Can Ohio State Buckeye RB Ezekiel Elliott Crack Top Ten of 2016 NFL Draft?
By Chris Malumphy
Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott is likely to be a top ten selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. Nowadays, that is something that is unique, with only five running backs cracking the top ten during the past decade. Running backs are clearly undervalued in the current NFL, victims of a pass-happy league with a high preference for a running back by committee approach that still sends their best runners into the line hundreds of times a year causing them to take hits from increasingly well armored kamikaze defensemen that wear them down earlier than players at other positions resulting in shortened careers. It doesn't help their cause that elite running backs also command big bucks, or at least they used to, yet with taking so many hits, they can go down at any time. Nevertheless, it was not really all that long ago that running backs were considered to be the most important players in the draft, outside the truly elite quarterbacks. And even today, the worst lead running backs for any team will still touch the ball more often than any player other than the center and the quarterback. Running backs, as victims of circumstance, no longer get the recognition they deserve. Yet a good running back can cement victories and carry an offense with a mediocre quarterback.
Ezekiel Elliott may be just that type of player. He is said to have ALL the tools. He's big, explosive, has good hands, can block and won't be 21 until July. With the common knowledge that the top two picks in the draft by the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles will be quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz in an as of yet undetermined order, there are eight teams in the top ten with whom Elliott could land: Chargers, Cowboys, Jaguars, Ravens, 49ers, Browns, Buccaneers and Giants. Elliott would improve the running games of everyone of those teams with the exception of the Buccaneers with Doug Martin. He would undoubtedly help the Chargers, but they have so many needs and spent a first round choice on Melvin Gordon last year. The Cowboys got a good year in 2015 out of Darren McFadden, who will turn 29 before the season begins, and signed Alfred Morris, who missed gaining 1,000 yards for the first time in his four-year career last season. Although Elliott would likely be an improvement long-term, the Cowboys also have other needs, including the increasing necessity to plan for the replacement of an aging, injury-prone Tony Romo. The Jaguars signed Chris Ivory from the Jets and received a productive rookie season from T.J. Yeldon, so they might be better off improving their woeful defense, but the addition of Elliott could help make the Jaguars the most explosive offense in the league. The Ravens need a running back and Elliott would be an ideal complement to, and take some of the pressure off, quarterback Joe Flacco. The 49ers need to improve one of the worst offenses in pro football any way they can and Elliott would be a solid addition, but San Francisco already has former Buckeye running back Carlos Hyde, although he has yet to put it all together. Elliott would be a tremendous addition to the Browns, but they may want to trade out of the position. The Buccaneers already have Doug Martin who has one of the most productive backs in recent years. Elliott would also fit the New York Giants very well in the tenth slot of the draft.
In 2015, 22 running backs were taken in the NFL Draft, including first rounders Todd Gurley (10th pick) by the Rams and Melvin Gordon (15th pick) by the Chargers. Gurley, who missed the opening of the season while recovering from injury, was the only one of the 22 to gain 1,000 yards rushing with 229 carries for 1,106 yards, a 4.8 yard average and 10 touchdowns. The Jaguars second rounder T.J. Yeldon out-gained the Chargers first rounder Melvin Gordon on the ground 740 to 641 on a similar number of carries. The only other running backs drafted in 2015 to gain even 500 yards were Ameer Abdullah (2nd round, Lions, 597 yards), David Johnson (3rd, Cardinals, 581), Jeremy Langford (4th, Bears, 537), Karlos Williams (5th, Bills, 517 with a 5.6 yard average and 7 touchdowns) and Javorius Allen (4th, Ravens, 514). It should be noted that you need to gain 640 yards to average just 40 yards per game.
Only three of the running backs drafted in 2015 gained 1,000 total yards rushing and receiving: Todd Gurley, 1,294; David Johnson, 1,038; and Ameer Abdullah, 1,019. The Browns Duke Johnson Jr. came close with 913. He had 61 catches and was the only running back drafted in 2015 with more than two yards rushing who gained more yards receiving (534) than on the ground (379). Nevertheless, the Redskins Matt Jones, Cardinals David Johnson and Bears Jeremy Langford each averaged significantly more yards per reception than Duke Johnson Jr.
Further below are the rookie year statistics for each of the 23 running backs drafted in the first round over the past decade sorted by total yards from scrimmage. The Buccaneers Doug Martin burst onto the scene in 2012 with the best rookie season of all (1,454 yards rushing, 472 receiving, 1,926 overall), topping even the Vikings Adrian Peterson (1,341, 268, 1,609). Of the 23, six topped 1,000 yards rushing in their rookie seasons: Doug Martin, 1,454; Adrian Peterson, 1,341; Chris Johnson, 1,228; Marshawn Lynch, 1,115; Todd Gurley, 1106; and Joseph Addai, 1,081. Ten had 1,000 plus yards rushing and receiving: Doug Martin, 1,926; Adrian Peterson, 1,609; Chris Johnson, 1,488; Joseph Addai, 1,406; Trent Richardson, 1,317; Reggie Bush, 1,307; Marshawn Lynch, 1,299; Todd Gurley, 1,294; Knowshon Moreno, 1,160; and Jahvid Best, 1,042.
Unsurprisingly, Reggie Bush provided the most production receiving as a rookie of any running back drafted in the first round for the past decade with 88 catches for 742 yards. Bush's career has always been limited, however, by his size and durability, although he did amass some significant yardage on the ground from 2011 through 2013 (1,086, 986 and 1,006 yard respectively) in his sixth, seventh and eighth seasons when the Dolphins and Lions fed him 200 plus carries each year.
You can see why so many teams (Browns, Colts, Raiders, Ravens) keep offering former Alabama star Trent Richardson a chance. During his rookie season with the Browns in 2012, Richardson had the 5th most total yards from scrimmage of the 23 running backs taken in the first round since 2006--and that despite playing much of the year with cracked ribs. Of the 23, only Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch had more carries as a rookie than Richardson. It is probably just dreaming, but Richardson still has hope to turn his career around if he can get in shape and remain healthy since he won't turn 26 until July.
It seems unlikely that Ezekiel Elliot will fall out of the top ten in the 2016 NFL Draft. His goal should be to equal or surpass the production of the top rookie running backs of the past decade like Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin.
|Running Backs Drafted in 2015|
|Duke Johnson Jr.||Browns||3||13||77||Miami (FL)||Browns||104||379||3.6||0||61||534||8.8||2||913|
|David Johnson||Cardinals||3||22||86||Northern Iowa||Cardinals||125||581||4.6||8||36||457||12.7||4||1038|
|Jeremy Langford||Bears||4||7||106||Michigan State||Bears||148||537||3.6||6||22||279||12.7||1||816|
|Mike Davis||49ers||4||27||126||South Carolina||49ers||35||58||1.7||0||7||38||5.4||0||96|
|Jay Ajayi||Dolphins||5||13||149||Boise State||Dolphins||49||187||3.8||1||7||90||12.9||0||277|
|Karlos Williams||Bills||5||19||155||Florida State||Bills||93||517||5.6||7||11||96||8.7||2||613|
|Josh Robinson||Colts||6||29||205||Mississippi State||Colts||17||39||2.3||0||6||33||5.5||0||72|
|Kenny Hilliard||Texans||7||18||235||Louisiana State|
|Rookie Running Backs Drafted In 1st Round|
(2006 - 2015)
|Doug Martin||2012||Buccaneers||1||31||31||Boise State||319||1454||4.6||11||49||472||9.6||1||1926|
|Chris Johnson||2008||Titans||1||24||24||East Carolina||251||1228||4.9||9||43||260||6||1||1488|
|Joseph Addai||2006||Colts||1||30||30||Louisiana State||226||1081||4.8||7||40||325||8.1||1||1406|
|Beanie Wells||2009||Cardinals||1||31||31||Ohio State||176||793||4.5||7||12||143||11.9||0||936|
|Ryan Mathews||2010||Chargers||1||12||12||Fresno State||158||678||4.3||7||22||145||6.6||0||823|
|David Wilson||2012||Giants||1||32||32||Virginia Tech||71||358||5||4||4||34||8.5||1||392|