While the shelf life of running backs may be shrinking, that doesn't change the value of a second-day pick finding a role within an NFL team's offense.
When you look at second and third-round picks from a financial perspective, teams have to love the value they're getting from a player who's hopefully contributing but doing so with a modest (comparatively speaking) financial commitment.
It's also not like we haven't seen these players make immediate contributions either.
Last year it was Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who ran for more than 1,100 yards in his rookie season and had 11 rushing touchdowns.
In his first two NFL seasons for the Washington Redskins, Alfred Morris has run for more than 2,800 yards and picked up 20 rushing touchdowns.
Both of those players are playing the "prime" of their careers, at least in terms of running backs, on that first contract.
|NFL's Top 5 Rushers in 2013, and their 2014 contracts|
|Player||Yards||TDs||2014 Base Salary ($)|
|LeSean McCoy||1,607||9||$7.65 million|
|Matt Forte||1,389||9||$5.95 million|
|Jamaal Charles||1,287||12||$2.65 million|
|Adrian Peterson||1,266||10||$11.75 million|
Morris was a sixth-round pick back in 2012 and he's obviously fit well within the Redskins offense. He's a tremendous value at considerably less money than those who are comparable in terms of basic rushing numbers.
But the most important thing when looking to find value in this year's group of running backs is to find players with a skill set that best translates to the NFL.
The three players below could provide tremendous value for their NFL clubs.
Florida State's Devonta Freeman
Here's what CBS Sports' NFL Draft expert Dane Brugler had to say about Freeman.
Quick-footed with strong plant-and-go burst to change directions, accelerating to top speed quickly. Fluid ankles to make sharp cuts and make defenders miss in space with his start/stop quickness. Runs with balance and a low center of gravity to stay on his feet after contact.
Good effort and toughness in pass protection with aggressive hands and quick feet to mirror and was also used quite a bit as a lead blocker in Florida State's offense. Reliable pass catcher.
The ability for a rookie running back to stay on the field on third down by being able to catch passes out of the backfield and pick up blocks is essential.
A lot of young running backs struggle with this concept early in their careers, but the ones who understand it quicker find themselves that much more ahead of their peers.
Freeman's ability to catch passes out of the backfield as well as his quick burst and sharp cuts, combined with his willingness to stick his nose in there and pick up blocks will serve him well.
He should be considered a tremendous value pick for whichever team gives him an opportunity.
Auburn's Tre Mason
Mason provides an NFL team with his ability to be decisive and commit to his running lane.
Brugler and Rob Rang of CBS Sports had this to say of Mason:
Possesses a high-cut frame and a powerful lower body. Unlike many "smallish" backs, the compactly-built Mason doesn't waste a lot of time dancing behind the line of scrimmage. Quick feet.
He's a decisive, one-cut runner who attacks the hole, whether it comes as a running back or as a returner. He shows vision in setting up blocks while on the move rather than attempting to make defenders miss with agility.
Mason provides excellent value as a possible three-down back in the NFL.
With the speed of the NFL being much faster than what Mason saw at Auburn, the fact that he's already known for committing to running lanes early and using his vision to set up blocks will only serve him well.
Mason made a name for himself in leading Auburn's resurgence to the National Championship game. In the title game Mason carried the ball 34 times for 195 yards and a touchdown, catching one pass for 42 yards that also went for a touchdown.
He had more than 1,800 yards rushing and had 23 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Kent State's Dri Archer
There isn't a bigger playmaker in this draft than Archer, who in more than 300 carries during his four-year career at Kent State averaged more than seven yards per carry.
There's always going to be a question surrounding the smaller-statured Archer, but the speed is unquestioned and the playmaking clips speak for themselves.
There is value in specific playmakers if used correctly, which will be a huge factor in whichever NFL team gives him a chance.
They have to find ways to get Archer the ball in his hands with enough space for him to make a play.
Rang said this about Archer:
Great quickness and an explosive burst to leave defenders in his dust. Tough player who doesn't shirk from physicality and ran in the box effectively throughout his record-breaking career.
Versatile player who saw action at tailback, slotback, slot receiver and as both a kick and punt returner, potentially giving his NFL team a roster spot to use on another position due to his ability to play multiple roles.
Whether he's used as a running back, receiver or returner, the ball will find its way into Archer's hands throughout his rookie season.
The team that drafts him will have done their due diligence and will have plays specifically for Archer.
All three of these players, Archer, Mason and Freeman, provide something different for NFL teams.
Archer brings the kind of speed and versatility you can't coach, whether it's at running back, returner or receiver.
Mason brings a decisive running style with excellent vision that will serve him well when adjusting to the speed of the NFL.
Freeman brings the ability to stay on the field during third down, excelling in catching the ball out of the backfield and a willingness to stick his nose in there and block.
For NFL teams, value can simply be defined as the number of snaps on the field.
Each of these skill sets outlined above show why these three players could find time on an NFL field sooner rather than later.
When you combine snaps with the salary these guys would be getting as second-day picks, there's even more value.
The running back position may not have the same value in the NFL as it did five to 10 years ago, but it's still important enough to warrant second-day picks for NFL teams that recognize players who can earn snaps early in their rookie seasons.