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PSA: Draft value and other reasons the Colts should not draft a RB early

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NCAA Football: Nebraska at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

I just want to start by showing you a highlight film. I love highlights, don’t you?

That sure was exciting! We’ll most likely have a chance to draft that guy! I’m positive drafting Saquon Barkley wouldn’t be the biggest mistake we could make, but it would absolutely be stupid.

“But he’s a once in a generation talent!”

So was Todd Gurley. So was Leonard Fournette. So was Ezekiel Elliot. So was Trent Richardson. So unless we change the definition of “once in a generation” to actually mean “best college running back since literally 1 to 2 years ago” that doesn’t hold much water.

Now that I’ve got your attention let’s get into the heart of what this issue comes down to: Draft Value.

IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ A REASONABLE EXPLANATION FOR ALL OF THE POINTS I MAKE AND OR LEARN ANYTHING NEW, IF YOU’RE SIMPLY CONVINCED YOU’RE CORRECT AND EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG AND YOU JUST WANT TO TELL ME WHY MY PREMISE IS WRONG, THERE’S A SUMMARY AT THE END YOU CAN READ INSTEAD.

What is a player’s “draft value” and how do you determine it? That’s difficult to answer with a short paragraph but I’ll do my best. Determining draft value is multifaceted. This is an incomplete list but some of the things that help to determine value are scheme, talent, impact, supply and demand, and longevity. Let’s look at those in more detail:

  • Scheme: We talked about this some in the fanpost I wrote about the similarity between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses in the modern NFL. Every NFL coach has a specific scheme they want to run and ideally the player you draft will fit what you want to do as a coach. For example if you want to rely on a single “bell-cow” running back to carry the football 20-25 times a game it would not be wise to rely on a 5’10” 175 lb scat-back to be your bell-cow. He just isn’t a schematic fit. With that said there are exceptions to this requirement.
  • Talent: Talking to non sports fans about talent is interesting. Everyone wants the world to be fair and the fact of the matter is, if you possess talent that other people don’t have you will have opportunities other people don’t have. If you have enough talent something like scheme fit will be less important. Scheme will always be a consideration but if you have a chance to draft someone so talented that they transcend scheme and will propel you to multiple championships, well coach, let’s adjust that scheme. This leads me to my next point:
  • Impact: I have long held that football is the greatest team sport in the world. It takes 11 men giving great, coordinated effort on every play and if any of those men fail to execute their task, the other 10 men face a disadvantage. With that said a lot can impact how large of a disadvantage a team would face if someone failed to do their job. If you’re running a dive up the gut, on 4rd and inches in the 4th quarter just outside of field goal range down by 2 points in the Super Bowl, if the wide receiver on the far side of the field misses his block, that failure wouldn’t have nearly the impact as if the Center got pushed back 2 yards as soon as the ball is snapped.

So how do we gauge impact if it can vary so wildly given game situation, opponent, the play called, even down to things like the crew officiating the game. You have to determine what wins games, as a general rule, in today’s NFL. Is it offense? Defense? Do teams with a strong running game win most often? Do teams with a strong passing game win most often? Do teams who stop the run win games most often? Do teams who stop the pass win games most often?

I’m not really interested in your answer to any of those questions, I want to understand how the NFL thinks. There are going to be some teambuilders that believe any and all of those things are keys to winning. How many times in the past six years have we heard “Run the ball, stop the run.” So everyone has their theories. While mantras rule every coach press conference when draft day rolls around those coaches rarely put their money where their mouth is and select a player consistent with their oft repeated idealistic quotes. They tend to select talented players at positions where there aren’t a lot of talented players available.

  • Supply and demand: Some positions in football are easier to fill. I’m not going to get into why but it does seem teams are able to find capable starters (please note I didn’t say future hall of fame, perennial all-pro’s, I said capable starters) at guard more readily than they can at tackle. Again, I don’t care why this is, all I care about is that it seems to be generally true. There are a lot of available guards out there and most teams seem to cycle through players until they find one who fits and does the job well enough. Remember when we talked about impact? This should be telling.

Meanwhile some teams try to fill specific positions for years and years without finding success. Not to pile on the Browns but they have started 27 different quarterbacks since their 1999 return to the NFL and have only started 1 of those 27 for 16 games in a season. For all of their effort they just haven’t been able to find a guy.

So it stands to reason that some positions are harder to find than others. With that said, supply and demand can change from year to year and as NFL trends and rules change so will the supply and demand.

  • Longevity: I almost didn’t include this one but it does have some merit. Former players will tell you NFL stands for “Not For Long” and I get it. The average NFL career is short for a variety of reasons. When you really look into the issue of career longevity and then you compare it position by position it becomes clear, pretty quickly that some positions last and others don’t and if all other things are equal — level of talent mainly — the physical rigors of the game are vastly different from position to position.

There are exceptions to this rule and there are some things, such as physical build, that talent evaluators feel can extend the career of some players. There is a reason most positions have “prototypical” builds. One could point to an undersized Bob Sanders and easily see he was far too small to play the game the way he did for very long in the league. A lot of times when you hear talent evaluators mention someone being too small, part of it is their actual size and part of it is acknowledging that it is unlikely that someone that size play 16 games in the NFL without getting hurt.


Let’s talk about scheme

I keep seeing this argument:

You see these highly drafted running backs completely change the way their team plays, teams have just turned around completely and gone from losing to winning because of the impact of those running backs.

So the backs most commonly referred to when this is brought up are Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, and Ezekiel Elliott. So let’s just go ahead and end this now.

Todd Gurley rushed for 885 yards in 2016 and had a 3.2 YPC average. This year, I admit he’s produced so much more but is it because Gurley slept through team meetings last year or is it something else? Oh... maybe it’s the new head coach that has given life to a dead offense. Maybe it was the veteran pieces their GM added to the offensive line, or maybe it is because his starting QB has thrown for 3,800+ yards, 28 TD’s to only 7 INT’s, or you know like a 1st overall pick should.

Nah, couldn’t be any of those things, Gurley is just special.

Next is Leonard Fournette. I’ll admit going from 3-13 last season to a likely 11-5 this year is remarkable. So what’s the difference? How about the absolute fact that the Jags ran for 1,631 yards last season and they’re already at 2,179 this year?! Well smart guy, last year the Jags ran the ball 391 times on the year and this year they’re already up to 503 with a game to go. If you need some help, in 2016 the Jags averaged 4.2 YPC as a team. This year they’ve averaged 4.3. So they’ve improved by 1/10th of 1 yard per carry due to their 3rd overall pick. Talk about return on investment!

Last we’ll talk about Ezekiel Elliot. The ‘boys clearly suck without him. Their offense has been dramatically worse without him, right? Well 2016 saw the Cowboys finish 2nd in the league in total rushing yards, 2017 they’ve dropped all the way to 3rd. Whoa. Hard stop. 2016 they were 23rd in passing yardage, this year 25th.

The biggest difference is that 2016 saw the Cowboys defense finish first in the league in rush defense and this season they’re 11th. Which don’t get me wrong is still pretty good, but it’s a big difference.

“Chris, if they can’t sustain drives with their running game they’re going to be worse on defense.” Last year they were 2nd in the league in time per possession and this season they’re 5th. That’s not it. With Zeke this team is 5-4 on the year. Without Zeke this team is 3-3. Maybe. Just maybe the 2016 Cowboys weren’t as good as we thought they were. Maybe, there was a reason they were one and done in the playoffs.

Nah, they suck without Zeke, I’m sure of it.

Still not convinced?


Let’s look at Impact:

Let’s take a look at NFL team rushing leaders after week 16:

  1. Jags
  2. Eagles
  3. Cowboys
  4. Panthers
  5. Saints
  6. Bills
  7. Rams
  8. Vikings
  9. Chiefs
  10. Falcons
  11. Bears
  12. Texans
  13. Broncos
  14. Pats
  15. Ravens
  16. Titans

So let’s talk about these teams and their rushing prowess. First thing first, it’s obviously very important to run the ball well in the NFL. Of the top half of the league only the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos will fail to make the playoffs. The other 12 teams are either in the playoffs or are very much alive to make the post season.

The only teams that are either in the playoffs or have a shot (no matter how slim) at the post season are the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks, and Los Angeles Chargers. So obviously it’s important to be able to run the ball to win games. I won’t argue that point at all.

So instead lets take a look at the backfields of the teams in the top 16:

  • The Jags have invested a high pick in a RB who is averaging 3.9 yards per carry and has yet to break 1,000 on the season. I know this doesn’t fit the narrative that Leonard Fournette is the greatest back since Bo Jackson but at this point you can argue he isn’t even in the top 3 best running backs from last years draft.
  • The Eagles have a true running back by committee. They signed veteran free agent LeGarrette Blount, traded a 4th round pick for Jay Ajayi who was a 5th round pick in 2015, and found a solid contributor by way of UDFA Corey Clement. Blount is currently leading the team with 700+ yards buy Ajayi has received slightly more carries than the other two backs, he’s chipped in 400+ of his own, and Clement has thrown in 320+ to help out.
  • The Cowboys famously made Ezekiel Elliott a top 5 pick in 2015. He started off the year much like he did last season in 9 games Elliott has put up 880 yards with a 4.1 yard per carry average. As everyone knows he was suspended and missed 6 games. In that 6 game stretch Alfred Morris, a FA signing a year ago and originally a 6th round pick, gained 430 yards on 99 carries good for an average of 4.34 yards per carry. Journeyman former UDFA Rod Smith previously had a career YPC average of 2.5 has contributed 55 carries for 232 yards which is a solid 4.2 YPC.
  • The Panthers are an interesting team. Their QB leads them in rushing with 695 yards. Former first round pick Jonathan Stewart is second 680 yards and a 3.4 yard average. They selected Running Back Christian McCaffrey in the top 10 and he has chipped in 421 yards rushing with 3.8 YPC but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention his 75 catches for 611 yards and 5 receiving TD’s this year. So maybe he’s a slot receiver that runs sometimes too?
  • The Saints drafted Mark Ingram with the 28th overall pick in 2011. His career, has largely been a disappointment, he went over 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in 2016, his sixth year in the league. With that said it finally looks as if the former Hiesman Trophy winner has found his way. The Saints selected Alvin Kamara in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft. As a thank you gift Kamara has ran the ball 111 times for 684 yards good for a 6.2(!) yards per carry average. Oh yeah, he’s caught 75 passes and chipped in 742 yards receiving and who could forget the 13 total TD’s he’s scored on offense. But it’s a good thing the Jags didn’t miss on their top 5 running back!
  • The Bills, LeSean McCoy (2nd round pick) and Tyrod Taylor (QB) have chipped in the vast majority of their rushing yards.
  • The Rams, finally a success story of a highly drafted Running Back. Todd Gurley is basically the only real rushing threat the Rams have. He’s turned in 1,305 yards 13 TD’s and a 4.7 YPC average. He’s also caught 64 passes for another 788 yards and 6 more TD’s. He should be a legitimate MVP candidate. The good news for Gurley is he has accomplished these feats while not even being close to the dreaded 370 carry career death sentence some ultra productive backs run into.
  • The Vikings took Dalvin Cook early in the 2nd round and he looked like a star in the making, 354 yards and a 4.8 per carry average is really good through 3.5 games. In his place Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have filled in. McKinnon (a 3rd round pick in 2014) and Murray (a 6th round pick in 2013) have combined for 1,257 yards on 334 carries good for an average of 3.76 YPC. Hardly as efficient as Cook, but the running back by committee has allowed them to run the ball more than 450 times this season which is 3rd most behind Jacksonville and Carolina.
  • The Chiefs took Kareem Hunt in the 3rd round of last years draft and has performed well with 1292 on the ground and another 455 through the air, not to mention his 10 total TD’s on offense. The Chiefs are very upset they didn’t have a chance to draft Fournette and/or McCaffrey.
  • The Falcons. I hate the Falcons, how could you let 28-3 happen?! It wasn’t due to their very good pair of running backs Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman who have turned in 842 and 605 rushing yards respectively. They’ve also combined for 16 total TD’s and 517 yards receiving. The Falcons took Freeman in the 4th round back in 2014 and took Coleman in the 3rd round of 2015.
  • Da Bears have an exciting couple of backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Howard is the lead back here but together they’ve combined for 1470 rushing yards, 464 receiving yards and 12 total TD’s. I suspect the former 5th and 4th round picks would have scored more TD’s on a decent team but that is pure speculation.
  • The Texans trot Lamar Miller out most often but before his injury D’Onta Foreman received a fair share of carries and his 4.2 YPC average looked nice. Together the 4th and 3rd round picks respectively have gained 1,178 yards rushing on the season, they’ve also added more than 400 receiving and a total of 8 TD’s for a not so great team.
  • The Broncos are terrible. They’re also 13th overall in rushing yards for the season. C.J. Anderson is the lead back. He was undrafted in 2013. Jamaal Charles is a shell of his former self but he’s second on the team in rushing yardage. As a younger man the former 3rd round pick nary had a year averaging less than 5.0 yards per carry. Truly an underappreciated career. Devontae Booker was a 4th rounder and is 3rd on the team.
  • I refuse to talk about the Pats in the article other than to say, not one running back on their roster was selected before the 4th round.
  • The Ravens leading backs are Alex Collins and Javorius Allen. You should know these guys, we just played them. If you need a refresher, Collins was a 5th round pick a year ago and is the lead back. Allen was a 4th round pick in 2015. They’ve combined for enough rushing yards to be in the top half of the league.
  • The Titans have never had a more even distribution of carries as they’ve had this year. Okay, maybe that’s not true, I didn’t research that “fact” extensively. Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry have split carries. Murray was a 3rd rounder in 2011, Henry a 2nd rounder 2016.

This is fascinating, isn’t it?


Let’s talk about supply and demand:

Why take a chance on missing on a 4th rounder year after year when you can just take a guy early and get it over with?

Let me holler at you for a minute about the NFL draft pick value trade chart. You can find the values for each pick, based on Jimmy Johnson’s initial model by clicking here.

I’ll just break it down for you really quickly. Each draft slot is assigned a numerical value to assist in making trades on draft day. It would be hard to have a top 5 pick and understand what you would need in return to provide you with “equal” value in return unless everyone is working off of a similar numerical system. Much has been written about Johnson’s method for compiling the chart so I’m not going down that rabbit hole, it’s out there if you want to go find it, so for the sake of time, just know he didn’t pull these numbers out of a hat. All 32 teams have a trade chart that they use that started, more or less with Johnson’s idea. The teams themselves believe this has merit and if you’re smarter than all 32 NFL general managers, why are you reading this?

So let’s talk about the value of our 4th round pick this year. I’m going to assume for the sake of ease (and my point is easily proven no matter what) that we’ll have the 3rd pick in every round. According to the linked chart our 4th round pick, number 98 overall, is worth 108 points. Which is fantastic as our first 4th round pick last year was worth a measly 50 points.

Let’s take a look at our first pick and it’s value. Round 1, Pick 3 the assigned value for that pick is 2,200. A difference of 2092 points.

In other words you would have to trade the first 28 picks of the 4th round in order to equal the value of that 3rd overall pick. According to the chart and Jimmy Johnson (an all timer as a coach) it would take 28 4th round picks to find the players who can equal the value of the player you can draft number 3 overall.

We keep missing on all of these late round RB’s, it’s time to quit screwing around and take one early.

Why? We could miss on dozens of late round picks and it’s not going to equal the value of a single early pick. Yes we need good backs but why not just sign guys on the cheap to come join the committee and keep taking swings with those late round picks?

Guys contributing on the top 16 rushing teams this season that were signed or traded for by their current team: LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Alfred Morris, LeSean McCoy, Latavius Murray, Lamar Miller, C.J. Anderson, Alex Collins and Demarco Murray.

It’s completely possible to sign a decent back to either come in and carry the load, or be apart of a rotation that is successful.

Everyone says there are all of these backs in the later rounds that are good but when you look at it so many 3-6th round backs are busts, it’s not as easy to find a good one late as everyone says. The best running backs are found early. It’s common sense.

It is absolutely common sense. For every Kareem Hunt there are 10 guys who suck completely and 5 guys who are below average to above average. For every Devonta Freeman there are 13 guys who suck and 2 who are below average to above average.

This is absolutely true.

No one is suggesting that every 4th round running back is going to be a superstar, what I will absolutely claim is that you can find productive, capable running backs in the later rounds of nearly every draft. Granted you may not find one every year and you may miss on a few before you find a good one but remember that value we talked about? From the perspective of getting a return on your investment it would take 28 4th round picks to equal a single top 3 pick. Why use that pick on a player whose production is so easily replaced?

Guys contributing on the top 16 rushing teams this season that were drafted in the 3rd round or later:

LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Alfred Morris, Alvin Kamara, Jerick McKinnon, Latavius Murray, Kareem Hunt, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, C.J. Anderson, Jamaal Charles, Devontae Booker, Alex Collins, Javorius Allen, and Demarco Murray

For each one of those guys there were absolutely multiple running backs taken who aren’t contributing for any team and especially not a team in the top half of the league in rushing.


Let’s look at longevity:

Some people still seem to believe that a running back begins to decline around the time he’s 30 years old. Sorry that’s just not true!

If you look at the data, it shows that NFL running backs actually begin to decline after they turn 26 years old. 26 years old.

That means if you draft a back who is 21 you better feed him the rock because his peak years are only going to last for 5 years. He might be productive for another 2-4 years beyond that but a smart team is going to be looking to upgrade within that window as his best years are behind him.

Everyone talks about wanting to find a “10 year starter” with their first round pick. That seems to be the golden standard. That 10 year mark, and I get it, every player declines, no one is as good at 32 as they were at 26.

Oh... except for QB’s. Here’s a list of 32 year old QB’s in the past 10 years. Here’s a list of 26 year old QB’s in the past 10 years. Don’t worry, I did the math for you. I only looked at the top 10 and ran the numbers of the 10 highest yardage gainers. 32 year old QB’s on average throw for 405 more yards, 2 more TD’s and the same number of INT’s as 26 year old QB’s.

I used the same method for pass rushers looking at the top 10 sack earners by age here is the average based on age:

AGE 21: 7 SACKS

AGE 22: 11 SACKS

AGE 23: 14 SACKS

AGE 24: 13 SACKS

AGE 25: 15 SACKS

AGE 26: 14 SACKS

AGE 27: 13 SACKS

AGE 28: 13 SACKS

AGE 29: 14 SACKS

AGE 30: 14 SACKS

AGE 31: 13 SACKS

AGE 32: 12 SACKS

AGE 33: 8 SACKS

AGE 34: 8 SACKS

AGE 35: 8 SACKS

I used the same method for running backs:

AGE 21 835 YARDS 7 TDS

AGE 22 1221 YARDS 8 TDS

AGE 23 1332 YARDS 11 TDS

AGE 24 1452 YARDS 12 TDS

AGE 25 1338 YARDS 10 TDS

AGE 26 1507 YARDS 9 TDS

AGE 27 1330 YARDS 9 TDS

AGE 28 1255 YARDS 9 TDS

AGE 29 1025 YARDS 7 TDS

AGE 30 1064 YARDS 7 TDS (This number was buoyed by an insane Adrian Peterson year)

AGE 31 858 YARDS 6 TDS

I tried really hard to find some metric to look at the longevity of tackles and the only thing I came up with is that in the past 10 years, 26 year old tackles have been named first team all pro 5 times and ages 22-31 all have either 1 or 2 1st team all pro’s per year so there’s not much to glean there.

I know that statistically speaking those numbers or conclusions are probably flawed in some way, I’m sure Troy will be around shortly to tell me why, but I think it’s tough to dispute that between QB’s, Edge rushers, and Running backs, running backs have the shortest amount of time they are productive.

In short if you want a “10 year starter” with your first round pick you better be ready to have that running back drop off a cliff somewhere around his 5th year as a starter.


Let’s talk about this old adage:

“RB’s drafted early are consistently the ones who lead the league in rushing.”

To that I say: no one should care.

Look, I get it. I remember when Edge won those rushing titles. It felt pretty cool to see him get that credit and when talking football with friends that “my” team had the best running back in the league and no one could argue with it.

It was fun when TY Hilton led the league in receiving yards last year. It felt pretty cool to see him get overlooked despite racking up so many yards and accounting for so much offense. It isn’t often a receiver like TY leads the league in passing.

It was awesome when Peyton Manning lead the league in passing yards or TD’s or passer rating. It felt pretty cool to know that “my” team went from Jim Harbaugh to Manning and I was watching an all time great.

You know what was cooler than all of that? Watching the Colts win Super Bowl XLI and not having anyone on the team lead the league in anything other than passing TD’s that year. Who cares if you can hand the ball off 20 times to one guy and he leads the league in rushing? Why does that matter? Isn’t the goal to win games?

So if the goal is to win games and we know that rushing production is still important to winning games in the NFL, and we know that using multiple backs can and often does replace the production of teams who only use a single back, why are we still discussing this as if there’s any value at all in taking a running back early?


Let’s talk about production

2,105. That’s the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single season. Like every record, it will eventually fall, but as of now it’s stood for more than 30 years. 2,000 yards in a season is rare. Really rare.

When you look at rushing yards in the past 10 years it seems that 1,400 yards in a season is pretty rare. In fact it’s happened 21 times in the last 10 years. So we can expect that each year the NFL will see roughly 2 backs eclipse the 1,400 yard mark per season. You can see those numbers here.

When you look at the past 5 years it seems that 1,400 yards is even more rare as only 5 guys have gone over that mark. Or a 1 per year average. With that said, if they play this weekend, Gurley, LeVeon Bell, and Hunt all have a chance to get to that number. With none of them having anything left to play for, I don’t see it happening but if it did, then we would be back up around 2 per year in that 5 year stretch, so I’m comfortable with calling the average 2 per year.

Let’s look at production a different way.

I’m going to take a look at the NFL’s leading rusher each year for the past five seasons and compare their production.

2017

  • #1. Todd Gurley 1,305 yards
  • #10. Alex Collins 895 yards

A difference of 410 yards. Gurley, 10th overall pick (1300 point pick value) . Collins 5th round (23 point pick value).

2016

  • #1. Ezekiel Elliott 1,631
  • #10. Lamar Miller 1,037

A difference of 594 yards. Elliott, 4th overall pick (1800 points). Miller 4th round pick (112 points). Team results: Both teams lost in divisional round of playoffs.

2015

  • #1. Adrian Peterson 1,485
  • #10. DeAngelo Williams 907

A difference of 578 yards. Peterson, 7th overall pick (1500 points). Williams 27th overall pick (680 points). Team results: Vikings lost Wildcard. Steelers Lost divisional round.

2014

  • #1. DeMarco Murray 1845
  • #10. Lamar Miller 1099

A difference of 746 yards. Murray, 3rd round pick (235 points). Miller 4th round pick (112 points). Team results: Cowboys lost divisional round. Dolphins did not make playoffs.

2013

  • #1. LeSean McCoy 1607
  • #10 DeMarco Murray 1121

A difference of 486 yards. McCoy a 2nd round pick (370 points). Murray a 3rd round pick (235 points). Team results: Eagles lost in wildcard. Cowboys did not make playoffs.

2012

  • #1. Adrian Peterson 2097
  • #10. Frank Gore 1214

A difference of 883 yards. Peterson 7th overall pick (1500 points). Gore third round pick (265 points). Team results: Vikings lost wildcard game. 49ers lost Super Bowl XLVII.

There’s an average difference from 1st to 10th of almost 740 yards. What we can see is that 740 yards didn’t really change team success. The average draft position of each #1 is 30th overall. The average draft position of each #10 overall is 106th overall, which is very late 3rd, early 4th round depending on comp picks.

So is it worth taking a running back in the first round vs. taking a running back in the 4th round and losing 740 yards of production and possibly having to replace that production with 1 - 2 other backs? In my opinion, absolutely not.


Let’s look at this idea:

I’m on the record saying that the only positions that should be drafted top 5 are QB, Tackle and Edge rusher.

You say that elite individual RB’s don’t win games, do we know if tackles or edge rushers win games?

By themselves? Without a great QB? No, these guys don’t win games by themselves or Joe Thomas would have a house full of Super Bowl MVP trophies. It is accepted by everyone in the NFL and by the vast majority of fans that it is a “passing league” and that you have to throw the ball to win. As a result you have to try to disrupt the pass. It’s logical. It’s common sense.

30 years ago quarterbacks were still insanely valuable, with that said teams still ran the ball much more often than they passed so positional value has absolutely changed in that time. Now you want to rush and protect the passer and if you don’t have a good “passer” nothing else really matters.

If an NFL team has a good offense that puts up points and puts the other team in a position that they have to throw the ball to catch back up, you need guys to rush the passer to prevent that, create turnovers, and finish off games. This was on full display in the early 2000’s and Colts fans should remember it. Other teams have used a similar strategy. The Giants are the only team that seemed to figure out that if you hit Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, he becomes an average player.

So if you have a franchise QB (I’m assuming we do) you need to try to protect him and you need to try to rush the passer.


Is there ever a situation taking a top 5 RB makes sense?

Yes.

The 2016 Dallas Cowboys showed us the way to build a team for a running back to be worth a top 5 selection. Looking back at that draft I see some players that the argument could be made that the Cowboys could have selected RB’s later and replaced Zeke’s production with a combination of late round picks and quality free agents and selected someone who would be a cornerstone on defense for years to come.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is absolutely completely 100% valid. Zeke’s production could have absolutely been replaced in that way. With that said the Cowboys had invested heavily along their offensive line and at the time believed they had another year or two with a franchise QB in Tony Romo. They believed Zeke had the physical talent to put the team over the top if you plugged him in.

I disagree with that, as I’ve said I think he could’ve have been replaced with a solid group but when you go back and look at that draft and the team that the Cowboys had put together and consider that the 2015 team finished top 5 defensively in passing but needed some help against the run, I’m actually okay with them taking Zeke.

They have their QB protected with an elite offensive line. Their 23 year old 2nd year Edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence put up 8 sacks and there was reason to believe that the light had come on. Joey Bosa was off the board and at the time no one in the world believed that there was a QB worth taking with the 4th overall pick.

The 2016 Dallas Cowboys draft is a unicorn. It was a 1 off situation that required that so many things were perfectly in place for them to draft Eziekel Elliott. This is the list of 1st round running backs taken in the last 10 years. Zeke is the only one on that list that makes sense. The only one!


Does it make sense for the Colts to draft a running back early?

No.

And it probably won’t. Ever. Unless Chris Ballard uses this off-season and installs a young, top 5 offensive line, multiple long term answers at all three levels of the defense and gives Luck another good receiver to throw to, it won’t make sense next year. Eventually you’re going to have to look at what options you have at left tackle if you don’t think Costanzo can play well into his 30’s so that’s going to be a priority eventually. We need an ILB who is faster than Eli Manning, too.

It just doesn’t make sense and it probably won’t ever make sense for the Colts, at least not in the Andrew Luck era.


TL;DR:

  • Taking a running back with a top 32 pick is almost always a dumb thing to do.
  • The guys everyone points to as “changing their team” Gurley, Fournette, and Elliott haven’t had the impact that everyone seems to think they have.
  • There are backs available every off-season who are good enough to replace the production of top picks when used in a rotation.
  • Running backs begin to decline at 26 years old and drop off a cliff at 28. Frank Gore is a unicorn. Adrian Peterson is a unicorn.
  • An individual leading the league in rushing means nothing and you shouldn’t use that as a justification for selecting a back early.
  • The production drop off from backs selected early vs backs selected late isn’t great enough to justify using an early pick on one.
  • You win football games in 2017 by passing the ball (which requires protecting the passer) and by rushing the passer. Shocking I know.
  • 1 time in the past decade has a running back gone in the first round that I believe it made sense. Even then there is an argument that the team should have taken someone else. All of the others were mistakes.
  • It makes ZERO sense for the Colts to take a running back with their first pick.