that teams could just plug any running back into a scheme and succeed, it was Gurley.


Todd Gurley has averaged just 4.1 yards per carry and 6.5 yards per catch this season. Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire


Well, when he got hurt in November 2018, the Rams signed C.J. Anderson off the street and saw the burly former Broncos starter play just as well for the minimum as Gurley had. After Gurley returned, the Rams used Anderson as the focal point of their timeshare during the playoffs. With the offensive line struggling and Gurley dealing with a long-term knee issue, his role in the offense has been reduced, and he has been far less efficient. After nine games last season, Gurley was averaging 4.8 yards per carry, 136.7 yards from scrimmage per game, and had 16 touchdowns. In 2019, he's averaging 4.1 yards per carry, 71.3 yards from scrimmage per game, and has eight touchdowns.


Le'Veon BellNew York Jets

The deal: Four years, $52.5 million

The famous phrase surrounding Bell was that the Steelers wanted to "pay the position, not the player." The implication, of course, is that Bell transcends the running back position. While he attracted a ton of volume as a receiver in Pittsburgh, the argument that he deserved to be paid like a combo of a running back and wide receiver didn't stand serious scrutiny. The Steelers did just fine at running back without Bell in 2018.


Bell's stint in New York has been a disaster. Surrounded by a dismal offensive line and with a coach who might not want him altogether, the three-time Pro Bowler has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry and has yet to top 70 rushing or receiving yards in a game. His longest play of the season has gone for only 21 yards, and while he was incredibly efficient in Pittsburgh, Bell ranks dead last in DVOA and 28th in success rate, which measures how frequently a back keeps his offense on schedule. DVOA doesn't tell the whole story for running backs, but Bell hasn't remotely moved the needle in his first season in the Big Apple.


Devonta FreemanAtlanta Falcons

The deal: Five years, $41.3 million


Freeman spent 2015-16 as the primary back in a Kyle Shanahan offense, which is a license to print money. After racking up 3,175 yards from scrimmage and 31 touchdowns during those two seasons, the Falcons locked him up by giving him $17.3 million in guarantees and just over $22 million in 2017-19.

Over that time frame, Freeman has totaled 1,926 yards from scrimmage, with 11 touchdowns and seven fumbles. After a lost 2018 season, he was averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season before going down because of a foot injury. He already has missed 17 games over the past three seasons and might miss Sunday's game with the Bucs. The 27-year-old will almost surely be a cap casualty for the Falcons this offseason.


David JohnsonArizona Cardinals

The deal: Three years, $39 million

The Cardinals guessed wrong. After a brilliant 2016 season in which I thought Johnson should have been an MVP candidate, the Northern Iowa product suited up for only 46 snaps in 2017 before going down because of a season-ending wrist injury. With Johnson entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2018, the cap-strapped Cardinals responded to the Todd Gurley deal by signing Johnson to a three-year extension with $24.7 million in guarantees, despite the fact that he had really been a productive starter for only one year at the pro level.


David Johnson has just five total touchdowns this season, and Kenyan Drake has taken away most of his touches. Joe Maiorana/USA TODAY Sports


It hasn't gone well. Johnson racked up 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in 2016. He has produced 2,011 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns in 2018-19, but that has come over 24 games and required 48 more touches. He has averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and lost his starting job to Kenyan Drake, who only arrived two weeks ago. Disconcertingly, the Cardinals will owe $10.2 million in guaranteed money to Johnson for 2020, which will trigger an additional $2.1 million in guarantees for 2021.


Saquon BarkleyNew York Giants

The deal: Four years, $31.2 million

The undeniably gifted Barkley is on a fully guaranteed deal after being taken with the second overall pick by the Giants in 2018. While he has shouldered a huge workload amid dismal quarterback play from Eli Manning and Daniel Jones, he hasn't been able to single-handedly propel the offense forward. Barkley has been the ultimate boom-or-bust back, ranking 41st out of 47 backs in success rate in 2018 and last out of 35 qualifying backs this season.

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In 2018, Barkley had seven runs of 40-plus yards on 261 runs. While slowed by a high ankle sprain this season, he has only one in 101 carries. If you need to break 40-plus yard runs once every other week to create value, the track record of guys in the NFL who have been able to pull that off for an entire career is mostly just Barry Sanders, and that's in part because he was able to stay healthy.

The Giants and hog-molly enthusiast Dave Gettleman passed on Quenton Nelson to draft Barkley, and Nelson is arguably the best interior lineman in football. They passed on Lamar Jackson, and Jackson is the most valuable runner in the league. The Giants ranked 16th in rush offense DVOA last season and are 20th this season. Barkley is an incredible athlete and has little to work with, but that doesn't mean he was the right pick.


Jerick McKinnonSan Francisco 49ers

The deal: Four years, $30 million

bizarre signing when it went down in 2018, McKinnon will end up collecting $16 million without ever taking a regular-season snap in a 49ers uniform after tearing his ACL during workouts in 2018 and aggravating the injury this summer. The 49ers have done just fine with Tevin Coleman and a trio of undrafted backs in Matt BreidaRaheem Mostertand Jeff Wilson this season.


Leonard FournetteJacksonville Jaguars

The deal: Four years, $27.2 million

By virtue of being drafted with the fourth overall pick, Fournette ended up with one of the largest running back contracts in football when he was signed. The Jaguars drafted him after throwing asset after asset at running back and hoped to solve their problem for good. In the process, they passed on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. That alone makes the Fournette pick a disastrous example of opportunity cost. As you'll see, he might be the 10th-best runner in his own draft class.l

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11 minutes ago, athell said:

The top end guys (Saquon, Zeke, CMC) of the world will still get paid.  And they deserve it.  But if you don't have an elite back, yea...not worth it.

The info on Barkley was odd.  Not sure what they measure with this:


”Barkley has been the ultimate boom-or-bust back, ranking 41st out of 47 backs in success rate in 2018 and last out of 35 qualifying backs this season.”

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8 minutes ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

The info on Barkley was odd.  Not sure what they measure with this:


”Barkley has been the ultimate boom-or-bust back, ranking 41st out of 47 backs in success rate in 2018 and last out of 35 qualifying backs this season.”

It's convulted af


But Barkley is an interesting topic.  They haven't been good with him, but how bad would they be without him?  Also think he is playing hurt because he just doesn't look like Saquon this year.

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36 minutes ago, athell said:

It's convulted af


But Barkley is an interesting topic.  They haven't been good with him, but how bad would they be without him?  Also think he is playing hurt because he just doesn't look like Saquon this year.

That’s a very odd metric.  Apparently Zeke, Cooke, Chubb, Michel &  Fournette are slightly below average while Barkley, Johnson & Coleman are straight up trash.  I’m dumber having read that

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42 minutes ago, Jesus said:

The league gets enamored with running backs every so many years, overdrafts them, and then overpays and then there are downturns. there were several years when running backs weren't even taken in the first round. 

college offenses is just don't produce enough quality running backs either though.

I would take a RB in the first round, just wouldn’t give him a 2nd contract

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I am on the side of NEVER give a RB a huge contract.  In general, they are just too easy to replace.  Even the ones that are "special" have too much risk of injury to tie up that much cap space.  Use the money to build the O-line and just keep drafting mid to late round RB's.  I'm even OK with drafting a RB later in the 1st round, just don't give him a 2nd contract.


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2 hours ago, R_The_Great said:

If you think about it, mostly all running backs can run good enough, it's just about the special traits they may bring.  Chris Johnson had 4.2 speed, Blount was tall and a bruiser.  I think hill, ollison and a guy like barner are what the falcons need

Chris Johnson actually had a pretty average career except for his one monster season. 

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1 hour ago, FalconsIn2012 said:

That’s a very odd metric.  Apparently Zeke, Cooke, Chubb, Michel &  Fournette are slightly below average while Barkley, Johnson & Coleman are straight up trash.  I’m dumber having read that

Success rate is a bigger indicator of good play calling and good offensive line blocking than it is for good running backs. 

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1 hour ago, Knight of God said:

How was McKinnon a bizarre signing

Here is what they said:


RB Jerick McKinnon, 49ers

Grade: F

McKinnon hit free agency in pursuit of a deal where he could serve as a primary running back, but his case for a larger role isn't quite clear. The Georgia Southern product was hyperefficient over his first two seasons, averaging 4.9 yards per carry over 165 rushing attempts, but as the larger half of a rotation over the two ensuing seasons, his 309 rush attempts have produced just 3.6 yards per attempt. 14.2 percent of his runs have turned into first downs, which ranks 50th among 51 qualifying backs over that time frame.

Some of that could be chalked up to a dismal offensive line in 2016, but McKinnon wasn't much better behind a much better line in 2017. He also fumbled three times after going his entire career without one. At this point, he profiles as a third-down back with big-play ability, but asking him to run the ball more than five or six times per game is probably too much.


Jerick McKinnon had 12 total touchdowns in four seasons with the Vikings. Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire

It was shocking, then, to see the 49ers give McKinnon a four-year deal for $30 million. The only running back on a multiyear deal with a larger annual salary than McKinnon is LeSean McCoy. San Francisco did this last year when it fell in love with Kyle Juszczyk, didn't trust its ability to mold a fullback, and gave him a deal more than 200 percent larger than any other fullback's contract. (Juszczyk subsequently made the Pro Bowl, but that's because he's the most famous fullback; he was mostly an anonymous receiver, didn't contribute as a runner, and the 49ers averaged both more yards per carry, expected points per run, and a higher first down rate when Juszczyk wasn't on the field.)

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I am more comfortable building a running back group of guys like Hill, Ollison and Thompson we just picked up, than going out and getting some high priced free agent or maybe even draft pick.  Unless the guy is Kimara v2 or Elliot v2, its not worth drafting a RB that high.  It all comes down to scheme, blocking and running style

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