As we've done for the past nine years or so, the NFL bloggers here at SB Nation have gotten together to do a mock draft. The setup is simple, each writer plays GM for his team and makes the pick. There are no trades. The draft goes two rounds deep. Last year I ended up with Jake Fisher and Byron Jones. Fisher was a reach since he ended up being drafted in the second round. Jones ended up being a steal, however, since he was drafted in the first.
The No. 8 is now posted. As you can see, I chose ... you guessed it ... Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. Here's my explanation:' first round pick for this year at
A number of people will say drafting a running back in the first round isn’t a good use of resources, but the truth is Elliott makes a lot of sense for the Eagles. Philadelphia’s offense was abysmal in 2015 and it needs all the help it can get. Elliott provides more value than just merely improving the team’s rushing attack. He’s an excellent blocker. He can also contribute as a receiving weapon. Not to mention that the Eagles have a huge need at running back. It’s hard for them to count on the oft-injured Ryan Mathews and the soon to be 33-year-old Darren Sproles as full-time contributors. Both of those players could be gone after this year. Elliott can be a foundational piece for the Birds moving forward. He’s only 20 years old so the Eagles can get plenty of good years out of him to justify the high pick on a so-called devalued position.
And here's what SB Nation draft expert Dan Kadar, who also mocked Zeke to the Birds this week, had to say:
Need. Impact. Value. The choice of Elliott for the Eagles just checks off all the boxes. Is the eighth pick early for a running back? That can be argued, but Elliott is without competition as the draft's top running back. He's a player the Eagles can build their offense around.
For what it's worth, Dan and I are hardly alone in mocking Elliott to the Eagles. 19 out of 39 mocks (48.7%) in our latest mock draft roundup have Philadelphia drafting the Ohio State rusher.
A lot of people will groan at this pick. I get it. There are legitimate arguments against the Eagles drafting a running back in the first round. But today's not about that. Instead I'm here to make the case for Elliott.
Experts agree: Zeke is really good
Before I get started, I should mention that Elliott might not even be on the board by the time the Eagles pick. Former Eagles scout Louis Riddick said he would be "shocked" if Elliott is still available after the Dallas Cowboys' pick at No. 4.
Even some of the people who don't think the Eagles should draft Elliott in the first round don't deny his talent. The 6-0, 225 pound rusher is very skilled. He had a productive career at Ohio State, finishing with 592 carries for 3,961 yards (whopping 6.7 yards per carry) and 43 touchdowns. He also caught 58 receptions for 449 yards (7.7 average) and one score.
There is something truly exceptional about never moving backwards as a running back. Elliot, through a blend of various traits, does an outstanding job creating those yards whenever he is on the field. The 6-0, 225 pounder runs fully behind his pads, possessing incredible strength and balance for the position. He does not shy away from contact and is excellent at fighting through traffic to gain extra yardage. His leg drive, strength and balance sprung him for several big plays where he fought and bounced through defenses for large gains.
On top of have outstanding size and strength, Elliott is a very cerebral player. He sees the field like he has a birds eye view and does a great job anticipating holes both in the line and lanes in the open field. He does a great job of stringing together moves, almost as if he knows what he will do three or four moves before it actually happens. While he has great power as a runner, he can also play the finesse game just as well. He is very agile, with nasty open field moves and a great ability to set up defenders to get embarrassed. To put it more aptly, Elliot's runs are like a symphony. The music, for him, has already been written, but it is still shocking to us and impacts those on the field in a huge way.
Pro Football Focus, meanwhile, writes Elliott is the most complete running back prospect since Adrian Peterson.
What Elliott does well is gain yards after contact. He has the skills to pick his way through big holes as well as most players, but he excels at maximizing every run by dragging players for yardage and falling forwards. Last season he totaled over 1,000 rushing yards after first contact. He averaged 3.6 yards per carry after contact, had 13 runs of double-digit yards after contact to his name, and 48 carries in which he gained five or more rushing yards after contact. Can you see the theme?
The average Zeke run doesn’t end when he is first met by defenders, it ends a few yards further down field, often with a defender trampled underfoot after he has fought his way for additional yardage.
PFF also talks about how great of a blocker Elliott is, which shouldn't be underrated. Not only is he rock solid in pass protection but he can also even lead block in the run game. (Who needs a fullback, anyway?) PFF even goes as far to say Elliott doesn't have any real weaknesses in his game.
"You can get a running back later" isn't entirely true
Sure, you don't HAVE to draft a running back early on to get a good one. There are a number of examples of teams finding them later in the draft. But the idea that you can get a running back at any point in the draft isn't entirely true. Howie Roseman addressed this notion during a media session at the NFL owner's meetings this year.
"There’s this narrative that you can get running backs in the fifth, sixth, seventh round and undrafted free agency," Roseman said during a morning break. "But when you look back at the last ten years of guys that are really in the top ten in rushing, those guys are high picks.
"And so, when you find a special talent at that position, that guy who can run the ball, who can pass protect, who can catch the ball out of the backfield, that’s a unique weapon."
(It sure sounds like Roseman is talking about Elliott there, by the way.)
Roseman isn't talking out of his butt, either. 73% of the 68 running backs that have rushed over 1,000 yards in the last 10 years have been drafted within the first three rounds. Teams might be able to find "functional" running backs later in the draft, sure, but the best ones are still mostly found early on.
Even if you think drafting running backs early is a waste, I really don't think Elliott can be merely classified as a running back. He's not just a rusher. He's a really good blocker and he's shown potential as a pass catcher. The Eagles need a lot of help on offense. They struggled in all phases last season: blocking, running, and catching. Elliott offers an instant improvement to all three of those areas despite only being one player. There's value in that kind of versatility.
A number of people have said that "Elliott is no Todd Gurley" in a way that slights the Ohio State rusher. Well he's also no Todd Gurley in a good way, too. Gurley entered the 2015 NFL Draft with major injury concerns after suffering a torn ACL in 2014. Gurley turned out to be fine during his rookie season with the Rams but it should be noted that Elliott is more durable.
And for all the talk about how the running back position doesn't age well, it needs to be pointed out that Elliott is only 20 years old. He has plenty of tread on the tires. I also tend to think he'll age better than most running backs because his only strength isn't rushing the ball. Even if he declines as a runner in the distant future, he should still hold up as a receiver and blocker.
Running back is a huge need
The Eagles have a huge need at running back. Ryan Mathews, who turns 29 in October, is talented but he's injury prone. He's only played 16 games once in his career. He also has fumbling issues. It's really hard to count on him as the lead back for an entire season. Darren Sproles, meanwhile, turns 33 in June. He's still an elite punt returner but he's coming off one of his worst offensive seasons in terms of yards per carry and yards per reception rates. Mathews might very well be a cap casualty after this season while Sproles will be a free agent. It's very possible neither player is back in 2016. That gives the Eagles literally nothing at running back moving forward. So they pretty much have to draft a rusher at some point. And why not take the best one?
To be clear, I'm not saying the Eagles should pick Elliott only because he fills a need. I picked him because he was the best player available. The fact that he fills a short-term and long-term need is a convenient bonus.
Running the football is important to Doug Pederson
While we don't know exactly what Pederson's offense will look like yet, it's probably safe to say he'll run the ball a good amount of the time. Here's how Kansas City ranked in terms of run plays over the past three seasons:
2013 - 13th (44.74%)
2014 - 9th (46.00%)
2015 - 6th (47.96%)
The Chiefs also invested a fair share of resources to running backs during that time. They gave Jamaal Charles, who is a key piece in Kansas City's offense, a four-year contract extension worth $28 million. They also spent a third round pick on Knile Davis. Now, neither of these situations compares to drafting a running back at No. 8, but it does show the Chiefs took the position seriously. They didn't just rely on finding guys late in the draft, although Charcandrick West was a good pickup by KC in undrafted free agency.
The Eagles don't currently have a reliable No. 1 running back in place like Pederson had with Charles in Kansas City. Drafting Elliott would give Pederson a player to showcase his offense around.
Preference vs. Expectation
Just because I think the Eagles should draft Elliott doesn't necessarily mean I think they will. I think the most realistic course of action is that the Eagles take one with one of their selections in the third or fourth round. For the sake of this year's mock draft, Elliott was the best player remaining on the board. A look at the other picks:
1) Tennessee Titans - Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
2) Cleveland Browns - Jared Goff, QB, Cal
3) San Diego Chargers - Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
4) Dallas Cowboys - Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
5) Jacksonville Jaguars - Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
6) Baltimore Ravens - Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
7) San Francisco 49ers - DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
If one of the quarterbacks was still on the board I would have considered them. I gave Vernon Hargreaves some consideration but I think the Eagles' cornerback situation is odd. They already have nine players on the roster, not including Malcolm Jenkins who often plays in the slot. That's a lot of bodies. It doesn't necessarily rule them out from taking a player like Hargreaves but I don't think it's the most likely selection either.
So instead you'll have to deal with my selection of Elliott. Unfortunately since the Eagles don't have a second round pick this year, this is my one and only selection in the SB Nation writer's mock. How did I do?