There was a time that the running back position was one of the most valuable in the NFL. Those days are gone. Unless you are Adrian Peterson, it is getting more and more rare for running backs to get drafted high. It is a position that burns out quickly and with the emphasis in the passing game, it almost seems like a waste to use an early pick on someone at the position.
Likewise, if you look at the Arizona Cardinals historically, drafting a running back early has been disastrous. Anthony Thompson, Thomas Jones (while he was in Arizona), Leeland McElroy, Garrison Hearst (while in Arizona), Beanie Wells and perhaps Ryan Williams all have been early round selections that have not lived up to their potential. Some were because of injuries, others were attitude and others were simply not great players.
On the other hand, Arizona has had some great success in later rounds. Johnny Johnson was a seventh rounder in the early 90s. Ronald Moore comes to mind. Tim Hightower is another example, as is LaRod Stephens-Howling to a lesser extent.
Seth Cox, a friend of ROTB, suggests three such runners in late rounds in an article for Arizona Sports.
On Johnson (5-9, 213):
"Johnson is a compact, strong, yet light on his feet runner. He moves well in the hole, at the line of scrimmage and knows how to set up and follow his blocks, then use his exceptional burst to get to and through the hole.
"What makes Johnson such a well-rounded back and one that could be a strong fit with the Cardinals, is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and block in the passing game."
On Rouse (5-6, 190):
"Rouse runs hard, keeps his shoulders square to the line at all times and knows how to use his blockers, find a crease -- no matter how small -- and get through it.
"He is excellent in space where he can consistently make the first man miss and pick up extra yards."
On Winn (5-11, 220):
"Winn is another compact, between the tackles runner who knows how to use his blockers to find creases in the defense and get through the hole.
"Runs low and with a purpose -- he can break through arm tackles of defensive lineman and isn't afraid to take on linebackers or defensive backs one-on-one in space."
Any more it seems just as likely that a team gets production out of a Day 3 pick as they do with a first rounder at running back, which means you are better off looking late, especially for guys that didn't get as many carries in college.
Another player I would love to see is ASU's Cameron Marshall, although I want to see some measurables on his speed. He is a powerful runner with size and speed, although I have not ever seen his 40 time. He can catch the ball and pick up the blitz. He has had ankle issues, but got less carries in 2012 than other seasons because of the depth at RB. However, with the drop in playing time and production this year, he will be available Day 3 of the draft and might not get drafted at all.
Should the Cards look for a running back early? Should they go Day 2 or wait all the way to Day 3? Anymore, you might as well wait.
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