20

April

Are Running Backs Becoming Undervalued?

Doug Martin

By most accounts, Boise St. RB Doug Martin is a great talent. But most mock drafts have him falling out of the second round.

As the Green Bay Packers and the other 31 NFL teams rush to find a franchise quarterback and stockpile as many wide receivers, pass-catching tight ends and cover cornerbacks as possible, running backs are being left in the dust.

Passing rules today’s NFL, and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. This fact hurts the value of running backs, making the position expendable in many cases. The movement to downgrade the running back position reminds me a little bit of the book Moneyball’s impact on drafting high school players in Major League Baseball.

In Moneyball, author Michael Lewis highlights how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane avoided drafting 17- and 18-year-old high school kids, and instead tried to draft players with college experience. Beane thought high school kids were overvalued and much of their perceived value couldn’t be justified because, well, they were just high school kids.

After Moneyball was published, it didn’t take long for other teams to catch on and start thinking like Beane. Suddenly, high school players that may have been drafted early five years ago were being passed over for college prospects.

So what did Beane do? He started drafting more high school kids.

As the market adjusted to and caught up with Beane’s philosophy, high school kids suddenly became undervalued. Good prospects were being passed up simply because they were high school kids. Beane saw the market undervaluing high school kids so he started drafting them.

I don’t think we’re quite there with running backs yet, but we’re getting closer. Take a look at Peter King’s mock draft. He’s got one running back — Trent Richardson at No. 4 — going in the first round. Is there really only one running back in this draft with first-round talent?

Maybe. But more than likely, teams have de-valued the running back position so much that talented backs are falling to the later rounds. I suppose that’s fine as long as most teams continue to devalue running backs.

But eventually, some team is going to feel that the running back position has been de-valued too much. This team might start acting like Beane and drafting running backs early again while other teams stick to their philosophy of waiting.