Published On: Fri, Apr 13th, 2018

Saquon Barkley should not be a top-10 draft pick

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It would be rather difficult to follow this draft process and not be somewhat impressed by Saquon Barkley.

The best running back prospect of the last decade. The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. The combine monster. The 2017 consensus All-American and Paul Hornung Award winner. The Penn State record machine. The potential first overall pick.

There isn’t a scout or coach in the NFL who wouldn’t want to have Barkley in their backfield, but that doesn’t mean he’s worth one of the top selections of the 2018 NFL Draft.

No, there isn’t a surprise injury or a troubling backstory or a grand misconception of his skill set. Barkley isn’t worth a top-10 pick because he’s a running back.

Running backs have become a replaceable position in the NFL and a team having an elite rusher doesn’t automatically translate to success. In the last three Super Bowls, only one team has possessed a runner who finished in the top 10 for rushing yards per game through the regular season.

First-round selections should be used on the best of the best prospects who can have a high impact for a long period of time. According to Statista, the average career length for a running back is only 2.57 years. Though that is taking into account every running back, not just the top-drafted ones, it should be noted that taking a rusher with a high selection doesn’t even guarantee getting the best one.

Related – Looking for value: Which rookie will be this year’s Kareem Hunt?

Over the past decade, six running backs have been selected in the top 10. Retrospectively, every team who drafted one of these runners could have landed a more impactful player with the pick they used. And of those six players, only one has a strong argument to say he was the best running back in that draft.

The first came in 2010 when the Buffalo Bills drafted C.J. Spiller ahead of the likes of Earl Thomas, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Rob Gronkowski with the ninth overall pick in a rather weak running back class. Even then, he still couldn’t amass as many career yards or touches as Ryan Mathews.

Trent Richardson was infamously taken third overall in the 2012 draft by the Cleveland Browns and played just 46 career games as he watched three running backs and a quarterback surpass his career rushing numbers.

A run of success with top-selected backs started in 2015 when the then-St. Louis Rams took Todd Gurley with the 10th pick, though they had to pass on eventual First-team All-Pro defensive backs Marcus Peters and Landon Collins. After winning Offensive Player of the Year in 2017, an argument can be made that Gurley is the best back of his class, but David Johnson (86th overall pick) and his absurd versatility certainly have a case to be made.

The Dallas Cowboys then took Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in 2016. After two seasons, he appears to be the most talented running back of the class, but already Jalen Ramsey looks like he would have been a better pick, especially given Elliott’s controversial off-field conduct that got him suspended six games. Given the Cowboys’ struggles in the passing game, Michael Thomas might have been a better choice too.

Last year’s draft saw two runners go inside the top 10 – Leonard Fournette to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the fourth pick and Christian McCaffrey to the Carolina Panthers with the eighth selection. It’s only one year into their careers, however, with neither player receiving a vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year while two other rushers – Alvin Kamara (67th) and Kareem Hunt (86th) – took the spotlight. The three players who received votes for Defensive Rookie of the Year – Marshon Lattimore (11th), Tre’Davious White (27th), and Reuben Foster (31st) – were all on the board when both Fournette and McCaffrey were taken.

Barkley’s arrival on any team should be reason for excitement initially; whoever gets the 21-year-old will receive an immediate boost to their offense that will make those who missed out jealous. But history shows that, in the long run, taking a player at a different position in the top 10 has a higher chance of success over a more extended period of time.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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