Emmitt Smith 'frustrated' by the current valuation of NFL running backs

Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith broke down his thoughts on the NFL's current RB problem and his all-time Mount Rushmore for NFL running backs.
Emmitt Smith, NFL Honors
Emmitt Smith, NFL Honors / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

Emmitt Smith knows a thing or two about toting the rock as the heartbeat of an NFL offense.

The NFL's all-time leading rusher with 18,355 yards in his 15 seasons, 13 with the Dallas Cowboys and his final two with the Arizona Cardinals, Smith finished just one season (2003 with the Cardinals) with fewer than 937 rushing yards. He also rushed into the end zone an incredible 164 times in his career as well.

Smith retired following the 2004 season, but his place in the record books, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in NFL lore are never going anywhere. But now working with PepsiCo Emmitt Smith as a star of a new commercial, "Unretirement", Smith spoke with Sterling Holmes for FanSided's Stacking the Box this week.

And in the discussion, the current state of the running back position in the NFL with an offseason full of contract disputes between Saquon Barkley and the New York Giants, Josh Jacobs and the Las Vegas Raiders, and Jonathan Taylor with the Indianapolis Colts, Holmes asked Smith about his assessment of how things have transpired in the league with the valuation of running backs.

Emmitt Smith 'frustrated' with valuation of NFL running backs in 2023

"I think the game itself is acquiescing to, like you said, the stats -- not only stats but the analytics," Smith said. "I think for the most part, when you look at the game of football, it is, it has adjusted or it has gravitated to a more pass-happy football league. Unfortunately for the running backs, that takes the ball out of our hands."

But beyond the analytics and statistical revolution in the league, Smith noted that Patrick Mahomes has something to do with it as every team tries to copy the mold of the Kansas City Chiefs. There's just one problem: There's only one Mahomes.

"But, the only reason why there's a more pass-happy league is because you have guys like Patrick Mahomes who could throw the ball 45, 50 times a game and everybody thinks that their quarterback can do the same thing," Smith said. "And the reality of the fact is your quarterback may not even be the caliber of a Patrick Mahomes."

Smith then laid down an ultimatum to NFL teams if they're going to devalue running backs contractually as we've seen this offseason.

"So my thing is this, if you want to devalue the running back position, take us out on third down," Smith said. "Put a defensive... put an offensive lineman in the backfield, put an extra offensive lineman in the backfield, let him pick up the blitzers and just call us in when you want us to run the football.

"I mean, at the end of the day, it's not my job now to be blocking on third down. It's my job to even make myself available in the passing game so I can get the ball and do what I need to do and then go from there. But I just think that the national league has done the run back position of this service and it's playing out before everyone's eyes."

Smith also levied a strong statement to the NFL as well, saying that "when the shoe flips", teams shouldn't keep disrespecting running the position when there aren't guys like Mahomes, Jalen Hurts, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson or Joe Burrow, all guys the Cowboys legend mentioned, around.

"When the game flips back over to the running back position, which it will do, then treat us with respect and don't disrespect that position," Smith said. "If you do it now, then it's gonna come back to bite you sooner or later."

Holmes also asked Smith specifically about the situations with teams like the Raiders and Colts, specifically, and playing "hardball" with their running backs despite not having elite or even proven quarterbacks. And Smith expressed his frustration with those types of situations and the value a run game can have for a young quarterback.

"It is frustrating because, at the end of the day -- you just touched on two key teams that have quarterbacks and even down in Houston, they don't have that guy yet," Smith said. "But when you start looking at what the running back and the running game can do for a young player, it normally buys them time to even be developed into great quarterbacks. So, when you take the running game and treat the running back the way you are doing it, then you're forcing that quarterback to grow up quickly."

Beyond the situation with running backs, though, Smith did give a little bit of levity to the conversation when asked for his all-time Mount Rushmore of NFL running backs. He named Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and himself, without much hesitation. Interestingly, Smith, who retired in 2004, is the most recent inclusion on that list.

You can listen to the full interview with Emmitt Smith on Stacking the Box below.