RB in the first round, is it worth it?
One of the topics that will be debated to no end this season is the value of the RB position in the current NFL. From 1964 to 2012, every single NFL Draft had at least one RB selected in the first round. After almost 50 years of consistent value for the position, the narrative on RBs has been changing. In both the 2013 and 2014 NFL Drafts, no RB was selected in the first round. As throwing is in vogue and creating space with the passing game becomes the norm, many teams are moving away from the workhorse RB and more toward a committee of RBs or specialized role for those players.
Even the RBs who have been workhorses this season, like DeMarco Murray and LeVeon Bell, are extremely active in catching the football and pass blocking. Many fans are starting to question how much a team needs to invest in the RB position now. With breakout players in the last few seasons coming from late round and undrafted players like Alfred Morris, Andre Ellington, Zac Stacy, Isaiah Crowell, and others, the general mindset of finding RB gems late seems as lucrative as drafting a first round RB. Also, the last elite RB prospect in the draft was Trent Richardson, who has been a gigantic bust. All signs points to waiting on RB until at least the 2nd round if not later.
Even with evidence on the contrary, the ingredients of the 2015 are ramping up to have the RB position be very valued. First, RB has become a hole for a number of NFL teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings with recent off field events. Second, and most importantly, there is an elite talent at RB this year in Georgia’s Todd Gurley and some other intriguing RBs as well like Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Alabama’s TJ Yeldon, and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman. Todd Gurley, recently suspended due to payment for autographs, has a similar look to Trent Richardson coming out of Alabama. He has a huge body that can take punishment at 6’1 231 pounds but still has the speed and athletic ability to avoid tackles and have breakaway speed. He catches and blocks well, seemingly the full package. Will a team like the Minnesota Vikings or Baltimore Ravens be willing to take Gurley in the first round? Or will all teams wait like the last two years?
There have been plenty of busts, but an elite RB can be a game changer for offenses. The 2007 draft brought Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch who have dictated their team’s offense for years. Lynch was a major factor in helping Seattle win a Super Bowl. As defenses continue to focus on sacrificing size for speed, there could be a push back to getting physical runners who can break tackles. There have been plenty of first round busts at the position from Cedric Benson to Chris Wells to Jahvid Best sometimes for talent but many times injury has been the factor due to the brutal beating of the position. That could lend to the theory of passing on the elite talent to ultimately draft later round runners and keep them fresh.
Ultimately, it appears to be safer and better if a team saves drafting RBs for later rounds and doesn’t make a huge investment with the injury and bust rate, but it won’t stop teams from trying for the upside. Todd Gurley will likely go in the top half of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft and could prove a mistake if his straight legged running style leads to injury. The RB position certainly isn’t dead, but it’s value will continue to decrease and has already affected team’s approaches to the NFL Draft.