League executives are starting to pick up on the trend of avoiding running backs in the first round of the NFL draft. It is easy to find high-producing backs outside of the first round of the draft. For example, the Kansas City Chiefs got great production from RB Isiah Pacheco this season; he was drafted in the seventh round. Not only him, but high-paid running backs have not been a feature in the Super Bowl since 2009.
Even Dallas Cowboys’ executive Stephen Jones acknowledged at the combine that selecting a running back high in the first round is not wise anymore.
“If you’re up there in the top 10, it’s hard to take them there. You definitely, if you’re taking a player in the top half, you’re hoping you got a player that’s going to be here 10 years. And it’s tough for running backs to last 10 years. There’s not many Emmitt Smiths or guys that play that long.”
It seems as though the Jones family has learned after selecting Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick in the 2016 draft. While he was a phenomenal player for the first three seasons after being drafted, it is fair to say that the heavy-workload burnt out Elliott, and now the Cowboys are in a rough spot with him financially in 2023.
What Jones said is correct, it is time to move on from selecting a RB in the top 10 of the draft, regardless of his talent. However, this should not be applied to picking at 26 in the draft, which is where the Cowboys stand right now.
The Cowboys are looking for players who can make an impact right now. The team has a window of opportunity to make a run at a Super Bowl with a weak NFC conference and a very talented roster. If Texas Longhorns RB Bijan Robinson is still on the board at pick 26, it is extremely likely that he is the most talented player left on the board. Robinson was a workhorse at Texas in the 2022 season, rushing 258 times for 1,580 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He also is very capable of being impactful as a pass blocker and a receiver as well.
Drafting a running back in the first round may not be the wisest long-term decision for the Cowboys. But the front office needs to be focused more on the short-term with their current situation. This is a team that is just a few pieces away from being a serious Super Bowl contender. Running back is not among the highest positions of need for the Cowboys roster, but selecting Robinson could pay off. It would be better to draft an extremely talented prospect who can contribute day one than selecting a position of need who has a lower ceiling of production for the team.