One of the most important positions in any NFL team’s offense is running back, but many teams make the mistake of drafting the position in the first round of the NFL draft.
Now, that isn’t to say that ZERO running backs deserve to be drafted in the first round.
Former Oklahoma Sooner Adrian Peterson was taken by the Minnesota Vikings with the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he has built a career resume that includes an MVP trophy, two rushing titles and six trips to the Pro Bowl.
NFL all-time rushing leader and three-time Super Bowl champion Emmitt Smith was drafted 17th overall back in 1990.
This year, guys like Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon III are being projected as first rounders as well, with Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports going so far as to say Gurley could be a Top 10 guy.
But those select few don’t take away from the true fact: running backs are a dime-a-dozen with short shelf lives, and using a first round pick on one is a huge reach unless the player involved is freakishly talented.
Look at it this way: In the past decade, 18 of the NFL running backs selected to the Pro Bowl were first round picks. That’s a pretty big number, and not one that necessarily supports the argument that runners should not be taken so early.
But now let’s look at the last five Pro Bowls. Sure enough, half of those players made the Pro Bowl in that timeline, but let’s dig a little deeper.
First off, the players of the last five years were the following: Peterson, Mark Ingram Jr., Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin, Willis McGahee, Ryan Mathews, Chris Johnson and Steven Jackson.
Of that group, one isn’t even in the league anymore, one is just getting back from a near season-long suspension for child abuse, one is a free agent, and all but Ingram and Lynch will be heading into training camp having to fight and claw their way to earn playing time. Though a Pro Bowl may be a solid recognition for talent in a single season, it nowhere near a measure for overall talent.
Thus, let’s have a look at the draft and see just how many running backs have gone in the first round in recent years.
Going back to 2005 and up until last year, a total of 23 men at that position were taken with first round picks. Once again, a number that makes the argument look a bit crazy.
But look at it this way. Of those 23, only six were taken in the last five years, those men being Trent Richardson, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Doug Martin, Jahvid Best and the aforementioned Ingram. Of this group, only Ingram is guaranteed a starting job next year. In the past two drafts, no running backs were taken in the first round.
That all being said, with more and more of the league’s best runners being drafted on Day 2 and beyond, the fact that some teams still consider picking a running back in the first round is somewhat odd.
Sure, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon III are incredibly talented, but both have flaws that should not be overlooked in spite of how great they may seem on the field.
The fact is that despite what some points in history may suggest, running backs are expendable and if a team is going to use its first round draft pick on one, management had better be sure that the player is a home run selection.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports