Despite what many experts will tell you about the NFL becoming a passing league, teams still need a solid ground attack to win games and make a run at the Super Bowl.
Yes, having a quarterback who can sling the pigskin certainly is a requisite for winning a championship, but teams need to be able to grind out the tough yards in tight ballgames. Last year, the Baltimore Ravens don't win without Ray Rice and the timely emergence of Bernard Pierce.
However, as important as running backs still are, your team could still find a suitable option, and a much cheaper one, than drafting a running back in the first round.
Let's take a look at the top 10 running backs in yards gained this past season:
- Adrian Peterson
- Alfred Morris
- Marshawn Lynch
- Jamaal Charles
- Doug Martin
- Arian Foster
- Stevan Ridley
- C.J. Spiller
- Chris Johnson
- Frank Gore
On that list, only Peterson, Lynch, Martin and Spiller are first-round selections. Now compare that to the top 10 players in receiving yardage last year. Seven of those men were taken in the inaugural round, with only Wes Welker, Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson coming later.
Point is, the value of a late-round running back is exceptionally higher than other skill positions.
Outside of Peterson, who we aren't even sure is a human being, most of the best running backs are picks on the second and third day.
From the 2012 NFL Draft, here are the running backs taken in order in the top 100 selections:
- Round 1 (3) - Trent Richardson, Cleveland Browns
- Round 1 (31) - Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Round 1 (32) - David Wilson, New York Giants
- Round 2 (50) - Isaiah Pead, St. Louis Rams
- Round 2 (61) - LaMichael James, San Francisco 49ers
- Round 3 (67) - Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos
- Round 3 (84) - Bernard Pierce, Baltimore Ravens
- Round 4 (97) Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
Outside of Martin, no other back rushed for 1,000 yards last season. Wilson made more of an impact on special teams than anywhere else and Pierce was a nice complement to Rice. Richardson had a solid year, but nothing worthy of a top-five slot.
However, don't you think those teams might want another player right now, outside of Tampa Bay and perhaps New York with the release of Ahmad Bradshaw? The value simply wasn't there.
Who was the best running back in the class? Morris of the Washington Redskins, who was picked in the sixth round.
The same story goes for the 2011 class. Let's have a look a the top 100:
- Round 1 (28) - Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
- Round 2 (38) - Ryan Williams, Arizona Cardinals
- Round 2 (56) - Shane Vereen, New England Patriots
- Round 2 (57) - Mikel Leshoure, Detroit Lions
- Round 2 (62) - Daniel Thomas, Miami Dolphins
- Round 3 (71) - DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
- Round 3 (73) - Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
- Round 3 (96) - Alex Green, Green Bay Packers
Once again, absolutely no value high in the draft. The best backs on the list come in the third round with Murray and Ridley. All the others have been largely ineffective.
You know the drill by now. Here's the 2010 class, first 100 picks:
- Round 1 (9) - C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
- Round 1 (12) - Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
- Round 1 (30) - Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions
- Round 2 (36) - Dexter McCluster, Kansas City Chiefs
- Round 2 (51) - Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings
- Round 2 (58) - Ben Tate, Houston Texans
- Round 2 (59) - Montario Hardesty, Cleveland Browns
In a notoriously bad year for running backs, the Bills made a good move grabbing Spiller when they did. The rest of this crew is motley, with Mathews having fumbling and injury issues, McCluster having no real position and Gerhart just being terrible.
Onto the top 100 of the 2009 draft:
- Round 1 (12) - Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
- Round 1 (27) - Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
- Round 1 (31) - Beanie Wells, Arizona Cardinals
- Round 2 (53) - LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
- Round 3 (65) - Shonn Greene, New York Jets
- Round 3 (74) - Glen Coffee, San Francisco 49ers
The best values here are clearly McCoy, who has emerged as one of the best running backs in the game, and the serviceable Greene. The rest of these guys? Major disappointments.
More importantly, a little-known Tennessee back named Arian Foster went undrafted. Now that's value.
Last but not least, the 2008 draft. Queue it up, the top 100:
- Round 1 (4) - Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
- Round 1 (13) - Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
- Round 1 (22) - Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys
- Round 1 (23) - Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Round 1 (24) - Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
- Round 2 (44) - Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
- Round 2 (55) - Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
- Round 3 (64) - Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions
- Round 3 (73) - Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
- Round 3 (89) - Steve Slaton, Houston Texans
Now that's a class. In fact, that might wind up as one of the best in NFL history. Injuries have kept some of the top picks from reaching their full potential, namely McFadden and Jones. However, we once again find the best value late in the first (Johnson) and then in the second and third rounds with Rice, Forte and Charles.
Looking at history, it's easy to see why being the first to take a running back off the board is usually a bad idea. Minnesota's decision to take Peterson early and having it work out (understatement of the century) is the exception, not the rule.
If you have a need in the backfield, you are better off attending to other issues before addressing that problem. More often than not, the mid-rounds are where the best value is.
This year doesn't appear to be a strong running back class, with nobody projected as a first-rounder. Eddie Lacy is thought of as the best back, and he's likely to go in the mid-30s or early 40s.
The draft is almost here. Be patient, don't reach.