The NFL running back conundrum: How teams view their value

Aaron Jones (33) and AJ Dillon (28) man a solid one-two punch, but can the Packers pay both long-term? AP Photo/Morry Gash

The shelves in Brian Daboll's home office are stocked with old playbooks symbolizing years of work, dusty clutter the Giants coach says his wife, Beth, would just as soon see in the trash.

"I've still got stuff from since I started in 1997," Daboll said.

Maybe he should keep that stuff, because despite Monday's loss to the Cowboys, Daboll's New York Giants offense is cooking with throwback seasoning: Give the ball to a lead running back and let him work.

Saquon Barkley logged 53 carries and 66 touches over the first three weeks. Not only did Barkley reward that faith with 408 total yards, but he provided a signature moment that felt like something out of an NFL Films montage: crossing over two Tennessee Titans defenders for a 2-point conversion in the final minutes of Week 1, prompting bro-hugs between head coach and hero running back on the sideline and awkward middle-aged dancing in the locker room.

This is a departure for Daboll, whose tailbacks during his four-year tenure as Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator never produced more than 190 carries in a season.

"A guy like Saquon, you don't want to take him off the field too much, with his skill set," Daboll said of the NFL's second-leading 2022 rusher.

As the modern NFL leans heavily on passing, top rushers are trying to preserve the feature back while accepting modern realities about usage and production. They cite Adrian Peterson and Derrick Henry and all the post-2000 backs who live in NFL folklore for their durability and deft open-field cuts -- even if many front offices have moved off that model.