Matt Waldman’s RB to Defend the Planet

Photo by Phoo Chan.
Keep earth weird. Photo by Phoo Chan.

Who is my running back to defend the planet? I finally reveal it here. 

When I began my RB Cut-Down to Defend the Planet, I had planned to award Walter Payton the job. Somewhere along the way, I realized that Payton was much more than a ballcarrier for my team, he was a tone-setter and the embodiment of our philosophy. It left the starting gig open and allowed me to reconsider players that I cut.

For those you who need the score, here’s the cut-down list:

The players I originally cut from starting consideration who didn’t earn a role elsewhere are Campbell, Sayers, Dickerson, Lynch, Jackson, Smith and Brown. There’s a hair’s width of separation among them so it’s not as simple as looking at the next guy on my list (Jim Brown) who I didn’t assign a role and plugging him in as my starter. I could make it that easy, but I’d be sacrificing the ideals that I’m using as the foundation of my team build.

Although the differences in greatness are minuscule, there are notable contrasts with each player’s style. Some played in eras where the demands to consistently perform in a multidimensional role were few. I can’t blame them. I also can’t give them credit for something I didn’t see enough of in their career portfolios.

I’m seeking a back with proven versatility as a ballcarrier, pass catcher, and pass protector. Do I think Bo Jackson, Jim Brown and Earl Campbell can perform these roles? Yes. I’d even consider adding them to the team on the assumption that they’d prove me right if versatility was the only criteria.

It’s not.

Think about a multiple offense loaded with versatile players. Expressing that multiple nature to its maximum potential requires intelligent, creative, and selfless execution. It also requires players willing to cede opportunities to teammates.

While I believe even the most self-centered players are capable of rising to the occasion and sacrificing for the good of a team–and we can all agree defending the planet from enslavement would be the perfect occasion–I don’t want a player who hasn’t embodied this quality during his career. There will be no Hollywood moments on the field where there’s a tight shot on Eric Dickerson’s face as he contemplates in slow-motion whether he should do something he normally didn’t do during a football game.

My multiple scheme will feature three gifted running backs on the field at the same time in roles where any of of them could be the runner, blocker, passer, or receiver. It doesn’t our scheme will get so creative that it outsmarts itself trying to outsmart the defense. If a play works, we’ll continue going to the well enough times to build momentum.

Yes, momentum. It exists.

I’m not taking players off the field at the first hint of fatigue, because it can generate frustration among those who did the dirty work to lead the team to a certain point and not give them the chance to finish the job. I’ve seen games where teams substitute so liberally that the player was just beginning to get into the flow of the game when the coach pulls him. We can’t do this with great running backs.

Transcendent moments don’t always happen when you’re physically fresh, especially in a collision sport. Walter Payton set a single-game rushing record with a high fever. Michael Jordan helped his team win a NBA championship while fighting illness and the fatigue that comes with it.

Still, there will be a series or two every quarter where we give the starter a breather. Sometimes those series lead to pivotal moments where certain stars expect to be inserted back into the lineup to get a shot at the glory. I don’t want that kind of expectation from a player on my team.

Not all teammates get along, but there needs to be enough unselfish, fun-loving, hard-working players with a gift for reducing the tension among the troops when the atmosphere gets tight. Saving the planet from aliens qualifies as the ultimate tension-filled scenario.

Media attention is part of that pressure. I need players that are either at ease in the media without creating issues in the locker room or simply don’t care about the media and want nothing to do with them.

This is not the NFL, and its expensive version of Principal Ed Rooney has no sway here, but politicians might. We’ll need a strong hand to keep them at arm’s length from the team or a few seasoned pros who can steer them away.

I’m suggesting that the aliens will put Chris Christie–and every other politician I’ve ever seen ingratiating himself at the altar of the NFL–under house arrest. Hopefully they’ll see this as a fair request.

It would also be a bonus if my choice at running back has a similar style to the player I intended to be the starter: Walter Payton.

The most important qualities I’m seeking from a runner are similar to Payton:

  • Relentless stamina to the whistle.
  • Equal facility at eluding or attacking a defender.
  • Imagination and creativity with his eyes and feet.
  • Tremendous respect from his colleagues as a teammate and opponent.
  • Complements the styles of Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, Marshall Faulk and Marcus Allen.

This last point needs more explanation. What all four of these runners possess is creativity and the ability to physically and mentally wear out a defense. Peterson and Sanders are a little more boom-bust with their ratio of good plays to bad plays. I want a chain mover who hits the hole like a boxer with a trip hammer for a jab, but delivers the knockout blow.

I want a football player who is all about that action with another gear they call “Beast Mode.”

Most size-speed-strength wonks won’t like this pick. Neither will history worshipers. Football players will welcome it.

Most NFL players during the past two years put Lynch in the same category with Peterson, if not a ahead.  Today’s players are bigger, stronger, faster, and more technically savvy at their positions than in the past. It doesn’t mean they are tougher or understand the game better or that there weren’t exceptional players from the past that couldn’t hang today–far from it.

It does mean that nitpicking Lynch’s physical attributes in an era where athletes are better than anytime in history lacks merit. He may not have as many breakaway touchdowns in the same situation as a speedier back, but I haven’t seen a back author as many big-game, stamina-reliant plays since Payton and Brown while also having the versatility, locker room respect, and unselfishness to go with it.

Lynch is also a little different and–depending on your life experience–maybe a little weird. I want players that see the world differently and respond to it that way in kind. The point isn’t to be contrarian for the sake of the label, it’s a natural part of being exceptional.

Lynch is unapologetically exceptional in the same way that Brett Favre is. He’ll also work great with Favre on the field, because of his style as a runner.

Lynch’s lack of breathtaking speed doesn’t making safeties think twice about crowding the box to stop him because if you can’t stop him fast, you might not stop him at all. With Favre’s excellent array of ball fakes to an option like Lynch, the multiple offense comes to life. Faulk could motion into the backfield for an end around, Favre could fake to both backs and dump off to Allen, or the big-arm, free-wheeling quarterback could roll out and go deep.

Lynch fits this team as a runner, pass catcher, blocker, unselfish teammate, quiet leader, and odd bird.

Keep earth weird.

Matt Waldman runs this joint called the Rookie Scouting Portfolio blog. He also writes one of the most insanely comprehensive analysis of skill position prospects available to the public called the RSP. Draftniks and fantasy owners swear by it.  Download the RSP and RSP Post-Draft for one insane price here and 10 percent of each sale is donated to Darkness to Light, which trains individuals, communities, educators, coaches, government and civic organizations to prevent and address sexual abuse in their communities. Learn more about the RSP publications

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