• Jordan Laube

Running Back Committees: How Saving Money Results in Super Bowl Wins

The days of true bell cows may be long behind us. The days where Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, and other greats would ground and pound for every yard are fading away. Sure, you have game changing backs such as Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, or Ezekiel Elliot, but even these running backs are getting subbed out at a higher rate than we have seen in years past. To boot, superstar running backs DO NOT produce Super Bowls. They may get you there, but they never win the big game.

Photo: Pro Football Focus


Listed below are the highest paid running backs in the league (based on yearly average), and the playoff record for each player.

1. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers)

Average Salary Per Year: $16 million

Total Value: $64 million

Total Guaranteed: $36 million

PLAYOFF RECORD: 0-1


2. Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys)

Average Salary Per Year: $15 million

Total Value: $90 million

Total Guaranteed: $50 million

PLAYOFF RECORD: 1-2


3. Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)

Average Salary Per Year: $15 million

Total Value: $75 million

Total Guaranteed: $34.3 million

PLAYOFF RECORD: 2-3


4. David Johnson (Houston Texans)

Average Salary Per Year: $13 million

Total Value: $39 million

Total Guaranteed: $31.8 million

PLAYOFF RECORD: 1-1


5. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings)

Average Salary Per Year: $12.6 million

Total Value: $63 million

Total Guaranteed: $28.1 million

PLAYOFF RECORD: 1-1


Source: Over The Cap

Now I know what you're thinking; David Johnson is no longer a top 10 back, so why is he getting top 10 money? As a Cardinals fan who has suffered his lackluster play on the tail-end of his career, I don't have an answer for you. The answer I do have, though, is that superstar running backs are not the answers for teams trying to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Even if you include Derrick Henry, arguably the best running back in the league, the playoff record total from the above running backs jumps from a lowly 5 to a whopping 8 wins and 10 losses, just wow. 8 playoff wins, over the span of 5 seasons (2015-2019), and not just 0 Super Bowl wins, but 0 Super Bowl appearances. That number is very alarming, especially for teams looking to rebuild.


On the flip side, running back committees look to be the future, not only for team success, but for team finances as well. Lets take a look at the past 5 Super Bowl winning teams and who their running backs were for that season, as well as the total payroll for that portion of their depth charts (we'll include fullbacks since they are one of the most undervalued positions on the football field).

Super Bowl 50 (Denver Broncos):


Stats:

CJ Anderson- 23 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD | 4 receptions, 10 yards

Ronnie Hillman- 5 carries, 0 yards, 0 TD | 0 receptions

Juwan Thompson (HB) did not have any carries or receptions


It should be noted that Ronnie Hillman had two awful playoff games prior to the Super Bowl, carrying the ball 27 times for 54 yards and 0 TDs, and including 1 catch for 7 yards and 0 TDs. Ronnie had a solid regular season, starting 10 games while carrying the ball 207 times for 863 yards and 7 TDs, while also hauling in 24 catches for 111 yards and 0 TDs.


Active Roster Payroll:

Ronnie Hillman, HB: $942,708

C.J. Anderson, HB: $589,167

Juwan Thompson, HB: $511,116


Total: $2.04 million

The highest paid running back in 2015: Adrian Peterson ($15.4 million)

Vikings Record: 11-5

Playoff Record: 0-1


Conclusion: The Broncos saved $13.36 million for 2 more players and a Super Bowl

Photo: Business Insider


Super Bowl LI/51 (New England Patriots):


Stats:

LeGarrette Blount- 11 carries, 31 yards, 0 TD | 0 receptions, 0 yards

James White- 6 carries, 29 yards, 2 TD | 14 receptions, 110 yards, 1 TD

Dion Lewis- 6 carries, 27 yards, 0 TD | 1 reception, 2 yards

Brandon Bolden only played on Special Teams during the Super Bowl, James Develin did not have any carries or receptions and only played 10 snaps.


Active Roster Payroll:

Brandon Bolden, HB: $1,272,500

Dion Lewis, HB: $1,087,500

LeGarrette Blount, HB: $1,025,000

James Develin, FB: $750,000

James White, HB: $699,272

Total: $4.76 million

The highest paid running back in 2016: Adrian Peterson ($12 million)

Vikings Record: 8-8

The Vikings did not make the playoffs in 2016


Conclusion: The Patriots saved $7.24 million for 4 more players and a Super

Bowl

Photo: Boston.com


Super Bowl LII/52 (Philadelphia Eagles):


Stats:

LeGarrette Blount- 14 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD | 0 receptions, 0 yards

Jay Ajayi- 9 carries, 57 yards, 0 TD | 0 receptions, 0 yards

Corey Clement- 3 carries, 8 yards, 0 TD | 4 receptions, 100 yards, 1 TD


Darren Sproles was injured, Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner were Special Teamers.


Active Roster Payroll:

LeGarrette Blount, HB: $1,250,000

Wendell Smallwood, HB: $601,144

Kenjon Barner, HB: $568,235

Corey Clement, HB: $468,333

Jay Ajayi, HB: $325,588

Total: $3.21 million


The highest paid running back in 2017: Le'Veon Bell ($12.1 million)

Steelers Record: 13-3

Playoff Record: 0-1


Conclusion: The Eagles saved $8.89 million for 4 more players and a Super Bowl

Photo: Pioneer Press


Super Bowl LIII/53 (New England Patriots):


Stats:

Sony Michel- 18 carries, 94 yards, 1 TD | 0 receptions, 0 yards

Rex Burkhead- 7 carries, 43 yards, 0 TD | 2 receptions, 15 yards

James White- 2 carries, 4 yards, 0 TD | 1 reception, 5 yards


James Develin did not have any carries or catches, he played on 30 snaps. Cordarrelle Patterson was listed as a Wide Receiver to start the season, thus getting paid Wide Receiver money, therefore, I will not include him in the Stats or Payroll sections.


Payroll:

James White, HB: $3,000,000

Rex Burkhead, HB: $2,250,000

Sony Michel, HB: $1,750,308

James Develin, FB: $1,675,000


Total: $8.68 million


The highest paid running back in 2018: LeSean McCoy (8.95 million)

Bills Record: 6-10

The Bills did not make the playoffs in 2018


Conclusion: The Patriots saved $270,000 for 3 more players and a Super Bowl

Photo: Dawg Post


Super Bowl LIV/54 (Kansas City Chiefs)

Stats:

Damien Williams- 17 carries, 104 yards, 1 TD | 4 receptions, 29 yards, 1 TD

Darwin Thompson- 1 carry, 0 yards, 0 TD | 0 receptions, 0 yards


LeSean McCoy was inactive for the Super Bowl; he had been the lead back in the Chiefs offense until their incredible playoff run. Patrick Mahomes had 9 carries for 29 yards and a touchdown, his most pivotal carry was a designed quarterback run. Anthony Sherman mainly played Special Teams, but still had 7 offensive snaps.


Payroll:

LeSean McCoy, HB: $3,000,000

Damien Williams, HB: $1,733,333

Anthony Sherman, FB: $735,000

Darwin Thompson, HB: $526,960

Total: $5.79 million


Highest paid running back in 2019: David Johnson ($9.75 million)

Cardinals Record: 5-10-1

The Cardinals did not make the playoffs in 2019


Conclusion: The Chiefs saved $3.96 million for 3 more players and a Super Bowl

Photo: Arrowhead Addict


Stat Source: Pro Football Reference

Payroll Sources: Over The Cap & Sportrac

Final Notes:


I get this is a small sample pool, but if you look back to previous Super Bowls, either one or both teams had at least 2 running backs that shared anywhere between 40%-60% of the workload. Some recent exceptions are Devonta Freeman in Super Bowl LI, Marshawn Lynch in Super Bowl XLVIII and XLIX, and Ray Rice and Frank Gore in Super Bowl XLVII. The last time a superstar running back has won a Super Bowl was Marshawn Lynch in 2013, where he made only $8.5 million (compared to Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson who made $13.5 million and $12 million respectively).


Outside of the Super Bowl, we are finding more and more teams are succeeding in the regular season with a running back committee as well. As weird as the current NFL season has been, some of the top teams are using multiple running backs in a game (Seahawks, Buccaneers, Bills, Ravens, Cardinals, and the Colts). With Jamaal Williams and Mike Davis having recent success, I expect the Packers and Panthers to use them more throughout the season going forward.


One running back that comes to mind when thinking about a teams success is Derrick Henry. Last year, the Tennessee Titans started 2-4. When Ryan Tannehill was named the starter, they finished the season winning 7 games to finish 9-7. They went on to the AFC Championship Game with Derrick Henry breaking multiple playoff records. Many people attribute the Titan's success to Derrick Henry's mid and late season surge. In my opinion, Ryan Tannehill was the catalyst for turning around this franchise. According to Pro Football Focus, Ryan Tannehill was the best quarterback in 2019 with a 92.5 overall grade. For reference, Lamar Jackson, the reigning NFL MVP, finished with a 91.1 overall grade that same season. Is Derrick Henry an incredible running back? Yes, but he has been helped greatly by a competent quarterback.


In closing, running back committees are the future. Teams are able to save money and win more as a result. In total, over the past 5 seasons, teams that opted for a running back committee saved $33.72 million and were able to use 16 more players as a result. Running back committees allow teams to effectively game plan as well, as coaches know which of their running backs have better strengths than others in certain situations. Not only are some committee running backs deadly in the running game, but other backs open up more options and mismatches in the passing game as well. It may be a long time before we see another running back win MVP, but players, teams, and organizations would much rather win a Super Bowl.