Week 12 NFL: Running Backs As Reliable Option In Passing Game

An “every-down back” in the NFL combines the ability to elude defenders in the running game and attack opponents out of the backfield in the passing game.

Pro Football Hall of Fame running back and NFL Network analyst MARSHALL FAULK was a prototype every-down running back during his 12-year career. Faulk totaled 19,154 scrimmage yards, the fourth-most all-time, including 6,875 career receiving yards, the most ever among running backs.

“I was a guy that tried to play every down in the NFL,” says Faulk. “I never wanted out of the game.”

Baltimore running back RAY RICE, who is the focal point of the Ravens’ offense, can beat you as a rusher and as a receiver. Rice leads NFL running backs with 513 receiving yards this season and ranks second in the NFL (DARREN SPROLES, 60) and first in the AFC among RBs with 51 receptions. Rice knows the importance of being a reliable target in the passing game.

“The league has really evolved where more teams are using a two-back system, because one back runs better and the other is a better receiver,” says Rice, who has accounted for 19.9 percent of the Ravens’ receiving yards this season, second most of any NFL running back through Week 11. “But, if you can do both, there is less need for two backs. My goal has always been to be an every down back.  Also, with the NFL shifting more towards a passing league, a back that can catch it out of the backfield and make plays is paramount.”

The running backs who have accounted for the highest percentage of their team’s receiving yards this season:

Matt Forté Chicago Bears 465 20.1
Ray Rice Baltimore Ravens 513 19.9
Fred Jackson Buffalo Bills 442 19.3
Arian Foster Houston Texans 445 18.0
Darren Sproles New Orleans Saints 448 13.5

Texans running back ARIAN FOSTER serves as a multi-dimensional threat in Houston’s offensive game plan. Foster, who leads the NFL with 148.1 scrimmage yards per game, has three 100-yard receiving games this season and is the first NFL running back to accomplish the feat in a season since 2000 (RICHIE ANDERSON).

“I think it’s very impactful to have a running back who can stretch the field and have a weapon you can utilize out of the backfield,” says Foster, who has registered two 78-yard TD receptions this season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer WALTER PAYTON (two in 1983) as the only running backs to have two 70+ yard TD receptions in a season since 1970. “That means the defense has to account for his running ability and his receiving ability.”

Buffalo Bills running back FRED JACKSON says a productive running back in the passing game presents a speed advantage when matched up versus linebackers.

“Being involved in the passing game keeps defenses off balance and it allows you to take advantage of mismatches,” says Jackson, who leads NFL running backs with eight receptions of 20+ yards this season. “If you get a linebacker on you then that’s going to be the first option the quarterback looks at. It allows you to dictate what you want to do against the defense.”

The most first-down receptions among running backs through Week 11:

Ray Rice Baltimore Ravens 24
Darren Sproles New Orleans Saints 22
Mike Tolbert San Diego Chargers 21
Matt Forté Chicago Bears 17
Arian Foster Houston Texans 14
Ryan Mathews San Diego Chargers 14
Jonathan Stewart Carolina Panthers 14