History was made at the 2013 NFL Draft as no running backs were selected in the first round for the first time in the modern draft era; that is 63 years. Giovanni Bernard became the first tailback off the board at pick 37 to the Cincinnati Bengals.
There are many contributing factors as to why this occurred. NFL offenses are becoming more spread out and pass-oriented, which is diminishing the value of the running back position. The NFL is a throw-first league, and there are only a few ground-and-pound teams remaining. Also, no surefire top running backs were available in 2013. In the past, players like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were no brainers in the first round. Although players like Alabama’s Eddie Lacy were projected first round picks, it was never a given that a running back would be taken in the opening round. However, rookie running backs such as Lacy of the Packers, Le’Veon Bell with the Steelers, and Bernard with the Bengals are still expected to have a significant impact with their squads this season.
This recent trend of degradation begs the question: will the 2014 draft hold the same fate for running backs? Well, much like this most recent draft, the answer is unclear. Like 2013, a no-brainer first round running back has yet to emerge. However, there remain many quality running backs in the 2014 class, and some have the potential to play themselves into the first round.
Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona, De’Anthony Thomas of Oregon, and Lache Seastrunk of Baylor stand, at the moment, as the three running backs with the best chance of cracking the first round next fall. All three are underclassmen and have been extremely productive thus far in their careers. Yet, each is prized for different reasons.
Carey is the most complete of these three as he can run through the tackles and has the break away speed to score on long runs. He led the nation in rushing as a sophomore and he will garner plenty of attention from NFL scouts. Seastrunk broke out towards the end of last season and is very fast with rare vision. He runs much like Chris Johnson and he has that potential if he continues to improve. Thomas possesses the most versatility of any running back in this draft. He is a threat running, receiving, and as a return man. Thomas is the most explosive athlete in the draft and that alone could land him in the first round.
It is still very early, but the 2014 draft may see no running backs selected in the first round. This running back class has potential, but they must prove themselves if they wish to have any first round picks. Right now, Thomas appears to be the best bet to become a first round due to his blazing speed and versatility. However, this class needs to step up if the want to avoid the same fate as their 2013 predecessors.