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Trend shows teams better off drafting running backs in later rounds

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

Top RB prospects Lamar Miller (left) and Trent Richardson can expect a long wait on Day 1 of the draft. (AP)  
Top RB prospects Lamar Miller (left) and Trent Richardson can expect a long wait on Day 1 of the draft. (AP)  

INDIANAPOLIS -- The more I think about it, the more I think NFL Network's Mike Mayock is right. Unless you're looking at Adrian Peterson, it's almost never a good idea to spend a high draft pick on a running back.

Of course, that's not what Alabama's Trent Richardson wants to hear, but, sorry, the numbers don't lie. And what the numbers tell you is that of the NFL's top five rushers last season, none was a first-round draft pick and one -- Houston's Arian Foster -- wasn't even drafted.

The highest choice was Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, and he was the 53rd pick of the 2009 draft.

But let's go a little further. Of the top 10 rushers, there were four first-rounders, with none higher than the 12th choice -- which is when San Diego's Ryan Mathews and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch came off the board. It's not until you get to Reggie Bush at the 11th position that you find a top-five pick (he was second in 2006), with Cedric Benson (fourth in 2005) right behind.

There's a message there, and it was reiterated by Mayock when he met with the media Sunday at the NFL's annual scouting combine. And the message is this: Unless you absolutely, positively have a conviction about a guy, spend your top-10 draft choice on someone other than a running back.

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"What it tells you," Mayock said, "is that if you're not Adrian Peterson, there probably shouldn't be a top-five or top-ten running back. Either because of injuries or because of a lack of talent or whatever, if you go back to every class up to Adrian Peterson, you can't make a case for a top-ten running back."

I'll second that.

The last top-10 running back was C.J. Spiller, and Buffalo found him with the ninth pick in 2010. He was the NFL's 43rd leading rusher last season.

Before Spiller, there was Oakland's Darren McFadden at the fourth spot in 2008, and while he flashes production when he plays, he doesn't play all that much. The guy has missed 19 games in four years -- including nine last season.

Then there was Peterson, at the seventh position in 2007. Alabama's Richardson is projected as a top-five draft choice, but I would be careful, people, and I just explained why. Nevertheless, Richardson pleaded his case with the media, telling listeners why he wouldn't pay attention to recent NFL history.

"When it comes down to it," he said, "I'll be the dude that's on the field and getting the ball on third-and-3 and fourth-and-1. And not to be cocky or anything, but I work on my game every day, and even if it's not physical stuff, I work in the classroom learning the plays, and learning the defensive line and what the linebackers and safeties are doing so I can pick up my blitzes.

"I love to block. Everybody knows I can run the ball. I've never been caught from behind. So if anyone wants to question my speed, just look at the tape. When it comes to football, any game you want to ... just look at it and try to find a negative. A lot of people try to find a negative in your game, and there aren't too many negatives I have."

He's probably right. But he's a running back, and when it comes to top-five running backs, that's not exactly a positive.

I mean, look at the past seven Super Bowl winners and tell me where there's a top-five rusher in there. There's not. And among the past 11 Super Bowl winners, you find only one running back who was a top-five draft choice -- and that was Bush, who was drafted No. 2 in 2006 and had a grand total of 70 carries in 2009, the season New Orleans won it all.

Anyway, you get the idea.

"There are so many good running backs you can get later in the first," Mayock said. "You can just keep running down the running-back position and go 'Wow, why not go down a little bit further or get two backs for the price of one?' "

Good question.


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