Take a look at this NFL mock draft at Drafttek.com. There are three tight ends selected before a running back is chosen with the 50th overall pick.
Last year in the actual NFL draft there were two tight ends selected before the first running back was snatched off the board (Giovani Bernard at No. 37).
When I was growing up, running back was the glamour position. When we went out for recess to play football (this was back when you could still play tackle football at recess), everyone pretended to be Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith, not some tight end. Most teams wouldn’t dream of taking a tight end over a promising running back in the draft.
Times have changed. Running back is a de-valued position in today’s NFL. That’s not breaking news. But has the de-valuing gone too far?
The top two teams in the NFC last season, Seattle and San Francisco, based their offense around bruising running games. The Packers turned to rookie Eddie Lacy to keep their heads above water after Aaron Rodgers broke his collar bone. Even with Tom Brady at quarterback, the Patriots pounded the ball on the ground early in the season, outrushing opponents in three of the first four games and starting 4-0.
Even on pass-happy Denver, with Peyton Manning at quarterback and a stable of exceptional receivers and tight ends, running back Knowshon Moreno finished with almost 1,600 total yards from scrimmage.
For a while, the NFL also appeared to be de-valuing the safety position, but that might be changing.
Only three safeties were picked in the first round from 2008-11. In the last two drafts, four safeties have gone in the first. In the opening days of NFL free agency, the top safeties on the board flew off the shelf for big money.
I think a lot of teams are emphasizing the safety position again because they see the importance of versatility in today’s game. Safeties are often best suited to handle multiple tasks: provide coverage over the top, match up against a tight end, play the slot, stop the run, drill whoever has the ball, occasionally blitz, etc. Take a look at the Seahawks and 49ers again — both were strong at safety.
While free agent safeties signed quickly and for big bucks, most of the productive running backs on the market are still out there, waiting for some team to show interest.
To be fair, there isn’t the running back equivalent of a Jarius Byrd still waiting to sign. The group of running back free agents wasn’t stacked with players who remind you of Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles. And maybe we’re seeing a resurgence of safeties because there are simply a lot of talented safeties coming out.
That said, I still wonder if we won’t see running backs make a comeback in the next three years. That’s usually how markets work. People de-value something so much that it eventually starts rising in value again after smart people invest at the market’s lowest point.
While most teams are off trying to plug holes here and there or find the next great pass rusher, they’re not paying attention to the running back position. “You can find running backs later in the draft,” most of these teams are probably saying.
They’re not wrong, but a good football player is a good football player. Passing up on a running back you think is really talented in favor of a more questionable talent at another position simply because “you can find a running back later in the draft” isn’t the way to go. As more and more teams appear to be doing this, eventually a few general managers will recognize it and seize on the value opportunity, taking running backs off the draft board earlier than the recent norm and starting a resurgence at the position similar to what we’re seeing at safety.
The position likely won’t be elevated to what it was during the days of Sanders and Smith, but I bet it makes a comeback.
Packers news, notes and links
- The Packers are the only team in the NFL who have yet to sign an unrestricted free agent (other than their own). Yes, GM Ted Thompson inked outsiders Peppers and Letroy Guion to deals, but they were released from their previous teams, not unrestricted free agents who hit the market after they played out their contracts. Why is this a big deal? Because by not signing any unrestricted free agents, Thompson isn’t hurting his chances at receiving a desirable compensatory draft pick for his own free agents that have departed (James Jones and Evan Dietrich-Smith).
- Speaking of compensatory draft picks, the Packers will get an extra third-round pick and another fifth-round pick to compensate for the loss of Greg Jennings and Erik Walden during last year’s free-agent period. So Thompson picked Jennings in the second round in 2006, got a ton of production out of him, let him walk, and received an extra third-round pick. Thompson signed Walden off the street in 2010, got some mileage out of him, let him walk, and ended up with a fifth-round choice. That’s what you call squeezing all the value you can out of a player.
- That said, I hope Thompson isn’t passing on unrestricted free agents he thinks could help the Packers just so he doesn’t damage his chances for a good compensatory pick.
- Warm up those vocal chords, we’ve got another year of chanting KUHHHHHHHHHHHHNNNNNNNN! Hopefully re-signing Kuhn doesn’t mean we’ll see more fullbcak dives…
- Bovada, a popular sports betting website (*cough* gambling online is illegal and is in no way endorsed or encouraged by ALLGBP.com *cough*) puts the over/under at nine for the number of sacks Julius Pepper will have this season with the Packers. That seems high. I’d pound the under (if doing so were legal). But that doesn’t mean Peppers will have a down year if he doesn’t reach nine sacks. I still think he’ll make an impact.
- CheeseheadTV has all the dates for the Packers offseason program.
- John Rehor wrote a throught-provoking piece about Ryan Braun receiving a standing ovation on Brewers’ opening day and how Braun’s reception differs from the scorn many Packers fans feel toward Brett Favre. I even tried to pick a fight with John in the comments section. I only venture into the comments section on posts that are really good, so you know John’s post on this topic is really good.
- Have you listened to this week’s podcasts over at the Packers Talk Radio Network yet? If not, what are you waiting for? Included in this week’s batch of pods is an interview with Packers safety Sean Richardson on Cheesehead Radio.
Non-Packers links and other nonsense
- If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to get up to speed on the NFL draft, listen to the Greg Cosell episodes of the Ross Tucker Football podcast.
- If you want to dig deeper into the draft, order the CheeseheadTV draft guide.
- Anja Niedringhaus, an Associated Press photographer, was killed in Afghanistan this week. She wrote this amazing story back in 2011.
- Mike Tanier over at Sports on Earth wrote the best piece I read all week about Desean Jackson.
- This is way off-topic, but if any readers are in college or know of someone in college that is interested in agriculture, have him or her check out the MCGA AGvocate scholarship/leadership program.
Adam Czech is a a freelance sports reporter living in the Twin Cities and a proud supporter of American corn farmers. When not working, Adam is usually writing about, thinking about or worrying about the Packers. Follow Adam on Twitter. Twitter .