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Cards To Embrace NFL RB Trend?

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College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

When one closely examines the current RB trend in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals may want to let Kenyan Drake open the safe in another city.

When one examines the facts—-young stud RBs are in vogue, while 2nd contract RBs are now making NFL GMs shake their heads and think twice.

A few short years ago, it was thought that teams could easily wait until Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft to opt on a RB—-and in some cases that’s still true.

But, in the most recent years, the top RBs in their class are showing up in the green room at the draft, because chances are, they will be Night One picks.

2nd Contract RBs Who Have Soured the Market:

Todd Gurley

David Johnson

LeVeon Bell

In all three of these high profile cases—-the three RBs most responsible for raising the RB salary bar over the past couple of years—-the luster has already worn off their stars, while the luster on the gold currency in their safes are as blinding as meteors.

For example, this is the reason why Melvin Gordon can’t cash in.

1st Contract RBs Have Taken the NFL By Storm:

Just take a good look at the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for the past 4 years:

  • 2015: Todd Gurley (#10 pick)
  • 2016: Ezekiel Elliott (#4 pick)
  • 2017: Alvin Kamara (#67 pick) and Kareem Hunt (#86 pick)
  • 2018: Saquan Barkley (#2 pick)

As for the NFL OROY in 2019, yesterday when Mike Florio and Pro Football Talk announced QB Kyler Murray (#1 pick) as their choice, there was outrage from a large number of fans who insist that RB Josh Jacobs (#24 pick) was the most outstanding rookie, even despite missing the final 4 games due to a shoulder injury.

The point is—-it is not simply by coincidence that the last 5 NFL offensive rookies of the year are all RBs.

What it means is that good, young RBs can transition very quickly into the NFL game.

Take a close look at the Top 10 2019 NFL Rushing leaders:

  1. Derrick Henry, TEN, 1,540
  2. Nick Chubb, CLE, 1,494
  3. Christian McCaffrey, CAR, 1,397
  4. Ezekiel Elliott, DAL, 1,387
  5. Chris Carson, SEA, 1,230
  6. Lamar Jackson, BAL, 1,206
  7. Leonard Fournette, JAX, 1,152
  8. Josh Jacobs, OAK, 1,150
  9. Joe Mixon, CIN, 1,137
  10. Dalvin Cook, MIN, 1,135

What do all of these players have in common?

That’s right. They’re all 1st contract players.

The only 2nd contract RBs to rush for over 1,000 yards this season:

13. Carlos Hyde, HOU, 1,070 (29 years old—-$2019 cap figure of $1.84M)

14. Mark Ingram, BAL, 1,018 (30 years old—-$2019 cap figure of $3.33M)

Apply this data to the Cardinals’ current RB situation:

  • David Johnson (2020 cap figure of $14.16M)—-one could argue that he has not looked like the same star player he was since he injured his knee in the last game of the 2016 season.
  • Chase Edmonds (2020 cap figure of $773K)—-had one breakout 126 yard, 3 TD game before injuring his hamstring, but when he returned to full health he was relegated to the bench—-thus the Cardinals do not know if he could be a RB1—-and the way the Cardinals pigeonhole players, particularly the players they draft, it’s likely they see Edmonds as a RB2.
  • Kenyan Drake (UFA)—-heads into his 2nd contact having not rushed for one 1,000 yard season in 4 years—-while the Dolphins considered Drake as more of a third down RB than full-time starter, as the lead RB for 8 games with the Cardinals, Drake turned it on big-time rushing for 643 yards (5.2 ave.) and 8 TDs, while catching 28 passes for 171 yards (6.1 ave.).
  • Drake seems to believe he is going to be lavished with a lucrative contract—-but—-with the 2020 NFL Draft being so deep in RB prospects—-and the fact that Derrick Henry and Melvin Gordon top the free agent RB list—-what is a reasonable market for Drake? My guess all along is something in the vicinity of 3 years for $12M plus incentives with $5M guaranteed. That kind of a contract could be manageable for the Cardinals. But, nothing more than that.
  • What can and should the Cardinals do with David Johnson? A trade with BA and the Bucs would seem to be the only reasonable possibility—-but—-even that possibility may be a long shot. So, here’s a novel idea—-how about coaching him up? How about providing him with an off-season training regimen that would help Johnson shed some weight in order to build back his foot speed? How about tapping into his prowess as a receiver?
  • David Johnson is coachable, especially when coaches ride him. He has a big heart. But, he tends to get starry-eyed about fantasy football numbers and lofty goals. As Theodore Roosevelt said so well, “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” David Johnson needs to get his feet back on the ground, literally and figuratively. Seeing as the Cardinals are going to be paying him one way or another. If I were the coach, I would select one of the top RBs in this year’s NFL Draft and I would move Johnson to WR where I believe he belongs and where he can be consistently outstanding.
  • As for the draft, having spent some time studying the top RBs, here is how I currently rank them:
  1. Travis Etienne, Clemson
  2. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio St.
  3. Najee Harris, Alabama
  4. D’Andre Swift, Georgia
  5. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma St.
  6. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
  7. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU

The two I have rated as sure-fire 1st round picks are Etienne and Dobbins.

Should the Cardinals consider Etienne and/or Dobbins with the #8 pick?

Etienne, yes.

If they love Dobbins they should either trade back in Round 1 or trade up from Round 2. There is no way Dobbins will be available at #40—-barring anything unforeseen.

But, here is the argument for Etienne at #8—-he’s the fastest RB off the snap in the draft. He bounces off tacklers, has an array of dip, spin and cut moves to make tacklers miss, he has shown this year that he’s a big play waiting to happen in the passing game—-he is a flat-out winner—-and best of all—-he has not fumbled once in his entire college career.

Should the Cardinals consider taking Etienne over WRs Jerry Juedy or Cee Dee Lamb?

That’s a very tough decision—-but—-who touches the ball the most, the lead RB or the WR1? Who can impact both the running and the passing games the most? Who can have a greater immediate impact?

In Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, the lead RB is the most utilized (and therefore important) player other than QB Kyler Murray. Kingsbury has talked on numerous occasions about finding the RB1 whom he can “build the offense around.” That’s what his NFL offense requires.

Now—-if Kingsbury believes Chuba Hubbard (who, btw, looks and runs a lot like Kenyan Drake) can be that guy, or is confident that the Cardinals can trade back into the 1st round to take Dobbins, then he can go ahead and take WR Cee Dee Lamb in round one and draft one of the RBs with their 2nd pick.

Although, this draft is insanely deep at WR—-which could prompt Kingsbury to take Etienne at #8 and then snag the best available WR at #40, like Justin Jefferson (LSU), Tyler Johnson (MINN), K.J. Hamler (PSU), or Tee Higgins (CLEM).

Of course, all of this is predicated on the Cardinals fulfilling their needs at LT, C, DT, OLB, ILB and CB/S in free agency—-which I attempted to provide a blueprint for yesterday.

I am of the strict belief that this draft is a 2 round offensive skill player bonanza.

There’s a player in this draft named Leviska Shenault, Jr. from Colorado who is a stud WR and RB. Just get him the ball and let him go to work. Right now, most mock drafts have him going somewhere in the 20s. But, I think his stock will keep rising during the draft process.

But given my choice, right now, I believe that Travis Etienne is the best skilled all-around playmaker in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Recent history would suggest that Etienne would be an immediate OROY the year candidate who could give the Cardinals back to back award winners. Imagine that.

This highlight tape of Etienne was released 2 days ago—-feast your eyes on this extraordinary talent.

Interesting that the name “Travis” means one who “crosses” thresholds and “Etienne” means “crown.”

Hmm...