Detroit Lions running back mix is evidence of the evolution of the game
By Robert Jones
As the NFL Combine comes to a conclusion, the evolution of the game continues to show the change in positional value.
With the NFL Combine wrapping up Sunday, we will soon have all the measurables we could possibly want. Each and every athlete that was invited to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was given the opportunity to showcase their abilities and skill set.
The Pro Day workouts an individual schools will shine more light, particularly for prospects who were not quite healthy for combine workouts coming off injury or didn’t take part in some things with an eye on that Pro Day.
The NFL game has changed, and it became even more evident during the combine on Friday when the offensive linemen and running backs took the field.
I was recently talking about the state of the game with an old friend of mine, and he lamented how the game has changed for the worse in his mind. He said he missed the days of NFL teams running the ball endlessly, and sparingly using the passing game.
The days of a league being entranced by great runners are gone. The Barry Sanders’, Emmitt Smith’s and Walter Payton’s of the world now hold a place in memory rather than ruling today’s NFL fields.
On Friday when the offensive linemen and running backs took the field at the combine, most of the hype was for the linemen. A position group that has traditionally been the most frequently overlooked took center stage. Ikem Ekwonu, Evan Neal, Bernard Raimann, Trevor Penning and plenty of others were fawned over.
Meanwhile, the running back class got to prove they could catch the ball, and it was detailed how many of these backs could be part of a productive NFL backfield. Not a superstar to help carry a team, but a solid contributor.
The Detroit Lions backfield is a testament to today’s value on the running back position
In Detroit, the Lions are fortunate to have a backfield comprised of D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, and Godwin Igwebuike. All contributed to a productive ground game last season, and Swift can make game-changing plays as a runner and a pass catcher.
Swift could theoretically be a workhorse, and he had 33 carries in Dan Campbell’s first game calling plays last season. But alas, he suffered a shoulder injury the next week and there has to be some concern about his durability.
The game has changed, but the importance of running the ball really hasn’t. The shelf life of the position is short, which has teams viewing running backs as interchangeable and replaceable outside of a select few. Current mock drafts have zero running backs projected in the first round, and running backs drafted in the first round are a rare breed these days.
Many teams will add a running back to their backfield stable in April’s draft, with their ultimate roles dependent on landing spot and skill set. The position has changed, seemingly irretrieveably for those who yearn for the old days. Is it for the better? That’s hard to say, but the days of runners dominating the game have been forever left behind.