What is a Running Back in Football?

what is a running back in football

There are eleven players on the offensive backfield during an American Football game. Out of those eleven players, one position is known as a running back. Here is the complete guide to what a running back does during a game, types of running backs, some of the best players, and more.


What Does a Running Back Do?

what does a running back do

A college football / NFL running back has several responsibilities during a game. Their responsibilities include:


  • Running with the ball.
  • Blocking linebackers and other defensive men on blitz plays.
  • Getting open for passes.
  • Serving as a decoy via a play-action attempt.
  • Being the punt/kick returner on special teams


On top of those duties, a running back player needs to have excellent hand-eye coordination to make catches, great speed to get away from tackles, and overall knowledge of defensive formations to spot openings during a running play.


Why is it Called a Running Back?

A running back in American Football gets the name because of the primary role of the ball carrier. The running back needs to run up the field during a handoff and try and gain as many yards as possible. While a running back can be a blocker or catch passes or certain plays, their primary role is to run with the ball.


Why are Running Plays Important in Football?

why are running plays important in football

Running plays are essential to any football team for a few reasons. First, running the ball can pick up valuable yards on offense. Sometimes a team might be a yard or two away from the endzone, so they will elect to run to score a touchdown. Throwing the ball a yard or two away from the goal line could result in an interception, so teams will select to run more often than not.


Another reason to run is that it keeps the defense team in check. For example, if you have a great quarterback who throws for many yards per game, the defense will line up to protect against a pass play more often. If a team can mix the run game into their offense, the defense might have to start defending against the run, setting up the disadvantage for passing plays.


Third, running the ball might be a better option during certain weather conditions. For example, a snowy and windy game in Green Bay might be challenging for a QB to throw down the field to get a first down. If the weather conditions make these passes difficult, the running game will need to win effectively.


Downsides of Running Backs

downsides of running backs

Sometimes a running back might fumble the ball if they get hit hard by a defensive player. Another downside of a running back is that they are not as strong as other players, so they might struggle to block defenders during a blitz play. Finally, some running backs are below average when it comes to catching a pass, which means more drop catches than a wide receiver.


What Other Positions Do Running Backs Play?

Since a running back is one of the fastest players on the field, you might see teams use them on special teams. Specifically, you will see a running back be the punt returner or kick returner for a unit. Since they might have excellent catching skills, NFL teams might put them in that position because they can secure the kick and run with the ball.


How Similar is a Running Back to a Fullback?

An offensive line generally has one or two running backs on a play. The running back, also known as a halfback or tailback, lines up behind the offensive line. Their role is primarily to run with the ball, but sometimes they become a defender / wide receiver.


Meanwhile, a fullback is also a runner, but their primary role is about blocking a defensive player to protect the QB throwing. If a team wants to use the fullback position to run, they tend to do that when they only need a yard or so of offense for a first down or touchdown.


When you compare the two football positions, you will see that fullbacks are bigger and stronger than halfbacks, which is why they tend to block more often than run. On the other side, a halfback’s quickness means more running attempts during a game. While both a fullback and a running back are rushers, one is more for short yardage while the other is for more extended yard gains.


Who has the Most Rushing Yards as a Running Back in the NFL?

who has the most rushing yards as a running back in the nfl

Emmitt Smith has the most rushing yards with 18,355 in their career. During his 15-year career, mainly with the Dallas Cowboys, Emmitt was a powerhouse with 4.2 yards per carry. In addition to that, Emmitt only had 38 fumbles out of 4,409 attempts, which is less than 1% of the time.


Outside of Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton has the second-most rushing yards at 16,726. Frank Gore is in third place with 16,000 yards. Check out the complete list of rushing yard leaders on ESPN with this link.


The Size and Shape of a Running Back

size and shape of a running back

One unique aspect of a halfback is their size. For example, a tight end will be around 6’2″, give or take, but a halfback will be smaller. According to operations.nfl.com, running backs tend to be shorter than 6 feet and about 215 pounds.


Some running backs, like Jerome Bettis, were under 6 feet tall but were over 250 pounds. Players like Bettis were so difficult to tackle that they were known as a power back. Meanwhile, the shortest running back in the NFL belongs to Trindon Holliday. Trindon Holliday stands at 5 foot 5 inches and 165 pounds and only had one rushing attempt for seven yards in his four-year career.


What Running Backs are in the National Football League Hall of Fame?

Twenty-eight players in the NFL hall of fame are running backs. Some of the most famous names include Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, Barry Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Emmitt Smith, and Walter Payton. If you are looking for the complete breakdown of the NFL hall of fame players, you can visit this link.


Conclusion: What is a Running Back in Football?

In summary, a running back on a football team is precious to any offense. Like a tight end position, a running back needs to wear a few hats during a game. While they primarily run with the ball, they sometimes have to be an extra blocker for the QB or even a pass target. Not only that, but some running backs are also on special teams due to their speed, which shows how versatile they are as a position.


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