High pick unnecessary for rushing contenders

Of the top 20 running backs last year, only three of them were first-round picks and four were undrafted. Will teams be willing to offer much on Adrian Peterson?

With less than a week winding down until the 2014 NFL draft, Adrian Peterson will continue to be a hot topic of conversation. But, while Ben Dogra mugs for photos of him wearing a Tampa Bay hat trying to goad the Vikings into a trade, he seems impervious to the obvious. Even great running backs of Peterson’s stature aren’t being paid like he is now in the current NFL market, much less looking to squeeze out more in the form of guaranteed money.

While anybody who has watched Peterson play with any regularity knows what a phenomenal “once-in-a-generation” athlete he is, the reality is that running back is an endangered species in the NFL. They’re critical to any success – just about every player you ask says the key to winning is being able to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense – but the reality has become that teams can find very good running backs beyond the first round.

Need proof? Just look at the top 20 rushers among running backs (quarterback Russell Wilson tied for 16th). Of those 20 players, only three were first-round picks and, of those, only Marshawn Lynch is viewed as dominant. The other two – Mark Ingram and Jonathan Stewart – have been largely viewed as career underachievers, despite solid 2014 seasons.

The following list is that of the top 20 rushers in the NFL in 2014. Their names are followed by the team that signed them, the year they joined the league, the round they were picked and their overall draft selection number. You may want to re-read it after you’re done.

1. DeMarco Murray, Dallas, 2011, 3rd Round, No. 71 overall.

2. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh, 2013, 2nd Round, No. 48.

3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia, 2009, 2nd Round, No. 53.

4. Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo, 2007, 1st Round, No. 12.

5. Justin Forsett, Seattle, 2008, 7th Round, No. 233.

6. Arian Foster, Houston, 2009, Undrafted.

7. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay, 2013, 2nd Round, No. 61.

8. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati, 2014, 2nd Round, No. 55.

9. Frank Gore, San Francisco, 2005, 3rd Round, No. 66.

10. Lamar Miller, Miami, 2012, 4th Round, No. 97.

11. Alfred Morris, Washington, 2012, 6th Round, No. 173.

12. Matt Forte, Chicago, 2008, 2nd Round, No. 44.

13. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City, 2008, 3rd Round, No. 73.

14. Mark Ingram, New Orleans, 2011, 1st Round, No. 28.

15. Joique Bell, Detroit, 2011, Undrafted.

16. C.J. Anderson, Denver, 2013, Undrafted.

17. Chris Ivory, New Orleans, 2010, Undrafted.

18. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina, 2008, 1st Round, No. 13.

19. Tre Mason, St. Louis, 2014, 3rd Round, No. 75.

20. Andre Williams, New York Giants, 4th Round, No. 113.

There’s no question that, had Peterson played the entire 2014 season, he would have been at or near the top of that list.

Again.

It’s what he does.

But, he would have been just one man out of 20 and the numbers clearly showed in 2014 that running backs are just as valuable later in the draft than in the first round – even after the draft.

Of the 20 running backs on the 2014 rushing leaders list, just three were first-round picks. That was less than were taken in the second round (five), the third round (four) and those signed as undrafted free agents (four). For the record, there were two fourth-round picks and one sixth- and seventh-round pick to fill out the top 20.

Three running backs – Lynch, McCoy and Murray – all signed new contracts this offseason and none of them were for more than Peterson signed up for four years ago, when the running back economy was strong.

If a trade is going to happen, it may have to take place Thursday night or, perhaps more likely, in the early hours of Friday. When the second day of the draft starts a week from tonight, if Peterson hasn’t yet been traded, when the second round begins, three teams steeped in the grist of the rumor mill of interested teams will be Tampa Bay, Oakland and Jacksonville. If a bidding war happens, Tennessee, which holds the first pick of the second round, may have to get involved as a for-profit partner.

If history tells us anything, the Vikings could swing a deal with any of those three teams, immediately use the pick they get back on a running back and, at some point, he will be just as likely to be a top-20 running back as anyone taken in any other round.

Peterson should have the nickname T-Rex. He’s a frightening sight with a ball tucked under his arm, but his occupational position, in financial terms, is nearing the extinction of its open-market value in the world of NFL Darwinism.

If Arizona or Dallas are willing to give up a first-round pick late in the round (Arizona is at No. 24, Dallas is at No. 27), the acquisition of Peterson would have the immediate gratification of tipping their odds – both in Las Vegas and in the world of reality – of being a legitimate Super Bowl favorite in the eyes of many.

You wouldn’t just be adding a puzzle piece. You would be adding the piece that completes it.

Peterson is the last of his people…until the “next Adrian Peterson” comes along and lives up to the bar that has been previously set. That player hasn’t come yet. As a result, Peterson remains the chief lion of the pride and the highest paid.

But he isn’t getting any younger and, from the looks of things, the next big thing doesn’t have to come with an initial high sticker price. Value shoppers are getting deals without paying retail.

A week from tonight, the Vikings landscape will be different. If Peterson is staying, we’ll probably know. If Peterson is going, we’ll obviously know. The Peterson camp has done nothing in recent weeks to give any impression it wants to keep its headquarters in the Twin Cities. The Vikings have options.

Given that league-leading running backs can be found outside the first round – a copycat league has figured that out – what value does A.P. have on the open market? The open trade market, that is.

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