NFL rosters set: 140 running backs with 3.6 years average tenure

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Wednesday September 04, 2013

The shelf life of an NFL running back isn’t long.

But just how long?

This week, all 32 NFL organizations cut their rosters to 53 players, so I looked at all of the running backs on active rosters.

If you include this season, of the 140 running backs and fullbacks on active rosters, the average NFL tenure of a back is 3.6 years per player. They total 504 years, and the median is three years. I tried to include years on the practice squad for players who made active rosters this season. Each team is allowed eight practice squad players who earn a minimum of $6,000 per week. If you were to include current practice squad players, the average would be even lower.

This number can change slightly from year to year based on the personnel, but there are always rookie running backs coming in and a similar amount on their way out.

Running backs take a pounding, and unlike linemen, they don’t have the physical build to withstand it for very long. Does it feel like Reggie Bush is still new to the NFL? Remember people questioning if he could hold up? This season is his eighth in the league, and only six active running backs have longer tenures.

The two elder statesmen are Texans fullback Greg Jones and Ravens fullback Vonta Leach, both of whom are in their 10th seasons. Can Adrian Peterson break the single-season rushing record this season? This is his seventh year in the league, and only 10 current backs have more experience in the NFL.

Sometimes, running backs leave school early and raise some eyebrows of the school’s fans. But when you see these numbers, you know running backs don’t last very long. Sometimes, it’s not worth a running back returning for his senior year and taking another pounding. Sometimes, it’s better to strike if the iron is hot and take the risk. More often than not, the long-term reward doesn’t transpire, anyway. And they can always return to school.

There were 13 underclassmen running backs who declared for the 2013 NFL Draft, eight of whom were drafted. Nick Saban encouraged Eddie Lacy to leave early, and cited the short shelf life. The two running backs with the most carries last year, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell and Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, both declared early. Another season of that kind of workload takes its toll.


Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News,, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to

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