Tempering Expectations: The Running Back Problem (Part Two)

Tempering Expectations: The Running Back Problem (Part Two)

A look at whether the running back position is worth a high draft pick.
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The running back position meant everything, then nothing, and then something in between. In the early 2000s, running backs were everything. The dominance of all-time talents like Marshall Faulk, LaDanian Tomlinson, Curtis Martin, and Shaun Alexander made it a premium position, with running backs frequently finding their way into the top five picks of the draft. Then, suddenly, it became hip for draft nicks to make the case that the running back position had no value. The argument was that there were so many quality options that were so interchangeable that it wasn’t worth the risk or investment of spending a top draft pick on a running back. Trent Richardson didn’t help matters, either. Suddenly, teams were scared to pick a back in the first round, with no player at the position going in the first round for two straight years. The lack of strength of the 2013 and 2014 draft classes didn’t do much to help the matters.

The NFL is a copycat league and with the wild success of Todd Gurley, suddenly the position is talked about in a way that's not unlike 10 years ago. Suddenly, Ezekiel Elliot is being talked about as a potential top-five pick. Somewhere between these two extremes, there has to lie some clarity. Just like with the quarterback decision, I set out to see if recent draft classes have shown running backs to be worth a top draft pick, or if they really are that disposable.


Round One

Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Mark Ingram, CJ Spiller, Ryan Matthews, Jahvid Best, Knowshon Moreno, Chris “Beanie” Wells

Recent history doesn’t look too good for first-round running backs. There are more players in this time frame that are out of the league than that are breakout stars. Wells, Moreno, Best, and Wilson aren’t even playing football anymore. Richardson is hanging on by a thread and serves as a cautionary tale to picking a running back early. After being dubbed as the best prospect since Adrian Peterson, a moniker that seems to be thrown around seemingly every other year, Richardson has looked tentative and sluggish when he has gotten on the field and hasn’t shown the work ethic to overcome that. The few bright spots on this list, Matthews, Spiller, Ingram, and Martin, have all shown flashes of potential stardom in their time in the league, but haven’t been able to produce consistently enough to live up to their draft position. Even Martin, who ran for the second-most yards in the league this year, has only played well in two of his four seasons in the league. The fact of the matter is that, unless there is a “can’t miss” type of prospect coming out, running backs aren’t consistent enough to be worthy of a first-round pick. The fact of the matter is that there isn’t a significant difference in production, if any, between picking a running back this high. Teams can’t necessarily expect to get a starter at the position here.


Round Two

Giovanni Bernard, Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy, Christinne Michael, Isiah Pead, LaMichael James, Ryan Williams, Shane Vereen, Michael Leshoure, Daniel Thomas, Dexter McCluster, Toby Gerhart, Montario Hardesty, LeSean McCoy.

Teams are far more willing to invest in a tailback here than in the first. The second round is often described as the sweet spot for drafting running backs. However, if these five years are any indication, that isn’t the case at all. For every quality starting running back drafted in this range, there is another who is struggling to stay on a NFL roster. McCoy, Bell, Bernard, and Lacy obviously have been stars at the position for years, but beyond that, this list is grim. Some of these players, like Christinne Michael and Toby Gerhart, got teams to repeatedly buy into their potential and were given every opportunity to earn a starting role, but couldn’t catch on. Others on this list haven’t even been able to register meaningful production at any time in their careers. I’m not convinced that Montario Hardesty, who the Browns drafted in 2010, is a real person. Aside from the few breakout stars on this list, the common element that these players share is that they showed just enough potential to make teams believe that they were a solution, but never to deliver. Teams often like to take chances on players with elite physical traits at this point in the draft as well, like Michael and McCluster. These players rarely go on to have a substantial impact in the league. Just like in the first round, drafting a running back this high is risky business. There are no guarantees that the player will be any more than a role player for the length of their rookie deal, if they are even able to stay in the league that long.


Middle Rounds (3rd and 4th)

Knile Davis, Jonathan Williams, Marcus Lattimore, Ronnie Hillman, Bernard Pierce, Lamar Miller, Robert Turbin, DeMarco Murray, Steven Ridley, Alex Green, Roy Helu, Kendall Hunter, Delone Carter, Taiwan Jones, Bilal Powell, Jamie Harper, Joe McKnight, Shonne Greene, Glen Coffee, Mike Goodson, Andre Brown, Gartell Johnson.

At this point in the draft, the risk isn’t nearly as high as in the first and second rounds. The value and expectations of a middle-round pick are substantially lower and teams are more willing to take chances at this point in the draft. Not many starters make it this far in the draft. Lamar Miller and DeMarcco Murray are the only players in this group who have been able to catch on as established starters. This point in the draft seems to be an ideal place to find a complement for the primary running back. Guys like Knile Davis, Ronnie Hillman, and Bilal Powell, among others, have been able to find a niche as the lightning to another running back's thunder. Just like earlier in the draft, the bust rate is frighteningly high for the position. The vast majority of players picked in this range don’t amount to much in the league. Glen Coffee and Gartell Johnson sound more like sidekicks from a mid-tier '80s flick than professional football players. Teams shouldn’t be looking for game-changing backs, or even a running back to take the majority of the carries, this deep in the draft. The key to success in picking a back here seems to be having a clear, defined role, and finding a prospect that fits well into it.


Later Rounds

The back three rounds of the draft are an ideal place to build depth in the backfield. Like anywhere in the draft, there is a high percentage of busts at this position. However, the consequence of missing on a pick this late isn’t nearly as great, it’s an expectation. I don’t need to go through a list of no-name players who end up getting drafted at this point in the draft. Occasionally, teams will find a gem like Dion Lewis and Latavius Murray who provide quality starting options. Role players like Denard Robinson and Theo Riddick can be found annually this deep into the draft. Quality backups are abundant in the closing rounds of the draft due to the sheer amount of depth at the position. Notably, there is seemingly a player every year or two who goes undrafted and becomes a starting option in the league, like Arian Foster or Thomas Rawls.


Takeaways

Don’t let the recent success of Todd Gurley persuade you. At any point in the draft, the amount of running backs who don’t live up to expectations in shockingly high. There is no reason to invest a high draft pick in a player unless a team feels that they are a generational talent. Otherwise, there just isn’t enough of a difference in talent in all rounds of the draft for teams to spend first or even second-round picks on a back. There seems to be a similar amount of starting running backs that come from all areas of the draft. It’s difficult to predict which running backs will make it in the league. It’s far easier for teams to invest in a mid-tier free agent at the position than to take their chances with the draft. While it is difficult to find a starter in the draft, however, it’s far easier to find good options for complementary pieces or backups so long as they are an ideal fit for that role.

Cover Image Credit: Cleveland.com

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To The Friends I Won't Talk To After High School

I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.
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Hey,

So, for the last four years I’ve seen you almost everyday. I’ve learned about your annoying little brother, your dogs and your crazy weekend stories. I’ve seen you rock the awful freshman year fashion, date, attend homecoming, study for AP tests, and get accepted into college.

Thank you for asking me about my day, filling me in on your boy drama and giving me the World History homework. Thank you for complimenting my outfits, laughing at me presenting in class and listening to me complain about my parents. Thank you for sending me your Quizlets and being excited for my accomplishments- every single one of them. I appreciate it all because I know that soon I won’t really see you again. And that makes me sad. I’ll no longer see your face every Monday morning, wave hello to you in the hallways or eat lunch with you ever again. We won't live in the same city and sooner or later you might even forget my name.

We didn’t hang out after school but none the less you impacted me in a huge way. You supported my passions, stood up for me and made me laugh. You gave me advice on life the way you saw it and you didn’t have to but you did. I think maybe in just the smallest way, you influenced me. You made me believe that there’s lots of good people in this world that are nice just because they can be. You were real with me and that's all I can really ask for. We were never in the same friend group or got together on the weekends but you were still a good friend to me. You saw me grow up before your eyes and watched me walk into class late with Starbucks every day. I think people like you don’t get enough credit because I might not talk to you after high school but you are still so important to me. So thanks.

With that said, I truly hope that our paths cross one day in the future. You can tell me about how your brothers doing or how you regret the college you picked. Or maybe one day I’ll see you in the grocery store with a ring on your finger and I’ll be so happy you finally got what you deserved so many guys ago.

And if we ever do cross paths, I sincerely hope you became everything you wanted to be. I hope you traveled to Italy, got your dream job and found the love of your life. I hope you have beautiful children and a fluffy dog named Charlie. I hope you found success in love before wealth and I hope you depended on yourself for happiness before anything else. I hope you visited your mom in college and I hope you hugged your little sister every chance you got. She’s in high school now and you always tell her how that was the time of your life. I sincerely hope, every great quality I saw in you, was imprinted on the world.

And hey, maybe I’ll see you at the reunion and maybe just maybe you’ll remember my face. If so, I’d like to catch up, coffee?

Sincerely,

Me

Cover Image Credit: High school Musical

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Andy Ruiz Jr. May Not Look Like The Typical Boxer, But It Doesn't Make His Victory Any Less Deserved

Andy Ruiz Jr. just proved that dreams can come true.

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On June 1, boxing fans witnessed something special as Andy 'Destroyer' Ruiz Jr. defeated Anthony Joshua via TKO after going seven rounds in the ring at Madison Square Garden in New York City to become the first ever Mexican-American heavyweight champion of the world. Ruiz Jr. (33-1) was a heavy underdog (+1100) heading into the match-up with Joshua (22-1) but ultimately flipped the script to hand the British fighter his first professional loss ever. Surely the fight will go down as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

Some members of the media and fans have been quick to label the fight as a 'fluke' and 'rigged' which in the end is no surprise to me. That always happens in the sports world. Many did not believe we would get this result yet failed to remember the one rule of sports -- expect the unexpected. Over the past week, I've been coming to the defense of Ruiz Jr. in the wake of others choosing to call him a joke.

I was shocked and surprised to hear two of my favorite sports analysts, Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe, make fun of Ruiz Jr. and frame him as just a guy that looked like 'Butterbean.' When I viewed their tweets on social media it honestly made me upset. Sure, Ruiz Jr. may not have fit the mold of what a professional boxer should look like, but they simply should not have just judged a book by its cover.

Personally, I thought it was disrespectful for Smith and Sharpe to throw shade at Ruiz Jr. in the way they did. I felt like they should have done a better job of acknowledging the winner considering the result of the match. Yet choosing to bash someone because of their physical composition appeared like a low blow. The very foundation of sports allows people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and backgrounds to compete -- that's why most people follow them in the first place.

Smith was open behind his reasoning for his tweets in which I'd like to shed some light on. Smith was upset about how boxing time after time contains elements of corruption with fans having to wait years until promoters schedule big fights. He along with other followers of the sport were looking forward to the highly anticipated yet potential future match-up between Joshua and fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Smith believes that by Ruiz Jr. beating Joshua it essentially diminished the chances of that fight ever happening with the same amount of buildup, but that still doesn't provide any excuse for mocking the new heavyweight champ.

Ruiz Jr. was there for a reason and ultimately seized the opportunity that was right in front of him -- that's not his fault for getting the job done. Just because someone doesn't look like the part doesn't mean they don't possess the same qualities and characteristics as their counterparts. The following pair of videos display the amount of talent Ruiz Jr. does have in the ring. Even fellow boxer Canelo Alvarez and former UFC lightweight/featherweight champion Conor McGregor acknowledge that and have come out to say something on their behalf.

Unfortunately, I don't expect much to change because most will stand their ground and continue to behave the same way. All I'm saying is I did not enjoy some of the top figures within sports media stereotyping Ruiz Jr. based on his looks. I would think that we would be better than that and recognize that anyone can accomplish something great in this world. It all just starts with a simple dream.

I understand and respect other people's takes on this subject, maybe I'm looking into things deeper than what they are, but it struck a chord with me and I felt the need to say something about it.

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