Much controversy is made about the concept of the first round running back. People harken back to first round failures like Trent Richardson, David Wilson, Jahvid Best, Beanie Wells, etc ... There are a bevy of running backs whose careers were cut short either by poor play or injury. The concern of injury and general wear and tear especially rings fearful with fans. After all, running back is a high contact position and the nature of the position lends itself to a much shorter shelf life than other players. Most running backs will only enjoy about six years of strong production due to physical wear. Some claim running backs are single contract players because of the risk of sudden decline once a back hits a certain age. The narrative of the dangers of "overvaluing" running backs has many pages. Another classic tale is that running backs can be found anywhere. Any running back from any round can produce! Why waste a pick on a guy in the top fifteen...
Stop. Stop all of this nonsense.
Gawking at the idea of a first round running back because of players busting at the position is especially ludicrous. Players at *every* position bust every year. This reasoning would inform a team to never draft a quarterback because of all the various busts at the position over history. There is no inherently "safe" or "dangerous" pick based off of position alone. Danny Watkins was supposedly a "safe" pick and he was a f***ng disaster. Picks are "safe" based on what the tape and off field says, not what position they play.
The concerns about longevity are ridiculous too, especially with a position like running back. A first round contract can be up to five years and that is without franchise tags getting worked into it. If a team is drafting with a second contract already in mind, they are being stupid. If a player is making a tremendous impact from day one and can do so for five seasons, that is a hell of a value from a player. If they are only on the team for five or six seasons, but can be massively productive during that time, so be it.
Running backs cannot be found anywhere. Running back production is not so easily manufactured as people like to say it is. Just ask the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles how easy it is to manufacture a running game. Look at the best running backs in the league over the last few years: Lynch, Peterson, Bell, McCoy, Forte and Gurley all went in the first 55 picks with 3 of them being top 15 picks. Of course people can bring up third round pick Jamaal Charles, sixth round pick Alfred Morris or undrafted Arian Foster, but once again that type of logic can be applied to any position. Don't draft Odell Beckham because of Antonio Brown being a sixth rounder? Don't draft Aaron Rodgers because Tom Brady went in the sixth? Geno Atkins was a fourth round pick, so don't draft Aaron Donald. It's stupid. Draft great players who you know are great players when you can get them. Playing cost benefit analysis when there is clearly a special player on the board is how bad teams stay bad. The volume of the running back position may suggest to some that lots can produce and while that has some truth to it, you want players who can maximize that volume to its fullest.
No one maximizes volume like Ezekiel Elliott.
A few months back, I wrote about Derrick Henry. Henry is one of my favorite players in this class, but he is flawed. He has a ton of variance to his game and while he can blow a defense wide open once every few touches, there are stretches where he does not bring much to the table. Like I touched on in the article, he is frustrating, but you have to live with the valleys to enjoy the home run moments he can give to an offense. When a player touches the ball 25 times a game, there are bound to be negative plays, so they don't concern me. However, when a player can create positive yards on every touch, they are special.
That is Ezekiel Elliott.
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.
Elliot's abilities go well beyond being a pure runner. He is also an excellent receiver. He has great hands, can run crisp routes out of the backfield and can turn even the shortest dump off passes into big plays. He was underused in this role at OSU, but could absolutely thrive once he gets to the NFL.
He is a true three down back who can catch the ball, but can also stay back to block. I am never one to really knock a running back for their blocking, but it is important to point it out when it is as good as Elliot's. Elliott is an incredibly aggressive blocker who positions his body incredibly well and diagnoses situations quickly. Frankly, he blocks like he runs: Smart, aggressively and quickly.
NFL Comparison: Ezekiel Elliott has a lot of Le'Veon Bell to his game. While they may be a bit different athletically, they are both larger backs who can win in any way on the field. Like Bell, Elliott has a beautiful poetry to the way he runs the football and move so effortlessly for a back his size. Elliott is also a total, three down back who can be a major threat in any facet of the game.
When a player can create positive offense on every touch the way Elliott can, there is no overvaluing him. Elliott is the best player in this draft class and will make the biggest impact from day one. He would be absolutely outstanding in this offense and when he is touching the ball more times a game than everyone besides the quarterback, there is no "too high" for a player who could completely change the makeup of an offense. The Eagles desperately need a player who can score at any moment and considering the 21 year old back has scored 43 touchdowns since he got to Columbus, it is fair to say he can play that role.
Don't overthink this. Elliott is the best player in the class and if the Eagles want to be aggressive to get him, that would be a move I'd get behind.