Why NFL Teams Shouldn’t Draft a Running Back Too Early

Why NFL Teams Shouldn’t Draft a Running Back Too Early

Over the past several seasons, there has been a philosophy change amongst NFL teams. Offensive coordinators are spreading their weapons out and letting them excel in space. This philosophy has led to an uptick in passing frequency around the league. The days of being a ground and pound team are over for the time being. If you’re not leaning on your quarterback to spread the ball around to playmaking receivers, running backs, and tight ends, you are a dinosaur.

Look at the best teams in the league. What do they all have in common? A good quarterback. Here are all of the teams that currently sit in the playoff picture and their quarterbacks.

AFC

  1. Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes
  2. Texans: Deshaun Watson
  3. Patriots: Tom Brady
  4. Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger
  5. Chargers: Philip Rivers
  6. Ravens: Lamar Jackson

NFC

  1. Saints: Drew Brees
  2. Rams: Jared Goff
  3. Bears: Mitchell Trubisky
  4. Cowboys: Dak Prescott
  5. Seahawks: Russell Wilson
  6. Vikings: Kirk Cousins

 

Now, most of these names are all quarterbacks who are capable of leading their teams to a Super Bowl. There are some outliers. The Ravens still have an old school approach but Lamar Jackson is an unbelievable athlete who runs more than your typical quarterback. Since taking over as the starter, he has 86 rushing attempts in five games. That’s probably not sustainable but it is a formula the Ravens can get away with until he develops into a better passer.

Dak Prescott would fall under the category as an okay quarterback. He’s not as accurate as you’d like and has a fumble problem. He benefits from getting to play on a team with a great defense and Pro-Bowl running back, Zeke Elliott. He also plays in a division where Alex Smith got injured, Carson Wentz played with fractured vertebrae, and Eli Manning.

The quarterback is the most important position in the game. Without one, you’re doomed.

 

 

These are the areas that a GM should look to set in place before adding anyone else on the roster. The premier positions in football are the quarterback, left tackle, cornerback, edge rusher, and receiver. They have the highest impact on the amount of success for a team. This doesn’t mean that other positions don’t matter. It means that the other positions aren’t as valuable to the success of a football team.

Now that’s not to say that having a good quarterback automatically makes a good team. Look at how the Packers are doing this year with Aaron Rodgers. Many consider him to be the best quarterback in football and the Packers were officially eliminated last week. Drew Brees had some tough years with the Saints before returning to prominence last season. So having a quarterback doesn’t guarantee a playoff appearance. But it does give you a better chance of being a successful football team.

Which brings me to one of the lower valuable positions in the sport, the running back. If you do not have a quality player at a premium position then you should not consider drafting a running back in the first round. The two main reasons why are their longevity and replaceability. Below are the current leading running backs of each team and what round they were drafted in.

 

AFC

Chiefs:

Spencer Ware – 6th

Damien Williams – undrafted

Texans:

Lamar Miller – 4th

Alfred Blue – 6th

Patriots:

Sony Michel – 1st

James White – 4th

Steelers:

James Conner – 3rd

Jaylen Samuels – 5th

Chargers:

Melvin Gordon – 1st

Austin Ekeler – undrafted

Ravens:

Gus Edwards – undrafted

Buck Allen – 4th

Colts:

Marlon Mack – 4th

Nyheim Hines – 4th

Titans:

Derrick Henry – 2nd

Dion Lewis – 5th

Dolphins:

Kenyan Drake – 3rd

Frank Gore – 3rd

Browns:

Nick Chubb – 2nd

Duke Johnson – 3rd

Broncos:

Philip Lindsay – undrafted

Royce Freeman – 3rd

Bengals:

Joe Mixon – 2nd

Giovanni Bernard – 2nd

Bills:

LeSean McCoy – 2nd

Chris Ivory – undrafted

Jaguars:

Leonard Fournette – 1st

TJ Yeldon – 2nd

Jets:

Isaiah Crowell – 4th

Elijah McGuire – 6th

Raiders:

Doug Martin – 1st

Jalen Richard – undrafted

 

 

NFC

Saints:

Alvin Kamara – 3rd

Mark Ingram – 1st

Rams:

Todd Gurley – 1st

Malcolm Brown – undrafted

Bears:

Jordan Howard – 5th

Tarik Cohen – 4th

Cowboys:

Ezekiel Elliott – 1st

Rod Smith – undrafted

Seahawks:

Chris Carson – 7th

Mike Davis – 4th

Vikings:

Dalvin Cook – 2nd

Latavius Murray – 6th

Eagles:

Josh Adams – undrafted

Darren Sproles – 4th

Redskins:

Adrian Peterson – 1st

Chris Thompson – 5th

Panthers:

Christian McCaffrey – 1st

Cameron Artis Payne – 5th

Packers:

Aaron Jones – 5th

Jamaal Williams – 4th

Falcons:

Devonta Freeman – 4th

Tevin Coleman – 3rd

Buccaneers:

Peyton Barber – undrafted

Jacquizz Rodgers – 5th

Giants:

Saquon Barkley – 1st

Wayne Gallman – 4th

Lions:

Kerryon Johnson – 2nd

LeGarrette Blount – undrafted

49ers:

Matt Breida – undrafted

Jeff Wilson Jr. – undrafted

Cardinals:

David Johnson – 3rd

Chase Edmonds – 4th

 

Now there are also some unique situations this season. Arguably the best running back in football hasn’t played. Remember Le’Veon Bell? He was drafted in the 2nd round. And Kareem Hunt, who is rightfully no longer on a team because of his domestic abuse incident, won the rushing title last year as a rookie. He was drafted in the 3rd round. And what is similar about these two? Their teams don’t miss them. James Conner is currently 10th in the league in rushing yards.

Conner was just recently injured in Week 14. Guess what 3rd string running back Jaylen Samuels did against the New England Patriots last week. He rushed for 142 yards in the Steelers victory.

Without Hunt, the Chiefs were forced to go with Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. Ware averaged 5.0 yards per carry and racked up 75 yards on 15 attempts and 5 catches for 54 yards in his short role as the lead back. He suffered a hamstring injury which gave Williams the lead role. It’s a shame Williams wasn’t given the ball more against the Chargers because he was bulldozing them up the middle. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry and recorded 2 touchdowns. He gained 49 yards on 10 attempts.

What other middle or late round successes are there? Alvin Kamara was the offensive rookie of the year last season. Joe Mixon is 4th in rushing with 995 yards. Undrafted rookie Philip Lindsay is right behind him with 991 yards. Derrick Henry has rushed for 408 yards and 6 touchdowns the past two weeks. Tarik Cohen leads all running backs with 710 receiving yards this season. Chris Carson is 9th in the league in rushing with 913 yards. Guys like Jordan Howard, Gus Edwards, Dalvin Cook, Josh Adams, Marlon Mack, Devonta Freeman, Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, Kenyan Drake, James White, Austin Ekeler, Giovanni Bernard, and several more are successful running backs in the league.

And of course, some of the best teams have guys who were taken in the first round. Todd Gurley is one of the best running backs in the league if not the best. He won the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 and yet the Rams went 7-9 because they had Jeff Fischer as their coach and Nick Foles combined with Case Keenum as their quarterback. Their success did not begin until they traded a boatload of picks to move up and draft Jared Goff. Also, Sean McVay was probably the biggest reason for the turnaround. And last time I checked, this regime hasn’t won a Super Bowl.

The Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 draft and he has struggled mightily this season. He is third on the depth chart behind Chris Carson and Mike Davis. They would’ve been better off using that pick on an offensive lineman to protect Russell Wilson or perhaps a receiver.

So what is the moral of the story? Running backs can be replaced and a team with a good foundation suffers minimal to no drop-off in the ability to win games and to be successful offensively.

Melvin Gordon was taken in the first round that same year. They have Philip Rivers, who is a potential Hall of Famer and an MVP candidate this year. They too have yet to win a Super Bowl.

The New England Patriots took Sony Michel with the 31st pick in the draft in 2018. They have the greatest quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. While they are having a good year, they are not their dominant selves.  Perhaps an offensive lineman or receiver for Brady would have done them better.

Ezekiel Elliot has been a top running back ever since he entered the league in 2016. The Cowboys won their division that year when Dak was playing great. In 2017, they missed the playoffs and Dak struggled in parts that year. The Cowboys still haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 90’s.

Christian McCaffrey is having a Pro Bowl caliber year. The Panthers started off with a hot start but once Cam Newton injured his shoulder, the team’s playoff hopes plummeted along with their record.

Now for the teams that drafted a running back when they needed a player at a premium position. Mainly, a quarterback.

Leonard Fournette is a good running back. However, the Jaguars were praying that Blake Bortles would improve into being a franchise quarterback. So they passed on taking Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Both look like they are on track to be successful starters in the league for a very long time. Watson would have won rookie of the year last season if it wasn’t for a knee injury. Mahomes is the most electrifying player in the game and he will likely win the MVP. As for Bortles, he got benched for Cody Kessler and will be looking for a new place to play next year. If any of those two turn out to be franchise quarterbacks and the Jaguars can’t find their guy, this decision will haunt them forever. Now coaching situations certainly impact how players turn out. But I’m confident those two would’ve been just fine with the Jaguars.

They missed out on the top guys in the 2018 class because they made it to the AFC championship. Bortles was a big part in that. But this year he turned back into the old Bortles.

The Giants had the number 2 overall pick in the 2018 Draft. Scouts and draft experts were calling this quarterback class one of the best ever. There is still plenty of time before we can make any declaration on that. The Giants had their pick of Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, or Lamar Jackson. All of these guys have the potential to be franchise callers as they have shown flashes of brilliance this season.

The Giants made the mistake believing they were contenders and did not recognize the rarity of a franchise quarterback. Saquon Barkley is arguably the best running back in the league. Odell Beckham Jr. is a Top 5 receiver. Yet the Giants sit last place in the NFC East because they have a quarterback who moves like he has cinderblocks for feet, a bad offensive line, and a defense that has given up 365.8 yards per game. That ranks 21st in the league. Eli was a great quarterback and is a potential Hall of Famer. Any time he has a great year, it’s because he had a great offensive line and great defense. But his time as a franchise quarterback is done. If Darnold, Rosen, Allen, or Jackson turn out to be franchise guys, this pick will be considered a mistake.

Alright, they’re not completely screwed. They could end up drafting another guy who ends up being that franchise quarterback and leads them to a Super Bowl. But franchise quarterbacks don’t grow on trees and running backs do. Who knows how long it could take to find that guy? If the Giants win a Super Bowl riding on the back of Barkley, I will eat my words. But that still makes him an exception.

I don’t hate running backs. I’m not alone in believing that running backs have a relatively low impact. But no team should ever consider taking a running back early when they need a quarterback or someone to fill another premium position. But ESPECIALLY a quarterback.

 

 

Featured image via Flickr/Kieth Allison

 

 

 

 

 



Long time sports fan, first time writer. I played a little college football at American International College (You probably have never heard of it). My favorite teams consist of the Jets, Yankees, Rangers, and Knicks. While three of those teams have brought me nothing but stress, I wouldn't want it any other way.


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