Next in a continuing series of NFL draft stories.
There has been a distinct shift in the way NFL teams view running backs.
While it was once common for running backs to be selected early and often in the first round of the draft, we might be seeing a change in that trend.
Because of teams relying more on the passing games than on a single running back, the recent trend has been for ball carriers to last later into the draft.
Last year, for example, Cincinnati made Giovanni Bernard the first running back selected, waiting until the 37th pick to do so. Ten selections later, the Steelers grabbed the second running back in the draft, Le’Veon Bell.
It was the first year since 1963 that a running back wasn’t selected in the first round. It’s likely to happen again in this year’s draft, which will be held May 8-10.
“I don’t think it’s anything negative on the running backs,” said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. “I just think that it’s a pass-first league now, so you’re seeing a lot of different draft picks getting pushed up ahead.”
After taking Bell in the second round, the Steelers don’t figure to be in the market for another running back in the early rounds. Pittsburgh holds at least one pick in each of the draft’s seven rounds, including the 15th selection in the first round.
The Steelers hope that Bell can build on a season in which he set a team record for rookies with 1,259 total yards. And he will have a new backup in LeGarrette Blount, signed as a free agent after rushing for 772 yards for New England.
While the 230-pound Bell and 250-pound Blount are big backs, the Steelers might want to add a smaller scatback-type or receiving running back. There are plenty such players available.
Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde, Washington’s Bishop Sankey and Auburn’s Tre Mason should all be selected by the end of the second round.
In the middle rounds, the Steelers could be interested in Ka’Deem Carey of Arizona, Lache Seastrunk of Baylor or Devonta Freeman of Florida State.
Carey (5-9, 207) rushed for more than 3,800 yards and had 62 receptions the past two seasons and is shifty and powerful. But he ran a disappointing 4.70 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, then followed that with a 4.72 at his personal workout, reinforcing the fact he doesn’t have breakaway speed.
“He’s tougher than I thought he was,” said Mayock of Carey. “You put on the tape and watch him drop his pad level and run over linebackers and make some effort in the pass protection game, you go, ‘OK, this guy’s pretty good.’”
What Carey lacks is speed. Seastrunk (5-10, 201) has no such problem. He ran 4.37 at his on-campus workout.
The shifty Seastrunk rushed for nearly 2,300 yards the past two seasons but fdidn’t catch a pass last year. He did, however, show the ability to run patterns and catch passes during position drills at the combine.
Last season, Freeman (5-8, 206) became the first Florida State running back since Warrick Dunn in 1996 to rush for 1,000 yards despite getting more than 20 carries in only two games. He shared playing time with James Wilder Jr. Freeman scored 14 touchdowns and had 22 receptions for another 278 yards and a score.
In later rounds, speedy Dri Archer of Marshall, who returned four kickoffs for touchdowns ilast year despite having only 19 attempts, or Lorenzo Taliaferro of Coastal Carolina could pique the Steelers’ interest.