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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.

NWE2011Shane Vereen2565712308Stevan Ridley373441531704-41
SDG2008Jacob Hester3699537400Marcus Thomas516600037
NYG1999Joe Montgomery24934853372Sean Bennett41121262312630
CAR1996Winslow Oliver37318340215Marquette Smith514200040
SDG1995Terrell Fletcher251140241871Aaron Hayden410447073784-49
GNB1995William Henderson366357426Travis Jervey5170005037
GNB1994LeShon Johnson3849933955Dorsey Levens5149153495530
PHI1992Siran Stacy248000Tony Brooks4920000
BUF1990Carwell Gardner242414749Eddie Fuller410000394
WAS1988Mike Oliphant3663022127Jamie Morris410943757777-35
DET1984Ernest Anderson374000Dave D'Addio410646646-6
MIN1984Alfred Anderson3677731272374Allen Rice514058261034101
CIN1984Stanford Jennings3653791201250John Farley49211311117
GNB1982Del Rodgers37117527315Mike Meade512642526122
MIA1979Tony Nathan36168493543Steve Howell41078523544
TAM1979Jerry Eckwood3606901191845Rick Berns38010217255102
HOU1977Tim Wilson366343731414Rob Carpenter384652984363-25
STL1977George Franklin24700-8Terdell Middleton3800020480
KAN1977Tony Reed237505812340Mark Bailey492266745647
PIT1977Sidney Thornton248103231512Laverne Smith4995565518
CIN1977Pete Johnson249585905626Mike Voight376002090
DAL1976Jim D. Jensen240001126John Smith3750000
SEA1976Sherman Smith2585371403520Andy Bolton412371780133
SFO1974Delvin Williams249201405598Sammy Johnson49023752830-12
DET1973Leon Crosswhite244301079Jim Hooks49611012245-2
ATL1972Les Goodman36700189Billy Taylor51090000
RAM1972Jim Bertelsen2305811422466Lawrence McCutcheon370006578142
SFO1970John Isenbarger248433080Vic Washington48700220830

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.

  • Richie

    As a UCLA fan, I was surprised that Franklin fell to the 4th round. He was a nice RB for the Bruins. I thought a lot of mock drafts had him as a 2nd or 3rd round pick.

    If there was any way to objectify a general mock draft consensus, it would be cool to see if there are any trends amongst players who get drafted significantly higher or lower than projected. (I’m full of all kinds of crazy ideas that are impossible to do.)

  • Richie

    Were you only dismissing instances where teams drafted fullbacks AFTER drafting running backs? Because I think William Henderson and Pete Johnson were fullbacks. Although, Pete Johnson was a little bit more of a “Mike Alstott-style” FB.

    • Chase Stuart

      Yeah, my thinking was fullbacks AFTER running backs in recent times. In earlier times, fullbacks were runners, and in recent times, if a team drafted a fullback early, well, they probably were treating him as more than a blocker.

  • mike carlson

    Interesting that both Eagles, Siran Stacy and Tony Brooks, had better pro careers in the UK (Scottish Claymores and London Monarchs) than the US. Stacy had a bad knee injury as I recall. Brooks was voted MVP of the 95 Monarchs by the British writers, despite averaging 2.9 ypc. Brad Johnson was the QB of that team. Also interesting, Tony and I did commentary on the first ever American football game in Africa, in Tanzania a couple of years ago…