MMQB’s Emily Kaplan has a piece up today in which she spoke to an anonymous NFL scout who provided his or her rantings from running back prospects in the last four years dating back to the 2014 NFL Draft.
Surprisingly perhaps, the Los Angeles Rams lay claim to two backs on the list despite featuring the NFL’s worst offense for the last two years: RB Todd Gurley at #4 and RB Tre Mason at #11.
Another four running backs set to be drafted in less than a month make the list, supporting what looks to be a very deep running back class.
I’ve often extolled the virtues of avoiding drafting a running back in the first round. It’s rarely an appropriate pick for value. The Rams’ drafting Gurley is perhaps one of the best modern examples why it’s a foolish pick, something that has nothing to do with Gurley’s individual talents.
As for Elliott, his successful production in 2016 was largely a function of his surroundings much like that of former Cowboys and current Tennessee Titans RB DeMarco Murray who led the league in rushing with Dallas averaging more than 115 yards per game in 2014. That Dallas has been able to add to their O-line stable and (more importantly) smoothly transition from Tony Romo to Dak Prescott at QB is more indicative of the root of their success.
Now, the Rams are looking at a league that is catching up to their talent at running back while having wildly exceeded them everywhere else on offense. Bear in mind that former Head Coach Jeff Fisher proclaimed that Todd Gurley was going to be the best running back of the next decade after taking him with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Now just two years into his career, you’ve got one scout who has him at #4 following a season in which he ran for just more than 55 yards per game. Seven years remain to validate Fisher’s evaluation.
For Mason, it’s an uncomfortable reality. A talented multi-use back out of Auburn, the Rams marched over former RB Zac Stacy’s rookie season by selecting Mason in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Following a strong rookie campaign delayed by some hesitancy from Fisher to play Mason early in the season, Mason played Stacy’s role as he was outdrafted by Gurley to the top of the depth chart. #yikes
Of course as it stands now, most Rams fans likely remember Mason’s off-field troubles from last year more vividly than his on-field exploits. A March arrest for marijuana preceded a string of incidents in which police were called to his house five times over the course of the offseason. His absence from training camp led to reports that he was missing before ultimately being reported to be at his family’s home. Last June, I wondered if Mason had played his last snap for the Rams. I’d guess we’d feel more certainty about that being in the affirmative now nearly a year later.
For the rest of the league, it’s an interesting case study coming up. Who’s going to dip into the first round for Fournette and Cook? In Dan Kadar’s latest mock at Mocking the Draft, he has three first-round running backs going off: Fournette at #8 to the Carolina Panthers, Stanford Cardinal RB Christian McCaffrey at #14 to the Philadelphia Eagles via the Sam Bradford trade and Cook at #15 to the Indianapolis Colts. All three teams are set with their franchise QBs. Do they have the right surrounding to validate these early picks? It would certainly make for some skeptical shopping with just one wide receiver and nary an offensive lineman going before the three running backs. Of course, not all classes are made equal. I just wonder if the low value of the running back position is being inflated by superior prospects that should otherwise still be drafted later than less superior prospects at more important positions.
For Rams fans, it’s a stark reminder of where things stand offensively. Last September, ESPN The Magazine’s NFL preview issue featured Gurley on the cover. The story, titled The Offense Strikes Back casually tossed the term “legend” Gurley’s way. A year later, the folly seems evident.
The question is whether another NFL team is headed to a similar fate in two years time with a back out of this year’s draft.