We’ve heard it for years: NFL running backs have become marginalized. They’re a dime a dozen. You don’t need an elite guy to carry the load.
And yet, two running backs – Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon – were taken in the top 15 picks of this year’s draft. So, is it possible that a new trend could be emerging? Is it possible that more elite running backs could be taken in the first round in the near future?
“Well, you know what’s funny? You talk about the draft. Jeff Fisher gets Todd Gurley, and I thought that was an amazing pick,” former NFL running back Eddie George said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “If he’s healthy, he can be truly special. And again, you got to have a change-of-pace back and so forth, but he can be a guy that can carry 25 times (a game). And here’s the thing: Yeah, you want to marginalize running backs, but if you plan on having a serious run at the trophy, you have to have a running game. You got to have one guy that can do it. Marshawn Lynch carried the Seahawks to their Super Bowls the last two years. You look at the reemergence of (LeGarrette) Blount with New England. He gets cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers. They pick him back up and they got better throughout the season because of their running game to help support Tom. So regardless of how you cut the cake, you got to have a running back and a running game to win a championship.”
George’s former team, the Tennessee Titans, drafted Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick this year.
“That’s great, but guess what? He needs a running game to support him,” George said. “The Titans were next-to-last in rush offense last year. You get the quarterback with the big numbers and all that, but to win championships, you got to play great defense. You got to have a running game.”
Bishop Sankey led the Titans with 569 rushing yards and two touchdowns last season, while Shonn Greene chipped in with 392 yards and a pair of scores. Those numbers will need to improve, especially if the Titans want Mariota’s transition into the NFL to go as smoothly as possible. The NFL is not Oregon. It’s not all no-huddles and bubble screens; it’s dropping back and reading a defense with a defender in your face.
“How is he going to translate?” George asked. “It’s going to be more on the coaching staff surrounding him with the right talent, the right philosophy and catering to his strengths more so than anything else. I think he’s a raw talent. He’s a project in the making. But they’re going to have to really refine his talent and his skill set to match whatever they’re trying to do. So we’re going to find out more as we get into the minicamps, the summer ball, going into preseason and so forth about his transition from the college game to the pro game.”