Bob Glauber: Running backs not a first-round priority anymore

By Bob Glauber/Newsday (MCT)
April 24, 2012 at 5 p.m.
Updated April 23, 2012 at 11:24 p.m.

It wasn't all that long ago _ try 2008 _ that the formula for drafting a running back was simple: If you projected him to be a consistent 1,000-yard rusher at the NFL level, you made him your first-round pick.

There were five running backs drafted in the first round that year, keeping with the notion that the position was highly valued. But with more and more teams using a pass-first attack, and with more teams finding quality runners lower in the draft _ or even some who were never drafted at all, such as Houston's Arian Foster _ running backs are closer to dime-a-dozen category than blue chip. At least when it comes to draft-day positioning.

Consider: In the last three years combined, there have been only six first-round running backs, including one (Alabama's Mark Ingram) last year. And that trend is almost certain to continue this year, with Ingram's former teammate, Trent Richardson, projected as the only first-rounder on Thursday night.

"Most teams try not to take us like they used to in the first round," Richardson said. "Hopefully I can change that, or more guys in this draft can change that."

Richardson will certainly get that chance, because he's almost certain to be taken near the top of the draft, perhaps as high as No. 4 to Cleveland. And who knows? Maybe there's a team willing to trade a bunch of picks to move up and grab Richardson, who appears to be as close to a can't-miss prospect as Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, the seventh overall pick in 2007.

Could the Jets take a shot? They've got plenty of other needs, including pass rusher and wide receiver. But you give trade-happy general manager Mike Tannenbaum 10 picks, and he's liable to do anything. And there could be others, because Richardson is just that good.

Which is really saying something in this day and age because of the precipitous devaluation of the position he plays. There is no doubt in Richardson's mind that he will be a quality return on the investment, no matter how high he goes.

"Not to be cocky or anything, but I work on my game every day, and even if it's not physical stuff, I work in the classroom," said the 5-9, 223-pound Richardson, who rushed for 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. "When it comes down to it, I'll be the dude that's on the field and getting the ball on third-and-three or fourth-and-one."

Confidence is clearly not in short supply with Richardson, and that will no doubt carry over to the next level.

"Everybody knows I can run the ball," he said. "I've never been caught from behind, so if anyone wants to question my speed, just look at the tape. When it comes to playing football, any game you want to just look at it and try to find a negative. A lot of people try to find a negative in your game and there aren't too many negatives I have. I don't fumble. That's one thing that I do not do."

Richardson starred at Escambia High School in Pensacola, Fla., the same place another NFL star got his start. Emmitt Smith was a 1987 graduate of the school and went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Dallas Cowboys. Richardson hopes for a similar result wherever he winds up playing in the pros.

But it's not Smith he likens himself to. It's a combination of the running backs who helped the Giants win their second Super Bowl in five seasons: Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who has since signed with the 49ers. FYI: Bradshaw (seventh round, 2007) and Jacobs (fourth round, 2005) were both low-round picks.

"I just try to have my own game, but I see me in both of the running backs from the Giants," Richardson said. "When it comes down to it, those are guys I've been watching my whole career and growing up."

Richardson now has a chance to carve out his own legacy, and in the process help restore the reputation of his fellow running backs.

"It bothers me a lot because we're getting pounded on every down," Richardson said of the running back devaluation the last three years. "When it comes down to it, everyone needs a running back, and they've got to use that running back. The value of a running back isn't the same, and it's crazy to us."

Richardson now plans on doing his part to change that perception. He'll find out Thursday night where the proving ground will be.


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