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Old 10-03-2006, 01:48 PM   #1
tony hipchest
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Default First-round runners a good investment


(Oct. 2, 2006) -- Back in April, there were endless discussions about who to draft, where is the value in the draft, and when can we expect a first-round pick to get on the field and help the team win. There is also a popular sentiment that you can always find a running back in the later rounds. That philosophy drives me a little crazy, and even though there are excellent examples of teams like Denver finding a back in the middle rounds, it's good to remember that there have been some darn good running backs worth their weight in gold to come out of the first round.

As the NFL finishes up the first quarter of the season, it's a good time to take a look at the impact the first-round ball carriers have had on their respective teams and around the league. All four first-round running backs are contributing in significant ways to their teams and none of the four teams that took a back in the first round have a losing record. Sure, the Saints selected Reggie Bush with the second overall pick, but Laurence Maroney went to the Patriots at No. 21, DeAngelo Williams became a Panther at the No. 27 spot and Joseph Addai replaces Edgerrin James for the Colts from the No. 30 slot. All four rookies are sharing time with a veteran running back, which makes their production at the quarter pole even more impressive. Bush works in conjunction with Deuce McAllister, Maroney and Corey Dillon have created a terrific one-two punch, Williams splits duties with DeShaun Foster, and Addai shares the workload with Dominic Rhodes.

The Patriots may have found their running back of the future in Laurence Maroney.
The 2006 first-round running backs have also stayed busy as receivers and returners, getting their touches any way they can. The results have been impressive. On an overall scale, these four backs have touched the ball 253 times in four weeks. That works out to be 63 per man and 16 per game. Not enough work to wear them out but certainly enough to evaluate their contribution.

Add up all the yardage the four first-rounders have accumulated and it's an impressive 1,682 yards. These rookies are on pace for 6,700 yards, and by the season?s halfway point, barring injury, I think they will have accelerated the pace to closer to 8,000 yards of offense. The Saints will use Bush more and more as a receiver and for the reverse off the dive play to McAllister. Maroney's performance against Cincinnati with 125 yards rushing in just 15 carries is going to increase his carries. Williams and Addai will also get more work as injuries and circumstances dictate it.

Take a look at what these four young men have done since their professional football careers started four games ago and ask yourself if it's a good idea to skip a running back in the first round even if your team has a good back on the roster. New Orleans, New England and Indianapolis had good backs that all had produced 1,000-yard seasons, but each team also realized the talent on the draft board was too good to resist. A general manager once told me that the franchise quarterback is a no-brainer and the 10-year left tackle is an easy decision, but when he said you take the pass rusher or the cover corner before you take the runner, I wasn't so sure it's that simple.

Look at the immediate return on investment that the four teams that took a running back in the first round are having at the quarter pole.

Player, Team Record Carries Yds TD Rec Yds TD First downs Ret Yds TOTALS
R. Bush, NO 3-1 45 147 0 23 187 0 15 9 57 77-397-0
L. Maroney, NE 3-1 60 294 3 6 76 0 19 8 190 74-560-3
D. Williams, CAR 2-2 25 135 1 7 41 0 8 13 276 45-452-1
J. Addai, IND 4-0 46 207 1 11 72 1 16 0 0 57-279-2
TOTALS 12-4 176 783 5 47 376 1 58 30 523 253-1,688-6

When you run the production numbers out over the season for these four horsemen, they are on pace for 24 touchdowns, 232 first downs, 3,132 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards. Throw in 2,100 return yards and the Class of 2006 first-round running backs could deliver a lot more than most bargained for back in the spring. I am confident after the excellent start all four have had and the success their teams are experiencing that barring a physical setback, all four will surpass 1,500 yards of total offense each this season and maybe one or two could hit the 2,000-yard mark.
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