John Steigerwald's Sports Column
Running backs dinked, dunked to death
Don’t let your babies grow up to be running backs.
Not if you want them to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. On Thursday night, for the first time in 50 years, there was no running back taken in the first round.
The crop of running backs had more than a little something to do with that – it’s not all that great – but it’s mostly about the position becoming obsolete. If you hadn’t noticed before Thursday night that the NFL had become a passing league, you probably know now. For almost 40 years, the NFL has been tweaking the rules to make it easier to complete a pass. Coaches now use the short passing game to maintain the control they used to get by running the ball.
Dink, meet dunk.
Is the product better as a result?
I don’t think so.
Call me crazy or old or both, but I still enjoy a mix of the run and the pass and I really enjoy watching a great running back run.
I don’t know if pro football would be as popular as it is today if not for great backs going all the way back to Bronko Nagurski.
Don’t forget that 2014 will be the first year of The Crown Rule. That’s the one that will penalize running backs for lowering their heads. That’s sure to make running the ball even less attractive.
More and more coaches are coming to the realization that bubble screens and dump-offs are just as safe, if not safer, than handing the ball off to a running back and sending him into the line.
Again, call me crazy and/or old, but when one of the great attributes for a receiver is to find a hole in the zone and sit down – and that’s a better way to get three or four yards than handing the ball to Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin or Marshall Faulk – I think the excitement quotient has been greatly reduced.
We don’t need to talk about Jim Brown, Walter Payton, O.J. Simpson or Barry Sanders.
With so many colleges going to the spread offense, it’s going to be harder and harder to develop and discover great running backs.
It would be different if NFL teams were throwing the ball downfield to receivers streaking across the middle or flying down the sideline. That’s exciting. But they’re not.
They’re dinking and dunking.
Who knew there would come a time when we would miss three yards and a cloud of dust?
• If the three suspended Pitt football players, tight end Drew Carswell, defensive lineman Khaynin Mosley-Smith and linebacker Eric Williams, actually were hanging out with a heroin dealer, as the police contend, they should never spend another minute in the Pitt program.
• I have a feeling that, in a few years, a dozen or so NFL teams are going to be kicking themselves for not drafting Geno Smith.
• The Steelers will remind you often that they had the No. 1 defense in the league last season. But their defense also was 19th in the league in forcing negative pass plays (sacks and interceptions). First-round pick Jarvis Jones figures to make that No. 1 defense a lot tougher to play against.
• I took some time to look at videos of all the top running back prospects after Eddie Lacey of Alabama. The best runner I saw on those videos was Ray Graham of Pitt. Especially the video from before his knee injury. If he had been in the draft after his junior year, before he blew out his knee, Graham would have been no lower than a second-round pick. He will be two years removed from his injury this season. He is a steal. Steelers second-round pick Le’Veon Bell looks like just another good college running back.
• The success of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson last season, and Cam Newton in 2011, seems to have changed the expectations that organizations have for quarterbacks taken in the first round. It wasn’t that long ago that it was rare for anything to be expected of any rookie quarterback. Back in 2004, the Steelers picked a kid out of Miami University in Ohio in the first round and there wasn’t anybody in Pittsburgh who expected him to do anything more than hold a clipboard, which he would have done of the first and second string quarterbacks hadn’t been injured.
• Mel Kiper may be the most overrated person in network television history.
• Who’s idea was it to junk up the NFL draft with a red carpet?
• Forget defense. What the Steelers needed most out of the 2013 draft was more touchdowns.
• Is Tavon Austin too small at 5-8 ¾, 179 pounds? He never missed a practice at West Virginia. I’ll bet there are lots of really large players who can’t say that.
John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.