Following the 2019 NFL season, Christian McCaffrey made headlines after signing a deal that made him the highest-paid running back in NFL history. The four-year extension, averaging $ 16 million a year, puts McCaffrey in front of other star running backs such as Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell.
The payday seems fitting considering McCaffrey’s historic 2019 season, where he had 1,000 rushing and receiving yards, making him only the third running back in NFL history to achieve such a feat. McCaffrey’s unmatched speed and versatility both running and catching the football has caught the attention of many NFL teams. Is he the future of running backs? Danny Woodhead thinks so.
How Danny Woodhead pioneered the position
Coming out of high school, Danny Woodhead was not a highly sought after prospect. Many top-college recruiters saw Danny Woodhead as an undersized running back, so he did not receive any Division I offers.
Woodhead had to settle playing for Chadron State, a Division II college located in his native state of Nebraska. Immediately, Woodhead made an impact for his team. Woodhead would go to break 21 Division II record during his time at Chadron State, including the all-time rushing record for a division II Running back, where he ran for 2,756 yards in a single season.
Following his record-breaking career at Chadron State, Woodhead did not even get an invitation to the 2008 Scouting Combine and went undrafted. However, he was picked up by the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent, where he spent his first two years in the NFL.
However, Woodhead was most impactful with the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers. He even played in Super Bowl XLVI for the Patriots, where he scored a touchdown.
Despite being overlooked both in college and in the NFL, Woodhead would go on to have a successful career in both respects, proving a running back of his size can play at the highest level.
How the running back position has evolved in the NFL
Standing at 5 feet, 10 inches and weighing 205 lbs, McCaffrey was not your prototypical running back 20 years ago. Smaller running backs have been a recent phenomenon in the NFL, thanks to in large part to Danny Woodhead.
Big running backs, such as Jerome Bettis, Hershel Walker, and Jim Brown, dominated the notion of an NFL type running back for the better part of the Super Bowl era. However, smaller running backs, such as Tarik Cohen, Darren Sproles, and Alvin Kamara, are seeing significant success in the NFL today.
Now it would be ludicrous to assume that the rig Running back is part of the NFL’s past. Derrick Henry’s dominating performance throughout the 2019 NFL season helped the Tennessee Titans reach the AFC Championship for the first time since the 2002 season.
However, we are now seeing a greater mix between small and big running back throughout the league, which adds variety to offenses and forces defensive coaches to adjust their gameplan based on the back, adding to the overall entertainment and quality of the game.
Other small running backs look for a big payday
After McCaffrey signed his record-breaking deal, other big-name small running back, like Alvin Kamara, have to be expecting a massive payday. Kamara was integral to the New Orleans Saints’ success since he joined the team in 2017.
During his short three-year career as a Saint, Kamara has rushed for 2,408 yards and 27 touchdowns. It is impossible to deny that Kamara adds flair and versatility to the Saints offense.
If McCaffrey’s deal and Kamara’s performance are any indicators, there is no denying the NFL will see a significant influx of small running backs in the league as it enters the new decade. The fact that running back position continues to evolve shows the NFL can remain fresh and entertaining for years to come.