Only six running backs have gone in the top-10 of the NFL draft over the past decade, the latest being Todd Gurley to the then St. Louis Rams last year.
In what has become a pass-first league, the importance of three-down running backs just isn’t there. Teams are now working under the assumption that they can get by with committee approaches.
This has obviously had an impact on where running backs are valued when the draft rolls around each spring.
The outlier here being that generational running back that can change the entire fortune of a franchise.
Considered just that, most figure former Ohio State ball carrier Ezekiel Elliott will hear his named called somewhere in the top 10 of next week’s draft. Heck, the Dallas Cowboys at No. 4 overall have had him in for a visit.
One thing we have failed to look at through the entire draft process was the fact that next year’s running back class is expected to be absolutely stacked with elite-level talent.
This is something multiple scouts around the league have brought up to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport recently:
Whenever I talk to scouts about Ezekiel Elliott, they bring up '17 RB draft: Leonard Fournette, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 21, 2016
If teams are working under the assumption that there are going to be as many as four first-round caliber running backs in the 2017 class, it could very well push Elliott’s value down just a tad next Thursday.
Most of the teams that are said to be targeting Elliott in the first round have capable running backs that can hold down the fort for at least one more season.
Boasting the fourth pick, Dallas added Alfred Morris to a group that already includes Darren McFadden. Coming off a disastrous 2015 campaign, there has to be considered more pressing needs.
And while the Philadelphia Eagles seem infatuated with the former Buckeye, their move up to the second overall pick suggests that they are going quarterback.
After all, no team in today’s NFL is going to pay the bounty Philly doled out to the Cleveland Browns to go running back.
One team with a definite need at running back in the top 10 is the Baltimore Ravens. Justin Forsett is considered their starter at this point, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and has only put up one season with as much as 700 rushing yards.
Also coming off a down season, Baltimore has myriad of holes to fill at other positions. It also boasts a pick in the top of the second round, a scenario that may enable the team to select reigning Heisman winner Derrick Henry.
We would then have to go all the way down to the New York Giants at 10 and Miami Dolphins with the 13th pick to find teams still looking for that starter-caliber running back.
What’s going to be really interesting here is whether what those scouts told Rapoport plays a role in how teams view Elliott.
Is he a better pro prospect than Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey? Is there value in picking him up with these options set to hit the NFL draft assembly line next year?
If the answer to these two questions include emphatic negatives, there’s a decent chance Elliott could be waiting a long time in the green room on Thursday before hearing his name called.
What might be bad news for the former Ohio State standout and teams potentially looking to avoid him could very well be music to the ears of that one team prepared to go all in on a franchise ball carrier.
This is one of the most underrated stories heading into a draft that’s already thrown us more curve balls than we could have ever imagined.