Running Backs Get No Respect
The debate about why no running back was taken in the first round for the second consecutive year and why no running back was selected in the first 50 picks in this year’s draft will rage on for some time to come. Some see it as simply a lack of talent at the position over the last two seasons, while others view it as a devaluation of the running back position in general in the NFL.
Whatever the cause, the fact is the Titans’ selection of Washington RB Bishop Sankey at pick No. 54 overall was the latest the initial running back has come off the board in the history of the common NFL Draft.
Sankey’s selection started a chain reaction, however, and by the end of Day Two seven running backs had been drafted. Certainly not the record-breaking 16 wide receivers – I consider Kent State RB/WR Dri Archer as a wideout – that came off the board in the first two days of the draft, but not a total that is too far off the historical mark for running backs.
For instance, only six running backs went in the first three rounds in 2004 and 2009, but in each of those years three running backs went in the first round. The point is the number of backs selected in the “early rounds” this season is not that much different than what we have seen in the past. The real difference is how early these backs are going.
The reason for the shift is quite simple. Why invest a high pick in a running back if no other team plans to? The draft is all about value, and the best way to find value is to understand the opponent’s plans and exploit the opponent’s weaknesses or misconceptions.
The lack of running backs at the top of the draft is not a reflection of the decreasing importance of the position, then, but a reflection of the ability to get quality players at the position later in the draft thanks to everyone’s willingness to wait. That was evident by the panic that ensued after the first running back was taken. Two more runners came off the board immediately, and three teams traded up in order to draft their running backs on the second day.
Why would three GMs trade up to get running backs once the dam had been broken unless they valued the position and did not want to lose out on their prospects? If the position was as plug-and-play position as some would like to believe, no GM would have given up valuable picks simply to ensure they got their coveted player. This alone shows teams still value the position. They just know they can get quality players later in the draft.
Everything is cyclical in the NFL, and the running back will come back into vogue for the league at large again at some point in the future. For the smarter teams, though, running backs are still very much in style.
Big Fellas Dominate Day Two
As the game has transitioned to a more pass-happy brand of football, the guys that protect the quarterback and the guys that sack the quarterback have become exponentially more important. Nowhere was that more apparent than the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Six offensive tackles, eight offensive guards, three centers, eight defensive tackles and six defensive ends came off the board on the second day of the draft. Those 31 players represented 45% of the players drafted on Day Two.
The most surprising of the second day picks was Carolina taking Missouri DE Kony Ealy with pick No. 60 overall. Ealy was a first-round talent on some people’s boards, but on the surface the Ealy pick is not a need-filler for a team with several holes to plug.
The Panthers already have two excellent defensive ends in Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, and Ealy is not unseating either of them any time soon. The reality is, however, that Hardy is currently working on a one-year, franchise-tag deal and Johnson has had knee problems in the past. There is no guarantee either will be with the Panthers in 2015.
Also, as the Seahawks have taught the league, a team can never have too many pass rushers. Ealy will be able to rotate in when Johnson and Hardy get winded and could fill in at defensive tackle on passing downs.
Ealy may not have filled a huge need, but he represented good value and fits Carolina’s mentality. It was not quite as horrible a pick as some would think.
The most impressive of the big fella picks may have come back to back towards the end of the third round. The first came when the Bears selected Arizona State DT Will Sutton with the 82nd overall pick.
Sutton fell down draft boards because of a poor senior season in which he played at 320 pounds after playing at closer 275 pounds as a junior. Sutton claims the weight gain was intentional and the result of some “bad information” he received about what he needed to do to be an NFL player. Sutton is back down to the 290 range now and should return to being the dominant inside distributor that notched 13 sacks as a junior. He could end up being a steal for the Bears.
The very next pick off the board was another excellent value as the Texans nabbed Norte Dame NT Louis Nix with the 83rd overall pick, a full 51 picks after many people expected the Texans to snap him up.
Nix is a 6-foot-2, 331 pound behemoth that projects as a “zero technique” run stuffer in Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense. He was slowed by a knee injury in 2013 and subsequently saw his draft stock fall, but he should make an immediate impact as a rotation player with Jerrell Powe and could develop into a premier run stuffer in the NFL.
Jets Get Reach-y
The biggest reach of the draft came when the Jets selected Maryland CB Dexter McDougal with the 80th overall pick. McDougal is a good athlete with a physical playing style that will fit well in a Rex Ryan defense, but he was a sixth round pick at best.
The opportunity cost of taking him three rounds before he should have come off the board was huge. The Jets gave up the opportunity to select a more talented corner like Phillip Gaines or Bashaud Breeland, or they could have addressed wide receiver or one of their other need positions. Then, if McDougal was their guy, they could have taken him two or three rounds later. The Draft is all about value, and McDougal offered none in the third round.
The Jets then started Saturday with another reach, taking Oklahoma WR Jalen Saunders ahead of more highly rated options at the wide receiver position. Saunders is a good slot prospect but was more of a sixth or seventh rounder. There was no need to take him that early, especially considering Saunders does not offer much more than incumbent slot man Jeremy Kerley. The Jets really needed the outside threat they found 11 picks later with UCLA WR Shaq Evans, so why not pass on Saunders for another position of need?
The Jets have a clear vision of who they want to be and made some good picks in this draft, but these two cannot be called anything but reaches.