Based On History The Bengals Should Avoid Running Back Selections In The First Round

FORT COLLINS, CO - OCTOBER 15: Running back Doug Martin #22 of the Boise State Broncos eludes the defense of Dominique Vinson #24, Ivory Herd #7 and Austin Gray #12 of the Colorado State Rams for a first quarter touchdown at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Fort Collins, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

+ According to one draft expert earlier this week, the Cincinnati Bengals are one of two teams from the AFC North with "strong interest" in Boise State running back Doug Martin as a possible first-round selection. Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Martin-hater. He's a talented running back that, according to most meteorologists, has most of the enduring attributes to succeed in the National Football League. At the same time, and this is nothing new, I openly resist the idea of drafting a running back in the first round.

The NFL's evolution as a passing league is accelerating. Prior to 2011 there were two quarterbacks that surpassed 5,000 yards passing during a single season in NFL history (Dan Marino 1984, Drew Brees 2008). There were three last season (Brees, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford), more than there had been in NFL history -- which has been around longer than most of our grandfathers. Additionally there were 10 4,000-yard passers, including rookie quarterback Cam Newton. Finally take a look at the trend through the perspective of the NFL draft. In 2000, there were five backs taken in the first round. Combining '10 and '11, there were four.

Nor is there anything suggesting that a good-great running back must be selected in the first round for quality production. Of the top-six performances by a running back last season, none were selected in the first-round.

Player Round Overall Yards TD
Maurice Jones-Drew 2 60 1,606 8
Ray Rice 2 55 1,364 12
Michael Turner 5 154 1,340 11
LeSean McCoy 2 53 1,309 17
Arian Foster UDFA -- 1,224 10
Frank Gore 3 65 1,211 8

True.

The Bengals are presented with an opportunity to be more liberal with eight selections, thanks to free agency diminishing the idea of drafting based on need. There's no need for a guard, now that the team signed Travelle Wharton. Let's not worry about right guard or anything. We have Otis Hudson and Clint Boling. So we're aces there, right?

There's no need for a cornerback, despite signing guys to short-term contracts who may provide decent coverage, but not without help. Jason Allen and Adam Jones are not Pro Bowlers that can be left on an island without consequence. The team will have to address a long-term solution this year or next. Wouldn't you rather do it during a season with two first-round selections where cornerback is a premium?

Yet if you really want a reason why the Bengals are better off not selecting a running back in the first round, look no further than their own history. Of the top-ten rushers in franchise history, two were first-round selections and three of the top four (Corey Dillon, Pete Johnson, Harold Green) were selected in the second-round.

Player Round Overall Seasons Yards TDs
Corey Dillon 2 43 '97-'03 8,061 45
Rudi Johnson 4 100 '01-'07 5,742 48
Pete Johnson 2 49 '77-'83 5,421 64
Harold Green 2 38 '90-'95 3,727 8
Essex Johnson 6 156 '68-'75 3,070 18
Boobie Clark 12 302 '73-'78 2,978 25
Archie Griffin 1 24 '76-'83 2,808 7
Charles Alexander 1 12 '79-'85 2,645 13
Larry Kinnebrew 6 165 '83-'87 2,582 37
Paul Robinson 3 82 '68-'72 2,441 19

Granted all it takes is one, but the Marvin Lewis era has produced very mediocre running backs through the draft in its entirety (all rounds). Provided we're not including Jeremi Johnson and Fui Vakapuna, full backs by nature, Cincinnati selected Chris Perry (2004), Kenny Irons (2007) and Bernard Scott (2009) in nine years. We're not talking about mainstay features with an evasion from major injuries either. Perry was nicknamed two-carry Perry during his rookie campaign because he, well, recorded two carries -- our nicknames really aren't that complicated to figure out.

Though a freak accident, Irons never saw a regular season game in his NFL career, having tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Detroit's artificial surface, much like Ki-Jana Carter in 1995. You remember that, right? After Carter planted his left leg on a draw against the same team 12 years prior, defensive tackle Robert Porcher grabbed Carter high as the running back tried cutting to the right. His leg buckled, landing awkwardly, suffering a complete tear of his anterior cruciate ligament. If that wasn't a punch to the preverbal stomach, hours later, Bengals President and General Manager Mike Brown announced that David Klingler suffered a broken jaw in the same game, requiring surgery. Though not quite Kurt Warner, Jeff Blake started all 16 games and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl that year. I'm totally digressing.

Furthermore the Bengals have shown little overall interest using their first round selections on a running back. Including Perry and Carter, Charles Alexander and Archie Griffin were selected in 1979 and 1976 respectively.

Here's the kicker. None of those four running backs ever led the Bengals in rushing during any given season.

Player Years* Attempts Yards TD Avg.
Archie Griffin '76-'82 691 2,808 7 4.1
Charles Alexander '79-'85 748 2,645 13 3.5
Ki-Jana Carter '96-'99 227 747 16 3.3
Chris Perry '04-'08 177 606 2 3.4

Of those remotely successful was Archie Griffin, who compiled the most yards rushing and the highest average per rush. Additionally Griffin was productive in the passing game, compiling 192 career receptions for 1,607 yards receiving and six touchdowns. Yet if you speak any fan that watched the Bengals during those years, Griffin produced far less than the hype following him out of college. Not quiet a bust, but not quite the level expected -- think Keith Rivers, Rey Maualuga.

Again, all that could change this year.

My resistance is only suggestive. If it happens, it happens and we move on with acceptance. That doesn't mean my desk won't take a punishing fist, or my neighbors won't be woken by "horrid scream" (James Hetfield voice), but once the selection is made, our job is to move on and cheer for that player in 2012. But there's a part of me that hopes it doesn't.

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