Overall, the running back position in the NFL has been devalued somewhat in recent years, but that didn’t stop teams from investing some very high picks on rookie running backs this year.
It’s too early to make a definitive statement about this year’s draft class of top-60 running backs. But as pointed out by Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, any team picking a back that high certainly embraces a certain amount of risk.
In fact, of the seven running backs selected in this range, four are injured, with one of them being Derrius Guice, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. Of the remaining three, only Kerryon Johnson has been able to come remotely close to averaging four yards per carry.
Ronald Jones has been abysmal through two preseason games, averaging less than a yard per carry while dropping both passes that were thrown his way. Nick Chubb had a better second game but still is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry so far.
Preseason games can be deceiving, so we’re not ready to say any of these backs wasn’t worth a high pick just yet. That being said, it’s worth noting that the player who leads all back in the preseason, Chris Warren III of the Oakland Raiders, was not even drafted out of Texas, and he absolutely is going to make the Raiders’ final roster barring an injury.
Over the course of history, NFL teams have consistently found that productive running backs can be found in the latter rounds of the draft, or as we see in Warren’s case, they can also be found after the draft.
That isn’t to say that top picks aren’t valuable, either. Just look at the way Ezekiel Elliott has flourished in Dallas, and if he can stay healthy Saquon Barkley looks like a sure-fire star for the New York Giants.
But in the end, there is a ton of risk associated with taking a running back early in the draft, especially when we consider that they tend to have the shortest careers of any position in the league.