The Effectiveness of Running Backs in the Modern Era

Last season Chris Johnson excited NFL fans as he became only the sixth player in NFL history to rush for over 2000 yards in a season and the first since Jamal Lewis did it in 2003. The Chiefs have their own promising young RB in Jamaal Charles. Many Chiefs fans, myself included, believe Charles will be a great RB and has nothing but greatness ahead of him. But what affect does a premier RB have on a team? Does having a great RB win you championships? The answer, yes with a but. Let's look at the top 5 RB of all time, by yards, and see what they achieved.

Emmitt Smith

18,355 career rushing yards (1st)


Emmitt Smith was picked 17th overall in the 1990 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, where he played for the next 12 seasons. After that he spent a couple of seasons in Arizona before retiring from pro football. He is an 8x Pro Bowler and 4x first team All-Pro. He was the league MVP in 1993 and Offensive Rookie of the year in 1990. He is a 3x Super Bowl Champion and was the Super Bowl MVP in Super Bowl XXVIII. Smith earned three Super Bowl rings which are fitting for the career rushing yards record holder.


Walter Payton

16,726 career rushing yards (2nd)


Walter Payton was drafted 4th overall in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Payton played his entire career, 1975-1987, for the Chicago Bears. He was a 9x Pro Bowler, 6x first team All-Pro and a 3x second team All-Pro. Payton was the 1977 league MVP. In his illustrious career he only won one Super Bowl ring. He did that when the Bears won Super Bowl XX. The Bears have retired his #34 jersey.

Barry Sanders

15,269 career rushing yards (3rd)


Barry Sanders was drafted 3rd overall in the 1989 NFL draft. Sanders played his entire career, 1989-1998, for the Detroit Lions. During his career he was a 10x Pro Bowler, 6x first team All-Pro and 4x second team All-Pro. He was the league MVP in 1997 and Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1989. During his great career Sanders never won a Super Bowl or even played in one. The furthest he reached was in 1991 when the Lions played the Washington Redskins in the NFC Championship Game. They were smashed in that game, 41-10.

Curtis Martin

14,101 career rushing yards (4th)


Curtis Martin was drafted 74th overall in the 1995 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. He played with them until 1997. He then went to the New York Jets where he remained until he retired in 2006. Martin is a 5x Pro Bowler, 2x first team All-Pro and 1x second team All-Pro. He was voted the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1995. He played in Super Bowl XXXI with the Patriots when they lost to the Green Bay Packers. In 1998 he helped the Jets to the NFC Championship Game where they lost to the Denver Broncos.

Jerome Bettis

13,662 career rushing yards (5th)


Bettis was drafted 10th overall by the Los Angeles Rams. He played for them for 2 seasons before going to the Pittsburgh Steelers where he remained until 2005 when he retired. He is a 6x Pro Bowler and 3x All-Pro. He received a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers when they won Super Bowl XL. He had no real influence in that game, rushing for only 43 yards behind Willie Parker. He was neither a big contributor that season, only rushing for 368 yards.

So, do premier RB win a team championships? Yes, but what is Scott Pioli trying to build in Kansas City? A championship team that can win consistently is the way I think Scott Pioli put it, so in other words, a dynasty. Were any of these players, outside of the best rusher, part of a dynasty? No.

These figures suggest to me that Legendary RBs might help you win A championship but aren't essential to build a dynasty in the San Francisco fashion or the more recent New England Patriots. Why do you think Scott Pioli drafted a safety 5th overall, other than his great talent? This is a passing league now. While RB may have been important in the past, they are not as useful as they once were. Don't get me wrong Charles will go on to be a great RB and will help us win. However more and more teams are becoming pass heavy offences. That is why we must be able to defend against the pass.

More importantly though, we must get Matt Cassel to become a great QB for there to be a dynasty in Kansas City. A perfect example of how a great RB on his own doesn't equate to success is the Tennessee Titan's last season. The leading rusher of the season, Chris Johnson, played their first 6 games. But it wasn't until Kerry Collins was replaced with Vince Young did the Titans turn a 0-6 debacle into an even 8-8 season. Chris Johnson played some of his best games in the first 6 games of the season as well.

Some Questions

  • 1) Will Jamaal Charles become a Walter Payton or Barry Sanders? It's possible but way too early to make those sorts of comparisons.
  • 2) Will he help us win games? Definitely.
  • 3) Who will matter more, Jamaal Charles or Matt Cassel? Matt Cassel.
  • 4) What wins Championships? Defence. (That's where Eric Berry comes in)
  • 5) Where does Pioli think this team is headed? To the top.
  • 6) Who does he think will lead us their? Matt Cassel. That's why Pioli gave him a $60 million contract.

Well there you have it, a look at the effectiveness of RBs as means of winning multiple championships. Let me know your thoughts


This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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