Many of you know my feelings on first-round running backs. And if you don't, here's my feelings on the debate.
The appeal is understandable -- if someone is selected in the first round, he must be great. Running back. First round. It's all great. Let's party. Truth is, while not complicating the discussion with historical evidence (which I'll do anyway), instead relying on your common sense and knowledge of production against value, the age of first round running backs feels like a faded quality. Obviously you'll have players like Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, special talents true but more exceptions to the general rule.
Yet nothing dictates success when drafting someone in the first round. Injuries, busts, bad combinations, incompatibility with personnel will smack optimism in the face, kick infinite hopefulness in the knee and waterboard expectations. Especially at running back.
There have been 14 running backs selected in the first round during the previous five NFL drafts. Only Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson have multiple 1,000-yard seasons and half have never reached that rather inflated milestone. Ever. Of the 595 games played by all 14 running backs combined, 84 featured someone generating 100 yards rushing and of those 84, 33 belong to Chris Johnson. We'll do the math for you. The remaining 13 running backs account for 51 100-yard performances in 516 games played -- just under one out of every ten games played.
But, but, most play in two-back systems. Fine. Worth the argument for a part time player being selected in the first round? While the secondary, defensive end, possibly offensive tackle and linebackers hurting for talent prior to free agency, you're willing to pair BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who would be your money-making, touchdown-scoring machine with a first-rounder? Sounds good in theory, sure.
Though the 2012 first round class has proven very capable, aside from someone like Chris Johnson being the aberration, first-round running backs are offering fewer first-round rewards. Of the running backs that generated the most yards rushing in 2012, only half were first rounders while backs like Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, New England's Stevan Ridley and San Francisco's Frank Gore were third round selections. Sixth-round rookie Alfred Morris and Houston's undrafted prize Arian Foster rounded out the top ten.
And of the top-six running backs the year before that, none were first round selections. Add to the conversation stability and durability and you'll discover that Foster, Gore and Marshawn Lynch were the only players, no matter when or where they were drafted (if at all), that were among the top-ten in 2011 and 2012.
Let's look closer to home and focus on Cincinnati's history. The Bengals have selected four running backs in the first round and no one reached the 1,000-yard rushing plateau, and combined have only generated four 100-yard rushing performances in 270 total games played while only averaging 3.7 yards/rush.
Having been cursed as an open-minded centrist, we'll listen. It's not like this team would trade away their first-round selection to grab a lesser back when they originally had the opportunity for someone like Steven Jackson. Clearly they're too smart for downgraded designs because level-headed front office personnel would clearly give way for relaxed discourse on basic consequences. "Who needs Jackson when we can grab Chris Perry!"
Like every year before it, there's more areas on this team that requires talent infusions that doesn't offer the luxury of a part-time player that would work in tandem with the league's best short-yardage back.