Recent Drafts, Free Agency Create Question Marks for 2015 Running Back Class

Story posted March 15, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio, NFL Draft by Jeff Capanelli

Blockbuster Video. Landlines. NFL running backs.

These three things were all more relevant in 2000 than they are in 2015.

Running backs aren’t exactly going the way of the Dodo (or Blockbuster, for that matter), but their value in the league is declining more than any other position. This is evident not only on the field, but through roster construction. NFL GMs simply no longer value running backs as much as they used to, and the 2015 offseason has already demonstrated this.

2015 free agency has been a wild game of musical chairs for many marquee backs.

DeMarco Murray became the first player ever to rush for over 1,800 yards and to switch teams the following year. High profile names like LeSean McCoy, C.J. Spiller, and Frank Gore have all found new homes after feeling undervalued by their previous teams. Even superstars like Adrian Peterson aren’t in stable situations; there have been many reports that Minnesota is looking to move the 2012 MVP.

Teams all over the league seem to be puzzled as to what to do with veteran backs during free agency. And this mindset has translated to the draft as well.

From 1992-2012, 3.2 running backs, on average, were taken in the first round. In 2013, ZERO backs were taken in the first, and that trend continued in 2014.

So why are NFL teams becoming hesitant to pull the trigger on a running back in the first round?  And will this trend continue in 2015?

The biggest reason for the decline of the running back is that the game has changed. It’s become a cliché at this point, but the NFL has truly become a passing league. The league is in a golden age of talented quarterbacks, and the rules are only becoming more passer-friendly each year.

On top of that, running backs have the shortest career lifespan of any other position in the NFL. On average, running backs last a mere 2.57 years in the league, noticeably lower than the league average of 3.3 years. Running backs get more touches and hit more than any other player on the field, and this takes a huge physical toll. Longevity is not synonymous with being a successful back in 2015.

And finally, GMs are discovering that they can find equal value in later rounds to fill their running back needs. Only one of the top 10 rushing leaders of the 2014 regular season was selected in the first round. Guys like Justin Forsett, Arian Foster, and Alfred Morris have all proven that late round picks can be relied on in run-first systems.

I would be able to very confidently say that no backs will be drafted in the first in 2015 if not for the insanely talented crop of prospects coming out this year.

The 2015 running back class is headlined by two big names: Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley. However, there is plenty of depth at the position after that.

It would be unfair to call Gordon’s 2014 season video game like, because honestly most gamers couldn’t recreate his season if they tried. The Wisconsin Badger tallied a remarkable 2,587 yards (on 7.5 yards per carry) and 29 touchdowns.

He has remarkable speed and patience that NFL scouts are surely drooling over. His ability to see holes is uncanny, and he has an amazing second gear that allowed him to fly past Big Ten defensive backs all season long.

Todd Gurley was a man amongst boys on the field at Georgia. Unfortunately for Gurley, his 2014 campaign was cut in half due to an NCAA suspension and a season-ending ACL tear. However, in those 6 games, he accumulated 911 yards (7.4 ypc) and 9 touchdowns.

Gurley’s size and speed do not compute. He’s built like a power back, but he can outrun nearly anyone on a football field. He also showed an ability to make a difference on special teams during his time in Athens. Gurley’s biggest question mark is his durability.

Aside from the big two, NFL GMs will also be able to choose from a skilled set of Plan B backs in Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi, and Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah.

2015 is possibly the best running back draft class since 2008, which featured the likes of Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, and Chris Johnson. 2008, however, saw five running backs get selected in the first round. There’s a greater likelihood of Marshawn Lynch delivering a long speech to the media than that happening any time soon.

If you’re a running back prospect in this year’s draft, don’t stress about where you’ll get selected. Because whether you get selected in the first or the seventh round, you can still make a difference on the football field.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart)

Jeff Capanelli is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jeffcapanelli@gmail.com.

About the Contributors

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Jeffrey Capanelli

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Jeff Capanelli is a senior from Fair Haven, New Jersey, majoring in broadcast journalism. He will be contributing to the Centre County Report and ComRadio during the 2016 fall semester.

After being a talk show co-host for two years, Jeff now produces and hosts his very own talk show on ComRadio: The Jeff Capanelli Hour. He also contributes to ComRadio’s sports department with written columns, podcasts, live production and play-by-play of various Penn State sports.

Jeff spent the spring of 2016 in Los Angeles, California as a member of the inaugural Penn State Hollywood program. He worked as a video production & strategy intern for Disney Interactive Media, focusing specifically on emerging content.

That following summer, Jeff worked as an editorial intern for Scout Media in New York City.

You can reach him via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and follow him on twitter @heffcap.