The past week has been pretty interesting for NFL fans. We’ve known for a while now that the value of the Running Back position has diminished. Who remembers the 2006 NFL Draft where many experts predicted running back Reggie Bush to be the top prospect? The former Heisman Trophy winner from USC was supposed to be the next Barry Sanders. Many had him going to the Texans first overall, instead he went to the Saints 2nd overall after Defensive End Mario Williams. That was probably the last time a running back was projected to go so high.

Bush was supposed to be a sure game-changer. I recall the Green Bay Packers were picking at #5 overall and I would’ve loved them to trade up for Bush. But they picked Linebacker AJ Hawk three picks after Bush went, and honestly, they were probably better off. Bush had some good moments, but he never ended up being the true game-changer he was thought to be in the NFL. Since then, the running back position has somewhat diminished in value. But why?

The last time I checked, the running game was still very important. As much as it pains me to say it, look at the 2019 San Francisco 49ers. They made their way to the Super Bowl by punishing the opposition on the ground. Since then, the idea of building a bully of a running game has been on the minds of a lot of teams. But yet, the running backs themselves, remain undervalued.

Don’t they understand the need for a good running back?

They make a difference

Let’s go back to the Packers latest glory years. When you think back to the 2010, 2011, 2012 Packers do any big-time running backs stick out? Sure, there was Ryan Grant, James Starks, and Brandon Jackson. But in those years, neither of them necessarily were game breakers. The Packers were so loaded with pass-catchers that they were able to still get by. But they became considered one-dimensional. No one feared the Packers rushing attack. Teams with great secondaries were able to just sit back and defend the pass with confidence.

Finally, in 2013 the Packers were able to draft Eddie Lacy. Lacy, despite not having Aaron Rodgers at the helm for seven games gave them their first thousand-yard rusher in four years. Imagine if Eddie Lacy were on the 2011 or 2012 Packers. There might be a few more Lombardi’s in the Packers Hall of Fame. Even imagine Aaron Jones being on the team back then, sounds like I’m thinking about new Packers Multiverse ideas now. There’s a problem with these Running Backs like Lacy though that translate to the game today. They don’t last long.

A running back’s punishment

Let’s go back to 2013 shall we. Eddie Lacy was tearing up the field for the Packers in Aaron Rodgers’ absence helping them stay alive for a playoff berth. He ended up winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year title. I remember it well. My brother and I were all aboard the Lacy train. We were buying jerseys, cards, t-shirts, he was the next great Packer to us. Imagine our disdain at a family gathering when one of our uncles said, “a running back like him won’t last long, four years tops.” I remember thinking, “he has a point, but no, no, Lacy will last longer than that. He’s different.”

Well, he was right. As lovable as Eddie Lacy was, his durability, and productivity diminished. When his rookie contract expired, he was on his way out. He only lasted about half a season afterwards before his career expired.

While all cases aren’t the same as Lacy’s, there are many similar. A running back is drafted, has their breakout, but then slowly diminishes by about year 5 or 6. This has made it nearly impossible for good running backs to cash in on their success.

Teams are aware of this lifespan. They don’t want to break the bank for a running back that might only last another 1-2 years. Many times, to make good running backs last, they’ll pair them up with other backs. This seems to have worked in the case of Aaron Jones. Jones is entering his seventh year in the league and is still affective. Jones has been paired with both Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon as his running mates. Splitting time like this has helped Jones stay fresh and affective. But then you hit the issue of paying both of them. There’s apparently no room in this league for two veteran running backs in one locker room. Unless one is playing for cheap.

They deserve better

I couldn’t tell you what the solution is. There is the idea that rookie running backs should maybe earn more by league standards. But that wouldn’t really help them earn more for better performance. You also can’t decrease the length of an RB’s rookie contract to get them paid sooner. That would just give teams the option to release them sooner if they don’t work out.

The value to an offense remains the same. But yet the dollar value has diminished. They call running backs a dime a dozen, but yet one that a team can trust and hold onto can be increasingly rare. Personally, I’d like to see a solution reached where running backs get their fair share. Especially ones like Aaron Jones who don’t come around very often.

Greg Meinholz is a lifelong devoted Packer fan. A contributor to PackersTalk as well as CheeseheadTV. Follow him on Twitter at @gmeinholz. for Packers commentary, random humor, beer endorsements, and occasional Star Wars and Marvel ramblings.