The decline of first-round running backs in the NFL draft

 

Will Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon be the first running back selected in the NFL Draft? And... will he be taken in the first round?

Will Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon be the first running back selected in the NFL Draft? And… will he be taken in the first round?

The 2015 NFL draft is about two months away, but with the recent Scouting Combine drawing to a close there is a lot of talk about where certain college players will end up in the draft. In fact, mock drafts for this year’s selections have been popping up since last May, and now players are moving up or down the selection list.

One position that has been interesting to watch are the running backs coming out of college for this year’s draft. In several of the mock drafts published we have seen anywhere from zero running backs projected to be taken in the first round to maybe two, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley. We all know that the NFL has become a quarterback-receiver dominate league, but the decline of running backs as first-round selections has been steady and continues in that path.

Let’s take a look at the number of key offensive skill players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 1970 (the NFL and AFL merger year). I’ve broken the numbers into five-year segments. (RB=Running Backs; QB=Quarterbacks; Rec=Receivers; TE=Tight Ends)

Years     RBs      QBs     Rec       TEs
1970-74:  26………..8………15………..9
1975-79:  18………..8……….9………..7
1980-84: 24……….11……..13………..4
1985-89: 26………..7………18………..2
1990-94: 18……….10……..12………..4
1995-99: 16……….10……..18………..5
2000-04:15………..13……..24……….9
2005-09:17……….13………19……….6
2010-14:  7………..14……..17………..3

Of the four positions listed above, you can see some very distinct patterns. The five-year numbers of running backs taken in the first round has clearly decreased, from a five-year high of 26 in 1970-74 to only seven taken in the last five years. Receivers and quarterbacks have definitely seen a rise in first-round choices.

Here’s another look at these numbers, this time taking the first 20 years (1970-89) and comparing them to the last 25 years (1990-2014) with regards to the average number of players chosen from each position in the first round.

Positions           1970-89   1990-2014
Running Backs          4.7              2.9
Quarterbacks             1.7               2.4
Receivers                    2.8              3.6
Tight Ends                  1.1               1.1

While quarterbacks and receivers numbers increased and tight ends stayed about the same, the average number of running backs taken in the first round dropped from an average of 4.7 in 1970-89 to 2.9 in 1990-2014.

No doubt this trend will continue as the league remains focused on high-powered offenses fueled by QBs and receivers. Whether teams have diminished the importance of a quality running back or have deemed that a running back is not worthy of a first-round pick, keep an eye on this year’s draft for this trend.

Follow Jerry on Twitter @StatsonTapp

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: