The running back position has been devalued in recent years, but it is still important for teams to have talent at the position. Having a good running game can help balance an offense out. If a team does not have a good running game, opposing defenses will make it difficult for a team’s pass attack to be successful. A team with a good running attack forces opposing defenses to stack the box. This makes it easy for the passing attack to thrive, and this is especially true if a team has a decent quarterback.
Quarterback play has been the most valued thing in the NFL lately, but it is still extremely vital to have a good running back on your team. There are different types of running backs that are drafted into the NFL every year. Some backs are very fast, and can also be effective in the passing game. Then there are power backs who can run through multiple defenders if needed. These power backs do not always have great speed, but if a team needs to get one yard, a power back is capable of getting it. Then there are backs like Adrian Peterson and Le’Veon Bell who can run over defenders and run past them.
There are also running backs in almost every draft that get drafted in the early rounds, but then fail to be dynamic for the teams they suit up for. These running backs are called busts. In recent drafts, running backs have been slipping due to teams not valuing the position as much anymore. Some teams struggle to find talent at running back in the draft. There are some teams that will be represented more than once on this list of busts.
These are the biggest busts of the last 15 NFL drafts (2001-2015).
2001 – Michael Bennett
Michael Bennett enjoyed an 11 year career in the NFL, but he did not provide great numbers which are expected out of a first round pick. In his second season with the Minnesota Vikings, Bennett exploded for 1,296 rushing yards, and many thought he was on his way to being a quality running back for years to come. In his next nine seasons, Bennett would not amass 500 rushing yards. The Vikings coincidentally selected Adrian Peterson six years later, which gave them a super star at the position. Michael Bennett in his 11 seasons had 3,703 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
2002 – William Green
William Green is one of many first round busts that the Cleveland Browns have selected in recent years. He burst onto the scene in his first season by rushing for 887 rushing yards, but failed to make an impact in the Cleveland back field after his rookie year. His next two seasons he rushed for 559 and 585, which signaled that his career was going downhill, and in his final season, Green ran for a measly 78 whole yards. The Browns passed up on players such as Clinton Portis and Ed Reed to draft Green. For his entire NFL career, William Green rushed for 2,109 rushing yards and accumulated nine touchdowns.
2003 – Musa Smith
The 2003 NFL Draft produced Willis McGahee and Larry Johnson in the first round, and they were both productive half backs on the NFL stage. Musa Smith was the next running back selected in the third round, and failed to get close to the level of Larry Johnson and Willis McGahee. In five seasons, Musa Smith only got one start. Surprisingly Smith’s best season was his last season. Going out and playing your best at the end is always a good thing, but when your best is 264 rushing yards, your NFL life probably has not been all that great. Musa Smith rushed for 496 yards and 4 touchdowns during his brief livelihood in the NFL.
2004 – Chris Perry
Chris Perry came from a highly successful college program in the University of Michigan, but he failed to carry over the success he achieved in college to the NFL level. He only played in two games during his rookie season. This could have either motivated Perry or demoralized his psyche. Perry did not really have an opportunity to truly be the main guy in the Cincinnati Bengals backfield.
The touches in the backfield were never distributed to Perry despite his impressive yards per carry average of 5.7 yards in his third season. Chris Perry rushed for 606 yards and had two touchdowns during his tenure in the pros.
2005 – Cadillac Williams
Cadillac Williams back in 2005 did not look poised to make any type of lists that involved busts. Williams ran for a 1,178 yards, which ended up being over a quarter of his career total. It seemed as though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had found a quality running back that would be stationed in their backfield for many years. After a sophomore slump in 2006, Cadillac Williams was bit by the injury bug, and never reached the extraordinary numbers he had in his rookie year again. His total career numbers were 4,038 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
2006 – Laurence Maroney
There are on occasion players who are busts not only because of a player’s poor skill set, but also their inability to stay healthy. Laurence Maroney was certainly a bust. He was hampered by injuries throughout his time in the NFL, and some wonder whether he could have avoided the bust label if he had just stayed on the field. He had three seasons where he carried the ball over 175 times. In his other two seasons, Maroney had a minimal influence on his team’s rushing attack. Laurence Maroney finished his career with 2,504 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
2007 – Kenny Irons
Sometimes bad luck can contribute to a player being included on such a dubious list of busts. Kenny Irons had a fantastic career at Auburn, and was poised to make an impact for the Cincinnati Bengals in their backfield. Second round draft picks do not have the heavy expectations that first round picks have, but they are still expected to contribute in the NFL. Kenny Irons was injured in the preseason of his rookie season. He missed his entire rookie season, but still had high hopes that he would fully recover from his injury. The Bengals ended up waiving Irons, and he never played a down of football in a regular season NFL game.
2008 – Felix Jones
Felix Jones was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, and was expected to be a feature back. Unfortunately Jones had to share the carries with the Cowboys and never proved to his coaches that he deserved a majority of the carries. Felix Jones while at Arkansas had to share carries with Darren McFadden. Sharing the carries was not a trend that Felix Jones could reverse, and because of never being able to get out of a running back by committee system, 800 yards was the most he ever rushed for in a season. Felix Jones rushed for 2,912 yards and had 11 touchdowns in six NFL seasons.
2009 – Beanie Wells
Beanie Wells had an outstanding collegiate career at Ohio State, and was drafted by a team in the Arizona Cardinals who were desperate for running back help. In his first two years in the league he was not the primary back for the Cardinals. He finally got his chance as a feature back in his third season, and started 14 games. In those 14 games Beanie Wells ran for over 1,000 yards, and proved he may have been worthy of being a first round pick.
Unfortunately, he struggled mightily the next season. After struggling in his fourth year, he never played in the NFL again. Beanie Wells rushed for a total of 2,471 yards and 24 touchdowns.
2010 – Toby Gerhart
Toby Gerhart was a phenomenal player coming out of Stanford, and did not have high expectations put on him when he was drafted in the second round by the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings were set at running back with Adrian Peterson. Toby Gerhart got his chance to be a feature back when the Jacksonville Jaguars signed Gerhart in free agency in 2014. As the feature back for the Jaguars, Gerhart only rushed for 326 yards, averaging 3.2 yards a carry. He lost his starting job to Denard Robinson who was a quarterback in college. Toby Gerhart has rushed for 1,675 yards and 7 touchdowns so far in his NFL career.
2011 – Ryan Williams
Ryan Williams was selected early in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals, and was the second running back taken in the draft behind Mark Ingram. Ingram has easily outperformed Ryan Williams. He started three of his first five games in the NFL, but has not played in a game since his first season with the Cardinals. Ryan Williams has only rushed for 164 yards and not a single touchdown during his short time in the league.
2012 – Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson coming out of Alabama seemed to be a sure thing when he was drafted third overall by the Cleveland Browns. He rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in his first season, but then was surprisingly traded to the Indianapolis Colts. During Richardson’s time with the Colts he struggled, and after two seasons with the team he was left looking for work again. After not playing in the 2015 season, the Baltimore Ravens are taking a chance on Richardson, and he is hoping to revive his career. During his short time in the NFL, Trent Richardson has rushed for 2,032 yards and 17 touchdowns.
2013 – Montee Ball
Montee Ball was arguably the best running back prospect of the 2013 NFL draft class. When he was drafted by the Denver Broncos, who were depleted at the running back position, many thought Ball was destined for a successful NFL career. He failed to start a game in his rookie season. He finally got the chance to start in 2014, but his season was cut short by an injury. Ball was looking to bounce back from his injury in 2015, but did not even make the Broncos final roster. The Patriots have given Ball an invite to training camp, and he hopes to prove to the Broncos that they made a mistake by letting him go. Montee Ball has rushed for 731 yards and 5 touchdowns in two NFL seasons.
2014 – Bishop Sankey
Bishop Sankey was the first running back taken in 2014. He went late in the second round by the Tennessee Titans. He was expected to be capable of being a first string running back for the Titans, but has only started 12 of the 29 games he has played in. There is still time for Sankey to turn his career around, but his carries will be limited with the arrival of DeMarco Murray via trade.
Sankey may be able to get his starting job back during training camp. He has rushed for 762 yards and three touchdowns in two seasons.
2015 – Melvin Gordon
It is a little premature to be labeling Melvin Gordon as a potential bust. If he continues to produce the kind of numbers he produced in his rookie season, Gordon is going down a road that many bust worthy half backs have gone down in NFL history. Many expected Gordon to come into the NFL and do much better with the Chargers, after his great collegiate career with the Wisconsin Badgers.
Next season Gordon should try and break the 100 yard mark in a game. He failed to rush for 100 yards in a game in the 2015 season, and in total Melvin Gordon rushed for 641 yards and zero touchdowns.
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