Last night 32 picks were made, and none of those 32 players play running back. At first that’s not surprising given the severe lack of longevity in a running back’s career. Also, since passing is the dominant method scoring in the NFL today, those who contribute to either throwing or catching, or stopping that throwing and catching are prioritized.
Yet still, going an entire round without a single running back being drafted is jarring, because it hasn’t happened since 1963. The rise of the passing game isn’t anything remotely new either after a 2011 season in which three quarterbacks threw for over 5,000 yards (Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford), and a third one came within 67 yards of that mark (Eli Manning). Even with that prolific chucking, a year ago at this time we were processing three running backs being drafted in the first round after Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, and David Wilson heard their names called, and Richardson was a top five pick.
Eddie Lacy is tentatively and hesitantly regarded as this draft’s top running back after he had 1,511 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdowns during his final year at Alabama, with Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and UCLA’s Jonathan Franklin not too far behind. So how much longer will Lacy et al wait?
Earlier this afternoon I went on a listicle adventure, running through my list of the top 10 names still available, a list that’s sure to be horribly wrong soon because every prediction that touches this draft is eventually. I narrowly left Lacy out, mostly because of the aforementioned concerns about running back breakage, and how much that’s decreased the position’s draft value. We’re coming off a season when Richardson — the Browns’ third overall pick last year — was often effective, but still frequently limited due to lingering injuries that started during training camp. Even now early in the second round, that injury risk is still difficult to tolerate.
Was excluding Lacy a glaring omission that provides the grounds for eternal damnation? Maybe, but probably not. But maybe, and that’s the confusion of this draft. With the concept of value long gone for many teams now, need is prioritized.
But in no particular order, here are Lacy’s possible landing spots tonight:
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals hold two second-round picks (37th and 53rd overall), and if they’re going to target Lacy, they’ll likely do it early out of fear that he won’t be available after 20 other picks in the second round. But here’s the problem: they already have their Lacy, albeit a far less effective one. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is under contract for two more seasons, and although he defined plodding at a pace of only 3.7 yards per carry in 2012, another power runner may not be the answer they seek.
Instead, the Bengals could choose to wait, and address their need at safety with either Jonathan Cyprien or D.J. Swearinger. But if Lacy falls to that 53rd overall spot, there’s no way Cincy passes.
Arizona Cardinals: Rashard Mendenhall was brought aboard, but he now more closely resembles a pane of glass than an NFL running back even at the age of just 25. Here, Lacy would be both the future with Mendenhall on the classic one year “prove it” contract, and depth insurance if the former Steeler fails.
New York Jets: There’s intrigue surrounding free agent acquisition Mike Goodson, and what he could do in a leading role for the first time in his career. Or maybe it’s only the fantasy football types with their Star Wars costumes who are intrigued, and instead the Jets are hesitant and worried. If the latter is true — and it maybe should be — then Lacy could be the seventh player off the board tonight (39th overall).
Green Bay Packers: The most running back needy team in the draft chose to instead upgrade their pass rush in the first round by drafting Datone Jones 26th overall. Many glowing bits of praise have been heaped on DuJuan Harris by Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, but Green Bay can’t be taken seriously as a championship-contending team with its current backfield that provided Aaron Rodgers with little support this past season.
Of course, for the Packers there’s the problem of pick geography in the second round, with every team mentioned above on the clock much earlier (Green Bay has the 23rd pick in the second round, 55th overall).