Fact or Fiction: Running back draft value

Posted Feb 16, 2018

The staff debates Big Blue topics as the team continues to prep for the 2018 season:

A running back is not worth a top-three draft pick in today’s game. 

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact -There are caveats, however. If you are a team with a good offensive line in place that wants to build your whole offense behind a running game, and the player available has an elite skillset that can handle a 25 carries per game, it might make sense. A running back picked that high needs to be a three-down back that doesn’t significantly split time. It doesn’t happen often. Selecting a running back that high can be risky only because of the longevity of players at the position. Players simply do not maintain a high level of play with the punishment they take on a game-by-game basis. You can also find running backs that can be very productive in the second and third rounds of drafts on a more regular basis than other positions.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - The top five rushers this past season were all on playoff teams. That’s not a coincidence. Now, people will point to the fact that you can find a quality running back outside of the first round – let alone the top-three picks – and they would not be wrong. But when a game-changer comes along, the value is there. No matter how specialized the game becomes, you still need to run the ball.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - A running back takes more hits than any other position, in the NFL, so durability is always a concern and just about every team in the league has a running back by committee meaning they use multiple backs instead of relying on just one player.  On top of that, if you look at the starting running backs for the top ten rushing teams in the league in 2017, you’ll find that not one of them was taken with a top three overall pick and just two of them were selected with a top five pick.  You can easily grab a running back, in the latter part of the first round or middle rounds, who can be productive within your system.

The NFC East is now the best division in the history of the NFL.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - It really isn’t close either. No other division has four teams that have all won Super Bowls and were dominant for long stretches at a time. The Giants have four Super Bowls and have two Super Bowls in two different four-year periods. Their great play in the 50s shouldn’t be overlooked either. The Cowboys have five rings with dominance in the 70s and 90s. The Redskins were a force to be reckoned with in the 80s and very early 90s. The Eagles finally got their Super Bowl and they dominated the division for the better part of a decade with Andy Reid in the early 2000s. No other division has that.

DAN SALOMONE: Fact - The good news: the NFC East is the only division with each team winning at least one Super Bowl. The bad news: Giants fans can’t hold Lombardi Trophies over the previously Super Bowl-less Eagles fans. Well, maybe they still can. It’s still 4:1.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - With the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, the NFC East became the first division in NFL history to showcase four teams with at least one Lombardi Trophy, but that came over the span of many decades.  This is far more telling: during a 14-year span, from 1982-1995, the division won eight Super Bowls thanks to three teams.  Keep in mind, divisions have changed over the course of league history so we don’t really have consistency across the board, which makes it harder to compare divisions.  The Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins are all original members of the East since the NFL-AFL merger, but that’s not the case for other divisions.  With that being said, I’d still give the edge to the NFC East but it’s more a product of the turnover rate and competiveness of the division.  No NFC East team has won back-to-back division titles since the Eagles won four straight from 2001-2004.  It’s very difficult to maintain dominance in the division because all four teams have been very close in terms of talent.

The first non-quarterback taken in this year’s draft will be a pass rusher.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - I think it will be Bradley Chubb. As good as Saquon Barkley is, I think a team like the Colts (who select third) are more likely to value a pass rusher that can boost a struggling defense than a running back. We might be at the start of a running back renaissance, but I think Chubb goes before Barkley. It will be close, though. It would not surprise me at all to see Barkley go off first in the first three picks of the draft. The sleeper here is Quenton Nelson, who might be the safest pick in the whole draft, but plays guard. Guards are very rarely selected that high. Everything is still very much up in the air.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - I was going to say “fact” here to argue the other side and because Bradley Chubb will be a name we’ll probably hear for a while. But it’s best not to overthink this one. It will be running back Saquon Barkley, who could be the first running back taken No. 1 since 1995.

LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - This contradicts my answer to the previous statement but, keep in mind, my opinion doesn’t necessarily fall in line with every GM in the league.  While I made an argument that you shouldn’t take a running back with a top three overall pick in the draft, I still think Penn State’s Saquon Barkley will be the first non-quarterback selected and that has more to do with his versatility and game-changing ability, which makes him one of the best players in the draft and great value at that spot.  That doesn’t mean every running back has Barkley’s skillset and warrants a top three pick.  That will fluctuate from year to year depending on what the overall class has to offer.

You would rather have the ability to sign the best free agent than hold the No. 1 pick in the draft.

JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction -Give me the first pick in the draft any day. You get your choice of every single college player at a bargain price. If the player ends up being All-Pro caliber you have him under your control for five seasons at a fraction of his worth during some of his prime seasons. The player in free agency might be able to help you more right away, but he will take up a lot of cap space. It is also very rare for transcendent players to become available via free agency because of provisions like the franchise tag.

DAN SALOMONE: Fiction - Signing the best free agent on the market can help you for a few years, but the No. 1 pick can change the fate of a franchise for a decade, sometimes longer. Of course, it can change it for the worse, and that’s the downside with potential (draft pick) vs. proof (veteran free agent). I’ll still go with the top pick. It’s the highest form of currency and you can do a lot with it, including trading down to gather more picks.

LANCE MEDOW: Fact - How many times have you heard this phrase: The draft is an inexact science.  Yes, it’s become a cliché but it’s valid.  Just because you own the number one overall pick doesn’t mean the player you select will pan out.  However, if you have enough financial flexibility to sign the best free agent available, who is most likely a polished vet with a proven track record, then his skillset will most likely translate to your team.  You go with the proven commodity.  It’s a no brainer.