Unbreakable

Calvin Watkins on the barriers arrayed against breaking Emmitt Smith's record:


The current specialization of the NFL -- where teams now use two and three running backs and pass more often -- will likely add longevity to Smith's possession of the record. Even Smith's former team, the Cowboys, primarily use two running backs in Marion Barber and Felix Jones. 

 In today's NFL there are just a few teams using one main running back: St. Louis (Stephen Jackson), Minnesota (Adrian Peterson), Baltimore (Ray Rice), Jacksonville (Maurice Jones-Drew) and Tennessee (Chris Johnson). The use of more backs provides fewer opportunities for players to get more yards. 

Last season, eight different running backs had games with at least 30 carries. In the 2002 season, when Smith broke Payton's record, 21 players had games with 30 or more carries. "The trend now is you get more and more guys splitting time with other people. Sometimes that will help extend their career," said Cowboys running backs coach Skip Peete. "That's a lot of yards [Smith] got. Who knows?

I really thought LT would do it. It really seems like backs who do carry the load are getting worn down much faster. I'm thinking of Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes. It's such a physically demanding position. 

One reason why Payton is my number one all-time (or maybe tied with Jim Brown, I don't know) is because he set that record while carrying an offense for years. Emmitt was the indispensable piece of the Cowboys. But I can barely remember the Payton's offensive team-mates. Matt Suey? Willie Gault?
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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