The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl last season and they did so without a 1,000-yard rusher. In fact, the last team to win a Super Bowl with a 1,000-yard rusher was the New England Patriots in 2016 (LeGarrette Blount had 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns) and they are the only champions of the last seven to feature such a back.
The 2019 Kansas City Chiefs and 2014 Patriots didn’t even have a single player who rushed for over 500 yards.
This is where the debate circles back around to whether or not running backs matter in the modern era. In a world where we evaluate skill players based on statistics and “How’d they help or hurt my fantasy teams?”, running backs have gotten the short end of the stick based on playing a position that requires those players to slam their heads, their knees, their ankles, and so on into the heads, knees, ankles, and arms of other players.
Taking the shoulder of a 250-lb linebacker into your knee is literally part of the game, so how can we blame running backs for having the shortest careers and the most injuries?
I don’t think this makes the good ones any less valuable and as we’ve seen with Derrick Henry, it is still possible to dominate the position with a heavy workload and an entire offense on your back. Even the 2020 Buccaneers had to rely on their running backs eventually.
Leonard Fournette had just 97 carries for 367 yards in the regular season, but then he had 19 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown — with four catches for 39 yards added in — during Tampa’s wild card win over the Washington Footballs. Fournette added 107 total yards and a touchdown during their divisional round win against the NO Saints. Then 74 yards and a touchdown in the NFC Championship win over the Green Bay Packers. Then 20 touches for a total of 135 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
Fournette scored in all four playoff games and he totaled 448 yards in the postseason.
If that weren’t important enough, Tampa Bay also relied upon backup Ronald Jones for 35 carries and 139 yards during the three postseason games in which he participated. Jones had 197 carries for 978 yards in 14 regular season games, so the importance of depth at the position must also be emphasized. The reigning champions responded to last season’s running backs duo by re-signing Fournette, but then also adding Giovani Bernard and C.J. Prosise, while returning 2020 third round pick Ke’Shawn Vaughn.
Clearly, the Bucs think that running backs matter. They didn’t need to have a 1,000-yard rusher to prove it.
How are the four teams in the NFC West doing at the position?