Team of the Decade: Running Back

With the NFL Draft over and the 2019 season fading into the past it is time to take stock of the last decade of NFL action with The Touchdown’s Team of the Decade. This team will be based on a statistical analysis of the past 10 years, looking back at how each player performed overall and on a per game basis. In order to make this a true representative of the decade, only players who have played in 40 regular-season games (a quarter of the decade) will be included, with that being 40 games started for the quarterback position.

In this second article we will be looking at the running back position, which has seen its value decrease in the eyes of some around the game with the rise of analytics in order to assess the impact various positions have on the game. The stats in this article will be from the regular-season only, unless specifically stated. We will be looking to select four running backs for our Team of the Decade, so let’s get down to business.

Honourable Mentions

Demarco Murray

Despite playing in less than 100 games, Murray ranks sixth in the decade in rushing yards. However, Murray had just three of his eight seasons above 1000 rushing yards and was never quite the same after leaving the Cowboys in 2015. He also struggled to make an impact in the receiving game, averaging 3.1 receptions per game and juse 21.9 yards per game.

Christian McCaffrey

McCaffrey just meets the qualifier for the article at 48 games and leads the decade in receiving yards per game. However, of his three seasons, he has only been a major contributor in two of them, meaning he just misses out on the list of the main eight guys up for discussion. 

Alvin Kamara

Kamara is second behind McCaffrey in receiving yards per game, but has yet to log a 1000 yard season. Kamara is the epitome of the evolving running back role, but that is not quite enough to get him in our team of the decade.

Ray Rice

This was a tough call to leave out Rice as he contributed in both aspects of the game. He provided three 1000 yard rushing seasons in his four years this decade, adding at least 50 receptions in all four. Ultimately, his career ending at just 26 years old costs him a space in our final eight. 

Matt Forte

The story is similar for Forte, who’s career looks to be more of one of a middling back than a true stand out. Much like Rice, his peak was in the first half of the decade, with his impact diminishing in the final three years. At his peak, he was arguably more dangerous in the receiving game than the rushing game, and for that reason, combined with having never registered double-digit rushing touchdowns in any single season, he is on the outside looking in 

Adrian Peterson - Minnesota Vikings/Washington Redskins

Team of the Decade Running back

Peterson was an easy decision for consideration having played in every season of the decade and led the league in rushing twice in that time. Five of his 10 season have seen him eclipse 1000 yards rushing, and he has repeated the feat when it comes to double-digit rushing touchdowns. After two barren years in 2016 and 2017, he bounced back with the Redskins, averaging over four yards per carry in 2018 and 2019.

Peterson’s contributions in the receiving game have been minimal but he ranks third in rushing yards and yards per game in the decade. He also led the position in touchdowns in the last 10 years, averaging 0.6 rushing touchdowns a game (8th). When you think of running backs in the last decade, Peterson is likely one of the first names that springs to mind.

Arian Foster - Houston Texans

Foster took the NFL world by storm in the early part of the decade. Three straight 1000 yard and double-digit touchdown seasons made him one of the hottest names in any fantasy draft. Between 2010 and 2014 he never averaged below 4.01 yards per carry and topped 85 yards per game in four of the five.

He contribution in the passing game saw him average 30.4 yards per receptions on 3.2 receptions per game, which in the early part of the decade was a solid return from a back. In terms of rushing touchdowns per game, he ranks fourth in the decade with 0.69, and is second in terms of rushing yards per game with 84.7. Pro Football Network’s approximate value metric places him fifth on a per game basis in the last decade, as he also ranks second in total touchdowns per game with 0.88.

Ezekiel Elliott - Dallas Cowboys

Elliott has put together a great first four years in the league, topping 1000 rushing yards in all three years he has played more than 10 games. In the last decade, no qualified running back ranks higher in rushing yards per game (96.5), and only one ranks higher in terms of rushing touchdowns per game (0.71).

While his work in the receiving game does not stand out (28.9 yards per game and eight touchdowns), when you combine it with his work in the running game he leads the position in yards from scrimmage per game (125.4) and is third in total touchdowns per game (0.86). 

Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Chiefs

At his peak there was perhaps not a more deadly weapon out of the backfield than Jamaal Charles. Despite diminishing returns in his final three seasons, Charles still leads the position in yards per carry (5.29) over the course of the last decade. His biggest downfall as a back was his lack of touchdowns, scoring just 37 in the decade at an average of 0.42 per game.

Somewhat surprisingly, he also was not involved in the receiving game much, averaging just 2.8 receptions per game and 23 yards per game. Ultimately, Charles injuries and lack of contribution int he passing game prevent him from ever having been a truly elite player at the position. However, any time Charles was on the field every NFL fan sat up and took notice, perhaps more so than with any other back of the past 10 years, which counts for a lot.

LeSean McCoy - Philadelphia Eagles/Buffalo Bills

Team of the Decade Running back

Splitting Rice and McCoy was extremely hard, but in the end McCoy got the nod on longevity in the final eight. McCoy has put up an impressive six 1000 rushing yard seasons in the past 10 years, helping him to lead the position in rushing yards for the decade. However, while he ranks second in rushing touchdowns he has only eclipsed double-digits in rushing touchdowns twice, ranking 21st on a per game basis.

His contribution to the passing game has also been relatively minor, averaging below 25. That means he ranks ninth when it comes to total yards from scrimmage and 17th in total touchdowns per game. When it comes to approximate value per game, he sits in 12th, which is extremely impressive. While the longevity is impressive and at his peak he was one of the best weapons in the league, the per game numbers have tumbled in the second half of the decade.

Le'Veon Bell - Pittsburgh Steelers

In the middle portion of the decade Bell was arguably the most scary running back on the field in the NFL. Three 1000 rushing yard season in four years was only prevented from being four in four by injury in 2015. On a per game basis, Bell ranks fourth in rushing yards, third in receiving yards and second in total scrimmage yards.

Bell is arguably the biggest all-around threat of the past decade, behind only McCaffrey and Kamara in receptions per game (4.9) and Elliott and Foster when it comes to carries per game (19.1). As you might expect, only two players rank above when it comes to average value per game (Elliott and Kamara), making him one of the most potent weapons of the past decade. 

Marshawn Lynch - Seattle Seahawks

Team of the Decade Running back

Lynch’s impact on the field in the first half of the decade can be measured in both yards and touchdowns, with four straight 1000 rushing yard and double-digit touchdown seasons. Lynch’s value came largely in volume as opposed to efficiency, ranking 36th in yards per attempt (4.33).

The biggest downfall for Lynch was his lack of production in the receiving game, with just 1.8 receptions per game, 14.4 receiving yards per game and just 0.07 receiving touchdowns per game. As a pure hammer-type running back, Lynch may have been the most intimidating of the decade.

Todd Gurley - Los Angeles Rams

Gurley’s career has quickly seen him mentioned among the best at the position. Three 1000 rushing yard seasons and four double-digit rushing touchdown seasons are extremely impressive. On a per game basis no one has found the end zone more than Gurley, as he averages 0.79 touchdowns a game on the ground. When it comes to rushing yards per game, Gurley sits in the top five with 74 yards per game.

In the receiving game, his 9.59 yards per reception are among the leaders and his 70 total touchdowns see him lead the position in touchdowns per game (0.96). Despite averaging just three receptions per game, he contributes 28.6 receiving yards per game to the Rams in his career, which is good enough for 15th at the position this decade.

Running back selections for The Touchdowns Team of the Decade:

Starter: Ezekiel Elliott

Backups: Adrian Peterson, Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley

Elliott has been a dominant force at the running back position since arriving on the scene four years ago. His skills meant he was able to strong arm the Cowboys into a huge contract extension after just three season, and then went out and backed that deal up again in 2019.

Behind him, the choices are easy to some extent. Of the pure running backs, Adrian Peterson is an easy choice when considering longevity and peak. Behind Peterson, the duel-threat nature of both Bell and Gurley mean they pip the other four to the last two spots on our Team of the Decade. 

Ben Rolfe

Head of NFL Content



Image credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports, Derik Hamilton, USA TODAY Sports, Bruce Kluckhohn-US PRESSWIRE & Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports