What do LeSean McCoy, Monte Ball, Trent Richardson, and Matt Forte all have in common? They all have less touchdowns that J. J. Watt, who plays defense for the Houston Texans. It’s no secret to anyone who has been watching the NFL this season that the Elite Running backs aren’t being as productive as they have been. Fantasy owners are feeling it the worst. A lot of first round draft picks are missing on the stat sheet and that has fans and fantasy owners very worried.
In the 2013 season Philadelphia Eagles’ elite running back LeSean McCoy lead the league in yards with 1,607. Kansas City Chief’s running back Jamal Charles had 19 touchdowns, Chicago Bears bell cow Matt Forte ran for over 1,300 yards and 9 touchdowns, and Montee Ball of the Denver Broncos was primed to take over in a major way after Knowshon Moreno left for the Miami Dolphins.
As the NFL season heads into its fifth week McCoy has 192 yards, Charles has a staggering 115 yards, Forte has 258, Ball has 165, respectively. The most popular running back in the game; Adrian Peterson, has not played since week one due to off-the-field issues. This is far from their typical elite status.
So what is the reason for all this lack of production? There is no one answer, but rather a combination of things that attribute to the elite running backs in the NFL not producing at the level fans have come to expect. Most teams rely heavily on the passing game. Quarterbacks are throwing at a rate that was unthinkable even ten years ago. The rules have become favored for the wide receivers to be able to get away with more, and defensive backs can not touch a player past five yards. Lastly, because the running back position is such a physically demanding position, a lot of teams have switched to a running back-by-committee plan.
Jamal Charles is 206 yards behind his back up running back, Knile Davis. Both Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon for the Minnesota Vikings have taken over for the suspended Peterson and done well.
With the exception of Dallas Cowboys’ elite back Demarco Murray leading the league in rushing with 534 yards through the first four games, it is really a list of unknown runners at the top. Le’Veon Bell, Rashad Jennings, the earlier mentioned Knile Davis, and Alfred Morris are the top five rushers in the league.
The season is just through it’s first quarter so there is still a lot of time for everything to change. One running back could have a break out game and take over the top spot. One of the top guys could get injured on a goal line stand and be out of the season. Virtually anything can happen throughout the course of an NFL season.
With so many of the elite running backs coming up missing early in the NFL season it is understandable for fans, and fantasy owners alike to be worried about the fate of their teams. A quarter of the way through is too early to hit the panic button, though. Enjoy your team for the excitement that is the game. Watch for the reason you became a fan in the first place and remember that joy. If the leagues’ best are still performing under expectations at the half way point, it might be okay to panic a little bit.
Commentary by Andy Lapic