One of the most debated players among Eagles fans for who they should draft with the No. 8 pick is Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot.
I have had conflicted thoughts about this because, as I’ve mentioned before, I think Elliot is an extremely talented player. I think he could easily be the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2016 and have multiple 1,000-yard rushing seasons, as well as make an impact through the air and as a blocker. He is a powerful, downhill runner who has proven he doesn’t need 50 carries like Derrick Henry of Alabama to pick up a lot of yards. He’s just a great player.
However, I don’t think the Eagles should draft Elliot. In terms of long-term help to the franchise, I think there will be multiple guys at the No. 8 pick who could have a bigger lasting impact on the team than Elliot, or to be frank, any running back in any NFL Draft for the rest of eternity. Yesterday, I analyzed the history of all RBs taken in the first round in the last 11 years, and most of them didn’t do so hot in the NFL.
Running backs wear down faster than most positions in the NFL, if not faster than any other position. Their job is literally to run into a pile of enormously strong football players and try to bash their way forward for positive yards. There’s only so many hits that a running back can take before he starts to wear down. And once he starts to wear down, his career is riddled with injuries and renders him largely ineffective.
This is well documented, and with players deciding to retire much earlier in their careers than usual, even in their primes or just outside their primes, it means the player doesn’t have a very long shelf life solely because he’s at the running back position. Players can only get 200-300 carries so many years in a row before it takes a toll on their bodies and breaks them down.
My favorite example of this is Terrell Davis. He was a sensational player, rushing for over 1,000 yards in his first four years of his career, including over 2,000 yards in 1998. However, he missed 31 of 48 games over the next three years of his career due to injuries and never returned to form, eventually having to retire after just seven years in the NFL. The positive thing about him was that he was only a sixth round pick, so it’s not like the Broncos lost a first round pick after just a few years. But it tells an important story.
Elliot could be the best running back in the league for the next few years, but if he wears down after that like many running backs (regardless of team or round picked in the draft) do, is using the eighth pick in the draft worth just three or four great years?
Obviously, it’s impossible to know how he will actually do until he’s in the NFL and playing games. It will likely take a few years to determine if he’s worth a first round pick. He could turn out to have a long, successful career like Adrian Peterson, or he could drop off a cliff after one year like Trent Richardson did. It’s most likely that he’ll fall somewhere in the middle and have five to six good years before seeing a real dip in production or falling out of the league altogether.
It’s also worth noting the lack of success Ohio State running backs have had over the last 20 years. Since Eddie George, who was drafted in 1996, no Buckeye running back has gone on to have a successful NFL career.
However, to show both sides, Elliot also ranks higher than most of these running backs in nearly every Ohio State rushing record, sitting next to or above George in the record books on multiple occasions. So maybe Elliot is on another level. But again, it’s still risky.
No player in the NFL Draft is a sure thing. However, running backs are generally not worth a first round pick, regardless of how talented they are in college.