Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mama, Don't Let Your Baby Grow Up To Be A Running Back

That'll teach him to be the best
Let's just say it out loud: if you are a running back, you probably aren't the sharpest knife in the drawer. And since the drawer is filled with football players, that's kind of saying something. And I don't have any particular allegiance to anyone mentioned below in this article; I don't root for their teams, own a piece of them in fantasy or have an affinity for their school or personality.

I just know when I see a working man get screwed, I don't like it. And that's what is happening to running backs all over the league, with a quickness.

Time was, men could be running backs and, you know, become stars from it. If you were good and fast and reasonably durable, you could achieve wealth and fame and respect, and maybe even the long-term love of your management and fan base.

That was then. This is now.

In today's NFL, being the best running back in the league, as Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew was last year, makes you more of a suspect than an asset. Paying the RB, the way that Chicago more or less did after a calendar year of puling to Matt Forte, is seen as the move for suckers, chumps, doofuses that don't get how the position is 100% fungible and cannon fodder. Smart teams put together committees, delegate the goal-line concussion work to the plowhorses that aren't skilled enough to make men miss in the larger spaces. Split the work by down, by quarter, by distance and hell, probably even by field surface or defense.

There's only one thing wrong with this situation.

Really good running backs are being wasted. We are paying top dollar for bottom round. The quality of play is going down. And men who have earned the right to get paid through performance are getting shafted.

Just like in baseball, where pitch and innings counts means that teams are racing the clock to show you the worst members of their staffs, so too is football going to running backs that aren't true talents. Instead, we get specialists and mudders, men who are easy to game plan for, since they only do one or two things well, rather than everything.

Look, I get that the role is hard, and putting your eggs in one basket is poor planning. I also get that the injury rate in football is pretty much a 100% thing, and that running backs are like smokers; not out of it yet, maybe not out of it ever, but always moving one drag closer to termination. Managing the resource, the way that Andy Reid did with Brian Westbrook, seems just a hell of a lot smarter...

But that's not what's done. Teams with leads don't spread the carries around; instead, they keep things with the same guy, to make sure the lead isn't lost and the coach doesn't have to answer the question as to how the game got away.

And sure, the games will keep going the way they always have. Committees will dominate all over the place: with Patriot Way Uber Alles, with players 40 through 45 on the roster becoming as important as anyone outside of the starters. Analysts and media geishas will fellate the smart set for building out deep rosters of special camaraderie.

And Jones-Drew will get shafted out of what he has earned, and men who spent decades risking injury for a chance at the lottery will find the winning ticket is worth about a tenth, at most, of what it might have been.

There's so much about football where you've got to swallow what's being served and forget the taste. I just never thought it would go so far as to make a game of individuals into committees.

Or that the football watching public would believe this was anything but borderline reprehensible...

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