Don’t Rush to Select a Running Back
Posted By Scott Wright
For years now I have maintained that teams should avoid using early first round picks on running backs unless they are truly special prospects. The 2010 season has only reaffirmed and validated that philosophy.
As of the moment I am writing this the Top 5 leading rushers in the league are Maurice Jones-Drew, Arian Foster, Jamaal Charles, Michael Turner and Chris Johnson. Only one of those five players (Johnson) was a first round pick. The others? Jones-Drew was a second rounder, Foster was an undrafted free agent, Charles was a third rounder and Turner was a fifth rounder. Need more proof? One of the biggest surprises of the season has been the play of Peyton Hillis, a seventh round pick who ranks ninth in the NFL in rushing and third in touchdowns. Or how about Ahmad Bradshaw, another former seventh rounder who is tenth in the league in rushing. Or BenJarvus Green-Ellis? I could go on and on. Prior to the 2009 NFL Draft I was on the record as saying that I would rather select LeSean McCoy in the second round than Knowshon Moreno in the Top 20. It’s not that I didn’t think Moreno was a good player, I just didn’t feel he was the type of exceptional prospect who was worth taking that early. McCoy simply offered much better value later on and the results have confirmed my suspicions. Since entering the league Moreno has rushed for 1,661 yards and 12 touchdowns while McCoy has run for 1,609 yards and 11 touchdowns. In other words the Eagles have gotten similar results for a fraction of the cost. Instead of using the #12 overall pick on McCoy the Broncos could have had the best pass rusher in that draft (Brian Orakpo), who was taken just one pick later, and gotten a capable running back later on. This isn’t a case of hindsight being 20/20 either, because I criticized the move and said the exact same thing at the time of the draft. Granted some of the best running backs in the history of the NFL have been early round picks. However, guys like Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson, who were all Top 5 overall picks, are the exception to the rule and if a prospect of that caliber does come along I fully support them being selected near the top of the draft. They are few and far between though…
This past NFL Draft offered a perfect example of why teams should wait to address the running back position. The Buffalo Bills, despite their gaping holes at key positions like quarterback and left tackle, opted to use the #9 overall pick on Clemson’s C.J. Spiller. Nobody expected Spiller to be a workhorse in the pros but to say the early returns have been underwhelming would be an understatement. In an offense devoid of playmakers, Spiller has run for just 232 yards with another 82 yards through the air. The San Diego Chargers were in desperate need of a running back so they panicked and gave up a king’s ransom to move up and select Fresno State’s Ryan Mathews, who I had graded as a second rounder, with the #12 overall pick. So far Mathews has been a disappointment, struggling to stay healthy just like he did in college and only rushing for 447 yards and 3 touchdowns. Needless to say the Bills and Chargers aren’t getting the type of return on their investments that they anticipated. Meanwhile, do you know who the top rookie rushers are? Why it’s LeGarrette Blount of the Buccaneers and Chris Ivory of the Saints, who were undrafted free agents! Ladies and gentlemen, I rest my case.
The NFL Draft isn’t just about “Who” you select but also “Where” you select them. It’s about getting value for your picks and teams that use premium selections on average running backs are doing themselves a great disservice. Rare prospects such as Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden should absolutely come off the board early but it doesn’t make sense to reach for the Knowshon Moreno’s and Ryan Mathews’ of the world. History has shown us time and time again that productive running backs can be found all throughout the draft. Perhaps one day teams will embrace my philosophy and learn to take advantage of the quality and value that is available beyond the first round
Sometimes running the Mularkey offense makes me feel like I'm in a prison.