Pretty Good Sports

NFL Draft Rants: First Round Running Backs

Kyle Kunert

My first rant of the season after the combine is now on the subject of running backs. Especially, light of people bantering the opinion that Saquon Barkley can actually become the first overall selection of the draft. Let me barf in a bag real quick. Not only is that the opposite of what Cleveland needs with their abundance of picks where they can grab a running back later. It just does not make sense monetarily for the first overall pick and does not solve their most important issue the quarterback. If he makes it to their fourth overall pick fine, but in general I am nonbeliever that running backs deserve to go in the first round.

My first piece of evidence is the fact in the past ten Super Bowls there have only been a handful of 1,000 yard rushers in the big dance. In fact, in the modern era it has been even less. Just look at the past handful of teams. The Patriots had a committee each time they went there, this past winner the Eagles big stars were two undrafted backs, and the Falcons had two mid round backs. Clearly, in today's NFL you do not need a strong go to runner to win a Super Bowl. In fact, if you are less star dependent on a go to back that defenses can key in on I think you are better off.

Secondly here is the list of previous first round running backs since 2012.

Trent Richardson to the Browns at pick #3
Doug Martin to the Bucs at pick #31
David Wilson to the Giants at pick #32
- Between that bunch of backs is a whole lot of disappointment. Between the three of them only Martin has gone on to have a successful career, but is not without his disappointment. Between the three of them there has been no playoff appearances and only Martin has had two 1000 yard rushing seasons. Instead, there was Lamar Miller in the 4th round who was the only back to really succeed in the pros from this class.

- This draft saw no first round backs....yay. Instead, there was a ton of value in this draft late.
Gio Bernard to the Bengals in the 2nd round
Le'Veon Bell to the Steelers in the 2nd round
Eddie Lacy to the Packers in the 2nd round
Chris Thompson to the Redskins in the 5th round
Latavius Murray to the Raiders in the 6th round
Theo Riddick to the Lions in the 6th round
CJ Anderson to the Broncos was undrafted
- This draft is proof if nothing else on how easy it is to find value backs later in the draft. Side Note: Le'Veon Bell does not deserve a long term contract as a back with a ton of mileage, an injury history, and a suspension history. No where does he have any leverage over the Steelers and if he were to leave they would be just fine without him with their talented offensive line.

No first round backs again, but again there were a few good finds later in the draft.
Carlos Hyde to the 49ers in the 2nd round
Terrance West to the Browns in the 3rd round
Jerick McKinnon to the Vikings in the 3rd round
Devonta Freeman to the Falcons in the 4th round
James White to the Pats in the 4th round
- Another display of good drafting with landing a few top backs in this draft.

Todd Gurley to the Rams with the #10 pick
Melvin Gordon to the Chargers with the #15 pick
- Both of these backs have experienced varying success to this point. Yes, Gurley had a great year his rookie and this previous season. However, between those years was an incredibly disappointing season due to the poor offensive line play in front of him. Meanwhile, Gordon has been very inconsistent to this point with his health, fumbling, and pass blocking forcing him to work in a rotation. To this point I think it's a mixed bag and Gurley has the benefit of having an offensive genius as his head coach to make him succeed.

Other Notable Backs
TJ Yeldon to the Jags in the 2nd round
Ameer Abdullah to the Lions in the 2nd round
Tevin Coleman to the Falcons in the 3rd round
Duke Johnson to the Browns in the 3rd round
David Johnson to the Cardinals in the 3rd round
Jay Ajayi to the Dolphins in the 5th round

Ezekiel Elliott to the Cowboys with the #4 pick
- He was the official start to the trend that backs are valuable again and can be taken in the first round. However, I only put this caveat with this selection. First, the Cowboys passed on a better player arguably in Jalen Ramsey who would help out a lot more in their woeful secondary. Secondly, the Cowboys already had a dominant line to block for him. Unlike possibly the Giants or Browns who people suspect will take Barkley early in the draft.

Other Notable Backs
Derrick Henry to the Titans in the 2nd round
Jordan Howard to the Bears in the 5th round
Alex Collins to the Ravens in the 5th round
Robert Kelley to the Redskins was undrafted

Leonard Fournette to the Jags with the #4 pick
Christian McCaffrey to the Panthers with the #8 pick
- It is way too early to judge either of these guys yet, but to be honest both of them were less than people expected. Fournette's numbers are good, but it does not help him that the Jags won the three games he missed this season. Not only that their rushing numbers were actually better when he was out. Meanwhile, McCaffrey was a mixed bag his first year in the league. He definitely is not a bell cow back and is much better suited as a pass catching scat back. I would not be shocked if the Panthers draft a proper compliment to handle goal line carries. Overall, a bag of meh if you ask me.

Other Notable Backs
Dalvin Cook to the Vikings in the 2nd round
D'Onta Foreman to the Texans in the 3rd round
Alvin Kamara to the Saints in the 3rd round
Kareem Hunt to the Chiefs in the 3rd round
Corey Clement to the Eagles undrafted
- There are a few other backs I liked from this class like Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon, and Aaron Jones. However, I will give them some more time to really establish themselves. Meanwhile, it was a neck and neck race for the Rookie OPoY award between Kamara and Hunt. One of which led the league in yards. This class is the best example of the direction running backs are going in my opinion.

Overall what I can really pick up from this list is that running backs have come a long way and more have been drafted the past two seasons than the ones prior. To me it just shows that running backs are getting better for the current pro game. No longer are they bell cow backs who need the ball a ton. Instead, they work well in the pass game and in a rotation. None of them have really displayed that alpha dog mentality that used to be prevalent in guys like Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore of the past. They can do it, but with how specialized each player can be I think it is just best to have it as a committee. Also, this class is good enough after Saquon Barkley to resemble something in the line of the past two drafts. The second tier of runners after him include Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Derrius Guice, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones, Rashaad Penny, Kerryon Johnson, and Kalen Ballage who can all be impactful backs taken late in the draft. So why waste a pick on Barkley up top passing up on a better prospect who is a better long term option than a running back.

Lastly, over the course of history in my opinion none of the top backs in the league have really carried a team into the playoffs. Look at Adrian Peterson who was unable to make the playoffs until he got Brett Farve at quarterback. Then when he leaves the team was actually much better on offense. Look at Le'Veon Bell who has consistently floundered in the playoffs thus far and often when they miss Big Ben or Antonio Brown is it more of a loss. Todd Gurley only made the playoffs just now with an improved line, head coach, and quarterback. DeMarco Murray when he led the league in rushing could never even sniff the playoffs. As you can see with this list the running back is never as good as people think. What is more important is an offensive line that can block and a quarterback who can push the ball downfield.

In the end, I think it is really simple on order of positions you should draft in the first round before a running back. At the top of the list is a quarterback, then an offensive line, followed by a defensive line, and a secondary. Running backs are way to dependent on things to be successful in front of him before he is actually able to make a real impact. So, good luck Cleveland if you draft Barkley in the first round better prepare him to go against eight man boxes and defenses keying in on him. Good luck Giants if you draft him you already have one of the worst lines in the league and with Barkley you will basically own a Ferrari in Alaska where you cannot get the full effect of having such a good runner.

End Rant