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Should Teams Pay RBs Top Dollar?

Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson (remember him?!?), and Devonta Freeman. Those are the top five highest paid running backs in the NFL. There’s one common theme among these five players and their teams. They didn’t make the playoffs this year.

Judging from the title here, this is going to be a debate piece. Paying RBs top dollar almost never pans out. Only one of those five RBs were in the top ten of rushing yards. Ezekiel Elliot was top five. The next closest was Todd Gurley ranked at 20. The other guys are all aged 25 and under drafted very recently. That tells me that there is a heavy turnover in the market of RBs. So should you pay a guy like Le’Veon Bell top dollar because he was elite at one point?

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The simple answer is “no”. You can find a bell-cow running back in every single draft class and they’d do perfectly fine. Among the top 10 rushing yards leaders (minus Lamar Jackson), EIGHT have been drafted in the last three classes. the notable veterans that have been top paid have been ranked as listed :

  • Ezekiel Elliott was 4th
  • Todd Gurley was 20th
  • Le’Veon Bell was 24th
  • Devante Freeman was 29th
  • David Johnson was 54th

It’s inexcusable only one RB was in the top five of the highest paid backs in the league. You expect your highest paid players to at least be in the top 15 of their position. They’re just not contributing as much as they are paid.

Look at the most successful teams of the past few years. Running back by committee has shown more promise than bell-cow backs in recent years. The San Francisco 49ers this year is a perfect example of why RBs shouldn’t be paid as much as they are. Their top rushing offense is carried by Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert and Matt Breida. None of them are really considered as Todd Gurley or Ezekiel Elliott levels of elite. But their rushing attack was more effective. The 49ers ranked second behind the Baltimore Ravens (who had effectively a RB playing QB all year that messed around and had 1,000 rushing yards) in rushing offense. Using Dallas Los Angeles Rams as a comparison? They ranked 20th.

Teams with two or three running backs do a hell of a lot better than teams who only have one back. There’s a reason the Patriots are consistently in the playoffs winning Super Bowls, and offensive minds like Kyle Shanahan succeed in this league. Their plan for the running game is a huge part of that.

You have two options for a rushing attack in the NFL if you want to consistently be a top end rushing team in the NFL. One is to constantly take high end RBs in the draft and replace them after their rookie deal is over and deal with the turnover. Or go running back by committee. That has won the last three or four Super Bowls. Buckle up Giants fans and Titans fans. You’re going to pay Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley MAJOR money into their late 20s, and the production will likely not be the same because that’s the way the position goes.

Almost never pay the player, no matter how great of a season he has. Stick with your gut, and pay by the position of RB. The market doesn’t lie in this position like it does with others.

Photo Source : James Kenney / AP Photo

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