The decline of an NFL running back is quick to say the least.
As an avid St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers fan, I have seen this decline firsthand with two of the greatest backs that have ever taken the field: Marshall Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson. In their latter years, both backs were still somewhat productive, but they were not the Hall of Fame-caliber backs that a team could rely on for an entire 16-game season.
Unfortunately, the Rams will soon see this decline with Steven Jackson. Jackson has been the most vital member of the Rams' organization throughout his seven-year career in St. Louis. Although the franchise has been beaten down by loss after loss season after season, Jackson has stayed faithful to St. Louis. He has never complained, turned on his teammates or turned on the fans, even though many have not appreciated what a true talent he is.
This season, Jackson will likely become the 27th back in NFL history to eclipse 10,000 yards in a career. A truly remarkable achievement.
With all that being said, it is time for the Rams to find the predecessor for Steven Jackson.
With his career winding down, Jackson will likely have two to three more years of star production remaining, with an additional two to three years of lesser production after that. Unfortunately, an athlete's production is not an exact science, and there is no way to be sure what Steven Jackson can give the Rams for the remainder of his career. Based off previous running backs' careers though, I think my prediction is fairly safe.
Therefore, it is truly essential that the Rams draft their future running back in this year's NFL Draft. The Rams already have a need at the backup running back position, but the thing that shocks me is that many mock drafts have the Rams taking a running back in the middle of the draft or late in the draft.
This would be a colossal mistake from the Rams organization.
When looking at the draft needs of the St. Louis Rams this year, almost everyone would agree that the main thing the Rams need is a big-time, game-breaking receiver. I also agree with this. The second thing many people think the Rams should get is a defensive tackle or a linebacker.
This is where the mistake is.
The Rams second need in the draft is a running back. It is not simply good enough for the Rams to grab some random running back in the fourth or fifth round of this draft just to fill the backup spot. Instead, the Rams need a quality running back to come in and develop behind Steven Jackson for the remainder of his career, just like they did when they drafted Jackson at the end of Faulk's career.
The best player to fill this role would be Alabama's Trent Richardson. In his three-year career with the Crimson Tide, Richardson racked up 3,130 yards rushing on 540 carries and recorded 35 touchdowns. By far, Richardson is the best running back in this year's draft.
With the Rams trading back to the sixth spot though, Richardson is likely not going to be an option. I find it highly unlikely that both the Browns and Buccaneers would pass up on the Alabama star running back, but crazier things have happened on draft day.
Still, the Rams are left with two options.
Firstly, they could attempt to trade back up and get the Cleveland Browns' fourth overall pick. It is unknown exactly what the Rams would have to give up for this pick, but the price would be steep and would definitely detract from some of the picks the Rams received when they traded their second overall pick to Washington.
Secondly, the Rams can stay put at sixth overall. While they may not get Richardson, the Rams would most likely be able to address their wide receiver problem and draft Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State.
In my opinion, staying put is the best move for St. Louis because of the players available in the second round of the draft.
In the second round, the Rams will have options at the running back spot with Doug Martin from Boise State and LaMichael James from Oregon. At the wide receiver position they will have options with Rueben Randle from LSU and Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers.
The talent is obviously not the same as it would be in the first round, but all four are very solid players that would do well with the Rams in the future.
If the Rams took Blackmon in the first round, their best bet in the second round is to go with Martin out of Boise State. Although small at 5'9", Martin draws comparisons to Baltimore's star back Ray Rice because like Rice, he is a small bowling ball on the field. At 215 pounds with a low center of gravity, Doug Martin is very difficult to bring down and could be a great back in the NFL.
The other option, LaMichael James, is less likely because many are projecting him to get taken in the late second round or early third round. With the Rams second-round picks coming at the beginning of the round, it is unlikely they would take him so early, but James would provide a game-breaking ability out of the backfield for St. Louis.
If the Rams took Richardson in the first round, they could address their wide receiving problems with Randle or Sanu in the second round. Both players would provide an explosive talent on the field for the Rams and would greatly help out the receiving corps in St. Louis.
In my opinion, the Rams cannot go wrong either way. All these players would bring excellent talent to a St. Louis Rams organization that is currently talent starved. The offense would immensely improve next season with any combination of these players.
The biggest thing for the Rams in the 2012 NFL Draft is to address the wide receiver and running back spots first. There are numerous amounts of talented defensive tackles and linebackers that the Rams can grab with their second pick in the second round or their third-round pick, but there are not game-breaking players on the offensive side of the ball late in the draft.
The decline of a running back comes quickly, and the St. Louis Rams need to have a man ready to step up when the great career of No. 39 comes to an end in St. Louis.