Tag Archives: Christian McCaffrey

NFL Running in Circles When it Comes to Backs

Another year of football, another year of the NFL running in circles when it comes to running backs. Despite ample reason not to, we see several teams invest heavily in a running back. And almost every time they come to regret that decision. This can hold a franchise back much in the way missing on a first-round quarterback, or any player, can.

Backs Have NFL Running in Circles

No Absence of Evidence

Locking in a player at a position with such a short shelf-life should be enough cause for pause. In a league where the average career length is just 3.3 years, running backs bring up the rear of the position groups at just 2.57 years.

This isn’t just a faceless projection of numbers, either. We have concrete evidence from just this past season of why teams should spread the wealth elsewhere.

Of the top seven backs by salary (the cutoff is making $10 million or more), only Derrick Henry and Alvin Kamara made it through the season unscathed. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey, David Johnson (woof), and Joe Mixon missed large chunks of the season.

To be fair, three of the top-10 rushers from last season are on this list in Henry, Dalvin Cook, and Ezekiel Elliott who, though he finished fifth in rushing this season, came into camp out of shape and looked a step slow.

Johnson’s contract is the oldest but, just like most of the others, it aged poorly fast. Singed in 2018, Johnson went on to have the second-best season of his career with 1,386 total yards from scrimmage. His rushing average did drop to sub-4.0 per carry.

It would only get worse for Johnson from that point on as he missed time each of the last two seasons and three of his last four. His average rose this season but it didn’t do much good as he missed Weeks 10-12.

More of the Same

McCaffrey (and Mixon in Cincinnati before the arrival of Joe Burrow) is the best thing going in Carolina and the smallish back was rewarded for it. But, after back-to-back seasons with 300-plus touches, he ended up on the shelf.

McCaffrey missed all but three games with various injuries. It was a banner moment for the detractors who said he was too small to last.

Elliott has long been a focal point of the Dallas offense but was once the focal point. But the necessary ascension of Dak Prescott found Zeke on the backburner often this past season.

He also came into camp out of shape and saw second-year man Tony Pollard show some juice in his stead. It’s not too far out there to picture the Cowboys cutting bait after the 2022 season.

Cook was leading the league in rushing for several weeks but missed time causing him to finish second to Henry. The dual-threat back is arguably Minnesota’s best player but he’s missed time in all four of his seasons in the NFL.

Still, he’s seen his carry totals rise each year and surpassed the dreaded “300-carry” mark.

Next Cycle

This should a warning to teams rostering the next batch of extension candidates. The likes of Josh Jacobs in Las Vegas, or Kenyan Drake who was transition tagged by Arizona but will be looking for a new deal this offseason.

We haven’t even touched on Saquon Barkley, who’s gone from playing a full slate as a rookie to missing 14 games two years later.

What are these teams to do? Jacobs is the second-best player for the Raiders and has missed time in both of his seasons in the NFL. Drake has been a part-time player since college and proved why so he’ll likely move on. Plus Arizona has Chase Edmonds to at least share the load.

But the Raiders are in a tough spot seeing as how there could be changes at the quarterback position.

It matters what kind of changes come. A rookie passer means a rookie contract at the game’s most expensive position. Any high-priced running back better be on a team with one of those otherwise it gets tricky filling out a roster with quality.

It’s also why Mixon isn’t talked about more in this piece. Carolina, Minnesota, and Tennessee all have quarterbacks making some decent coin. How long can they make it all work?

Easing the Burden

It’s not just Mixon that is out of focus for us, it’s also Henry and Kamara. Henry has been disproving critics all along just given his size and running style. But he’s led the league in rushing each of the last two seasons, increased his rushing production for the third straight season.

He also joined elite company by going over 2,000 yards on the ground. The only knock is he doesn’t catch a lot of passes limiting him; a scary thought.

Kamara’s usage is why the Saints aren’t drawing ire here. He has never carried the ball even 200 times; keeping him well away from the 300-carry mark. But he has 100-plus targets in all but one season, 2019 when he missed two games and still had 97 looks come his way.

Even here we see our pattern popping up. Kamara has never been used like a true “feature” back and he still was forced to miss time from getting banged up.

NFL Running in Circles with Backs

Larry Johnson was a big topic well before his tweets made the rounds. Over a two-year span during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, the Chiefs gave Johnson 752 carries. In one of those years, he had a whopping 416 carries.

Just like with David Johnson, Larry would sign an extension with the Chiefs before the 2007 season only to miss half of that campaign. He never started more than 12 games or appeared in more than 14 (which happened just once) again after that and was out of the league following the 2011 season.

Todd Gurley came out of college with bum knees but he and Leonard Fournette might be the poster children for not drafting a back high let alone giving him a monster deal.

Gurley will be on his third team next season. Fournette will be playing in the Super Bowl for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but he split that job this season, preserving him some.

We have this conversation all the time. You don’t pay running backs. So, sorry to Aaron Jones. You’ve had back-to-back incredible seasons. He still shouldn’t crack the $10 million-per-season threshold.

We know what straw stirs that and every drink across the NFL and it isn’t the running back. Not anymore. Teams would be better served reloading yearly at the position and cutting bait. Because, so far, the risks have far outweighed the rewards.

Week 8 Primetime Moneymakers: Highly Favored

Another week in the NFL meant another string of brutal injuries. Odell Beckham is out for the season after tearing his ACL and Kenyan Drake will miss time with an ankle injury. We also got word on Wednesday that the Houston Texans shut down their facilities following a player having a positive COVID test. Fortunately, they are on their bye week so we should avoid any rescheduling. That’s assuming the Green Bay Packers, their Week 7 opponent, don’t have any positives pop up.

We broke even last week, bringing us to 4-6. It’s a feat only possible due to the flexing of Bucs-Raiders out of primetime. That game and the Thursday game (Giants-Eagles) came through against the spread. The Cardinals made a statement over the Seahawks, as did the Rams over the Bears. But those just added to the loss column for our purposes. Nailing the total has been a challenge too, but we still hit .500 there too. As usual, there’s money to be made so we might as well make it!

Primetime Moneymakers Week 8: Highly Favored

Atlanta Falcons (1-6) @ Carolina Panthers (3-4)

Spread:  Panthers -2.5

O/U: 51

What more can you say about the Atlanta Falcons (2-5 ATS)? Rarely is scoring the go-ahead touchdown a recipe for disaster. But that’s what happened after Todd Gurley fell into the end zone against the Lions. Atlanta’s 27th-ranked (DVOA) defense allowed Matthew Stafford and the Lions to march 75 yards in five plays and the game-winning touchdown. Their pass defense has been particularly atrocious, ranking 32nd in yards and touchdowns allowed.

The Carolina Panthers have been a mixed bag this season. They are 3-4, which isn’t great. But they’ve only beaten one team with a winning record. Teddy Bridgewater is second in the league in completion percentage but has only thrown eight touchdowns to five picks. Mike Davis has filled in admirably with Christian McCaffrey out of the lineup. But the dynamic back has an outside shot at playing in this one. He missed the first meeting between these two teams, which the Panthers won 23-16.

It’s almost impossible to put money on the Falcons. They have blown leads in every way imaginable. After getting a brief respite in interim-head coach Raheem Morris’ first game; a 40-23 washing of the likewise bombing Minnesota Vikings. Carolina’s offense is 10th in DVOA (Atlanta is 23rd) and their defense is 23rd (27th for Atlanta). There could be a lot of points put up, but the under hit last time they met. Avoid the spread and take the Panthers moneyline. The under is also appealing, though the offenses are far superior to the defenses in this one.

Dallas Cowboys (2-5) – Philadelphia Eagles (2-4-1)

Spread: Eagles -7.5

O/U: 43.5

What’s more ridiculous? That the Philadelphia Eagles play in primetime in back-to-back weeks? Or the Dallas Cowboys getting another primetime game at all? Whatever, we’ll hold our nose and take a swing. Philly (2-5 ATS) eeked out a victory against the wayward New York Giants. Carson Wentz threw just one (or fewer) interception for just the third time this season and the Eagles (25th in DVOA) ascended to first in the NFC East in the process. Now they’ll get a shell of the Cowboys.

The D in ‘Big D’ must stand for despair. After losing star quarterback Dak Prescott to a gruesome ankle injury a couple of weeks ago. Dallas (0-7 ATS) saw replacement Andy Dalton take a cheap shot from Washington Football Team linebacker Jonathan Bostic. He’s now in concussion protocol and, as of Wednesday, wasn’t practicing. In steps rookie seventh-round pick Ben DiNucci at quarterback. He took as many sacks as he had completed passes last week and the Eagles pass-rush is still fierce. They’re third in sacks and fifth in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate.

Listen, nothing has been easy for the Eagles this season. They have been one of the most inconsistent and injury-riddled outfits in the NFL. This one, though, might be the gimme-est of gimmes. A third-string quarterback making his first NFL start playing behind a porous offensive line and backed by an even more porous defense is food for the battle-tested Eagles. Dallas hasn’t covered all season and you shouldn’t expect them to now. The Cowboys likely struggles should also suppress the score here, putting the under in play.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2) – New York Giants (1-6)

Spread: Giants +10.5

O/U: 46

Antonio Brown made headlines this week when he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3 ATS), further solidifying the deepest stable of weapons in the NFL. Tom Brady is having a throwback campaign and has thrown 18 touchdowns (second in the NFL) to just four picks. Brown won’t play in this one but the Bucs boast the sixth-best offensive DVOA without him. Add that to their defense (first in DVOA) and it’s a tall task for any opponent.

Daniel Jones has regressed this season. Granted, New York (4-3 ATS) has suffered as devastating injuries as any team. Saquon Barkley comes to mind. But Jones is throwing fewer touchdowns and more interceptions and still has a fumbling problem. The Giants are 30th in offensive DVOA. That defense (19th in DVOA) won’t be able to save them. They were able to keep it close against the Eagles last week. That probably won’t be the case against the Bucs.

To put it in no uncertain terms, this should be a blowout. Tampa has scored 23-plus points in every game but one while the Giants have allowed 22-plus in four of seven contests. New York was able to move the ball and even put up points against the Eagles. Tampa, the number one overall team in total DVOA, is a different animal entirely. 10.5 might not be enough for the Giants to cover this week, friends.