Over the last few years, there has been a clear consensus to avoid drafting a running back early. We all know that the position is less important that it was up until the early part of this century. Over the last 10 years, the need for a bell cow back has declined. Despite that, I think there is a genuine argument to reverse the strategy of drafting running backs late.
I should say that this is not an argument to over-draft running backs. It is a case to draft running backs with a first round grade, or borderline first round, on day one. There is still a place for a running back by committee approach. But for the likes of Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook or Alvin Kamara, teams should target drafting them on Thursday, not Friday.
Why? Money. Teams seem to agonise over what to do when it comes to the second contract for a running back. Derrick Henry comes to mind last off-season. One option to avoid this is to draft in round one to gain the fifth-year option. This offers a five-year window for the running back to perform and get the most out of them. There is also the opportunity to add an extra one or two years with the franchise tag.
Drafting Superstar Running Backs in Round 1 Saves Money
It’s worth noting that the running back franchise tag is the cheapest position to tag, excluding special teams, at $8.66M for the year ($4.06M for the transition tag). There are very few running backs that offer five to seven years of significant production in today’s NFL, with flexibility to avoid the most expensive final three years.
Teams would need to be shrewd at the end of the contract and commit to avoid signing a second contract. However, using a first round, or even moving up from early in the second round, every five years to secure the position with superstar talent seems worthwhile. Yes, running back isn’t as key a position as it has been in the past. The opportunity to have a league standard back in their prime on the rookie wage scale seems too good to waste. It does depend on the players available. But, it seems as good a position as any to target at the end of the first round.
Running backs are a reducing commodity and demand is dwindling. Meanwhile other positions have the longevity to perform well into a second contract. But the opportunity to save money over the course of a contract is available for superstar talent. Drafting a running back in round one also provides the opportunity to run them into the ground, squeeze the most out of them as an asset, and then cut and run. DeMarco Murray very much got this treatment with the Cowboys. They also did the right move by not renewing his contract, despite his production.
The best college talent can make a real difference. To me it seems sensible for the top two or three players at the position to be taken in round one, even if they are on the bubble. It may not be conventional wisdom but it’s worth a try.
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