Don't draft running backs early. That's the latest motto, right? No reason to spend high draft capital on a position that not only gains wear and tear quickly, but one that can also be replaced in both the draft and free agency every year.
But does this year's 2019 running back class fit that billing as one that can be a replenishing tool for a very used aspect of offense?
Let's look at some of the running backs in the class who most would say are in their top grouping of guys, identify which ones have the best chance of being select as the first five off the board and figure out where they might go and how much they really might be able to help an NFL team in year one.
To kick off this running back discussion we have to talk about Alabama's Josh Jacobs. Jacobs has been a late riser throughout the season, mainly because he was been a late riser in usage at Alabama in general. Jacobs has been used sparingly for the last two seasons, but this year he thrived so much as a third down back with pass catching and pass blocking that it got him some extra carries and he made the most of them. By the end of the season, Jacobs was just as much of an offensive weapon as fellow 'Bama running back Damien Harris.
But what does that ultimately mean for Jacobs' draft stock? I think due to his all-around game, Jacobs will be the first running back taken off the board. Benjamin Solak recently wrote a piece on this here fine website where he dissected running back needs in the first round to see where Jacobs has the best potential of going, and amongst those three destinations -- which I'll teasingly not reveal here as a means of getting you to reading the article because it's #good -- there is still a chance that Jacobs is not selected in the first round at all. A Top 50 lock? Yes, likely. But not a first round lock.
In order to really take a good look at where the next running back may come off the board, we first have to identify who those players might be. Going into the Combine, players like Elijah Holyfield, Devin Singletary and David Montgomery were a trio of backs who had RB2 and even perhaps some RB1 mentions by some folks. But after a sub-par performance by Montgomery and downright disappointing testing by Holyfield and Singletary, they may still be in some people's Top 5's that you read, but in terms of how it shakes out on draft day, I can't see teams investing Day 2 picks on guys who aren't enough of an athlete at an athletic position.
So who does that leave us with?
First off I'd like to nominate Miles Sanders. I ultimately believe that Sanders will be the second running back off the board come late April. At 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, Sanders is pretty ideal for a potential 3-down back (not too big; not too small). His 4.49 40-yard dash, 36-inch vertical jump and 124-inch broad jump were all above average for his position -- all above the 70th percentile, in fact. I believe teams are really going to like what Sanders can bring to the table from a variety standpoint. I think at least one team is going to really like the fact that there just aren't many "holes" in his game. That's why I think he's the second running back off the board. However, I don't think he has a shot at the first round, and though I do think he *could* be a Top 50 selection, him dropping to the third round wouldn't surprise me.
That brings us to my next grouping of guys, and where the main point of my article lies. I think Damien Harris will be the third running back off the board with Darrell Henderson being next in line. After that, I think that it is likely David Montgomery.
"But, Trevor, you just said Montgomery is sliding down in terms of where you think he'll get picked."
Yes, I did, and here's the point: I'm not sure I see more than four running backs being picked in the Top 100 this year, if that many at all. Over the last three drafts, we saw eight running backs go in the Top 100 in 2018, seven in 2017 and four in 2016. That averages out to more than six per year, but when you look at each class in context, 2018 had guys like Barkley, Guice, Chubb, Michel; 2017 had Fournette, Mixon, Cook, McCaffrey, Kamara. This year's running back class much more resembles the 2016 class, which saw Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake and C.J. Prosise as their only Top 100 selections.
One of the most read comments I've seen from mock draft machine users over the last month -- y'all have been awesome not only using that machine but tagging us when you post them on social, too -- is that they can get one of the Top 5 running backs in the class still in rounds three and four.
My response: good, because that's probably how it's going to play out.