Running backs in the NFL are capable of doing a multitude of things. Whether it's rushing the ball or catching a pass out of the backfield, more running backs are finding a way to make an impact.
"Having a running back that can play every down makes it difficult to distinguish when a team is going to run the ball or pass the ball," says NFL Network analyst MARSHALL FAULK, who ranks fourth all-time with 19,154 scrimmage yards and is the only player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 yards and catch 700 passes.
These versatile running backs are an offensive coordinator's dream and a defensive coordinator's nightmare.
"It opens up an offense because defenses really have to focus on that individual player," says Chicago Bears offensive coordinator MIKE MARTZ. "Defensive coaches will have to make sure to take him away and focus on him. That all of a sudden creates terrific opportunities for other guys.
"A defense has to account for a versatile running back in a different way. Especially if there is man-coverage involved, defenses have to be careful about whom he is going to be matched up with on passes. In zone coverage, he creates a different problem, because once you split him out, he can go through zones like a wide receiver can and that's a whole different element. So in other words, it is like having a third wide receiver out there that can go out and then line up in the backfield too. When you have someone like that, it stretches the defense."
It's unlimited as far as the number of different things these running backs allow you to do," adds Martz. "With a back like this, you start to find different things for him to do, whether it's different routes to run and using him in different capacities to get him out into the perimeter. When that happens, that change-up causes things and that stretches the defense and creates good matchups.
"Running backs are the hardest thing to account for in the passing game. Once you get a back with speed matched up with linebackers and safeties, usually that's a mismatch."
Through the first eight weeks of the season, there are three running backs – Chicago's MATT FORTÉ, San Francisco's FRANK GORE and Philadelphia's LE SEAN MC COY – who lead their teams in both rushing yards and receptions.