A popular mock draft selection for the New York Jets is either LSU running back Leonard Fournette or FSU running back Dalvin Cook. Either selection would be a mistake for the Jets with the 6th overall pick as the team cannot afford to invest in a luxury position with their most valuable piece of capital to improve their roster this offseason.
You should not take a running back in the top ten or arguably even the first round unless he is a generational talent, who is good enough to supersede any surrounding issues on the offense. Both Fournette and Cook are quality prospects but neither fall into that category.
Todd Gurley is a comparable prospect, if not one who was more highly touted, who has not been able to supersede a less than optimal situation with the Rams. This past season he had a pedestrian 885 yards at 3.2 yards per carry. Yes, he would be more productive with a better quarterback and offensive line but so would a middle round pick, like David Johnson who is a third rounder that has consistently outperformed Gurley over the past two years. If they swap teams do their numbers swap? If they do, why are you using a first rounder on production you could have had in the third round?
This may seem like weird timing to make this argument after Ezekiel Elliot tore the league up as a top five pick last year and led the NFL in rushing. Elliot just may be a generational talent but we are yet to see him away from the league’s best offensive line, a Hall of Fame tight end, an All-Pro receiver and a very good quarterback. Elliot was first in the NFL in rushing, Jordan Howard a 5th round rookie, was second. If you flip their teams how much production are you losing? It is doubtful that it is enough to compensate for the gap between a first and fifth round pick. You are likely getting very similar numbers, while being able to use your first round pick elsewhere.
Elliot was the only first round pick to be in the top ten of the league’s rushing leaders. Out of the league’s top 30 leading rushers, only four were first round picks (Elliot, Mark Ingram, Melvin Gordon and Gurley). In 2015, only seven of the league’s top 30 leading rushers were first round picks and two of them got hurt the following year (Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden). In 2014, the number was four.
From a team perspective, here is the starting running back for each playoff team and when they were selected:
- New England: LaGarrette Blount – UDFA
- Pittsburgh: Le’Veon Bell – 2nd round
- Kansas City: Spencer Ware – 3rd round
- Houston: Lamar Miller – 4th round
- Miami: Jay Ajayi – 5th round
- Oakland: Latavius Murray – 6th round
- Dallas: Ezekiel Elliot – 1st round
- Green Bay: Ty Montgomery – 3rd round
- Atlanta: DaVonta Freeman – 3rd round
- Seattle: Thomas Rawls – UDFA
- Detroit: Zach Zenner – UDFA
- Giants: Rashad Jennings – 7th round
In the last ten Super Bowls, only one winner had a first round running back on their roster and he wasn’t drafted by that team (Marshawn Lynch on the Seahawks).
The Rams and Chargers both used first round picks on running backs in 2015. Neither team has made the playoffs since. Elliot’s Cowboys were one and done in this year’s playoffs. Prior to that in 2012, the Browns used a first round pick on Trent Richardson (we know how that turned out), the Bucs used one on Doug Martin and the Giants used one on David Wilson. The Giants never made the playoffs with Wilson. The Bucs are yet to make it with Martin.
Running backs are a dime a dozen, similar to wide receivers. It is not a premium position. First round and particularly top ten capital should be concentrated to positions like pass rusher, quarterback, offensive tackle, corner or a safety with range to cover and play in the box (hi, Malik Hooker). This is a deep class at running back, the Jets can find production in the middle rounds to pair with Bilal Powell (another productive middle round running back!) for the foreseeable future.
Fournette and Cook are flashy names and some will say the Jets need “weapons” but ironically skill position weapons is not one of their weaker spots right now. They need a line, a pass rush, a quarterback and cover guys more than playmakers with Powell, Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Eric Decker and as of now Brandon Marshall already in place.
Photo Credit: LSU.com