More NFL teams use a committee approach at running back. That’s the generally accepted theory. But it’s not really backed up by the numbers. That is, we can’t look back at the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s and show that running backs we’re putting up much better numbers.

Take, for example, the 5th-best running back of each season since the league moved to a 16-game schedule in 1978. That’s 41 years, and I’m looking at the No. 5 running back in each of those seasons (using PPR scoring). If running backs are being spelled more, you might think that the backs nowadays would put up lesser numbers.

But that’s not really supported by the stats.

Ezekiel Elliott (the 5th-best running back last year) finished with 2,001 yards and 9 TDs. Since 1978, only three other running backs have finished with better stats while being the 5th-best back of their season.

Most of the other No. 5 backs of the last 10 years have been pretty average in comparison with the other years. In general, they’ve been a little below average, but it hasn’t been glaring.

In the chart below, backs from the last 10 years have a black dot in front of their name. Those from the last five years have two black dots.

No surprise that the two least productive backs come from 1982 and 1987. Those seasons were both shortened by labor disputes.

2002Tiki Barber, NYG695971,3871,98411333.4
2006Frank Gore, S.F.614851,6952,1809333.0
2003Deuce McAllister, N.O.695161,6412,1578332.7
2018•• Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.775671,4342,0019331.1
2004Curtis Martin, NYJ412451,6971,94214319.2
2005Edgerrin James, Ind.443371,5061,84314312.3
2000Curtis Martin, NYJ705081,2041,71211312.1
1998Garrison Hearst, S.F.395351,5702,1059305.5
1983Curt Warner, Sea.423251,4491,77414303.4
1981Wilbert Montgomery, Phi.495211,4021,92310301.3
2001Curtis Martin, NYJ533201,5131,83310301.2
1995Curtis Martin, N.E.302611,4871,74815296.8
1984Ottis Anderson, St.L.706111,1741,7858296.5
2016•• DeMarco Murray, Ten.533771,2871,66412295.9
1992Lorenzo White, Hou.576411,2261,8678291.7
1994Ricky Watters, S.F.667198771,59611291.6
1985Gerald Riggs, Atl.332671,7191,98610291.6
2017•• Melvin Gordon, LAC584761,1051,58112288.1
1979Joe Washington, Balt.827508841,6347287.4
1986James Brooks, Cin.546861,0871,7739285.3
2009• Frank Gore, S.F.524061,1201,52613282.6
1996Emmitt Smith, Dall.472491,2041,45315282.3
1999Stephen Davis, Was.231111,4051,51617278.6
2010• Adrian Peterson, Min.363411,2981,63913277.9
2008Thomas Jones, NYJ362071,3121,51915277.9
2014•• Arian Foster, Hou.383271,2461,57313277.6
2013• Marshawn Lynch, Sea.363161,2571,57314277.3
2011• Darren Sproles, N.O.867106031,31310277.3
2012• Marshawn Lynch, Sea.231961,5901,78612273.6
1980Walter Payton, Chi.463671,4601,8277270.7
1988Greg Bell, LAR241241,2121,33618265.6
2007Adrian Peterson, Min.192681,3411,60913257.9
1997Marshall Faulk, Ind.474711,0541,5258247.5
1989James Brooks, Cin.373061,2391,5459245.5
1978Tony Galbreath, N.O.745826351,2177237.7
1991Rodney Hampton, NYG432831,0591,34210237.2
2015•• DeAngelo Williams, Pitt.403679071,27411235.4
1993Jerome Bettis, LAR262441,4291,6737235.3
1990Albert Bentley, Ind.716645561,2206229.0
1987Eric Dickerson, LAR-Ind.181711,2881,4596199.9
1982Pete Johnson, Cin.312676228897161.9

—Ian Allan