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Is Running Back That Vital In The First Round?

It's that time of year again. Time to sit back and watch as two teams, neither of which are the Bengals, battle it out for the Super Bowl. While the Giants and the Patriots are practicing for the big game, we can look forward to the draft. And there's even more reason to look forward to the 2012 NFL Draft if you're a Bengals fan because they managed to snag two first-round selections.

In many mock drafts there's been a variety of players selected for Cincinnati. However, the trend has been a mixture of cornerback, running back, linebacker, or offensive linemen. For example, in the latest SB Nation mock draft the Bengals use their two first round selections on a cornerback and a running back.

I do agree that those areas have voids that need to be filled. Once Leon Hall's season ended prematurely last year the Bengals lack of depth at corner was exposed and was a huge factor in their second half decline and their frustrating playoff performance against the Houston Texans. So I think that's definitely one area that should be addressed in the first round. But what about the other pick? Should the Bengals grab a running back in the first round?

Since 2006, 18 running backs have been selected in the first round. Of those 18 selections only five of them rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2011. Reggie Bush, Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson, Beanie Wells, and Ryan Mathews highlight that list. For Bush, who was drafted by the New Orleans Saints with the second overall pick of the 2006 draft, it was his first season running for more than 1,000 yards. Lynch reached the 1,000 rushing yard mark for the third time in his career and it was the fourth time Johnson achieved that mark. For Mathews and Wells it was the first time in their career that either exceed 1,000 rushing yards. And then of course, there's Benson (he was drafted in 2005 so he didn't count).

Of the remaining 13 on the list, four ran for at least 700 yards. The remaining nine failed to reach 700 rushing yards. Adrian Peterson, who failed to surpass the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career, has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in each of the previous four seasons. He's one of the most notable feature backs to not gain 1,000 yards in 2011, but he only played in 12 games and still came just 30 yards short of the 1,000-yard mark.

Then there's the second-round running backs. Guys like Ray Rice and Matt Forte, who were selected in the second round, have had successful seasons. Both Rice and Forte had good years in 2011, which shows that talent can be found in the running back position after the first round of the draft.

And what about the guys taken after the second round?

Since 2006, 21 running backs, who were either the feature back or involved in a rotation with their respective teams, have been selected in the third round or later. Now to qualify for this group the minimum number of carries was 75, just so you have an idea as to how this was based. However, there was an exception made for Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs because his season was cut short due to an ACL injury that limited him to two games. Usually he has a bigger role on offense .

From this group, two backs topped the 1,000 rushing yard mark. Arian Foster of the Houston Texans ran for 1,224 yards and ten touchdowns on 278 carries. Surprisingly he was an undrafted rookie back in 2009. The other member from this select group to dash for more than 1,000 yards was Shonn Greene of the New York Jets. The former 2009 third round selection compiled 1,054 yards and six touchdowns on 253 carries.

Eight of the backs from this group were undrafted, the most notable being Foster. LeGarrette Blount of Tampa Bay, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas of New Orleans, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead of the Patriots, Jackie Battle of the Chiefs, and Kahlil Bell of the Bears round out the group. All of them reached at least 330 yards on the ground. Blount had the second most impressive numbers from the undrafted class with 781 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 184 carries.

The Bengals are likely going to search for a running back to replace Cedric Benson, assuming he is indeed leaving Cincinnati and the draft is likely going to be the avenue for the Bengals to explore. But is it going to be necessary for the Bengals to reach for a running back in the first round when there will be other backs available in the later rounds? There are a lot of needs on the team, especially in the offensive line. Would drafting a running back in the first round be a good idea if that back is running behind the same offensive line that struggled to open up running lanes for Benson in 2011? Talented backs can be found in the second round and later.

There is still quite a lot of time before the draft and a lot can happen between now and then, but this will likely be the main draft debate heading into the offseason.