Green Bay didn’t use a first round pick on a running back, but the Packers did spend a second round pick on Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and a fourth round pick on UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin. How much weight should we put on draft status when one team drafts two running backs just a couple of rounds apart? One school of thought is that the Packers liked both players and are maximizing their odds of finding a star; another is that Green Bay prefers Lacy and wants him to win the job, since he was their first choice. Here’s another thing to consider, courtesy of my good buddy Sigmund Bloom: the Packers traded down to grab Lacy and traded up to draft Franklin, indicating that perhaps the Packers were higher on Franklin than you might think.
How rare is it for teams to double dip at the running back position like this? That depends on how you want to categorize what the Packers did. I think a reasonable comparison would be to look at all teams that:
- Did not draft a running back in the first round but drafted one in the second or third rounds (this excludes combinations like Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington); and
- Then drafted a different running back within the next two rounds
Since 1970, only 34 teams have met those criteria, meaning this is a strategy employed roughly three times every four years. In three instances, a team drafted three running backs that met those two criteria, and we’ll deal with them at the end of this post. I’m going to exclude three teams that drafted fullbacks after selecting halfbacks, as the 2008 Lions (drafted Jerome Felton after Kevin Smith), 2003 Ravens (Ovie Mughelli after Musa Smith), and 1999 Dolphins (Rob Konrad after J.J. Johnson) don’t really fit the intent of the post. That leaves us with 28 pairs of running backs. The table below lists each pair. On the left, you will see the first running back drafted, his round and overall pick, his rookie rushing yards, his rookie fantasy points total (using 0.5 points per reception), and his career rushing yards; on the right, the same information is presented for the second running back drafted. The far right column shows the difference between the two players in terms of fantasy points during their rookie year. For example, Stevan Ridley scored 41 more points than Shane Vereen in 2011, even though the Patriots drafted Vereen first.
Rk FP Diff
|NWE||2011||Shane Vereen||2||56||57||12||308||Stevan Ridley||3||73||441||53||1704||-41|
|SDG||2008||Jacob Hester||3||69||95||37||400||Marcus Thomas||5||166||0||0||0||37|
|NYG||1999||Joe Montgomery||2||49||348||53||372||Sean Bennett||4||112||126||23||126||30|
|CAR||1996||Winslow Oliver||3||73||183||40||215||Marquette Smith||5||142||0||0||0||40|
|SDG||1995||Terrell Fletcher||2||51||140||24||1871||Aaron Hayden||4||104||470||73||784||-49|
|GNB||1995||William Henderson||3||66||35||7||426||Travis Jervey||5||170||0||0||503||7|
|GNB||1994||LeShon Johnson||3||84||99||33||955||Dorsey Levens||5||149||15||3||4955||30|
|PHI||1992||Siran Stacy||2||48||0||0||0||Tony Brooks||4||92||0||0||0||0|
|BUF||1990||Carwell Gardner||2||42||41||4||749||Eddie Fuller||4||100||0||0||39||4|
|WAS||1988||Mike Oliphant||3||66||30||22||127||Jamie Morris||4||109||437||57||777||-35|
|DET||1984||Ernest Anderson||3||74||0||0||0||Dave D'Addio||4||106||46||6||46||-6|
|MIN||1984||Alfred Anderson||3||67||773||127||2374||Allen Rice||5||140||58||26||1034||101|
|CIN||1984||Stanford Jennings||3||65||379||120||1250||John Farley||4||92||11||3||11||117|
|GNB||1982||Del Rodgers||3||71||175||27||315||Mike Meade||5||126||42||5||261||22|
|MIA||1979||Tony Nathan||3||61||68||49||3543||Steve Howell||4||107||8||5||235||44|
|TAM||1979||Jerry Eckwood||3||60||690||119||1845||Rick Berns||3||80||102||17||255||102|
|HOU||1977||Tim Wilson||3||66||343||73||1414||Rob Carpenter||3||84||652||98||4363||-25|
|STL||1977||George Franklin||2||47||0||0||-8||Terdell Middleton||3||80||0||0||2048||0|
|KAN||1977||Tony Reed||2||37||505||81||2340||Mark Bailey||4||92||266||74||564||7|
|PIT||1977||Sidney Thornton||2||48||103||23||1512||Laverne Smith||4||99||55||6||55||18|
|CIN||1977||Pete Johnson||2||49||585||90||5626||Mike Voight||3||76||0||0||20||90|
|DAL||1976||Jim D. Jensen||2||40||0||0||1126||John Smith||3||75||0||0||0||0|
|SEA||1976||Sherman Smith||2||58||537||140||3520||Andy Bolton||4||123||71||7||80||133|
|SFO||1974||Delvin Williams||2||49||201||40||5598||Sammy Johnson||4||90||237||52||830||-12|
|DET||1973||Leon Crosswhite||2||44||30||10||79||Jim Hooks||4||96||110||12||245||-2|
|ATL||1972||Les Goodman||3||67||0||0||189||Billy Taylor||5||109||0||0||0||0|
|RAM||1972||Jim Bertelsen||2||30||581||142||2466||Lawrence McCutcheon||3||70||0||0||6578||142|
|SFO||1970||John Isenbarger||2||48||43||30||80||Vic Washington||4||87||0||0||2208||30|
The takeaway? Almost none of these 56 running backs had significant fantasy value as rookies. Most of them were mired in committees, which perhaps isn’t too surprising when a team drafts two running backs. None of these players ran for 800 yards as a rookie. The Packers aren’t a run-heavy team as it is, but this might throw some ice water on your plans to draft Lacy or Franklin and expect RB2 production.
But here’s the real surprise: there were three exceptions to the rule that if a team drafts multiple running backs, neither player will be a fantasy factor. And all of them happened when a team drafted three running backs in rapid succession.
- With the 75th pick in the draft, the 1979 Falcons drafted James Mayberry out of Colorado; four picks later, Atlanta selected William Andrews (Auburn). Then in the fourth round, Atlanta selected USC’s Lynn Cain with the 100th overall pick. Andrews rushed for over 1,000 yards as a rookie and went on to have a great career with the Falcons, making the Pro Bowl each year from 1980 to 1983. Cain wound up starting opposite Andrews (who was technically the team’s fullback) and had a career-high 914 yards in 1980. He also caught 55 passes for the Falcons in ’81, and had a solid six years with the team. Mayberry played in 48 games for Atlanta in ’79, ’80, and ’81, but gained just 400 yards from scrimmage and never played again in the NFL.
- With the 31st pick in the 1986 draft, New Orleans drafted local star Dalton Hilliard out of LSU. But then in the third round, the Saints added Rueben Mayes (Washington State) and Barry Word (Virginia) – and those two backs were sandwiched around a third third round pick for the team, Pat Swilling. Word went on to have a 1,000-yard season with the Chiefs, but rushed for just 133 yards in two season with the Saints. Mayes turned out to be the immediate star of the group, winning Rookie of the Year in 1986 and rushing for 2,270 yards in his first two years. Hilliard did not have immediate success, but stuck around the team longer, rushing for 1,262 yards and making the Pro Bowl in his fourth season.
- In 1996, Jimmy Johnson’s Dolphins drafted Karim Abdul-Jabbar (UCLA) at the end of the third round, fullback Stanley Pritchett (South Carolina) in the fourth, and Jerris McPhail (East Carolina) in the fifth. The players were more complementary parts than competitors: Abdul-Jabbar the grinder, Pritchett the fullback, and McPhail the third-down back. The Dolphins got some immediate dividends from Abdul-Jabbar (more on this over the weekend), who rushed for 2,968 yards in his first three seasons. But he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry and was traded to Cleveland in 2000.
If you liked Franklin more than Lacy before reading this article, I don’t think anything you’ve read today will make you reconsider that opinion.