5 NFL Trends set to continue into the Future
The Running Back will continue to be insignificant
When we say insignificant, we do not mean that the position will no longer be of importance. Typically, teams that win in the NFL are the ones that run the ball more effectively than their opponents. It’s the individual who winds up in the running back position for any team that will continue to become more insignificant. Consider the previous eight NFL Drafts. In the past four of those drafts, only three running backs have been taken in the first round. Take 2013 and 2014 as an example, no running backs were chosen in the first round. In the four drafts prior to 2013, there were 10 running backs taken in the first round.
The position is still important, but who actually carries the ball is not. The New York Jets leading rusher in 2015 was Chris Ivory, who also finished fifth in the NFL. He was an undrafted free agent. Guys like Oakland’s Latavius Murray (6th round) and Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman (4th round) are adequate in a league where a little over 50 yards per game separates the best rushing team in the league and the 19th-best.
The most important position in the NFL is a Pass Rusher
He may be a defensive end, an outside linebacker, or even a defensive tackle in some cases, but guys like J.J. Watt and Von Miller are going to make millions because they can rush the passer. The NFL is a quarterback-driven passing league. Since teams throw the ball so much, defenses are now gearing themselves towards disrupting the passing game.
One segment of the defense designed to stop a passing game is the pass rush. Watt, though hurt in 2016, signed a new contract prior to the 2014 season that made him the highest paid non-quarterback in the league. He is the only player in NFL history with two 20-plus sack seasons and he is worth every penny the Houston Texans pay him. In the past few years, NFL teams have been drafting players like Watt, guys like Joey Bosa (San Diego), Khalil Mack (Oakland), and Jadeveon Clowney, Watt’s teammate in Houston. This trend will continue as long as the NFL remains a passing league.
The 3-4 defense will become the Primary Defensive set
In the previous decade-plus, the 4-3 Cover 2 defense of former NFL head coach Tony Dungy and long-time defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin took over. Teams found a way to stop the run, get after the passer, and prevent long downfield throws using what has become known as the Tampa 2 defense. The 3-4 allows for a little more flexibility and permits defenses to disguise their intentions. The zone blitzes made famous by former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau were all built out of the 3-4 defense. With blitzes coming from all over the place, the 3-4 can create a bit of confusion for opposing quarterbacks. In 2001, the Steelers were the only 3-4 defense in the NFL. Now, they are one of 17 teams that utilize the scheme. Some teams use some 3-4 concepts built into a 4-3 defense, like New England.
Guys like Rob Gronkowski have redesigned the ultimate Offensive threat
At 6-foot-6-inches and around 265 pounds, Gronkowksi is big, strong, and fast. He is big enough to block at the line of scrimmage, yet athletic enough to split out and make opposing secondaries look pathetic. There are plenty of guys like Gronkowski playing the league as offenses have found ways to exploit defenses by using a big, athletic, pass-catching tight end. Jason Witten, Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert, and Jimmy Graham are just a few of the 6-5 or taller, 250-pound or more tight ends wreaking havoc on opposing defenses. With players like these on the field, an offense can run or pass without changing personnel groupings. Plus, teams can operate without a huddle and can more easily attack the middle of the field.
College coaches will receive more NFL head coaching opportunities
Jim Harbaugh did it but then went back to the college ranks and now has the No. 2 team in the country at Michigan, but remember that Pete Carroll was once a college head coach at USC. Chip Kelly made the jump from Oregon. As more teams utilize more and more spread offense concepts, college coaches are going to get more opportunities. There are a number of NFL teams using Air Raid concepts in their offenses. Nearly every team in the Big 12 operates an Air Raid offense. As these quarterbacks transition to the NFL, it is going to take guys with experience to help them develop at the professional level.