Quarterback has long been the position that every kid wanted to play. Running back, however, was also high on the list. It was long a position of glory, fame, and power in the NFL. Some of history’s most fondly remembered players, like Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith, and Barry Sanders, were running backs. Those, and others, were workhorse backs who were handed the ball often, and asked to carry the offense for a lot of teams. They were some of the league’s biggest stars, and they were paid that way as well. In 1980, running back was the 2nd highest paid position group after, naturally, the quarterback position.
As time has gone by, the running back position has fallen somewhat in it’s value to teams. In 2000, it had dropped to the 8th highest paid position group, ahead of only safety, tight end, and kicker/punter. Teams have gone to more multi-back lineups, reducing the carries for the starters, and reducing the pay and glory in the process. The ability to find late-round guys has also lessened the need for drafting running backs high. In the years from 1971-1980, there were 18 backs drafted in the top 10 of the draft. By the 1990’s that number had dropped to 12, and from 2001-2010, there were only 8. Guys like Ray Rice (2nd round), Jamaal Charles (3rd round), and Arian Foster (undrafted) have allowed teams to use high draft picks on other positions, therefore the money has shifted to other positions as well.