Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Kareem Hunt, LeSean McCoy, Alvin Kamara, and Jordan Howard. What do they all have in common? For one, they are some of the best running backs in the NFL. They were also all selected in the second round or later of their respective NFL Drafts.
Passionate football fans who live for draft season have tuned in this week to watch the NFL Scouting Combine, where a few hundred players will look to showcase their skills and attributes to boost their stocks in hopes of hearing their names called at the 2018 NFL Draft in April. Those fans watching likely saw and fell in love with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.
Saquon Barkley is an absolute specimen that has everything you want in a franchise running back; size, speed, strength, hands, vision, elusiveness, etc. He had a fantastic career for the Nittany Lions, and absolutely killed it at the Combine. Wherever he is drafted, he will immediately make an impact on that team’s offense from day one. Despite this, I am not keen on making him a top selection in the draft.
Before you get the idea that I don’t like Saquon Barkley, let me begin by saying that I think he’s going be a monster who will have an excellent career as one of the NFL’s top rushers. That being said, I’ve never been a fan of drafting a running back in the first round, when as indicated above, franchise running backs can be found anywhere in the draft.
While I understand that not every late round running back turns into a star, they are still very common. As a Chiefs fan, I’ve watched a team who has featured names like Priest Holmes, Jamaal Charles, and Kareem Hunt in the backfield over my lifetime. All three of them were/are top running backs in the NFL and none of them were first round picks (Holmes was undrafted, Charles and Hunt were third rounders).
Other factors to take into consideration are how pass-happy the NFL is today, and that there are other positions more important than running back. The game is driven by quarterback play and the strength of the defense, and I would rather use a top selection on a franchise quarterback, an offensive tackle to protect him, or an edge rusher or safety that will become the face of a defense for the next decade than a running back with a shorter career lifespan.
The average lifespan and overall effectiveness of an NFL running back seems to be getting shorter every decade. These guys arguably take more beatings than anyone on the field, and given their smaller statures, break down significantly faster. Do you really want to invest a top 10 pick on a guy who might give you five or six elite years before succumbing to injuries or a loss of production due to the wear and tear of the game? I can’t say that I would.
Saquon Barkley will without question hear his name called as a top-10 selection in next month’s NFL Draft, and he will likely go on to have a remarkable career. That being said, teams would be wiser to fill their more important roster needs first and find value in the later rounds. Next year’s Kareem Hunt or Alvin Kamara is there somewhere in this year’s draft class. The question is who will it be?
Photo: Dan Szpakowski