Rules are made to be broken, even occasionally by the person who wrote them. So it is that I find myself having to explain, perhaps even a bit uncomfortably, why I selected Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey for the New York Giants in a writer’s mock draft conducted by Chat Sports.
Rule No. 4 in the Big Blue View Rules for Draft Success, penned by yours truly several years ago and staunchly defended since then, is “Do Not Take Running Backs In The First Round.”
Here is part of the logic for the rule:
Why no first-round running backs? The NFL game no longer revolves around the running back, that's the biggest reason. Offenses revolve around the quarterback, the offensive line and the wide receivers. Running backs share the load, with most teams employing two or three and very few dominating the percentage of rushing attempts for his team. Look at offenses, and most of your running backs play fewer snaps than anyone else. In 2014, only three running backs played 800 or more snaps. Forty-four wide receivers played that much, and so did 14 tight ends.
So, unless you believe the player is an instant superstar or the one missing piece to your offense, where is the value in using a first-round selection on a player who will be on the field less than any member of your offense except the fullback? Historically, there are always plenty of quality running backs available in the middle of the draft. Take one then, and use your first pick on an impact player who should, eventually, play every snap.
So, why did I break the rule for McCaffrey?
This was a calculated risk that I took based on what had developed in the 22 picks before my selection. Here are the players that were off the board:
The top two tight ends (Howard, Njoku) are gone. The top two edge rushers (Barnett, Charlton) are gone. The best linebacker (Cunningham) is gone. Notice, though, what remains. Not a single offensive lineman had gone off the board in those first 22 picks.
Now, knowing my prediliction for prioritizing the offensive line you might think my instinct would have been to pounce on either Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin or Garrett Bolles of Utah here. And I nearly did.
Then I got to thinking. With all of the offensive linemen yet to be chosen, I could still likely get someone like Antonio Garcia of Troy or Taylor Moton of Western Michigan on Day 2. I was also confident that with the plethora of good tight ends available I didn’t need to force a pick for one.
So, that brought me back to McCaffrey. We have talked a lot about the Giants’ need for a big wide receiver and a tight end. Running back might be a need, too, depending on how the Giants feel about Paul Perkins.
What the Giants really need, in addition to offensive line help, are more play-makers on offense. No matter what position they play. McCaffrey is a unique one. He’s a quality running back. He’s a matchup problem as a receiver, able to catch out of the backfield and line up outside and run quality routes, a la Le’Veon Bell. He can return punts and kickoffs.
Lance Zeirlein of NFL.com compared McCaffrey to former Giant Tiki Barber, and included this quote from an AFC pro personnel director in his scouting report:
"I'll be(t) his draft grades are going to be all over the place because some teams will see him as a complementary back and others will see him as a multi-touch guy. Teams who run a lot of three and four wide looks will like him because he can run those inside zone plays out of the gun and they can also motion him out of the backfield and just try and mismatch him."
Does that sound like the Giants? It does to me.
“As a runner, McCaffrey is a play-maker. He is fast, sudden, and a threat to rip off a big gain on any touch. He has moves in the open field to juke defenders or weave around them with excellent cutting ability. McCaffrey has a tremendous burst to break into the open field. He also has great vision and cutting ability. ... The NFL is a passing-driven league, and McCaffrey fits it perfectly in that regard as he is a tremendous receiving back. As a receiver, he has soft hands and is a very good route-runner. He could end up being one of the better receiving backs in the NFL.”
McCaffrey is ranked No. 17 on our Big Board.
Honestly, I don’t believe the draft will play out this way. I can’t see zero offensive linemen being selected in the first 22 picks. In this instance, though, picking the running back seemed to be a worthwhile roll of the dice.
Did I do the right thing? Or, did I outsmart myself?
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