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2012 NFL Draft: Determining a Running Back's True Value

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Back in February, I talked about how Trent Richardson was a no-brainer to go within the top five draft picks of the 2012 NFL Draft. It was met with the latest myth in draft lore. We’ve all heard the same statements over the last few years “you can find talent at running back late in the draft” and “the NFL life of a running back is too short to draft early”. I’ve come to realize that if enough people with well thought of opinion say the same thing, the masses will blindly believe it and take it as fact. The running back value myth is the latest that I’ve taken on but there are plenty of myths that come out annually at this time of year.

I’ve discussed lately how the term “draft risers” is something that media draft analysts made up, so that they didn’t have to say that they completely missed on a prospect. Basically, the analysts spend January to April telling you that they have studied film and which prospects are the hottest and how high they will go in the draft. Then, within weeks of the draft, word starts leaking from NFL offices, that team personnel are really high on players that these media scouts aren’t. 

The media scouts then go back on TV, radio, etc and proceed to completely change their opinions and sell to the viewing audience that after studying more tape, they have so and so “rising” up their board. In fact though, they are just repeating what they have heard from NFL sources. It makes you wonder, why would you listen to a guy that says he’s great at evaluating prospects film for three months, if he’s just going to repeat what others are saying come late April? NFL teams and media scouts that actually study each prospects game film, will not have drastic changes in their players’ rankings the weeks leading up to the draft. Teams quit playing games months ago and the film hasn’t changed since January. All 32 NFL teams have made mild adjustments since February but none have ever had a mid-April “draft riser”.

The “draft riser” myth isn’t the one we will be discussing today. Now, it seems as if everyone is okay with Trent Richardson going inside the top five picks. But, there is still talk about running backs going in the first or even taking one rather early. One discussion led to a credible, NFL personality telling me that NFL teams know that they can draft running backs on day three and have them play at the same high level as that of day one and day two running backs. He also repeated the same monologue about how backs wear down early and how teams don’t want to pay the initial contract of an early round prospect when you could get one much cheaper in the later rounds. I’ve heard this discussion a lot over the last few years but it was until today, that I finally decided to go back and see how factual these statements were. 

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I decided to look at every starting running back in the NFL and even the top two for certain teams that seem to give a greater workload to the secondary back. Below, I’ll list the players by teams and beside each name I’ll have the round in which they were drafted. I’ll follow that up by listing every running back from the 2008-2010 NFL draft. I left out 2011 because it was so recent. I’ll separate each draft class by rounds 1-3 and rounds 4-7, this way it’ll give a clear indication of how easy it is to draft a running back late. I personally associate “late” with day three of the draft (rounds 4-7) and beyond. Also, keep in mind that the new rookie wage scale that started last year allows teams to sign these integral parts of the offense for the price of backups. Seeing how running backs’ NFL life is so limited, wouldn’t it also add value to their pick that you are drafting them in the prime of their careers before the tread starts getting ran off of their tires? I’ll lay out the picks and you come to your own conclusions to the question. Is it easy to find running back value in the later rounds of the NFL Draft?

Starting Running Backs by Team: (Multiple backs listed if they are heavy contributors)

Seattle Seahawks – Marshawn Lynch (1st)
St Louis Rams – Stephen Jackson (1st)
Minnesota Vikings – Adrian Peterson (1st)
San Diego Chargers – Ryan Matthews (1st)
Oakland Raiders – Darren McFadden (1st)
Tennessee Titans – Chris Johnson (1st)
Indianapolis Colts – Donald Brown (1st)
Pittsburgh Steelers – Rashard Mendenhall (1st)

Carolina Panthers – DeAngelo Williams (1st) Jonathan Stewart (1st)
Denver Broncos – Knowshon Moreno (1st) Willis McGahee (1st)
Miami Dolphins – Reggie Bush (1st) Daniel Thomas (2nd)
Arizona Cardinals – Beanie Wells (1st) Ryan Williams (2nd)
Detroit Lions – Jahvid Best (1st) Mikel Leshoure (2nd)
Baltimore Ravens – Ray Rice (2nd)
Chicago Bears – Matt Forte (2nd)
Philadelphia Eagles – LeSean McCoy (2nd)

Jacksonville Jaguars – Maurice Jones-Drew (2nd)
Cleveland Browns – Montario Hardesty (2nd)
San Francisco 49ers – Frank Gore (3rd)
New York Jets – Shonn Greene (3rd)
Dallas Cowboys – DeMarco Murray (3rd) Felix Jones (1st)
New England Patriots – Stevan Ridley (3rd) Shane Vereen (2nd)
Kansas City Chiefs – Jamaal Charles (3rd) Peyton Hillis (7th)

Washington Redskins – Roy Helu (4th)
Atlanta Falcons – Michael Turner (5th)
Green Bay Packers – James Starks (6th)
New York Giants – Ahmad Bradshaw (7th)
Buffalo Bills – Fred Jackson (UFA) CJ Spiller (1st)
New Orleans Saints – Pierre Thomas (UFA) Mark Ingram (1st)
Houston Texans – Arian Foster (UFA) Ben Tate (2nd)
Cincinnati Bengals – Benjarvis Green-Eliis (UFA)
Tampa Bay Bucs – LeGarrette Blount (UFA)

2010 NFL DraftRunning Backs Selected (Picks separated by rounds 1-3 and 4-7)

1st (9) CJ Spiller
1st (12) Ryan Matthews
1st (30) Jahvid Best
2nd (51) Toby Gerhart
2nd (58) Ben Tate
2nd (59) Montario Hardesty

4th (112) Joe McKnight
5th (139) John Conner
6th (173) Anthony Dixon
6th (180) Deji Karim
6th (188) Jonathan Dwyer
6th (193) James Starks
6th (200) Charles Scott
7th (237) Ryan D’Imperio
7th (253) Eric Long

2009 NFL DraftRunning Backs Selected (Picks separated by rounds 1-3 and 4-7)

1st (12) Knowshon Moreno
1st (27) Donald Brown
1st (31) Beanie Wells
2nd (53) LeSean McCoy
3rd (65) Shonn Greene
3rd (74) Glen Coffee

4th (111) Mike Goodson
4th (128) Tony Fiammetta
4th (129) Andre Brown
4th (134) Gartrell Johnson
5th (145) Quinn Johnson
5th (169) Frank Summers
5th (173) Javon Ringer
6th (185) Cedric Peerman
6th (192) Aaron Brown
6th (195) James Davis
6th (209) Bernard Scott
7th (211) Chris Ogbonnaya
7th (212) Javarris Williams
7th (215) Fui Vakapuna
7th (221) Eddie Williams
7th (240) Larod Stephen-Howling
7th (250) Rashad Jennings

2008 NFL DraftRunning Backs Selected (Picks separated by rounds 1-3 and 4-7)

1st (4) Darren McFadden
1st (13) Jonathan Stewart
1st (22) Felix Jones
1st (23) Rashard Mendenhall
1st (24) Chris Johnson
2nd (44) Matt Forte
2nd (55) Ray Rice
3rd (64) Kevin Smith
3rd (69) Jacob Hester
3rd (73) Jamaal Charles
3rd (89) Steve Slaton

4th (122) Tashard Choice
5th (139) Ryan Torain
5th (146) Jerome Felton
5th (149) Tim Hightower
5th (163) Owen Schmitt
5th (166) Marcus Thomas
6th (172) Thomas Brown
6th (176) Jalen Parmele
6th (179) Xavier Omon
6th (183) Spencer Larcen
6th (202) Mike Hart
6th (204) Lex Hillard
7th (213) Chauncey Washington
7th (227) Peyton Hillis
7th (233) Justin Forsett
7th (238) Cory Boyd
7th (240) Allen Patrick

Judging by the above outlines on the NFL starting running backs and where backs were drafted, I would say that if a team wanted an NFL starting running back, they better draft him before the end of day two. Many others may argue that you can still find talent in the later rounds and even in the un-drafted ranks. I could point to un-drafted players starting at any position. Those players would be the exception and not the rule.

Jayson Braddock is an NFL Scout / NFL Writer & On-Air Personality. Jayson is also a football insider for the Dylan Gwinn show on 790 AM in Houston, TX - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports790.com. You can also catch Jayson on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio with Scott Engel and the morning crew every Thursday at 10:30am ET. You may email Jayson directly @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @JaysonBraddock