What Does a Running Back Do in Football?

What Does a Running Back Do in Football?

What does a running back do in football? This is a question that likely has many answers, as the role of the running back can be quite varied from team to team and game to game.

In this blog post, we will explore what a running back does on the field, its essential characteristics, and how they are important to the game. We will also look at some of the top running backs in the NFL today and see what makes them successful.

So, whether you’re a fan of the sport or just want to learn more about it, keep reading!

But first…

What Does Running Back Mean?

In American football, the running back (RB) is the offensive back who line up behind the quarterback. Their main job is to run with the football, although they may also be asked to block or catch passes.

During a typical play, the running back will line up behind the quarterback. When the quarterback hands the ball off, the running back will run towards the line of scrimmage, looking for a hole to run through.

The running back can also catch passes out of the backfield. This is often used as a way to surprise the defense, as they will be focused on stopping the run.

In addition, the running back is responsible for blocking. This means that they will need to be able to block defenders who are trying to tackle the quarterback or another player on the offensive team.

Similar to other positions, running backs are classified by their size, speed, and strength.

Related Article: Check out our separate guide to learn about the quarterback position. Learn more about the responsibilities and traits of a quarterback in: What does a quarterback do?

Why Is It Called Running Back?

The term “running back” is derived from the fact that they typically stay behind the “line of scrimmage”, or the line where the ball is spotted.

This is in contrast to the quarterback, who is typically lined up “in the shotgun”, or a few yards ahead of the line of scrimmage.

The running back position was created in the late 19th century as teams began to move away from the traditional “flying wedge” formation.

In this formation, the quarterback would line up behind the center, with the running backs and fullback lined up behind him.

The problem with this formation was that it was very easy for the defense to swarm the quarterback and prevent him from throwing the ball.

By moving the quarterback out of the direct line of fire, and creating the running back position, teams were able to open up more space for the quarterback to operate.

While the role of the running back has changed over time, this is still one of their primary responsibilities; to provide protection for the quarterback.

What Is the Role of the Running Backs in Football?

The role of the running back has changed significantly since the early days of the sport.

player in blue uniform securing ball in his arm

In the early 1900s, running backs were primarily used as a way to move the ball forward on offense. They would receive handoffs from the quarterback and then run towards the line of scrimmage.

However, as the sport evolved, so too did the role of the running back.

Today, running backs are used in a variety of ways and their responsibilities can vary from team to team.

Some teams may use their running backs primarily as a way to run the ball, while others may use them more as a receiver out of the backfield.

They may also be used to block, or even as a decoy on certain plays. Other times, they may line up in the slot or as a wide receiver.

In short, the role of the running back has become much more versatile and varied over time.

Regardless of how they are used, the running back is still an important part of the offensive team.

How Many Types of Running Backs Are There?

There are typically three types of running backs in the NFL today:

#1 – The Halfback

The halfback is the most common type of running back. They are typically smaller and more agile than other types of running backs.

This allows them to be more effective when running between the tackles. They are also typically more effective in the passing game, as they have the ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

#2 – The Tailback

The tailback is the second most common type of running back. They are typically larger and stronger than halfbacks.

This makes them more effective in short-yardage situations, such as when the team needs to gain a few yards for a first down.

They are not as effective in the passing game as halfbacks, but they can still be used as a receiver out of the backfield.

#3 – The Fullback

The fullback is the least common type of running back. They are typically the largest and strongest of all the running backs.

Their primary responsibility is to block the other running backs and receivers. However, they may also be used as a short-yardage runner or receivers out of the backfield.

Characteristics of a Running Back

Some certain skills and characteristics are common among all good running backs. Some of these include:

Height and Weight

Most running backs are between 5’10” and 6’2″ tall, and weigh between 200 and 250 pounds. They need to be big enough to withstand the physicality of the game, but not so big that they lose speed and agility.

football player defending ball from other team

Running backs need to be fast and agile in order to be successful. They need to have the speed to outrun defenders, as well as the agility to make quick cuts without losing momentum.

If a running back is too slow, small, or too sluggish, they will be ineffective.

Receiving Ability

Running backs also need to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield. This is a skill that is becoming increasingly important, as more and more teams are using their running backs in the passing game.

A running back who can catch the ball gives their team another option on offense and can make them a more dangerous team.

Having the ability to catch the ball also allows the running back to stay on the field for all three downs, rather than just being used as a runner on first and second down.

A running back with good receiving ability will be able to find the open space and make the most of it.

Blocking

Another important skill for running backs is their ability to block. Running backs need to be able to pick up blitzes and protect their quarterback in the passing game.

They also need to be able to open up holes for their teammates in the running game. A good running back will have the strength and size to take on defenders head-on, as well as the agility to get around them.

Blocking is a skill that is often overlooked, but it is an important part of being a successful running back.

Goal-line Backs

These may be used in short-yardage situations, where their primary responsibility is to punch the ball into the end zone for a touchdown.

These types of backs are typically larger and stronger than other running backs, and they need to be able to overpower defenders in order to get the ball into the end zone.

Typically, goal-line backs are used in situations where the team is within close range of the end zone and they need a powerful runner to get the ball across the goal line.

Kick and Punt Returners

Some running backs are also used as kick and punt returners. This is usually a role that is reserved for the fastest and most agile running backs.

A returner needs to have the vision to see the field in front of them, as well as the speed to outrun defenders.

Returning kicks and punts is a very important role, as it can give the team good field position and often results in points.

Power NFL Running Backs 

Some of the most successful and popular running backs in the NFL are considered to be “power” backs. These are typically larger and stronger than other running backs, and they use their size and strength to run through defenders.

running back with the football tucked in players arm

Some of the most successful power-backs in NFL history include Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Earl Campbell, Emmitt Smith, and Barry Sanders.

What separated these backs from the rest was not only their size and strength but their speed and agility. They were able to run through defenders, but they also had the speed and agility to make them dangerous in the open field.

Jim Brown

He is considered to be one of the greatest running backs of all time, and he was a power back. He was 6’2″ and 232 pounds, and he was known for his ability to run through defenders.

A Cleveland Browns legend, fans used to say, “Jim Brown could make you miss in a phone booth.”

This is because he was not only big and strong, but he was also quick and agile. He was able to make defenders miss in tight spaces, and he often broke tackles.

Walter Payton

He was another power back who was known for his ability to run through defenders. He was also known for his elusiveness and ability to make defenders miss.

Payton was 5’10” and 200 pounds, and he was considered to be one of the most versatile running backs in NFL history.

He was not only a powerful runner between the tackles, but he was also a good receiver and an excellent blocker.

He played his entire career with the Chicago Bears, and he is considered to be one of the greatest players in franchise history.

Earl Campbell

He was a power-back who was known for his ability to run over defenders. He was 5’11” and 232 pounds, and he was a bruising runner between the tackles.

Campbell was drafted by the Houston Oilers, and he had an immediate impact. He was named the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1978, and he went on to win the NFL MVP award in 1979. He also played for the New Orleans Saints.

He was a 3-time Pro Bowler, and in 1991, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Emmitt Smith

He is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, and he is considered to be one of the greatest running backs of all time. He was a power back who was also known for his speed and agility.

Smith was 5’9″ and 210 pounds, and he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in 1990. He quickly became the team’s starting running back, and he went on to have a Hall of Fame career.

Smith was a 4-time Pro Bowler, and he was named the NFL MVP in 1993. He also won 3 Super Bowls with the Cowboys.

Barry Sanders

He is considered to be one of the greatest running backs of all time, and he was known for his elusiveness.

Sanders was born in Wichita, Kansas, and attended Oklahoma State University, where he played football for the Cowboys.

After a stellar collegiate career, Sanders was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 1989 NFL Draft.

He quickly became one of the most dominant running backs in the league, rushing for over 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons.

In 1997, Sanders had one of the greatest seasons for a running back in NFL history, rushing for 2,053 yards and winning the NFL MVP Award.

Sanders retired from the NFL after just 10 seasons, but he left as one of the most decorated running backs in league history.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Is the Running Back Position Important?

The running back position is important because it is a vital part of the offense. The running back is responsible for carrying the ball and gaining yards, and they are often the player who scores the touchdowns.

football player in white uniform running with the ball

Without a good running back, it can be difficult for an offense to be successful. This is why many teams place a high value on running backs, and they often use high draft picks to select them.

They can also be used in the passing game, as they can catch passes out of the backfield. This makes them even more valuable, as they can be a threat to both runs and catch the ball.

Running backs are often some of the most popular players on a team, as they often score touchdowns and make the big plays. This is why many fans love to watch running backs, and they are often some of the most popular players in the NFL.

Running Back FAQs

Do Running Backs Make Touchdowns?

Yes, running backs often score touchdowns. They are typically responsible for carrying the ball into the end zone, and they are often the player who scores the most touchdowns on a team.

Do Running Backs Throw a Ball?

No, running backs do not typically throw the ball. They are responsible for carrying the ball and running with it. However, some running backs may be used in the passing game and may catch passes out of the backfield.

What Is the Average Size of a Running Back?

The average size of a running back is 5’10” and 210 pounds. However, there are some running backs who are smaller or larger than this, depending on their playing style.

Conclusion

The running back position is important because it is a vital part of the offense. The running back is responsible for carrying the ball and gaining yards, and they are often the player who scores the touchdowns.

Without a good running back, it can be difficult for an offense to be successful.

This is why the running back position is often considered to be one of the most important positions in football, and why some of the best players in the NFL are running backs.

Who do you think is the best running back in the NFL?


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