They say that if you hear a lie told often enough with the proper conviction, you will eventually start to believe it. We see this play out in politics and pop culture with regularity. Anybody with the motivation to convince people of something being true or untrue that is to their benefit is liable to engage in this behavior.
I happen to think that there are a number of popular beliefs that we hold about the running back position that are either untrue or at least misleading. One of them is that elite running backs don’t win championships, and thus they are not as important as other positions and should be paid less.
If that is the case, then it’s also true that elite wide receivers don’t win them either. Yet wide receivers are making $15 million, while running backs are making $8 million. If part of the justification for paying them significantly less is because you don’t need them to win Super Bowls, then the same argument can be made to justify deflating the price tag for wide receivers.
Let’s take a gander, for starters, at the highest-paid wide receivers. We’ll start with the $15 million men. There are seven of them: Antonio Brown; Mike Evans; Brandin Cooks; DeAndre Hopkins; Sammy Watkins; Jarvis Landry; A.J. Green. I’m sure you can guess how many Super Bowls they have combined. Just in case you can’t, it’s zero, though at least Cooks played in one last year. Brown played in one as a rookie well before he was a starter.
You have to go all the way to number 10, Demaryius Thomas, to find the highest-paid wide receiver to win a Super Bowl. And while he is a very good player, and had a very solid season when they won the Super Bowl, it was not even a Pro Bowl year for him.
In fact, he has never made the first-team All-Pro list. No team who has won the Super Bowl in the past decade has had a first-team All-Pro wide receiver. That is to say, from 2007 on, not one Super Bowl winner had on their roster a wide receiver who had, up to that point in their career, ever been a first-team All-Pro even a single time.
Not the New England Patriots and Julian Edelman. Not the New York Giants. Not the New Orleans Saints. Not the Green Bay Packers or the Baltimore Ravens or the Denver Broncos. You have to go all the way back to the 2006 Indianapolis Colts to find the last Super Bowl winner that had the services of a first-team All-Pro talent at wide receiver in Marvin Harrison. They also had Reggie Wayne, but he would not earn that honor for another four years.
So…how does that compare to running backs in the same span? You need only go back to the 2013 season when the Seattle Seahawks and Marshawn Lynch won. He was a first-team All-Pro in 2012. Granted, that is the only instance during that span. Interestingly, both the Colts, with Edgerrin James in 2006, and the New York Giants, with Tiki Barber in 2007, won Super Bowls the year after they moved on from a first-team All-Pro runner, or in Barber’s case retired.
As another barometer, if you look at the all-time receiving yardage list, once you get past Jerry Rice at the top, there are a whole lot of names without titles. Terrell Owens; Randy Moss; Larry Fitzgerald; Tim Brown; Steve Smith; Andre Johnson; James Lofton; Cris Carter; Henry Ellard; Andre Reed; Steve Largent; Irving Fryar; Jimmy Smith.
Of the top 20 wide receivers in receiving yardage in NFL history, 13 of them failed to win a championship. The exceptions being Rice, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anquan Boldin, and Art Monk. Perhaps it’s worth noting that four of those seven did so in pairs, with Bruce and Holt winning with the Rams and Harrison and Wayne winning with the Colts.
Compare that to the list of running backs. Of the top 20 rushers all-time who played in the Super Bowl era, nine won at least one Super Bowl. The Pittsburgh Steelers of course have two of them in Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis. If the priority is helping yourself win championships, then paying wide receivers doesn’t seem to be any better an investment than paying running backs.