The conventional wisdom these days seems to be that you shouldn't use a high draft pick on a running back. The position just isn't valuable enough to justify it. But sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong, so I thought I'd have a look.
The problem here is that one draft pick isn't likely to be the difference between a good team and a bad team all by itself, with the possible exception of a great quarterback. So instead of tracking how much a given running back helped his team, I thought I'd look at which franchises were willing to draft running backs highly. I looked at the last 10 years, so the 2013-2022 drafts.
Every team in the league drafted at least one running back in the first three rounds in that time. All but six teams drafted at least one running back in the top two rounds. The six teams that didn't each drafted exactly one running back in the third round. Those are the teams least willing to use high draft picks on a running back.
Those six teams are the Cardinals, Falcons, Bears, Texans, Dolphins, and Saints. That is not a lot of successful franchises over the last decade. The Falcons are the only one of those six teams to win multiple playoff games in the same season in that time, and they only did it once. Half of those teams didn't even win multiple playoff games in the last decade.
At the other extreme, there have been 11 teams that used a first-round draft pick on a running back. Here again, however, we have an interesting split. Five of those 11 teams used only a single first-round pick on a running back and no second- or third-round picks at all. To use only one draft pick in the first three rounds is really not a very heavy draft investment in the position.
Those five teams are the Panthers, Cowboys, Raiders, Chargers, and Giants. Again, that's not a lot of successful franchises over the last decade. The Panthers are the only one of the five to win multiple playoff games in the same season, and they only did it once. Two of those franchises haven't won multiple playoff games in the last decade.
So what about the other six teams that drafted a running back in the first round? Only one team used multiple first-round picks on running backs, but four of the other five used multiple day 2 picks. Two of the six teams used four picks in the first three rounds on running backs.
Those six teams are the Jaguars, Chiefs, Rams, Patriots, Steelers, and Seahawks. Unlike the previous lists, that is a lot of successful franchises. All of them have won multiple playoff games in the same season within the last decade. Four of the six have won Super Bowls. Those include four of the five teams that have won at least seven playoff games in the last decade.
There is, however, another notable split here. Those teams that drafted only a single first-round running back and none on day two? The picks were 2, 4, 8, 15, and 24 overall. They tended to be not just first-round picks, but high in the round.
As for the teams that supplemented first-round picks with day 2 running backs, those picks were 4, 10, 24, 25, 27, 31, and 32 overall. Most of them were late in the first round. In one sense, you might expect that because more successful franchises tend to draft later in the round.
But that's not the only effect going on here. The Rams have only made one pick in the latter half of the first round in the last 17 years. The Jaguars have had seven top five draft picks in the last decade, but that running back at 25 overall was theirs.
Successful NFL franchises tend to be willing to draft running backs relatively highly, starting late in the first round. And not just a single pick in the first three rounds, but another one every few years or so. Those that rarely to never use high picks on running backs have been much less successful.
So the conclusion is obvious: Bijan at #20 if he's still there, but not at #5.