Could the New York Giants really select Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott with the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft? The written narrative continues to focus on a defensive player at that spot. Mock drafts continue to hone in on the offensive tackle position. A small number of mock drafts, and some in the fan base, continue to connect Elliott to the Giants. The signing of Bobby Rainey might indicate the Giants are thinking about something other than a running back at No. 10. Or, it might mean nothing at all.
With that in mind, let's looks at the case both for and against the Giants using their first-round pick on the player clearly considered the best running back in the draft.
If you have followed Big Blue View for any length of time, you understand from the beginning that I come at this argument with the belief that selecting running backs in the first round is generally not a good idea. It is against the "Big Blue View Rules For Draft Success" because over and over we see that running backs have been devalued in the current NFL and quality ones can be found in the middle to late rounds of the draft.
In the rules I wrote that "Unless you believe the player is a transcendent, franchise-changing talent, the value just isn't there when taking a first-round running back." There is a little more leeway in the latter stages of the first round, but in the top half of the round I view that as a hard must.
I also come at this with the belief that the Giants picking Elliott is unlikely. Not only are the Giants needs in other places more overwhelming than at running back, but there seem to be solid potential landing spots for Elliott with either the Dallas Cowboys at No. 4 or the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 8. The SB Nation mock draft database has Elliott going to Philly.
With all of that preamble, Elliott to the Giants remains something that can't be ruled out. So, let's do our best to look at both sides of the argument.
The case for Elliott at No. 10
If he is still available at No. 10, Elliott could be the most talented player available. I have made the case since the end of the 2015 season that the Giants biggest need is simply this. More. Talent. Everywhere. More play-makers, regardless of position. If Jerry Reese, Ben McAdoo, and Co. look at the board and think Elliott is the best, most impactful player sitting there, why can't they select him?
Media draft boards are hardly the be-all, end-all, but the NFL.com draft board has Elliott as its fifth-ranked player and projects him as a future Pro Bowl to All-Pro caliber player. His overall grade is higher than Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd, Clemson defensive end Shaw Lawson, Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell or anyone else commonly connected to the Giants at No. 10. We have no idea if it will, but if the Giants' draft board reads the same way and Elliott is available, why pass on him?
NFL.com says of Elliott:
Elite, three-down running back who has the ability to excel in every facet of the game. Elliott has rare combination of size, athleticism, pass-catching and blocking skills and his competitive nature is always bubbling on the surface.
In it's 2016 NFL Draft Guide, Pro Football Focus says Elliott is "not only the consensus top RB in the draft class, he is arguably the most complete RB prospect in the last decade and among the ten best players coming out of college this year, regardless of position."
PFF rates Elliott as the best power scheme runner and best blocker among running backs in the class, both qualities that would endear him to head coach Ben McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning. PFF stats show that Elliott allowed one pressure last season in 102 snaps as a pass blocker, best in the country for backs with more than 100 pass block snaps.
PFF says that while Elliott "doesn't have the most spectacular pure running skills" his breadth of skills makes him a player who "can step in and carry an offense from day one."
The Giants have five running backs, each of whom brings something to the table. Rashad Jennings is a solid veteran with a diverse skill set, but entering his eight season has never gained 1,000 yards, and at 31 there are age and durability concerns. Shane Vereen is a pass-catching, change of pace back. Andre Williams is still trying to prove he deserves more opportunities. Orleans Darkwa might be the most well-rounded of all, but as a former undrafted free agent he is also the least likely to get a chance to be the primary ball carrier. Rainey is the new addition, an experienced back with some speed and elusiveness.
There has been a great deal of focus on finding Manning another pass-catching target, not to mention on finding a player who could upgrade the quality of their blocking. If the Giants can find a player who can potentially do both of those things, plus be a more dynamic running back than anyone they currently have, what's wrong with selecting him at No. 10?
The case against Elliott at No. 10
First and foremost, if you are going to take Elliott -- or any running back -- this high in the draft he ABSOLUTELY HAS TO turn out to be star player, or you are not getting value from that pick. If he turns out to be a good player, but you can look around the league and point to a half-dozen or more running backs selected on Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft who are comparable, then you have wasted an extremely valuable resource. If he busts like Trent Richardson ... ahh, let's not even think about that.
PFF says Elliott "isn't Adrian Peterson (or even Todd Gurley) purely as a runner." The combination of his skills, then, better be good enough to make him a Peterson-level type of impact player.
None of the five running backs I mentioned above are great NFL players. They all (yes, even Williams) have useful skill sets. Again and again and again we see that you can have successful running games in the NFL without superstar running backs. If you can block, and you have good enough backs to hit the hole, push a pile, and make a guy miss once in a while your running game can be just fine. Even if Elliott is a star, how much value does he actually add?
Besides, even if Elliott is a star player capable, as PFF believes, of carrying an offense from Day 1, the Giants don't need one of those. It would be nice to have one, sure, but they don't need one. They have Odell Beckham Jr already. They have Manning already.
What they don't have are enough big-time defensive play-makers. We don't know what Jason Pierre-Paul is anymore. Olivier Vernon is a good player, but he's not Michael Strahan and we'll have to find out if he's on the level of Justin Tuck or Osi Umenyiora. Janoris Jenkins has been a good, if inconsistent player, and there are viable questions about whether or not he will handle being in the big city. The Giants need more core long-term pieces on defense. They also need more than stop-gap answers on the right side of their offensive line.
In the end, my belief remains that Elliott would be a "luxury" pick for the Giants at 10, and with a broken defense still in need of repair and three straight losing seasons staring them in the face I don't believe they should be in the market for luxury items.
Reese will always tell the media that he wants to take the best player available, and after the draft he will always say that is exactly what he believes he did. Truth is, though, there is never any such thing as a pure best player available. If that was the case, there would be one universal talent board every team used and if you had the 10th pick you would simply be assigned the No. 10 player on that board.
The view of who the best player available is will always be skewed by what a team feels its needs are. Each team and each scout views talent through a different lens, and that is only natural. The Giants still have so many needs in so many other places I believe the chances are slim that they look at the board when it is their turn in the first round and decide that Elliott is the guy who can do the most to help get them turned around.