A first-round running back is expected to produce right out of the draft more than most positions. Running backs are so important in the league that in some years, there is no on deemed worthy enough of that first-round spot. In fact, there was a two-year stretch when no running back was taken in the first round.
The last 20 running backs of the first round included some superstars. There were a good chunk of duds, but the last decade has seen some really good talent out of the first round. This list takes us back to the 2007 draft when Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson were selected in the first round.
With this list, some guys should have no doubt been drafted higher than when they were taken. On the other side of things, there were a lot of backs who were drafted far too high. Some of the running backs that follow didn't deserve a first round spot, and some didn’t really prove deserving to be drafted at all.
So, we're helping some organizations out by re-drafting the last 20 running backs who were taken in the first round. This will help a lot of teams, but it will hurt others, like the Cowboys. In the 2016 draft, the Cowboys were overwhelmingly right in selecting Ezekiel Elliott. But in this re-draft, Dallas misses out on Elliott because his performance warrants a higher draft spot. Elliott deserves the extra money he would have received if he were drafted a couple spots higher.
Remember, this re-draft is to benefit the players and fix the mistakes of the past. It is not meant to talk about the teams who picked the right guy.
20 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
Original Pick: Dallas Cowboys, 4th Overall, 2016
We only have one season of work to judge Ezekiel Elliott on, but he has already proven to be worthy of a first round pick. In fact, Elliott deserves to be drafted higher. This hurts the Cowboys offense, but it will drastically improve Philadelphia’s chances at success. It could have been the surrounding cast in Dallas that elevated Elliott's gameplay. But Elliott's talent would have been evident on any team.
Let’s face it. After seeing how Elliott performed last year, he is deserving of getting drafted as high as possible. But the Rams issue isn’t their running back. We saw what happened to Todd Gurley last season. Gurley is immensely talented, and the lack of talent at quarterback killed Gurley’s chances at success.
Sure, the Eagles may not be set at quarterback either. But their offense has a better chance seeing success with Elliott in the backfield.
19 NEW YORK GIANTS: TODD GURLEY
Original Pick: St. Louis Rams, 10th Overall, 2015
Todd Gurley went from an amazing rookie season where he rushed for more than 1,000 yards to a season of less than 1,000 yards despite getting more rushing opportunities. Gurley, the Offensive Rookie of the Year, went from a Pro Bowl selection after rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns, to playing in more games and getting more carries but rushed for just 885 yards in his second season.
This wasn’t Gurley’s fault, he was part of a team that was forcing young quarterbacks to throw the ball way too much, and those passes were most of the time being stumped by defenses. The Rams offense just didn’t provide the room needed to produce a successful running back.
If Gurley were drafted just one spot higher, he would have been part of a team that could have desperately used a solidified No. 1 back, and he would have had more chances for success on a team that could throw the ball successfully. The Giants had a couple other backs who could have lightened the load at times, and Gurley would have been a perfect fit to lead the backfield.
18 SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: MELVIN GORDON
Original Pick: San Diego Chargers, 15th Overall, 2015
Melvin Gordon has missed a handful of games through his first two seasons because of injuries. Gordon, however, did make it to the Pro Bowl after rushing for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also added 419 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Although he was added as a replacement for the injured Le’Veon Bell, it was still a Pro Bowl selection for the young athlete.
The biggest knock against Gordon is that injuries have kept him from the field, and that trend could very well follow him throughout his career. Nonetheless, Gordon has still proved worthy of a first-round pick. However, the middle of the first round is a perfect spot for Gordon. He hasn’t proved to be worth anything more, but on the other side of things, he doesn’t deserve to fall any lower.
This pick can easily sway either way depending on how the next couple of seasons go, but for now, Gordon is a perfect fit for the Chargers in the first round.
17 CINCINNATI BENGALS: TRENT RICHARDSON
Original Pick: Cleveland Browns, 3rd Overall, 2012
This guy had ample opportunity as a starter in the NFL. However, Trent Richardson hasn’t proved deserving of a spot on an NFL roster. It’s tough to justify a draft spot for a guy who can’t find a spot in the NFL, but things could have been different for Richardson if he were picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals in the sixth round (the Bengals took a running back here so it was a good fit). Although, things probably wouldn’t have changed too much for Richardson, as he hasn’t shown any consistent success in the NFL.
Richardson currently is a free agent and has spent the last two seasons on the practice squad. That’s absolutely terrible for a guy drafted in the first few picks of the 2012 draft. Richardson did rush for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns on a failing Cleveland Browns team during his first season.
So, maybe if Richardson wasn’t expected to produce, and could have just been used off the bench, he might still be around on NFL rosters. But instead, Richardson was expected to be a starter, which never really worked out.
16 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: DOUG MARTIN
Original Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31st Overall, 2012
With five seasons in the league, Doug Martin should have been able to do more. Unfortunately, Martin has not been able to consistently be on the field. In each of the two seasons he’s played all 16 games he’s rushed for nearly 1,500 and was selected to the Pro Bowl each of those years (2012 and 2015). But Martin rushed for less than 500 yards in each of the other three seasons he’s been in the league. Those stats are deserving of a draft pick in the early rounds, just not in the first round. Those two Pro Bowl seasons were great, but the other three seasons were absolutely terrible.
Martin still finds a spot in the second round with the hopes that he will rebound and be able to consistently show up on the field. But the team needs to have a running back to rely on when Martin isn’t around. Plus, having another reliable running back helps prevent Martin from getting overworked. The Seattle Seahawks, without a doubt, is the perfect team to match that mold. That way, Martin can fill in for Lynch and split time with Rawls after Lynch’s departure from the league.
15 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: DAVID WILSON
Original Pick: New York Giants, 32nd Overall, 2012
We reach the second guy on the list who probably shouldn’t have been drafted. Currently, David Wilson is pursuing a career in track and field as a triple jumper. Wilson only played in about a season and a half before suffering a career-ending neck injury. Wilson, during his brief time, was a sold kick returner and running back. After his injury, doctors told him he was at a higher risk of neck injury. And after his neck surgery, he was advised not to return to playing football. Wilson announced his retirement on Aug. 6, 2014.
Since we must re-draft Wilson, the best bet is to put him on a team that will rarely use the currently retired running back. Plus, we need a team that already has kick returners in place. A good spot would have been with the Philadelphia Eagles in the seventh round. They already have a good rotation of backs who double as kick returners. So, maybe jumping into that mix would have kept Wilson on the sidelines and in the league longer.
14 MIAMI DOLPHONS: MARK INGRAM
Original Pick: New Orleans Saints, 28th Overall, 2011
Mark Ingram has, for the most part, been an average receiver and an above-average receiving running back over the past couple of seasons. Last season, Ingram recorded his first 1,000-plus yard rushing season. In 2014, Ingram got close with 964 yards. Although he didn’t reach the coveted 1,000-yard mark that season, he did total 1,109 yards from scrimmage and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
Ingram has been good, but he’s not deserving of a first-round draft pick. In the first round teams want to see a consistent Pro Bowler, not someone who struggles to post consistently good numbers. The Miami Dolphins would have benefited from Ingram’s presence by drafting him late in the second round. Originally, the Dolphins selected running back Daniel Thomas, who is currently a free agent that hopes to get picked up.
13 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: C.J. SPILLER
Original Pick: Buffalo Bills, 9th Overall, 2010
C.J. Spiller is currently a free agent, but unlike the other free agents that have been listed, Spiller has a better shot at finding a roster spot for the 2017 season. But Spiller is another guy who would have benefited playing alongside a seasoned back early in his career. That’s why the Spiller, and the Patriots, would have benefited from being drafted in the first of two picks by New England (rather than RB Stevan Ridley). At times, Spiller has looked deserving of his top-10 draft spot. But more often than not, Spiller has not been worthy of that top-10 draft spot. Or even a spot in the first few rounds. Back in 2012, Spiller seemed worthy as he rushed for 1,244 yards and had 459 receiving yards. Spiller was selected to the Pro Bowl that year even though he started just nine games. Spiller has not proved to be a consistent starter during his time in the league.
12 ATLANTA FALCONS: RYAN MATHEWS
Original Pick: San Diego Chargers, 12th Overall, 2010
Ryan Mathews has shown spurts of greatness – he’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards in two seasons – but he’s had a relatively quiet career. He’s a solid pick later in the draft, but should not be considered this high up. The Atlanta Falcons would be a perfect spot as the Falcons have had consistent No. 1 guys in the backfield and could have used Mathews returning ability and skill set from time to time.
Mathews has only briefly shown the ability to be the main running back on a team. More often, Mathews has been more effective as part of a two or three running back set. Although Mathews has had two 1,000-plus yard seasons, he hasn’t proved worthy of a No. 1 spot on the depth chart. Most of the time injuries keep him from consistently competing and his body just hasn’t proved to take the consistent haul.
11 DETROIT LIONS: JAHVID BEST
Original Pick: Detroit Lions, 30th Overall, 2010
Again, we meet a running back who no longer plays because of injury related issues. Jahvid Best fell out of the NFL because of concussion-related symptoms, and Best never proved worthy of a draft spot. So, he should have been drafted, at best, in the last round by the Lions. Best suffered numerous concussions throughout his career, which kept him from returning to the field during the 2012 season. If it weren’t for the concussions though, Best could have been a great back in the league. He proved to be talented in his short time and he’s a great athlete. After football, he competed in the Olympics in track and field.
Regardless of who Best goes to, concussions are a terrible thing that bumps many guys out of the league. Even if Best was on the practice squad, his head probably wasn’t suitable for the NFL.
10 BALTIMORE RAVENS: KNOWSHON MORENO
Original Pick: Denver Broncos, 12th Overall, 2009
Knowshon Moreno has seemingly played his last snap in the NFL. Like the fate of many running backs on this list, an injury has forced Moreno off the field. In 2014, Moreno re-injured his ACL and has not been signed by any NFL team since. Though, he has stated that he would like to return to the league.
But even if a team takes that chance, Moreno is by no means going to have a set roster spot for the entirety of the 2017 season. Therefore, Moreno was a bust as a first round draft pick. Moreno would have been a bust just about anywhere in the draft since he no longer plays, but a late-round would benefit a team like the Baltimore Ravens, who didn’t absolutely need a running back, but would have benefited from Moreno’s talent.
9 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: DONALD BROWN
Original Pick: Indianapolis Colts, 27th Overall, 2009
This year’s first round running back draft class saw the two worst guys drafted in this position during this stretch. Knowshon Moreno hasn’t been too good, but he’s produced a heck of a lot more than Donald Brown and the next guy coming up. Everyone else on the list did the same, they all provided more value than these two guys at the end of the 2009 draft.
Somehow, Brown managed seven seasons in the league. But we can’t justify him being drafted. Therefore, he goes to the same team, just much later. Brown is still currently listed as a free agent, but it’s doubtful Brown will see any regular season playing time. He might get added to a preseason roster, but there’s very little chance he gets to the regular season.
Brown does, however, have a 4.1 yard average per rush, but never had a season with more than 650 yards. His best season saw 645 rushing yards throughout 16 games played. So, the Colts still draft Brown, but they take him in the seventh round.
8 ARIZONA CARDINALS: CHRIS “BEANIE” WELLS
Original Pick: Arizona Cardinals, 31st Overall, 2009
It is unfortunate Beanie Wells didn’t see any type of the success that he experienced in college at Ohio State. (but his career did allow him to obtain a radio host gig in Columbus, Ohio). Again, we have another player that we can’t justify a draft pick for, so he falls to the same team (just much, much later in the draft).
Wells did manage one season with more than 1,000 yards. That was in 2011 when he rushed for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns. That was actually a very respectable season. But the seasons he played before and after were nowhere near as good. So, the Cardinals still benefit from his one season of near-greatness, but they must still deal with his below-average gameplay.
7 BALTIMORE RAVENS: DARREN McFADDEN
Should Have Gone: Oakland Raiders, 4th Overall, 2008
Darren Mcfadden never amount to much of a starter, or even backup, during his time thus far in the NFL. But he could have been if he were drafted by a team better than the Oakland Raiders. Plus, he would have benefited from not having the pressure of being a first round draft pick. That’s why the Ravens would have been better off taking McFadden instead of Ray Rice in the second round back in 2008.
But even on the failing Oakland Raiders, McFadden managed a season where he rushed for 1,157 in the 13 games he was able to play that season. That was part of the problem for McFadden. He only recently managed to play in every game of the regular season. Through nine seasons, McFadden has played in every game in just two seasons. Currently, McFadden sits behind rookie-sensation Ezekiel Elliot. Had things gone differently, he could have been still fighting for a starting spot.
6 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: JONATHAN STEWART
Should Have Gone: Carolina Panthers, 13th Overall, 2008
Jonathan Stewart has had a very respectable career as a running back in the NFL. But his career, to this point, is not deserving of a first round draft pick. Sure, Stewart was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2015. That season, even though he didn’t post amazing stats (he rushed for 989 yards and six touchdowns), he forced the second most missed tackles among running backs. He proved he could be an elusive back that season.
But Stewart is a better fit for a team that drafts him later in the first round, or even the second round. But it’s obvious that Stewart needs to be paired up with a star quarterback, like Cam Newton. That’s why the Saints are a perfect fit as they draft Stewart in the second round of this re-draft. With Drew Brees, these two have a chance at making multiple deep runs in the postseason.
5 MINNESOTA VIKINGS: FELIX JONES
Original Pick: Dallas Cowboys, 22nd Overall, 2008
Felix Jones didn’t prove much in the short time he was able to see the field, but he did show that he was talented. Despite not getting many opportunities in his first couple of seasons (partly because of injury), he became the first player to rush for 400 yards on less than 50 carries since Bo Jackson did in 1987. In 2011, Jones finally became the starting back for Dallas, but another injury kept him from maintaining that role.
Overall, like most running backs on this list, injuries kept Jones from ever posting any meaningful numbers in the NFL. Therefore, Jones isn’t deserving of his first-round draft spot. His NFL performances don’t warrant anything close to a first-round pick. Jones is more deserving of a later round pick with plans of being a fill-in from time to time. That leaves him with the Minnesota Vikings to fill in for Adrian Peterson whenever he is off the field.
4 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: RASHARD MENDENHALL
Original Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers, 23rd Overall, 2008
Rashard Mendenhall had a few good seasons that included a couple 1,000-plus rushing yard seasons in his career. But that doesn’t warrant a first-round draft pick. Especially when you factor in the fact that Mendenhall’s last NFL season was in 2013.
But if you throw out Mendenhall’s last two seasons and his first season, you’ve got a first-round caliber running back. In those years, Mendenhall scored 29 rushing touchdowns and posted 3,309 rushing yards. That still doesn’t warrant a pick in the first round, but Mendenhall makes for a good middle-round pick. But he could have been the changing force for Indianapolis during 2009 end help get Peyton Manning another Super Bowl in Indianapolis. If you place Mendenhall’s early success with Joseph Addai and the Colts in 2009, they could have been Super Bowl champions instead of AFC Championship losers.
3 CAROLINA PANTHERS: CHRIS JOHNSON
Original Pick: Tennesse Titans, 24th Overall, 2008
Finally, we get back to guys who deserved to be drafted in the first round. Chris Johnson was the saving grace for the 2008 first round running back class. This year was rough for teams that took a first round running back. Except for Tennessee. The Titans got a steal with Chris Johnson that late in the first round. Johnson crushed the stat sheet in his first three years. Johnson, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his seven seasons, started his career with 1,228 rushing yards in his first season, then followed up with 2006 and 1,364 in the next two years. Although Chris Johnson won’t be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he is a great first round draft pick.
At times, given his age and time in the league, he is frustrating to watch. But Johnson should have been drafted higher. If he were on the Panthers, they might have gotten further than the divisional playoffs that year.
2 OAKLAND RAIDERS: ADRIAN PETERSON
Should Have Gone: Minnesota Vikings, 7th Overall, 2007
Adrian Peterson has helped the Vikings make the playoffs and has been the leading charge in Minnesota since joining the league (except for the time he’s been suspended or out due to injury). Minnesota hit the jackpot by drafting Peterson. Peterson has been the Most Valuable player. He’s led the league in rushing yards three times (2008, 2012 and 2015) and he’s led the league in rushing touchdowns twice (2009 and 2015). Peterson has been selected to the Pro Bowl seven times and has the NFL record for rushing yards in a game (296).
But the Vikings miss out on Peterson in this redraft. Without a doubt, Peterson goes No. 1 this year. Instead of JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders now get Peterson, who has shown he can put up big numbers without having a lot of offensive talent surrounding him.
1 CLEVELAND BROWNS: MARSHAWN LYNCH
Original Pick: Bufalo Bills, 12th Overall, 2007
When you look at all the other guys who came after Marshawn Lynch, it’s not a bad thing that he retired so early. Lynch did amazing things in the NFL and he managed to escape before ruining his body. But Seattle got lucky getting a running back of his caliber so late in the first round. Yeah, No. 12 in the first round is relatively early, but for Lynch’s accomplishments, he deserved a higher draft pick.
The Cleveland Browns might have reached the playoffs and made a postseason push with Lynch (that year Cleveland had a 10-6 record but did not reach the playoffs). Sure, the Browns didn’t screw up this pick. They drafted Joe Thomas, who is among the best offensive linemen in history. But after 10 seasons, Cleveland hasn’t done anything in terms of winning. Maybe Lynch could have fixed that.