2012 NFL Draft: No Running Back Should Go in the First Round
The University of Alabama’s Trent Richardson is a stud. There’s no doubt about it.
The 5’11”, 224-pound runner for the Crimson Tide is the best draft prospect at running back since Adrian Peterson went 7th overall to the Minnesota Vikings in 2007. I would argue that Richardson actually looks better coming out of college because he runs lower, he’s more compact, and he doesn’t have the injuries that Peterson had at the University of Oklahoma.
So what? NFL teams would be nuts to waste a first round draft pick on a running back.
This is certainly nothing against Richardson as a person. He's been pretty quiet off the field and he seems to have a good heart. If you don’t believe me take a look at Richardson taking a cancer survivor to prom recently: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-draft/09000d5d82857d9c/Trent-Richardson-takes-cancer-survivor-to-prom
The current trends in the NFL simply do not warrant using a first round pick on a running back. As the league focuses more and more on the passing game, the running back position is being devalued to the point where a back's blocking prowess on third and ten is more valuable than getting that extra yard on first down.
I wouldn’t be surprised if we eventually see a team draft an undersized guard or center with the idea of converting him to a third down blocking back. That, however, will have to wait.
Here are some of the reasons that teams should really think twice about taking a running back in the first round.
The Running Game Does Not Equal Wins
I want to be clear on this item: the ability to run the ball is almost always important to a good offense. The Green Bay Packers ran the ball only 8 times in Super Bowl XLV, but when they needed to take time off the clock they could. A running game is important to the offense to set up play-action, seal wins, and dictate to the defense.
But a first round draft pick is not necessary to do it.
The top rushing teams in 2011 were the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles. Only one of these teams had a first round running back who is really good (unless you count Tim Tebow as a running back).
Only two of these teams made the playoffs while all of the top five passing teams made the playoffs, including the two Super Bowl participants.
The running game is an important component of winning championships, but the ball-carrier is nowhere near as important as the man handing off to him, the scheme, or the blockers up front.
The Passing Game Is King
Most mock drafts have 2-3 quarterbacks going in the top 10, depending on if a team is stupid enough to take Ryan Tannehill in the top 10.
Most mocks have two offensive linemen, at least one pass rusher, and at least one corner going in the first 10 picks. Trent Richardson is the only player listed in anyone’s mock draft that I can find that has his biggest impact on the running game.
The passing game is so important in the NFL that teams are actually looking at Tannehill, who was a wide receiver two years ago and has had two decent seasons against the horrible defenses of the Big 12, to be a franchise quarterback.
In the first round, teams should focus on players in the passing game or have their biggest impact on the passing game. Running backs just do not have enough impact on the passing game to justify a top pick.
Running backs that can block and catch out of the back field are available in rounds 2-7, so grab the guys that are going to be more meaningful to the passing game (on offense or defense) first.
Good Runners Are Available Later
It is not necessary to take a running back in the first round to get good value out of the position. There are other positions where there is no value in the first round and we don’t think twice about it.
Sebastian Janikowski was the last kicker to be taken in the first round (2000), but a good kicker is important – just ask Baltimore Ravens fans. But a kicker's relative importance to the game is not the same as other positions, which is what the running back position is turning into. Here are the top ten running backs from last year with the rounds they were drafted:
1. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars (2006, 2nd)
2. Ray Rice, Ravens (2008, 2nd)
3. Michael Turner, Falcons (2004, 5th)
4. LeSean McCoy, Eagles (2009, 2nd)
5. Arian Foster, Texans (2009, Undrafted)
6. Frank Gore, 49ers (2005, 3rd)
7. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks (2007, 1st)
8. Willis McGahee, Broncos (2003, 1st)
9. Stephen Jackson, Rams (2005, 1st)
10. Ryan Matthews, Chargers (2010, 1st)
All of the top six running backs from last year were from later rounds. Two of the four first-rounders listed are not with the team that drafted them because of poor performance.
With so much more importance on the passing game, the value on running backs is in the later rounds.
I love smash-mouth football. I grew up watching punishing running backs like Walter Peyton crush their way through to the secondary.
However, we saw a transitioning in the 1990s to more of a passing game and it has evolved even further to today’s game. Barry Sanders was the best running back of all time, save maybe Peyton or Jim Brown, but it didn’t lead to playoff wins.
In the modern game, for good or bad, the running back is just not important enough to the game to warrant a first-round pick. Teams and fans can moan and complain all they want but it is not changing anytime soon. There is too much focus on offense and player safety to shift the game back to the running backs.
Yes, they can light up our fantasy teams, but a good fantasy player does not equal wins in the NFL. Teams would be foolish to waste one of the first 32 picks on a running back, even one as good as Trent Richardson.