Some brief discussion yesterday about first-round running backs. Depending on the source and the mock draft, you can find someone who thinks there will be 1-2 players at the position selected in the first round, or more. Recent history suggests just 1 or perhaps 2 is most likely.
Najee Harris, certainly, looks very good. The Alabama running back is nearly as big as Derrick Henry (6-2, 230) and put up big rushing numbers the last two seasons, while also catching 70 passes and 11 touchdowns. Would be surprising if he's not a first-round pick. Javonte Williams (North Carolina) and Travis Etienne (Clemson) look like the other reasonable possibilities. But I think the second round is a little more likely.
No getting around that teams are less likely to select these players in the first round. It's been a pretty steep decline in recent years.
In the 70s and 80s, an average of 4-5 running backs per year were selected in the first round. By the 90s it was about 3, and the last 20 years down to 1-2. In 2020 Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the lone first-rounder (and unlikely he'd be selected there if that draft was held again).
Table shows the number of running backs selected in the first round each decade since the merger. There's some subjectivity in the "Best" and "Other hits" columns; maybe I missed someone who should have made the cut, or put someone in the wrong column. Certainly there were other first-rounders who had a couple of good seasons who I left out (and the 1970s are a little before my time, so more likely I left a quality back out).
|1ST-ROUND RUNNING BACKS, BY DECADE|
|2000s||32||Lewis, Alexander (2000)|
L.Johnson, McGahee (2003)
Peterson, Lynch (2007)
Stewart, McFadden (2008)
Gurley, Gordon (2015)
I'll say Harris is the only first-rounder in this draft class. Maybe a second one, either Etienne or Williams, but it's not certain.