For the second straight season, no running back was drafted by an NFL team in the first round. The emphasis on evolving passing offenses is one of the reasons fewer NFL teams seem to want to invest big money on a running back, but so is the expected lifespan of a running back’s career. This most recent NFL Draft saw the longest wait before a running back was taken off the board, with Washington’s Bishop Sankey being the first running back selected with the 54th overall pick by the Tennessee Titans. Given the trends in how the game is played and the most recent draft results, could we start to see less of an emphasis on the running back in the college game as a result?
Running backs are still important to any football team, college or pro. Some teams in the college game will rely very little on running the football but the ability to pound the football and pick up a few yards on the ground is something that helps separate the great teams from the good or average teams. Take a look at Florida State, the reigning national champions. The Seminoles ranked third in the ACC in rushing offense in 2013, trailing only a Georgia Tech team that operates almost entirely on the run and a Boston College team that featured a Heisman finalist in Andre Williams rushing for over 2,000 yards. Florida State had a Heisman Trophy quarterback in Jameis Winston, but the supporting cast in the running game was not to be overlooked. Would Florida State have been able to succeed at the level it did in 2013 if not for a dependable running game? Probably, but it may not have been as dominant.
And look at the team Florida State faced in the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn. The Tigers ran away with the SEC championship, somewhat figuratively and literally. The strength of the running game allowed Auburn to wear down opponents and make-up for an average passing attack.
And do not let the 2014 NFL Draft fool you. There were 19 running backs drafted. There were even three fullbacks picked up by NFL teams through the draft, leaving a glimmer of hope for some that the days of the fullback are not extinct just yet.
A successful football formula has always included having a star quarterback behind a dependable offensive line. A top-flight running back may not be the ultimate difference — see Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions — but it can still be a vital part of an offense.