Running backs have been devalued in recent years in the NFL Draft. For much of the early 2000s, running backs went left and right in the first round. That trend has slowed significantly. It’s been five years since three or more backs were taken in the top 32 picks, including zero being selected in the first round of 2013 and 2014. That streak will be broken this year.
During the first couple of days at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, potential first rounders Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and Leonard Fournette (LSU) solidified their top tier pedigree, while Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Alvin Kamara (Tennessee) improved their draft stock thoroughly in workouts and interviews.
Not since 2008 have that many running backs been taken in the first round (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson). That class of running backs could be dwarfed by the 2017 grouping.
Fournette quieted many critics who thought he came in too heavy when he tipped the scales at 240 pounds by being clocked a 4.51-second official time in the 40-yard dash. Scouts weren’t thrilled with his vertical jump of just 28.5 inches, the third worst in the past four combines. However, it is pretty safe to say Fournette won’t get passed up by 30 squads (the Rams and Vikings traded away their first round picks in this draft).
Dalvin Cook could very well be the first or second back taken, potentially even in the top 15 if he can quiet teams’ concerns about a history of getting into trouble. Although the former Seminole underwhelmed in the vertical and broad jump, he turned heads with a 4.49-second 40 time and was a top performer with 22 reps of the bench press.
Christian McCaffrey has been an anomaly since he burst on the scene two years ago. Scouts have been salivating, but is he a running back, or could he be a wideout? Regardless of what you classify his position as, classify him as a first round draft pick. He was only able to (barely) push out 10 reps on the bench press, but he ran a 4.48 second 40 and displayed excellent pass-catching skills. With over 5,000 all-purpose yards in his college career, he’s too versatile of an option for a smart team to pass up.
Alvin Kamara helped his stock the most Friday with an awesome all-around showing: 4.56-second 40, 39.5″ vertical (best among RBs), 131″ broad jump and 15 reps on the bench press. Word around the combine is that he was very impressive during the interview process. With only 210 collegiate carries on the D-1 level, Kamara has the fresh legs teams love. One draft expert said before the combine he believed the former Vol would earn a first-round grade from all 32 teams before the weekend was through. All signs point to this being a pretty good bet.
Barring a significant setback or injury from one of these extremely talented tailbacks, smart money says all four will be selected on the first night of the draft. And with the depth of the running back grouping at the combine, who knows if another player could sneak his way into first round contention?
Curtis Samuel from Ohio State displays versatility not much unlike McCaffrey. D’Onta Foreman out of Texas has very impressive game tape, but his stock may be hampered by a stress fracture in his foot found at the combine.
Depth in this draft at the running back position will trickle into the middle rounds as well with both Oklahoma running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon in the mix, as well as Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols. The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, Donnell Pumphrey of San Diego State, will also be on the board. The list goes on and on.
Count on hearing the names of running backs being called early and often when the NFL Draft begins on April 27 in Philadelphia.