Fact Or Fallacy: Drafting a Running Back In Round One

Welcome back to another Friday release, where we tackle topics and dabble in dilemmas. All alliteration aside (almost), this week we’re kicking off “Fact Or Fallacy”, where we’re going to break down a topic through tough, thorough thought. The issue on the table today: Is it worth drafting a Running Back in round one? We’re looking back at the most recent 10 years of draft history, in order to keep this relevant to the modern era, and solely at the first round, as the value of a day 2 draft pick is significantly less than that of a day 1 pick. Let’s collect our raw data.

Draft YearPick NumbersPlayersTeams DraftingCareer Length
202032Clyde Edwards-HelaireK.C.1+
201924Josh JacobsOak2+
20182, 27, 31Saquon Barkley, Rashaad Penny, Sony MichelN.Y.G, Sea, N.E.3+,3+,3+
20174, 8Leonard Fournette, Christian McCafferyJax, Car4+,4+
20164Ezekiel ElliottDal5+
201510, 15Todd Gurley, Melvin GordonRams ,Cha 6+
2014N/ANone TakenN/AN/A
2013N/ANone TakenN/AN/A
20123,31,32Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David WilsonCle ,T.B, N.Y.2, 6, 2
201128Mark IngramN.O8+

We’ve seen 14 RBs taken in the first round of the draft since 2011, but each team had a different situation, different needs, and were in varying states of success.

2020 – Clyde Edwards-Helaire

C.E.H. was picked up by Kansas City as they came off the back of a SuperBowl title, meaning they were in a great position heading into that draft. With their entire offense under contract for another year, KC felt as though they could use an upgrade at RB, seeing as a lot of defensive talent was already off the board and the top player at the position was still available. This made sense for them, as it was a late pick and there was limited value to be gained by trading back.

2019 – Josh Jacobs

Oakland had their franchise QB, or so the organization believed, but their defense was full of holes. The offense needed a spark and the defense needed, well, everything. Despite this, they chose to take a RB who could give them a significant ground presence and make plays in the open field. Jacobs has done that, but they’re not near where they wanted to be after the pickup.

2018 – Saquon Barkley

Everyone remembers Saquon coming out of the combine. He was touted as a ‘generational talent’ who could change an entire franchise single-handedly. In reality the 2018 QB class appeared stacked, the Giants held the 2nd overall pick, and Eli Manning was a shadow of his former self. They decided that the 2nd most valuable pick in the draft should go there instead of scooping up any of the available signal callers or trading back to increase their overall haul in a year where they needed young talent to revitalize their roster. Barkley is incredible, the Giants aren’t.

2018 – Rashaad Penny

Russell Wilson has spent most of his career running for his life, so when Seattle picked up this Penny, he should have known he was out of luck. This young rusher has provided very little for Seattle in his 3 seasons, due to injury concerns and the fact that he isn’t an offensive lineman, but with 30.5 career YPG, and glaring holes on a roster with a bonafide Hall Of Famer at QB, he wasn’t the right choice. They needed something entirely different if they wanted to chase another SuperBowl.

2018 – Sony Michel

Michel was decent in his rookie season, and arguably deserved the SuperBowl MVP after putting the champs on his back down in Georgia, but considering how the Patriots appear to be flailing now, was he the right long-term choice? Their offense is nearly non-existent since the loss of Tom Brady, both for lack of QB talent and lack of weapons, and they knew his time was coming to an end, at least in New England. Belichick himself said that they sold their souls for a bigger SuperBowl window, and Michel was part of the sacrifice. Things are bleak now.

2017 – Leonard Fournette

Fournette just won himself a SuperBowl, but things haven’t worked out so well for Jacksonville in the years since they drafted him. He had an electric rookie season, splitting the load with Blake Bortles to carry the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game, but their unsustainable pressure rates on defense and predictable offense caught up with them. They immediately fell off the wagon, and 2 seasons later Fournette was gone. ‘Sacks-Onville’ pick 1st in the draft this offseason.

2017 – Christian McCaffrey

Has McCaffrey been one of the best in the league since 2017? Absolutely. Is he one of the most entertaining and dangerous RBs to grace our screen, as he dazzles both as a rusher and a pass-threat? Right again. Have the Panthers won more than 7 games in a season since 2017? Ah- Um- No. Carolina was absolutely right in taking Run-CMC, but their team needs have been significant in the years since, and one can’t help but wonder which QB might have saved them if they’d seen the fall of Cam coming. Mahomes left the board 2 picks later at 10th, Watson at 12th. Trading back might have scored them the assets needed to maintain that success.

2016 – Ezekiel Elliott

In the Cowboy’s ‘Miracle Draft’, Elliott and Dak both hit big. Elliott was the right combination of size, speed, pass-catching, and system fit. Sitting behind the Dallas Cowboys’ legendary offensive line, Elliott has been one of the most successful picks on this list, but the Dallas defense in bottom tier in almost every category, and there was a lot of defensive talent on the board at #4. The presense of an elite RB hasn’t got them winning, even if it is a boon to their offense.

2015 – Todd Gurley

Gurley did make the Rams relevant, and definitely helped build a fanbase for them once they moved to Los Angeles, but outside of their single failed SuperBowl run he hasn’t provided much value for the team, with his nagging knee injuries and eventual release killing the second half of his rookie contract. Gurley was an incredible talent, but he was never enough to turn L.A. into a long-term contender. They had bigger needs and the 10th overall pick could have been spent on something that would provide better value, or they could have traded down and amassed more picks for sustained success.

2015 – Melvin Gordon

The Chargers have had a single season above 9 wins since they drafted Gordon, and he provided a significant contribution to their offense year-over-year. That one successful season came in 2018, as they strode to a 12-4 record: good for the 5th seed in the AFC. They took care of business in Baltimore, but Gordon was ineffective against them or New England, who bounced them out on their way to another eventual SuperBowl. Gordon averaged 2.1 Y/A that postseason, and ultimately failed to cover holes in the team that prevented them making the playoffs in other seasons. He was signed by Denver for 2020, and had consequently one of the best seasons of his career.

2014 – No RBs Taken

2013 – No RBs Taken

2012 – Trent Richardson

You can’t spell bust without Trent Richardson. Can you remember the last time a 3rd overall pick spent less that 3 seasons in the NFL? We can’t. There’s not much more to say on the matter, aside from the fact that losing a top 3 draft pick to a RB was widely considered a flawed move at the time, and cemented the 2 straight decades of Browns irrelevance.

2012 – Doug Martin

Tampa had 2 first rounders in 2012, and thankfully didn’t spend the 7th overall pick on a RB. They did spend the 31st, however, and it looked like a home run. Martin broke a team rookie rushing record, putting up 1454 yards on the ground. They still finished 4th in their division, missed the playoffs entirely and didn’t have an answer at half the positions on the team. Poor choice in drafting likely doomed Tampa at the time, and it was a number of years before they finally crawled back to relevancy in 2020.

2012 – David Wilson

Much like his twin, Trent Richardson (not really), Wilson was also out of the league in 2 years. If you don’t remember Wilson, it’s for good reason, as he doesn’t even appear on the first page of a Google search: instead you find dentists and figure skaters. He seemed doomed from the start, garnering only 2 starts in his rookie season, and 3 more in 2013 before his season ending injury. He was advised not to play again for fear of re-injury, and retired shortly after.

2011 – Mark Ingram

After a rookie season wracked by injury, Ingram might just be the best pick on this list. His early days were just about average for a RB, but he quickly developed into one of the most notorious rushers in the league. In an offense that fit him, surrounded by weapons and behind an all-time great franchise QB in Drew Brees, Ingram was the perfect example of a first-round RB. The right situation, a late pick, and a talented player with the dedication to stick around instead of just following the money; This is what teams are supposed to do.


There are a lot of times when a team should draft a RB. When a talented player falls to you and you don’t have a bigger need, it can often be a no-brainer, but early draft picks spent on RBs consistently bust out or look like generational talent on a middle-of-the-pack or worse team. Why? There’s often one reason. Teams that are drafting high are there for a reason, and a RB isn’t a fix-all for an offense that really needs a franchise QB, or a solution in a powerful offense that can’t win shootouts due to an inept defense. Drafting a RB with your ever-rare and increasingly valuable first-round pick is a logical fallacy, and building a team around them is a non-starter. Get a RB if that’s truly all you’re missing, but if you look closely you’ll find that your favourite team has bigger fish to fry before they win a chip.