2015 NFL Draft: Why Todd Gurley & Melvin Gordon Can’t Go Early

    Follow me … don’t cost nothin’ @PeteFiutak We got it. The position of running back has been devalued in the NFL with no-name back after no-name back – at

    April 21, 2015

    Follow me … don’t cost nothin’ @PeteFiutak

    We got it.

    The position of running back has been devalued in the NFL with no-name back after no-name back – at least in terms of the draft process – rocking and rolling when given the opportunity.

    The NFL draft market has spoken with no running backs selected in the first round of either of the last two drafts, and with the words Trent Richardson being used as part cautionary tale and part punchline.

    Really, we got it.

    So why are so many seemingly educated scouting types still trying to force-feed the idea that Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are worth a first round draft pick?

    Forgetting that Gurley and Gordon aren’t transcendent talents – more on that in a moment – the harsh reality of the devalued NFL running back era really is true, even if it’s become a clichéd narrative.

    Ten running backs have been selected in the first round since 2009, and just two of them – Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin and New Orleans’ Mark Ingram – are still with the teams that drafted them.

    Former New York Giant David Wilson, Detroit Lion Jahvid Best, and Arizona Cardinal Beanie Wells got hurt and are no longer in the league. Trent Richardson was traded from Cleveland to Indianapolis, C.J. Spiller went from Buffalo to New Orleans, Ryan Matthews went from San Diego to Philadelphia, Donald Brown went from Indianapolis to San Diego, and Knowshon Moreno went from Denver to Miami.

    And none of those first-rounders ever really tore up the league.

    Making matters worse, only two of the 20 top NFL rushers last year – Mark Ingram and Jonathan Stewart – were first round picks and are still on the teams that drafted them. Ingram was 14th in rushing and Stewart 18th, while leading rusher DeMarco Murray was the sixth back taken in 2011, second-leading rusher Le’Veon Bell was a second round pick in 2013, and third-leading rusher LeSean McCoy was the fourth back taken in 2009 – after Moreno, Brown and Wells.

    The only other first rounder in the top 20 was fourth-leading rusher Marshawn Lynch, but he was drafted by Buffalo.

    But merely avoiding running backs in the first round isn’t good enough in the draft. If you’re looking for a productive NFL rusher, you’re better off taking chances later and hoping to get really, really lucky.

    Alfred Morris might have been a steal of a sixth round selection for Washington in 2012, but he was also a perfect fit for the system at the time. Considering it was the same draft and the same front office that gave away the house for Robert Griffin III, there’s a bit of a blind-squirrel-finds-nut aspect to the pick.

    Justin Forsett was the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL last season for the Ravens, but Seattle made him the 25th back taken in a 2008 draft that yielded Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles along with Rashard Mendenhall, Kevin Smith, Steve Slaton and Peyton Hillis, who all had their moments.

    Sometimes there are lots and lots of interesting running backs to take, which puts a bigger spotlight on this year’s draft and the notion that there’s a need to take Gurley or Gordon before the middle of the second round.

    Someone out of Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Miami’s Duke Johnson, Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, USC’s Javorius Allen, and Florida State’s Karlos Williams is just as likely, as history has proven, to be every bit as productive, if not more so, than Gurley and Gordon no matter where they all go. A team is just as likely to draw a name out of a hat in the mid-to-late rounds and pick out Ball State’s Jahwan Edwards, LSU’s Terrence Magee, or Mississippi State’s Josh Robinson and find production as they are to hit the jackpot with a first round talent.

    But beyond all of that, Gordon and Gurley just aren’t that great prospect-wise.

    Gordon is fast enough. He’s a great character guy and a hard worker, but he’s not a receiver – at least at the modern NFL level – and he’s not a Jamaal Charles-like blazer. Charles is Charles because he’s a 4.3 guy, while Gordon, functionally, is more like a 4.6. Throw in a fumbling issue, along with an unfair Wisconsin-backs-don’t-blow-up-in-the-NFL aspect, and there’s just enough there to think he might not be the right guy to buck the first round trend of disappointment.

    Gurley has a special blend speed, size, and power – when he’s not in the training room.

    This isn’t a one-bad-shot situation like Willis McGahee dealt with before the 2003 draft – Gurley dealt with a slew of dings and bumps before the torn ACL. Add in the suspension from this last year for signing autographs, and is he worth the early pick? Can you trust him to be a workhorse back who’s going to be the main man for 300 touches a year for the next five years, minimum? If not, then you’re much better off taking any one of a number of good options at other positions in a deep draft to hope for a solid ten-year pro.

    So now it’s all about the discipline.

    Will the NFL scouts and general managers know better than to try to buck a trend?

    Is it possible to pass on two fantastic prospects who could instantly make an NFL team better?

    Ask Trent Richardson.

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