Skip to Content

Have We Seen The Last Hall-Of-Fame Running Back?

1:53 PM EDT on September 29, 2022

ORCHARD PARK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans runs against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium on September 19, 2022 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo runs every Thursday at Defector during the NFL season. Got something you wanna contribute? Email the Roo. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Outthrough here.

Let’s start with a quiz. Can you tell me, without looking, which currently employed NFL running back ranks highest on the all-time rushing leaders list? You are not allowed to answer Adrian Peterson, because Adrian Peterson is still out looking for a job and can’t find one because he is old and insane. Maybe he’ll run for Senate in Georgia one day. So who else might it be? Could it be current NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb? What about my hometown back Dalvin Cook? OOH! OOH! It has to consensus best running back in the universe Derrick Henry, right? Those other two guys are still fairly young, but Henry’s been around long enough to be high up on the list, no?

No. The answer is Mark Ingram, who currently ranks 52nd all-time in rushing yardage, behind the likes of Stephen Davis, DeAngelo Williams, Terry Allen, and Matt Forte.

It’s no secret that running backs have become massively devalued in today’s NFL. They never get drafted high anymore, especially now that Dave Gettleman has died. #RIP. Teams that dole out lucrative contracts at that position always end up regretting it. And no Super Bowl–winning team has had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2016, when LeGarrette Blount held that honor for the 28-3 Patriots.

This is a passing league now, so much so that receivers have become the dominant skill position outside of quarterback, and quarterbacks themselves have been able to assume more rushing duties than in years past. Lamar Jackson is the fifth leading rusher in the league right now, and it’s not by accident. All of those factors have reduced the position of running back to that of bit player in the average NFL offense. A smart team is not one that hands the ball off to one dude 30 times a game like it’s 1993. They pass the ball to open up the run and then use a committee approach when they do the latter, often with the QB and any number of wideouts joining in on the fun.

Outside of the usual bad fantasy beats I suffer, I have no problem with pro football evolving into its present form. I’m not a fucking Bears fan (they ran the ball on third-and-6 last week). I like the good shit. But given this evolution, it was only natural that the historic profile of running backs would diminish in real time. That’s happening right now. As we speak. There has only been one running back inducted into the Hall of Fame since 2017 (Edgerrin James). I did a loose tally of the current all-time rushing leaders list and came away with just two shoo-ins (Peterson, Frank Gore), one likely inductee (Marshawn Lynch), and one summer bar argument (LeSean McCoy) due up on the ballot in the coming years. After that, the field is more barren than Marco Rubio’s scrotum. Henry also probably gets in down the line, especially if voters watch all of those kick-ass clips of him running the ball when he was in high school. But otherwise, you and I are already experiencing what football is like after the concept of the franchise running back has been annihilated.

It’s an odd phenomenon to live through, especially because running backs still have a higher profile than many of their counterparts. You know Henry, and Chubb, and Zeke, and Jonathan Taylor. You know who these guys are even when they struggle because you see them in the ads, you draft them in fantasy, and you cosplay as them in Madden. And really, who doesn’t dream of being a running back? You don’t have to call for the ball like a wideout. You just get it handed to you and then you’re off. It’s glory on a silver platter, and it’s why the history of the NFL is embedded in the footsteps of the over 50 running backs are currently inducted in Canton. You know their names even if you weren’t alive to watch them play: Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, etc. These men defined football, which means their position outwardly defined it as well.

That is no longer the case. There’s a chance that, five years from now, the list of running backs enshrined in Canton settles in at a number that never changes. I don’t say that ominously. This is natural, and NFL football has become more aesthetically pleasing as it’s left the ground. Besides, there are already too many skill position players in the Hall, and many are there at the expense of less glamorous positions that deserve their own camping ground on Olympus. This is a necessary correction, but one that inevitably reminds you of who will get left behind in the overhaul. Who will be missing. Who is missing.

Then again, perhaps I’m being dramatic for the sake of a shitty blog post. Out of due diligence, I reached out to a Hall of Fame voter, longtime Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky, and asked him if I was onto something. Here was his full reply:

I think things are generally cyclical. If we had kids with big futures as football players, we’d likely be nudging them to other positions right now. But that doesn’t mean that’s the case forever, or that some coach isn’t going to value the position differently than many others do, or that some backs won’t do something great with their carries and catches. I think it’s extreme to envision a future where any position, especially one that touches the ball, doesn’t produce some players who will have strong Hall of Fame candidacies. 

Teams are still going to run the ball, and I would imagine while there are fewer bellcows there will be some and that there will be versatile backs who will combine carries and catches for high-quality careers. There will still be an occasional player who does his thing much better than everybody else, and some of those guys will stand out and rank among the best players of their era. (But boy, there are going to be a ton of receivers to sort through as well.)

Kuharsky added an addendum at the end of his email to remind me that, on Sunday, Henry will likely match Jim Brown as the fastest RB to score 70 total touchdowns and run for 7,000 yards. “He’d be just the 16th guy to hit those marks. That would be in 90 games. Henry didn’t start his first two years.”

So take Kuharsky’s word on this over mine. Players like Henry may be trapped in the middle of a positional recession, but that doesn’t mean the story of running backs in the NFL is necessarily over. I’ve watched football, baseball, and basketball grow into new sports in my lifetime, and the paradox is that while that growth is constant, so is the bedrock nature of each sport itself. Coaches adapt, players adapt, and dazzling newcomers are always arriving. There will always be running backs, and there will always be otherworldly talents who gravitate to the position, perhaps despite themselves. Maybe these future Bo Jacksons will trigger a second reexamination of the running back, along with an ensuing renaissance. It’s not out of the question, and the nice thing about sports is that nothing within them ever is.

The Games

All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.

Five Throwgasms

Chiefs at Bucs: I watched one of Fox's annoying halftime teaser segments last week and Terry Bradshaw looks fucking dead. I’m not sure he even knows he’s on television anymore, and his body has that weird shape that pre-embalmed Republican politicians take on, where their hips and their waist and their stomach are all jumbled together like a chopped salad. You can’t tell where one body part ends and one begins. It’s like if Newt Gingrich’s head was an entire person. I would strongly prefer that Fox bring in some new talent before Terry’s skin falls off and the only thing left behind is a set of chattering novelty teeth. It’s getting uncomfortable.

Bills at Ravens: I’m still annoyed that Ken Dorsey had to walk back his freakout in the coaching booth.

Dorsey almost certainly got a stern talking-to by some NFL official named Brad as part of a leaguewide effort to crack down on Microsoft Surface abuse, as if a Surface isn’t the most disposable bit of e-waste this side of a complimentary thumb drive you get for staying at a Courtyard Inn. Now if Dorsey or Tom Brady had thrown a WOMAN around, that would have been groovy, because the NFL doesn’t have a licensing agreement with women. But a Surface? HOW DARE YOU, SIRS.

Four Throwgasms

Dolphins at Bengals: GREAT NEWS, AMERICA!

Hmm yes, what could possibly go wrong with this initiative? Excited to explain to my children why Nicky Bosa has a Three Percenters flag stitched into his jersey. It’s about HERITAGE, baby.

Jaguars at Eagles

Three Throwgasms

Titans at Colts: Winner of this game might actually be a good team! For one week!

Two Throwgasms

Seahawks at Lions: We have walkup music in sports but we don’t have postgame music, and that’s a missed opportunity. As far as I’m concerned, every sad Dan Campbell presser would be 100 percent better if “The Ballad Of Jayne” were playing in the background. That’d be, like, just so freakin’ MEANINGFUL, man.

Browns at Falcons: After everything the Browns have done this past offseason, not to mention throughout their existence, I still found myself rooting for them the other night against the Steelers. And the Steelers don’t even have Big Ben anymore. They’re just another boring asshole team. But in my mind I was still like I hope the Brownies stick it to those no-good punks … wait, what the fuck am I doing? I said absolutely nothing to anyone else in the house about this dilemma, mostly because none of them would have given a shit.

Honestly, I think it was all because the Browns unis the other night looked so tight. Those are primo shit.

Patriots at Packers

Rams at Niners

One Throwgasm

Broncos at Raiders: I can’t tell you how stupid I feel for believing the Raiders would be good this year. The Raiders are the Raiders and Josh McDaniels is Josh McDaniels, and yet when the two joined forces I said to the world, “I could see this working!” I’m a fucking moron. I should be stripped of my Hall of Fame eligibility.

Bears at Giants: Folks you’re not gonna believe this but the Giants—the Giants!—are struggling in pass protection. Like I said up above, this sport evolves so fast. Why, I hardly even know what sport I’m watching when crazy shit like this goes down!

Vikings at Saints (London)

Commanders at Cowboys

Chargers at Texans

Jets at Steelers

Cardinals at Panthers

Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall

“Planet Shit,” by Every Time I Die! They had me at the song title. Don’t even need to listen to it, frankly. But I will! Reader Matthew gives us the lowdown:

How are we not talking about "Planet Shit" by Every Time I Die? This song makes me want to beat the shit out of that brick wall before I run through it... and then devour its remains afterward, à la Dan Campbell. Also, the lyrics fucking rule.

Let’s check out those lyrics now.

You're already dead insideYou're already dead insideWe're all trapped on planet shitOur only hope was in a murdered kidThe one god we had went off the grid

Oh yeah, that’s the stuff. I’ve got my eye on these ones.

Great Moments In Poop History

Reader Kiwi sends in this story I’ll call FREE BOWEL-O.

My tiny midwestern college had a small rock climbing wall tucked in a corner of the rec center. My roommate wanted to check it out and we were immediately hooked. We both eventually got work-study jobs at the wall and climbed for hours a day. We climbed the façade of several campus buildings and rappelled out our third story dorm room window. I had idle fantasies about somehow saving the day with rock climbing.One night, after an unknown number of pitchers with friends, a girl and I returned to her dorm room. Her room was on the second floor and next door to the bathroom. Roomie out of town. We got down to business and things were going pretty well until we realized we both had to puke. We dashed to the bathroom and barfed in separate stalls. At this point we were both completely naked and thus locked out of her room. I realized that this was my dream scenario. The bathroom window was open. The bedroom window was open. They were only about 6 feet apart and I was an ace rock climber. Piece of cake.I had not climbed this building. Climbers would say I didn't have the beta, so it would be an onsight attempt. I went out feet first and my toes found the tiny edges of a few protruding bricks. I leaned out to the right, drunkenly seeking the next move, confidently telling myself that I was halfway there already. One foot slipped from its meager purchase, then the next.Fortunately I fell flat on my back onto grass. The impact knocked the wind out of me and also a little bit of poop. As I caught my breath I decided that since the situation could not get any worse I might as well finish shitting. So I leaned against the building and cut loose. Here I should add that we had been drinking the cheapest pitcher at the bar: Woodchuck hard cider. This was not a pleasant shit. There was a lot of splashing. Still, I felt better after and somehow managed to scramble up the wall and back into the bathroom, back where I started but with shit-covered legs.The young lady had used her time more productively, securing loaner clothes and a room to crash in from an equally drunk neighbor. We went to breakfast together both wearing someone else's booty shorts and have now been married for nine years.

I can’t believe you didn’t die.

Which Idiot GM Is This?

You know your team is in good hands when the man in charge of the roster is a professionally sweaty guy who MEANS BUSINESS. Which team does the man below hold in his meaty paws?

When you spot someone with their asscrack hanging out of their pants

That’s Joe Schoen, GM of the Giants. You know this guy. He’s your brother-in-law. Thinks he’s Mister Big Shot with the fancy suit and the tastefully styled hair. Drives a Toyota Highlander. He and your sister put out a perfect Christmas card every year. THINKS HE’S KING OF THE MOUNTAIN, HE DOES. Well I say fuck off, buddy!

Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week

Himalayan Snowman Super Premium Beer! I don’t have to say anything about this beer. The label does all the work for me. But allow reader Thor to introduce you all the same:

I found this oddball at an Indian restaurant outside Seattle. It was $10 for 21.98 oz., which seemed like decent value, until I noticed it was also 7% alcohol! It tasted like a carbonated Moscow mule with yeast, did not complement the food, and I had a hangover from one bottle. Highly recommended! 

This thing was brewed to kill. I would rather face down the yeti of Everest himself than confront it.

Gameday Movie Of The Week For Raiders Fans

Triple Frontier, which bookends its story with old Metallica cuts because this is a movie that knows what dads want. And what I want is to see an action movie directed by the All Is Lost guy featuring Oscar Isaac running up SEVERAL flights of stairs in a chase scene (for real, it’s a lot of stairs), Ben Affleck looking extremely fatigued but still noticeably buff (it’s his best stock character), and Charlie Hunnam trying on an American accent as best he can. I want them plotting to steal money from a drug cartel, raiding a stash house, and then having their plan go to absolute shit by the time it’s all over. Check, check, and check. Between Triple Frontier and The Gray Man, I now have a strange affinity for expensive Netflix B-movies. I can’t get this shit in theaters anymore, so this is my next best option.

The problem is that any original movie on a streaming service that doesn’t have Oscars on its resume has an awful lot of trouble sticking in the cultural memory. And even the Oscar winners like Coda have little staying power when you can’t find them on other services, or on cable, or even on now-ancient formats like DVD. Given that Netflix is in the midst of a budget crisis that may soon get a whole lot worse, I have no way of knowing how some of its better original offerings will survive if the service collapses entirely. Perhaps Netflix will one day be forced to liquidate its catalog and sell its titles to the highest bidder, which would free those titles from being stuck exclusively on Netflix forever and ever.

But the more likely scenario is that Netflix keeping hanging on until every last cent is gone, and everything not named Stranger Things depreciates in cultural value until it has no market value anymore. This isn’t that big of a deal when it comes to Triple Frontier, which is a good movie but not the most important movie I’ve ever seen. But it is concerning for movies like The Harder They Fall, which was goddamn brilliant and deserves a second life, I tell you. We need to have an infrastructure in place to keep the cult classic-minting process alive, and right now we don’t have it.

Gratuitous Simpsons Quote

“This is a bootleg copy of Itchy & Scratchy Meets Fritz the Cat. Because of its frank depiction of sex and narcotic consumption, it is not for infantile intellects such as yours. Now toodle-oo.”

Enjoy the games, everyone.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter