Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The New England Patriots are beginning to perfect a no-huddle offence that could change the NFL forever.But the move toward fast-paced, passing-heavy offenses isn’t the only major trend that’s reshaping NFL football right.
The death of the running back, the rise of the tight end, and the complete redefinition of what it means to play defence are all key parts of the future of the league.
We’ve identified the 10 current trends that will play the biggest roles in determining what pro football will look like in the future.
Individual running backs no longer matter.
These days, almost every NFL teams runs the ball the same amount, to the same level of success. The stats:
- In 2011, the team ranked 5th in rushing yards per game (142.3 ypg) and 20th (110.3 ypg) were only separated by 32 ypg.
- The team ranked 5th in rushing attempts per game (30.3 apg) and 20th (26.9 apg) were separated by less than five carries per game.
The result: Teams aren't going to invest in one running back, it's going to be a rotating cast of players because the position has been commoditized.
As teams pass more and more, getting pressure on the QB without blitzing is becoming more important. It's basically how the Giants won the Super Bowl twice.
These guys don't have to worry about stopping the run, they just have to attack the pocket. Dwight Freeney is the highest-paid player in the NFL, Mario Williams just got a $100-million contract, and JJ Watt is the clear-cut defensive player of the year for the Texans.
The result: Teams are going to take the money they aren't spending on running backs and pay defensive ends a lot of money.
The Patriots are running more no huddle than the NFL has ever seen this year. As we all know, the NFL is a copy-cat league, so teams are going to begin to mimic their success (the Ravens are already dabbling in the no huddle).
The fast-paced no huddle has already overtaken college football with the help of coach Chip Kelly at Oregon, and it's only a matter of time until it comes over the horizon.
The result: The NFL is going to look more like college football soon.
Both Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham broke the receiving yards record for tight ends last year. In addition, 7 of the top 25 players in targets last season were tight ends.
It's not just a fleeting trend. Having a versatile tight end on the field at all times lets you run and pass from the same personnel packages, and allows you to attack in middle of the field.
The result: Flashy receivers are out, bulky tight ends who can run, leap, and block are in.
10 of the 32 starting quarterbacks in Week One were drafted in the last two years. Five of them were rookies.
The 1990s notion that you draft a QB with a high pick, let him learn under a veteran for a year or two, and then throw him into the fire once he reaches age 24 is dead.
The result: More unpredictability (because they are so inconsistent), and ultimately more turnover at the position. Guys like Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, and Blaine Gabbert are only a few years out of college and are already at risk of losing their jobs.
The 'wildcat' has given way to something way more effective, the read-option. Rather than putting wide receivers under centre and simply having them run sweeps, teams like the 49ers are using dual threat QBs and running plays that have multiple options and reads.
The epitome of this is Colin Kaepnerick, who not only has touchdowns in two-straight games, but is running a well-conceived gameplan that fits well within the broader offence.
The result: Dual-threat college QBs like Eric Crouch who were converted to WR in the NFL are going to be used as read-option back-ups.
In the past, cash-conscious teams like the Patriots used to always trade out of the first round so they didn't have to pay the exorbitant salaries that the old rookie wage scale required.
But all of that changed under the new CBA, and now it makes sense for teams to draft in the first round and trade up.
In the 2012 Draft, we saw the Patriots drafted Chandler Jones when they might have traded the pick in the past, and the Cowboys trade up to grab Morris Claiborne.
The result: More top college players going to more good teams.
Rules changes involving pass interference and helmet-to-helmet hits hurts the value of having a great defence
This week, Steelers linebacker James Harrison admitted that he let up on Michael Vick because he didn't want to get fined.
These measures are necessary to prevent head injuries, but it puts the defence at a further disadvantage.
The result: With the way the refs call the games, it's unlikely that we're going to see a truly dominant and intimidating defence like we've seen in the past.
12 teams currently use the 3-4, and that number has been steadily growing for a few years.
Much like the Tampa Two in the early 00s, the 3-4 is the new defensive scheme craze that's sweeping the league.
The 3-4 basically allows defenses to be more versatile and disguise blitzes in new ways.
The result: Both enormous nose-tackles and BJ Raji and hybrid linebackers like Demarcus Ware will become more and more important.
Once again, the NFL is a copy-cat league, and clearly teams are coming to give college coaches a second look now that Jim Harbaugh has shown how effective college coaches can be with the 49ers.
Pete Carroll and Greg Schiano have also made the leap in recent years, and there was even talk of Chip Kelly joining the NFL ranks last spring.
The result: More college schemes and philosophies, more entertaining offenses.
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