The Running Back Myth + Case for Dalvin Cook

“Running backs are easier to find later in the draft.”

We’ve all heard that before. Some of us may have even said it before. Just one year ago, I found myself doubled over in laughter as the Dallas Cowboys used the 4th overall pick on Ezekiel Elliott. I thought, “Wow. Yet another ‘heart over head’ pick for Jerry Jones.”

Truth is, I was wrong. The Cowboys had their offensive line set up to bring in the missing piece — a truly elite runner who gashed defenses all season as a rookie. Talent is talent. Passing up on a player based on where various scouts and experts slotted that player could be a crucial mistake. My draft mantra: Just pick who you want and don’t get cute.

According to many, it is a “reach” to select a running back in the first round. In 2016, 9 of the top 10 rushers were selected in round 2 or later. It seems that there is a legitimate argument for avoiding the RB position on the first night of the draft. If 9 of the top 10 rushers weren’t first round picks, then why would you take a running back in the first round?

Well, the word “easier” refers to odds. You could survey positions around the NFL and you’d find talent at each position that wasn’t picked in the top round. It isn’t any “easier” to find an elite player, or even a serviceable player, later in the draft at a specific position.

If you go back and look at each draft class, you’ll find a handful of guys like Kelvin Taylor, Jonathan Williams and Wendell Smallwood for every Jordan Howard. These backs will likely never be productive with 20-25 carries per week. Pointing out that 9 of the top 10 rushers weren’t selected in round one assumes that all running backs selected on day three have Jordan Howard’s upside. In reality, it might even be harder to pluck the Jordan Howard from the pack of duds.

The landscape of talent changes yearly. If there is a player like Ezekiel Elliott, you can’t just assume that a day three running back will be as good as he is. This year’s gold standard is Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette. These two guys would have rivaled Elliott had they been draft eligible after last season. They’ve both proven that they can handle the load at the collegiate level, and both look to continue at the pro level.

The Philadelphia Eagles ran the ball an average of 27 times per game in 2016. With a rotating stable of running backs, it was often ineffective and created a predictability which seemingly made the job of rookie QB Carson Wentz more difficult. In games in which the ground attack was effective, the Eagles’ offense looked unstoppable at times.

The Eagles need a lead back. They could wait and hope that they find the gem in a pile of dirt on day three. Or, they could target the dynamic Dalvin Cook who seems to be a perfect fit in a West Coast offense. Running back is the most physically demanding position, and the life of an NFL running back is usually cut short. Using a first round pick on a running back is definitely risky, but the reward is a King’s ransom.

If the Eagles follow their 2016 trend in 2017, and they run the ball at least 27 times per week, they’ll need a lead back. Taking a proven commodity like Dalvin Cook, who has shown he can handle 20-25 touches per game immediately, would pay major dividends on offense. The receiving unit suffers from inexperience, and the running back group suffers from a lack of reliability. Plugging in veteran wideouts and a young, stealthy runner to handle a workload has got to be the plan in place to get the most out of this offseason.

There isn’t much time to sit around and wait for players to develop. The Eagles have to add impact players that can help Carson Wentz in 2017. The Eagles’ first round draft pick must be an instant producer, and it’d be wise to take a player that can handle 20-25 touches per week effectively. There are a few players I’d like the Eagles to take in the first round, but none that I could see being more immediately impactful than Dalvin Cook.

 

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