NFL: 30 running backs who got better after leaving their first team

Jerome Bettis. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jerome Bettis. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images) /
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Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh Steelers
Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

Some of the best running backs in NFL history were better off joining a new team to help their careers. Which ones get even better after departing the franchise that drafted them?

No position in the NFL has undergone such a change in terms of value as the running back position has in the last decade. Once viewed as a crucial piece for a winning team and a big need in the NFL Draft, it’s become somewhat of an afterthought.

A huge reason for this is the new passer-friendly rules skewed towards quarterbacks and the passing game, along with teams using multiple running backs each game to preserve them.

But the elite rushers still have a huge impact on the modern-day game. Players such as Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, and Todd Gurley are examples from this past year, although only nine tailbacks total eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2018.

NFL running backs are a dying breed

Decades ago, that number was nearly doubled. While individuals like Barkley and Elliott were drafted in the top five of recent drafts, teams have opted to find hidden gems in the later rounds rather than use a high pick on a running back. In the most recent NFL Draft, only rushers Josh Jacobs and Miles Sanders were taken in the first two rounds.

The teams who drafted them (the Oakland Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles, respectively) hope that they’ll have long and thriving NFL careers. But there’s a chance that things won’t work out and the running backs will have to go play somewhere else. While that could be a temporary setback, it might ultimately end up being better for the player in the long run.

It was the case for many running backs in the past, whether they were traded or left the team that drafted them via NFL free agency. Whether it was back in the 1990s or even today, the fit and opportunity for a respective rusher is the biggest factor in whether they’ll succeed or not.

Some running backs better with a new team, while others got worse on their new club. But focusing on the positive side of things, here’s a look at the top 30 running backs who got better after they left the franchise that drafted them.