With the loss of Marcus Lattimore for the foreseeable future, there is a big hole at the running back position for this draft. There is a lot of middling talent with equal parts upside and flaws, and no one to really carry the torch as the top back.
When was the last time no running backs were selected in the first round of an NFL draft?
I’ll give you a hint: Kennedy administration.
We’ve gotten close in recent years. Mark Ingram in 2011 was the only back selected in the first round, and was taken with the 28th pick; four spots from history.
Something else that is rarely the case is that there aren’t many promising underclassmen that are vying for a first round selection.
Eddie Lacy from Alabama is probably the closest. The redshirt junior has a very complete, if unspectacular game that is similar in value to Ingram’s. He runs with more elusiveness and doesn’t have the knee injury concerns that followed Ingram, but he also doesn’t have anything close to Heisman hype and he runs with less power.
Le’Veon Bell had some momentum going earlier in the year, but he has somewhat fallen off the wagon with his team. He reminds me of Beanie Wells in being an impressively gifted big man, but he projects to be fairly one-dimensional at the NFL level.
Andre Ellington is an interesting name to throw in the pile, but Clemson product really doesn’t have any skills that project to the first round. He isn’t very big and isn’t very fast, mainly relying on a quick side-step and good vision to grind out his yards. Both are obviously good traits, but he is a take-what-he-gets kind of guy in the NFL. When GM’s take a running back in the first round, they want a guy who can create yards for themselves
Mike Gillislee is a name I’ve been calling on a lot this season. He has been highly productive at Florida despite the fact that everyone on the other team knows he’s getting the ball, yet he still gets five yards a pop. Like Ellington, he doesn’t have ideal burst or long speed to go with his smaller stature. He also hasn’t been involved in the passing game hardly at all. I still really like his game though and consider him a second rounder.
Christine Michael of Texas A&M is another guy I am interested to watch this offseason. A former top high school recruit, Michael is finally putting together a solid season after a bumpy career. He still has great physical ability, ideal size, and a fairly well-rounded game. He does have a heap of injury concerns though, and was recently suspended for violation of team rules.
Stepfan Taylor of Stanford and Montee Ball of Wisconsin are two other senior running backs that may get some press. Taylor has been the bowling ball behind the Stanford offensive line for the past few seasons, racking up impressive numbers. His skillset is far from what you expect out of a first rounder though. Montee Ball is in a similar boat. He has been immensely productive in Wisconsin, but the uninspiring physical attributes lead many to cry “system” rather than “skills”.
Amongst this list I see a lot of second day picks. The running game is somewhat down this year, so I could actually picture some teams looking to grab some talent early on at the running back position, but I think of it like the 2008 wide receiver class. There was a lot of flawed talent there, no receivers were selected in the first, but then 10 went in the second as teams seemed afraid to be the first one to gamble on a risky prospect.
Unlike that class of receivers, I don’t see a lot of pure busts in this running back class, just uninspiring skillsets that lead me to believe they will lend themselves to moderate careers at the NFL level at best. But it is still quite early.