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Arizona Cardinals NFL Draft preview: Running backs

Arizona enters the 2016 campaign with a loaded backfield, but will that keep the Cardinals from drafting a running back?

Position: Running Back

Draft Need: Low Priority

The Skinny: In 2015, the Cardinals found a tremendous value pick when the team selected David Johnson out of Northern Iowa in the third round of the draft.

Johnson didn't morph into an every-down back until late in the season, but once the Cardinals began calling upon him, Johnson never stopped answering. Johnson figures to enter this season as Arizona's starter in the backfield, but assuming his teammates remain healthy, Johnson should have plenty of help.

Veteran running back Chris Johnson is back with the team on a one-year deal, citing "unfinished business" as the reason for his return. The elder Johnson was outstanding for the Cardinals last season before suffering a foot injury late in the year that kept him out of action down the stretch. 

With a pair of Johnson's, Arizona already has a great one-two punch. Still, the team has a third dependable back it can count on in Andre Ellington, a player who started 12 games for the Cardinals in 2014 and will likely benefit from sharing the workload. 

Ellington is a smaller back at 5-foot-9, and his durability is in question after he suffered multiple injuries last year. If the Cardinals use Ellington as a change of pace back, the team may be able to get the most out of a player who does have a demonstrated knack for catching the ball out of the backfield. 

On the surface, it appears as though Arizona can skip out on drafting a running back this season. However, if Arizona acquires an extra selection, we believe the team could use a late round pick on another ball carrier because both Ellington and Chris Johnson's contracts expire at the end of this season. If Arizona thinks it can draft a legitimate backup option for David Johnson, the team can then use the following offseason to address other needs. 

Recent Draft History

Both David Johnson and Ellington are draft picks of general manager Steve Keim, and both players have reflected well on the organization's ability to evaluate running backs. 

Johnson was considered by some experts to be a risky third round pick out of Northern Iowa because he hadn't played the same type of competition as other running backs in his draft class, but Johnson emerged last season as one of the best rookie backs. 

As for Ellington, he was a sixth round pick out of Clemson in 2013, and he developed into a promising player almost immediately. Though Ellington has had his injury struggles, it's rare for sixth round picks to become contributing players, especially early in their careers, and Ellington was up for the challenge. 

In that same 2013 draft, Keim also selected running back Stepfan Taylor out of Stanford, and Taylor is still with the organization. Taylor's production so far is relative to the expectations of a fifth round draft pick, as he earned four starts in 2014 but saw his role minimized last season when David Johnson hit the scene. 

Overall, the team's current management has proved it can find talent at running back outside of the first two rounds, so there's reason to believe the Cardinals may attempt to take a flier on a player in the later rounds. 

Potential Late Round Draft Picks

With other priorities to consider in the early rounds, here are a few players we think the Cardinals might take a look at if they are still available near the end of the draft.

Tyler Ervin, San Jose State: Ervin didn't become the featured back for the Spartans until his senior season, but he exploded for 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns last year. He's just 5-foot-10, so he's in the mold of a smaller, shiftier back, but he has proven he can catch the ball out of the backfield and we were impressed watching his 27-carry, 160-yard performance against Auburn last year. 

Daniel LascoCalifornia: Lasco had a much better 2014 season than he did in 2015, but he graded out well at the NFL combine and comes from a school that has had no trouble producing NFL running backs. We think Lasco's stock might be higher if he didn't play his college ball in an Air Raid offense, but he still managed more than 1,100 yards as a junior which is a difficult feat for a back playing in a pass-first offense. 

Keith MarshallGeorgia: Marshall played in an absolutely loaded backfield at Georgia, where he trained with the likes of Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel during his career. Though the Bulldog coaching staff never favored Marshall, he weighs nearly 220 pounds and ran a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash, which gives Marshall a rare blend of size and speed. He could be a late round sleeper that develops into a playmaker in year one. 


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