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Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the case for drafting a running back in Round 1

Clyde Edwards-Helaire did not enter the 2019 season at LSU as the highest NFL prospect at operating again. On some large boards, he did not even enter the 2020 NFL Draft as the highest participant at his place.

However when it got here time for the primary spherical in April, Edwards-Helaire was the one operating again chosen within the first spherical, going No. 32 general to the Chiefs. Lengthy gone are the times when a handful or extra operating backs have been taken within the first spherical alone. Now, it isn’t shocking if the draft turns to the second day earlier than a operating again is taken.

That comes with the territory in an NFL the place RBs have grown extra interchangeable than ever. Groups are hesitant to provide second contracts to operating backs, too, selecting as an alternative to recycle them like they’re all the identical.

Edwards-Helaire is simply the most recent proof that not all operating backs are created equal. The Chiefs made it to Tremendous Bowl 55 with the rookie rusher carrying the heaviest backfield load for a lot of the season. They could not have predicted Damien Williams’ COVID-19 opt-out with any certainty, however when Williams left the image, Edwards-Helaire readily stepped in to his greater position.

That is to not say each first-round operating again going ahead might be a hit story, or that later-round rushers will not pan out. Simply in 2020, undrafted rookie James Robinson made a Rookie of the Yr push with the Jaguars. But it surely’s but once more a query price inspecting as Alabama’s Najee Harris and Clemson’s Travis Etienne method draft day in April 2021 — is there worth in a first-round operating again? Historical past would say there’s, kind of.

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Latest historical past of operating backs drafted in Spherical 1

We have chosen to look again on the final 10 drafts previous to 2021, which means beginning with the 2011 NFL Draft via the 2020 NFL Draft. Beneath, we have listed all of the operating backs taken within the first spherical throughout that point. If a 12 months did not characteristic a first-round rusher, we have famous the best RB off the board from that 12 months.

Yr Choose Participant School NFL Staff
2011 28 Mark Ingram Alabama Saints
2012 3 Trent Richardson Alabama Browns
2012 31 Doug Martin Boise State Buccaneers
2012 32 David Wilson Virginia Tech Giants
2013 37 Giovani Bernard North Carolina Bengals
2014 54 Bishop Sankey Washington Titans
2015 10 Todd Gurley Georgia Rams
2015 15 Melvin Gordon Wisconsin Chargers
2016 4 Ezekiel Elliott Ohio State Cowboys
2017 4 Leonard Fournette LSU Jaguars
2017 8 Christian McCaffrey Stanford Panthers
2018 2 Saquon Barkley Penn State Giants
2018 27 Rashaad Penny San Diego State Seahawks
2018 31 Sony Michel Georgia Patriots
2019 24 Josh Jacobs Alabama Raiders
2020 32 Clyde Edwards-Helaire LSU Chiefs

There are a couple of classes to be discovered from the above listing. The primary is that this: Operating backs which might be deemed high abilities often show that evaluation appropriate. Trent Richardson is the lone exception amongst backs have been picked within the high 16, with Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley all proving to be productive NFL gamers.

Productiveness alone would not all the time assure that operating backs ought to be first-round picks. McCaffrey and Barkley, for instance, each missed a lot of the 2020 season because of harm. Fournette precipitated sufficient issues that the Jaguars launched him earlier than the 2020 season quite than pay his contract, opting as an alternative for the unexpectedly nice rookie James Robinson, an undrafted participant.

The late-half of the primary spherical, together with the couple second-round picks because the higest RBs off the board, leaves extra to be desired. However in some methods, that is to be anticipated. These gamers have been taken in these spots as a result of they weren’t considered as top-10 abilities. Accidents ruined David Wilson’s profession, and so they’re messing with Rashaad Penny’s possibilities up to now, too. However nonetheless, Mark Ingram and Doug Martin and Josh Jacobs all appeared like reliable beginning operating backs for lengthy stretches of their careers, with Edwards-Helaire and Michel each nonetheless having the possibility to show themselves over multi-year stretches.

Ought to NFL groups draft a operating again within the first spherical?

Because the desk above exhibits, it isn’t an ideal science, but it surely’s additionally by no means been one. Ki-Jana Carter was the primary general decide in 1994 and by no means made a mark within the NFL, due largely to accidents. Operating again is a fickle place, and any staff contemplating drafting one within the first spherical must acknowledge that.

That is to not say that distinctive abilities aren’t price first-round alternatives, although. Barkley, Elliott and McCaffrey, to call three, have all confirmed inarguable first-round values. But it surely’s about match as a lot as about expertise in the case of the ultimate name on taking an RB.

If a staff wants a quarterback and there is a good one accessible, that ought to take precedence. If a staff is not ready to spend money on an ample backup operating again, then taking a younger starter at an injury-heavy place has main draw back, too.

There’s additionally a have to acknowledge that proper in the mean time of drafting, an extension might by no means be within the playing cards. McCaffrey, Barkley and Elliott have been all extraordinarily priceless on their rookie offers. However as they age and accidents have piled up, extensions develop into trickier. They make staff development more durable as a result of they’re consuming up extra money, and so they do play a place that is at the very least considerably replaceable within the trendy NFL.

So no, not each staff ought to draft a operating again within the first spherical. However the Raiders in 2019, with Jacobs, and the Chiefs in 2020, with Edwards-Helaire, have been good examples of the groups that ought to, if a worthy expertise is on the market.

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Josh Jacobs, Clyde Edwards-Helaire have saved the first-round RB narrative

The 2019 Raiders and 2020 Chiefs knew they have been set on the quarterback place with Derek Carr and Patrick Mahomes, respectively. That offered some offensive wiggle room. 

Within the case of the Raiders, Jacobs would take a few of the weight off of Carr’s shoulders to hopefully scale back the criticism he’d obtained early in his profession, and thru two years, it is largely labored. The Chiefs knew they’d most of their Tremendous Bowl championship roster again and simply wanted a lift on the place that sees probably the most turnover. Edwards-Helaire gave Kansas Metropolis simply what it wanted.

Plenty of draft consultants would say groups ought to draft for expertise first and want/match second, and that is usually true. No staff ought to draft a foul operating again. However operating backs in first-round consideration aren’t unhealthy — they’re simply dangerous.

A staff searching for a first-round rusher wants to think about each issues, expertise and want, extra equally. Not solely does the again must be proficient but additionally match for the roster development and the system a staff runs. Solely then does a first-round operating again make sense.

The 2021 offseason guarantees historic quarterback motion that is already underway. Groups are planting their flag with new passers, hoping to get to the promised land. These groups may also have the right likelihood to enrich their new QB within the type of Alabama’s Harris or Clemson’s Etienne. Jacobs and Edwards-Helaire have each proven that plan can work in the best setup, simply as Harris and Etienne can, too, if solely given the most effective alternative.

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