The Incredible Shrinking Running Back

Since 1970 — the first year following the competitive merger of the NFL and the AFL (the corporate merger occurred in 1966) — the average size of NFL players at every position but one has significantly increased.

That sole exception? Running back.

The average height of the 70 running backs who gained at least 200 yards rushing in 1970 was 72.59 inches.

According to this source, which can be assumed to be authoritative, the average height of all NFL running backs today is 70.73 inches.

Yet interestingly, the average weight of an NFL running back has actually gone up, albeit only marginally — from 213.29 pounds in 1970 (among running backs who had at least 200 yards rushing that year) to 214.48 pounds today. But that tiny increase in weight over a 52-year period nowhere near keeps up with the much larger increases in size at just about every other position — which is why converting on short-yardage and goal-line plays is so much more difficult now than it used to be.

By the way, only one running back who is or was taller than 6'4" has ever played pro football — Bert Coan, at 6'5", who played seven years for the Chiefs, retiring following the 1968 season. In 1970, the 6'4" Calvin Hill was the newly-merged league's tallest ball carrier — an honor he held solely as no other NFL running back that year was that tall. Other notable 6-foot-4 running backs include Sherman Smith, who played seven of his eight seasons with the Seahawks, and Brandon Jacobs, who played eight of his nine seasons with the Giants. Smith did not have a thousand-yard season, while Jacobs had two.

Now you know why no one ever referred to the 6-foot-2, 212-pound O.J. Simpson as a "fullback" or "power back" (although they now refer to him in a lot of other ways).

But if UCLA running back Zach Charbonnet, who goes 6'2", 220, decides to forgo his final year of college eligibility and declares for the 2023 NFL draft, he will be at the top of the list of every team that is looking for a "power back."

At present, seven teams do not have a running back on their roster that is at least 6 feet tall — Chicago, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, the defending Super Bowl champion Rams, Philadelphia, and Seattle.

Of the seven, the Eagles have the most pressing need for a power back, as what happened in one of their games last year proves devastatingly — and they have multiple options on this front: they can re-sign Jordan Howard (6'0", 224), who at the moment is a free agent and ran for 4.5 yards per carry with 53 first downs and 9 touchdowns in three (!) previous stints with the Eagles.

Another logical candidate is Latavius Murray, who despite his age (32) has been shockingly durable for a running back, appearing in 127 of a potential 134 games (playoffs included) and logging 302 first downs and 51 touchdowns. And Murray is 6'3", 230 — the same size as Matt Snell, who reminded everyone of that fact in a Miller Lite commercial: "And at 6'3", 230, there's a lot of me to fill."

A third name that comes to mind is the 6'2", 231-pound Kalen Ballage, who has a lot less mileage on his odometer than Murray — but has still managed to record 74 first downs and has scored 7 touchdowns in just 217 career carries. And under the seniority-based "wage scale" that was part of 2011 collective bargaining agreement that narrowly averted a lockout, Ballage would cost a lot less to sign than either Howard or Murray — and everybody knows that Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman are so cheap that they donate nickels to the March of Dimes.

After fixing their obvious problems pretty much across the board on defense in both free agency (signing edge rusher Hasson Reddick, cornerback James Bradberry and safety Jacquiski Tartt) and the draft (selecting humongous defensive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean, although Dean could have size issues at the proverbial next level), and hoping that like the tenth time's the charm at wide receiver by signing A.J. Brown (despite the fact that Brown's speed rating of 91 on Madden 23 is tied for 69th among the 286 wide receivers who are rated), a power running back is essentially the only box left for the Eagles to check in order to make themselves the favorites in what figures to be a tight three-way battle among themselves, the Cowboys, and the newly-renamed Commanders in what has every promise of being the NFC East's first "winning season" since 2016.

It's your move, Howie. It would be heartbreaking to see the Eagles blow the NFC East, or even the playoffs, all because they couldn't gain six inches a couple of times.

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