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Running backs, at last

Brooks, Benson get things started

It took 46 picks, but there were finally some running backs selected in the NFL Draft last night. I'm sure there's some teeth-gnashing about where they went, but most of the landing spots look pretty solid to me.

2.14. Jonathon Brooks, Panthers. People got excited about the possibility of the Texas back going to Dallas, what with Jerry Jones subtly hinting -- oh wait no, he openly stated into a microphone -- that the Cowboys might have an interest at pick 56. But not surprisingly, Brooks went 10 picks earlier, with the Panthers trading up to select him. I think Brooks is the best back in the class, a powerful runner with quick feet and receiving ability; one of the few guys likely to play on all three downs. Do you know what chance there is of Chuba Hubbard keeping Brooks off the field for long? Or Miles Sanders (who couldn't even keep the mediocre Hubbard off the field)? None. There is none chance of that happening.

Brooks tore his ACL last November. He says he'll be ready for training camp, which is more or less meaningless; his lower leg could be hanging on by a clothespin and a football player would say he's ready to play. But he'll be featured here before too long. I understand the general distaste for Carolina's offense (I felt the same when they selected Xavier Legette), but they're working to put talent on the field to take some pressure off Bryce Young, and this is the NFL -- if he flops this year somebody better will be operating the offense next year.

3.02. Trey Benson, Cardinals. Nice weekend so far for Kyler Murray. First they get him the draft's best wideout, now they add maybe the draft's best running back. Benson's the other likely three-down guy in the draft, big (6-0, 216), fast (4.39) and a capable receiver (20 receptions for 227 yards and a score at Florida State last year). I don't think Arizona is going to a committee so Benson might not be usable at the outset. But James Conner is 29 and has missed at least 4 games in all but one of his seasons as a starter. If I can't get a rookie runner who will be an immediate starter, I'll settle for 66th overall pick in a good offense behind an older, injury-inclined starter.

3.19. Blake Corum, L.A. Rams. Some are upset about this pick, for two reasons. One it's disappointing for Corum, who's not going to start, and two it's disappointing for Kyren Williams, who has a third-round threat to his feature back status rather than some undrafted or late-drafted nobody ala Zach Evans or Ronnie Rivers. Boo hoo.

Here's the thing, Williams is a smaller back who, given his workhorse usage, is always at risk of breaking down, as he did for a month last year. The Rams were always going to add someone, and they did (a guy Sean McVay compared to Kyren, and that's what I thought as well watching his highlights). Perhaps I move Kyren down a spot or two in running back rankings, but not much. Corum will likely be a change-of-pace, and if the Rams hadn't drafted him they'd be using someone else in that capacity.

And Corum is small (5-8, 205), similar in size to Williams. Teams didn't view him as a lead NFL back with much confidence. But while he's going to a team with an established starter, he's also going to a team that 1) knows a smaller back can be just fine as a lead runner, and 2) features its starter, in a three-down role in a good offense. Corum wasn't used much as a receiver at Michigan but I think he's capable, and he's on a team where he'll get the opportunity, if and when Williams misses time.

3.25. MarShawn Lloyd, Packers. I guess this one kind of sucks. Lloyd is big enough (5-9, 220) with enough speed (4.46) and receiving chops (31-408-2 the last two years) to think he could have been a rookie starter somewhere else. Instead he'll be stuck behind Josh Jacobs (some mileage, but he's 26 and has generally played through injury -- 6 missed games the last four seasons), and maybe even AJ Dillon (maybe) this season. In redraft leagues, he's unlikely to be a huge factor this year.

But running backs do get hurt, and if Jacobs misses time, Lloyd is a better bet than the annually disappointing Dillon (who returned to Green Bay only after finding zero interest elsewhere). And dynasty-wise, Jacobs' deal doesn't include any guarantees after this season. Draft capital suggests Lloyd -- who I saw compared to Jacobs in one preview, interestingly enough -- will get a shot to start at some point in a good young offense.

Today, I think another 4-5 running backs should come off the board in the next couple of rounds, and these days a fourth-round pick is nothing to sneeze at (fourth-rounders from the last five years include Rhamondre Stevenson, Tony Pollard, Dameon Pierce and Zamir White, recent or current/future viable starters). The best seasons (PPR) from fourth- and fifth-round running backs drafted in the last five years are shown below.

4TH-5TH RD RUNNING BACKS, DRAFTED 2019-2023
RdYearPlayerRunNoRecTDRk
52023Kyren Williams, LAR114432206157
42022Rhamondre Stevenson, N.E.10406942168
42022Tony Pollard, Dall.100739371129
42023Tony Pollard, Dall.100555311614
52023Jerome Ford, Cle.81344319916
42022Dameon Pierce, Hou.93930165525
42023Chuba Hubbard, Car.90239233528
42021Tony Pollard, Dall.71939337328
42021Michael Carter, NYJ63936325429
52022Tyler Allgeier, Atl.103516139430
42023Rhamondre Stevenson, N.E.61938238435
42021Chuba Hubbard, Car.61225174636
52023Tyler Allgeier, Atl.68318193536
42022Michael Carter, NYJ40241288339
52021Kenneth Gainwell, Phil.29133253640

Plenty of potential for Jaylen Wright, Audric Estime or Isaac Guerendo to give us a few interesting rookies to consider in drafts.

--Andy Richardson

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