Every NFL team can look back at previous drafts and find situations where they wish that they had picked a different running back's name off their draft board than the one they selected when it was time to send a name up to the Commissioner at the podium. But the ones that really hurt — and that are much more rare — are the one-pick misfires. They are the running backs that didn't work out at all or who weren't nearly as productive as the very next running back selected in that same draft.
Over the past ten years, this specific scenario has played out six
times. Here are the teams who misfired, and the teams who benefited when they
picked the next running back in the draft.
Chicago: In 1998, the Bears used the fifth pick overall on Penn State's Curtis Enis. After tearing his ACL in early November of his rookie season, Enis lasted just three years in the league, making 18 starts while posting a pedestrian 3.3-yards-per-carry average and scoring just four rushing touchdowns. Jacksonville selected the next running back in that draft with the ninth pick overall and added Fred Taylor to their team. The former Florida Gator has rushed for 10,715 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He's scored 61 touchdowns on the ground plus eight more through the air while rolling up 2,263 receiving yards.
New York Giants: You can't blame the Giants for their excitement over Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne. But the 11th pick overall in the 2000 draft was fairly average during his four-year tenure in New York. He averaged 517 yards per season on the ground while scoring a total of 16 touchdowns. And he caught 23 passes for 134 yards during that span of his career before a washout season in Denver and two much more productive years in Houston. The next running back selected at No. 19 overall was another formidable-looking runner out of Alabama by the name of Shaun Alexander. He started 96 games for Seattle, rushing for 9,429 yards while scoring 100 touchdowns. He added 1,511 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions to his resume while working for the Seahawks.
Miami: In 2001, the Dolphins made Florida State's Travis Minor the 23rd pick in third round. During his six years in Miami, he ran for 1,133 yards while scoring 13 times. Minor also caught 50 passes for another 353 yards and one touchdown. Prior to the 2007 season, he signed with the St. Louis Rams as a free agent. Who was the next running back selected that Miami missed by one pick? Auburn's Rudi Johnson, who the Bengals snatched up with the fifth pick in Round 4. He's rushed for 5,742 yards while scoring 48 touchdowns. And he's caught 101 passes for 588 yards and one touchdown.
St. Louis: In the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft, the Rams picked Lamar Gordon out of North Dakota State with the 19th selection. He lasted just two years with the Rams before he bounced from Miami to Philadelphia and then Detroit for a single season at each stop. In two seasons with St. Louis, Gordon started just nine times and accumulated 526 rushing yards and 337 receiving yards while scoring just four times. Seven picks later in that round, the Eagles pulled the next running back off the draft board, adding the multi-talented Brian Westbrook to their roster. While averaging 4.7 yards per carry to date, Westbrook has rolled over opponents for 4,785 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground while tacking on 3,207 receiving yards and 23 more touchdowns.
Marion Barber could have been running the ball for Denver instead of Dallas.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Denver: There were plenty of warning signs, but the Broncos decided to select Ohio State's Maurice Clarett in 2005 with a supplemental pick, No. 37 in third round. The troubled player never made a regular season game appearance in an NFL uniform, getting cut by the team by the end of August. The next running back selected was the University of Minnesota's Marion Barber with the eighth pick in the fourth round. He's rushed for 2,167 yards and 29 touchdowns while adding 593 more yards and four touchdowns with his pass-catching skills.
Detroit: Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun caught the eye of many scouts in 2006, but Detroit was the team who picked him with the tenth pick of Round 3. Of course, there was no way for them to know that he'd end up on injured reserve in both of his first two years in the league due to knee problems. As a result, he's only carried the ball 14 times for 54 yards and made just seven catches for 55 yards so far. The next running back taken off the board was Jerious Norwood out of Mississippi State. With 15th pick in the third round, Atlanta at least added a productive back who has rushed for 1,246 yards to date while averaging an impressive 6.2 yards per carry. He's also accumulated 379 receiving yards and returned 65 kickoffs, averaging 25.2 yards per return.
More Bang for Your Buck
When you watch the NFL Draft this weekend, pay particular attention to the first-round running backs. Over the past ten years, thirty running backs have been picked in the opening round. During that stretch, there have been no more than five selected in the first round and no less than two.
Why are the first-rounders so significant? Well, if you take a look at the ten running backs who had the most rushing yards at the end of 2007, seven of them were former first-round picks. And six of the seven were a top-10 overall selection. While you may think that's a no-brainer, that same trend of first-round success wasn't nearly as prominent at some other key positions in 2007.
The three backs who weren't first-rounders but who finished in the top third of the league's runners were Washington's Clinton Portis, a second-round selection in 2002 by Denver, Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook, a third-round pick in 2002, and Pittsburgh's Willie Parker who wasn't even drafted back in 2004.
Here is the complete list of the top ten backs of 2007 and how they fared in the NFL Draft:
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego - Fifth overall, 2001
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota - Seventh overall, 2007
3. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia - 26th pick, Round 3, 2002
4. Willie Parker, Pittsburgh - Undrafted, 2004
5. Jamal Lewis, Cleveland - Fifth overall, 2000 by the Ravens
6. Clinton Portis, Washington - 19th pick, Round 2, 2002 by Broncos
7. Edgerrin James, Arizona - Fourth overall, 1999 by Colts
8. Willis McGahee, Baltimore - 23rd overall, 2003 by Bills
9. Fred Taylor, Jacksonville - Ninth overall, 1998
10. Thomas Jones, NY Jets - Seventh overall, 2000 by Cardinals
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.