RENTON For all the talk about running backs having a diminished value in the pass-a-rama NFL, they sure are valued in this draft.
Two may go in the first 10 picks Thursday. That would out running backs up there with cornerbacks, safeties and pass rushers as the draft’s most premium commodities.
The most intriguing – and controversial – player that will get drafted this weekend is a running back.
Perhaps the most inspirational story of this draft is one of a...yes, running back.
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Jacksonville, selecting fourth overall, has been linked for months to LSU’s bullish runner Leonard Fournette. When Carolina general manager Dave Gettleman hasn’t been publicly gushing about Fournette, he has said Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey can be an every-down, franchise back – for his Panthers, or anyone in the league.
So much for the days of 2013 and ‘14, when exactly zero running backs went in the first round of consecutive drafts.
"I’ve heard ‘the NFL has devalued running backs.’ ... But you have to run the ball to win in this league," Gettleman told the Charlotte Observer last week. "You’re not going to win if you can’t run the rock."
And if you can run the rock for 2,027 yards and score 26 touchdowns in two college seasons, you are going to get drafted. That’s whether or not it should that way. That’s why Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon may go before the second round ends Friday -- despite the 20-year old breaking the face of a women in a pizza shop in 2014.
It’s not as much the league has devalued running backs as it is there are fewer coming out of college ready to run like they still do in the pros.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider on Monday aptly called today’s college football "basketball on grass." College backs are pass catchers and shotgun-draw scatbacks more than they are traditional runners that read and set up blocks and burst through holes.
Thing is, Seattle – and Carolina, and Jacksonville, and Oakland, and much of the NFL -- need more runners that read and set up blocks and burst through holes.
The Seahawks, in fact, need two of them. Or more.
"I’ve been asked that for 15 years if it’s better to have two running backs or one. I’ve always thought that’s really valuable when you can have two guys or three guys that you can work," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "And we have not had any hesitation (doing that), going back to our college days."
"If there’s a guy that’s so dominant that nobody else deserves the play time then you’ve got a great one," Carroll said last month at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. "But I don’t think it’s any more so today than ever before. We have always been an advocate of like a one-two punch kind of formula."
Seattle may have that in 2017 with former Green Bay Packer Eddie Lacy, signed in March for one year and up to $5.55 million, joining Thomas Rawls. But Lacy has to stay in shape. He ballooned to over 260 pounds from his listed 234 in Green Bay before the Packers gave up on him. Lacy’s weight is such an issue the Seahawks included seven weight-target incentives in his contract. If he stays under them he will earn $55,000 each in May through December.
Rawls, entering his third NFL year with Seattle, has yet to finish a full season as a starting running back since he was at Flint Northern High School in Michigan. He broke his ankle in December of his wowing rookie season in 2015, the year that convinced the Seahawks they were moving on past Marshawn Lynch. Last season Rawls cracked a leg bone in the second game. He wasn’t right all season.
The Seahawks drafted C.J. Prosise in the third round last year to be their third-down back. Prosise was injured from the first rookie minicamp in May throughout the season. Though impressive at New England and early the following game against Philadelphia when he had a 72-yard touchdown run, Prosise broke his shoulder blade against the Eagles. He missed two months into January’s playoffs.
The Seahawks may use some of the five picks they have over the first 106 selections on a running back, as insurance in case Rawls and Prosise remain brittle or Lacy remains too large.
Dalvin Cook from Florida State won’t be around for Seattle. He may go as high as No. 19 overall to local Tampa Bay.
More realistically for the Seahawks, James Conner from the University of Pittsburgh is considered to be a third-day prospect for rounds four through seven Saturday.
Connor survived cancer. He scored a touchdown last fall for Pitt about nine months after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.
Connor vows to make an NFL team happy to have picked him this weekend. Could it be Seattle? Carroll loves to stockpile players who have overcome obstacles to get here. Few obstacles are more ominous than cancer.
Connor calls himself "Beast Mode 2.0." That’s what he wrote last week in The Players’ Tribune. He said Lynch is his all-time favorite back.
Could Seattle take Mixon? Oakland hosted him for a visit and let it be known it is strongly considering him.
"He came off very well," Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie told reporters in the Bay Area.
The NFL didn’t invite Mixon to its combine. It didn’t want more attention on his past violence against a woman.
Asked what he thought Mixon’s worthiness was for getting drafted, Carroll said: "Well, I think it’s part of the process, ir’s part of the life that everybody lives. You are accountable for your actions, and all…
"Sometimes people have to take steps backwards to take steps forward. Our way of looking at it is to always be there to support our guys, and to always be there to help them -- when they do their good things, and when they do their bad things – so that they know they have a chance to rectify and get right. Hopefully, in his case he can do that, too."
Two years ago, Carroll’s Seahawks made defensive end Frank Clark their first pick. That was four months after Michigan kicked Clark out of its program following his arrest on a domestic-violence charge in Ohio.
Clark has since emerged as a key the Seahawks’ defense -- and by all accounts so far an example of a second chance turned success.
We are about to find out if a new rookie running back emerges in the Seahawks’ offense.
No, those are devalued in Seattle.
TNT’s TOP RUNNING BACKS IN 2017 NFL DRAFT
not necessarily order in which they will get drafted
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU: A runaway truck with hands to catch it, too.
2. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: Some believe he is the best player in the draft. Period.
3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State: If he lasts that long, likely staying home at No. 19 to Tampa.
4. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma: Many scouts believe he’s the best back in the draft. “Issues aside” is, well, an issue.
5. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: Speed and receiving hands of a man much smaller than 214 pounds. Also a returner.
6. D’Onta Foreman, Texas: Told NFL Network of pain from son dying last fall at just 2 months old