At the same time Alabama RB Mark Ingram's draft stock is slipping, talk of the St. Louis Rams drafting him with their 14th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft is resurfacing. A plea from Turf Show Times (or at least from me) stop the madness, don't believe the hype, etc. Regardless of which cliche I use to implore you give up on this notion, just do it (another cliche). Let me walk you through it.
The first and most obvious assumption here is that Julio Jones will be off the board. Hopefully not, but we are we to argue with conventional wisdom. With Jones unavailable, Ingram could be one of the best players available with the Rams' pick. Emphasis on one of.
Clearly a backup or partner is needed for Steven Jackson for two main reasons. First, they need another dimension to the offense. Second, they need someone more adequate than they've had in the recent past for filling in for SJ should he miss time because of injury. Buckeyefan55 made a great case for improving the Rams running game yesterday. I dropped a post echoing recent discussion a smarter route for the Rams to go would be to find a RB to handle more of the first and second down carries, making Jackson the third down back and a receiving threat. Does anyone remember just how dangerous SJ was to defenses on wheel routes in the past? Does anyone remember just how effective he could be when lined up outside? Getting more of that out of Jackson rather than just running him over the guard for three yards makes for a much better offense.
Taking that information, let's go back to position values. Drafting a running back in the first round, especially above the last third of the frame, makes very little sense anymore. The days of the do-it-all running back, like Steven Jackson, are over. Even before those days ended with the arrival of the NFL's version of the spread offense, you could make the case that drafting a running back in the first round rarely made sense. Good runners can be found later in the draft, or even through undrafted free agency.
Now throw in the changing nature of the running game in the NFL. Two (sometimes more) back systems have become the norm. Role players. Look at the running backs that can be had this year in rounds two through four. Steven Jackson's eventual replacement isn't one player, it's two, at least. Two guys that bring a little different element to the offense. Think Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, a third round pick and a cast off. It doesn't have to look like that pairing, but the idea of complementary players is the same.
And back to a little matter of opportunity cost. Running backs capable of contributing can be had throughout the draft; the same isn't true of pass rushers. No matter how the first 13 picks shake out, the Rams will have some options for pass rushers with the 14th pick, whether that's a DT like Corey Liuget or an end like Aldon Smith or Ryan Kerrigan. It would be awfully hard to justify passing a pass rusher for a running back in this year's draft. That might not be the case if the Rams had a better, more complete roster heading into this year's draft.