Over the last few weeks, many of us are already going full steam ahead on the Gurley bandwagon, and many mock drafts are jumping on board as well with Gurley being a top fit for Miami's first selection. Before you completely rip me to shreds you should know a few things before you continue reading:
- I think Todd Gurley will most likely be a very good running back at the next level and a possiblilty of being elite.
- I would love to see Gurley in Miami, and I think he would help Miami's offense become more balanced which I am totally agreement in that would be for the better.
Value of the Position
This one is simple. Running backs simply don't get drafted in the first round anymore. It's kind of sad, I grew up idolizing backs like Barry Sanders, who singlehandedly carried his entire offense on his back. While backs like Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and Demarco Murray do exist, they are a dying breed and the shelf life of a running back seems to get shorter every season as the game progresses and defensive players get bigger, stronger and more physical.
I want you to look at value. Let's look at the top running back salaries in 2015. There are three running backs that cost their team $9 million or more against the cap in 2015 (Peterson, McCoy and Forte). Compare that to wide receivers, where FIFTEEN players (yes, 5 times as many) will cost their teams over $9 million aginst the cap this upcoming season.
So let's say Miami had to pick between Todd Gurley and Davante Parker at pick 14 and you were to tell me that both were to end up being elite players at the next level. If you were to take the top 5 highest paid running back contracts they average $10.2 million/year, while the top 5 wide receiver contracts are approximately $13 million dollars/year.
According to www.overthecap.com/draft, Miami's pick 14 is projected to make a modest 9.7 million dollars over the next four years ( an average of approximately $2.4 million each year). So as far as a value goes, if you want to take a risk on a player who you think could be an elite offensive playmaker that has a chance to be a top 5 player at their position, WR is currently a 36% value (trust me, my buddy did the math! *[but see notes at the bottom for details]).
History of Round 1 RB's
So, people are saying that Gurley is the next Adrian Peterson? Well people were also saying that Ryan Leaf was the next Jim Kelly! While I do like Gurley and his mix of toughness and vision, you do have to remember that no draft picks are 'sure things'. For every Adrian Peterson is a Felix Jones. Let's take a look at all the running backs since Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch in 2007 (what a draft, huh?) to be drafted in the first round, shall we?
YEAR PICK PLAYER
2008 1.4 Darren McFadden
2008 1.13 Jonathan Stewart
2008 1.22 Felix Jones
2008 1.23 Rashard Mendenhall
2008 1.24 Chris Johnson
2009 1.12 Knowshon Moreno
2009 1.27 Donald Brown
2009 1.31 Beanie Wells
2010 1.9 CJ Spiller
2010 1.12 Ryan Mathews
2010 1.30 Jahvid Best
2011 1.28 Mark Ingram
2012 1.3 Trent Richardson
2012 1.31 Doug Martin
2012 1.32 David Wilson
One thing that you will notice is that there hasn't been many backs taken in the first round recently, and none in the last two years. Only FIVE of them since Peterson have been taken above Miami's pick #14, and when those best of those players are Jonathan Stewart and C.J. Spiller, you're not looking too hot! The other is Knowshon Moreno, who can be re-signed by Miami for pennies to the dollar tomorrow if needed (See later). The rest of the list is underwhelming at best and I could make 20 different FanPosts based on the list and bust ratio above.
Just another reason why SMART teams are waiting on running backs and getting better value in the later rounds. Of the TOP 10 rushing leaders in 2014, only ONE (Marshawn Lynch) was a former first round pick (Also see later, for another interesting member of this list who is my last bullet point).
Limit Risk in Round 1/Depth of Draft Class
This may be more of a personal opinion than anything, but I try to limit risk at all possible in Round 1, ESPECIALLY when Miami is already pretty thin at picks in the top rounds of the draft and should be doing their deligence in exploring options to trade back. Gurley may be considered a safe prospect as far of backs go, but he is coming off an ACL tear. While this injury isn't as significant as it once was, it still is something to take note of. Remember, players bust for a handful of reasons, not just for on the field performance, as we saw with Dion Jordan.
For a possibly better value, Miami could explore bringing in a former Georgia Bulldog who had an ACL tear who is already proven and was on the team last year. Moreno is way more of a risk but he did prove he could play hard in our offense and provide a spark that we haven't seen at the RB position since possibly Ricky Williams.
And it's not just Todd Gurley or bust, this is a fantastic class for backs. Miami can likely wait to later rounds to get a better value in a rookie running back to pair with Lamar Miller. Melvin Gordon or Jay Ajayi could be even better fits as goal line and third down backs die to their physical style of play, and probably won't be drafted until later. Duke Johnson and Tevin Coleman are speedy guys who can be options for spell backs. Late round players like Ameer Abdullah, Josh Robinson, Terrence Mcgee may also be plenty good enough to share carries with Miller for Miami if given the chance.
The point is that Miami shouldn't panic and go with a "Gurley or Bust" mentality. There are plenty of other capable backs in this year's strong class, and Miami has a handful of in-house options as well, from re-signing Moreno or giving Damien Williams a shot after an impressive 2014 season as a UFA.
Not a Position of Need
While Miami could use depth at running back (along with a handful of other positions), the last time I checked Miami had an 1,000 yard rusher on their roster who finished in the top 10 in rushing yards for running backs last year. The Dolphins are looking for starter positions to compete for G, WR and LB. CB and S are also positions of need with young talent needed for the future. Lamar Miller is coming off his best year and is a 24 year old back with no significant injury history and less than 450 career carries in the NFL. If Miami was one of those teams that needed a back I could possibly let some of these question marks lide, however are we really ready to throw a guy to the curb who seems to have finally shown he can make our offense better? Which brings to me my next point....
No Love for Lamar Miller?
If Ryan Tannehill had progressed every year and showed that he could be one of the league's better young options at his position, would you draft a QB in Round 1 to compete with him? I understand that this example is a bit different than the situation of Lamar Miller, yet Miller finally seemed to have 'clicked' this year, and drafting Gurley at 14 would essentially put Miller on the bench for a good part of each game. Otherwise why you would draft a guy in the top 15 who wouldn't start? I have a problem with both scenarios; I don't want to hinder a young and upcoming player in Miller, who proved he can play in our offense, and I also wouldn't want to draft a player in the top end of the draft and not have him on the field and making an impact. It comes down to not maximizing your value in my opinion.
I do understand if Miami wants to begin thinking of a plan for having an option to replace Miller next year if he departs via Free Agency, however I don't think Miami has to panic when they have plenty of other scenarios available, and have more dressing needs than a RB2 with a top 15 pick.
So in conclusion, I don't mind seeing Miami linked to Gurley because he is a hell of a player, but I think the team should ultimately attempt to trade down. Gurley may end up slipping (though it's doubtful) and even if he doesn't Miami can look at a handful of other rookies in the later rounds at a better value, while addressing more important needs. Personally it looks like Gurley won't last past pick #10 so this may be a moot point, however there is a chance he will drop to Miami at #14 and the front office will be infatuated by the highlight-reel back. While I wouldn't hate the pick, considering I think Gurley helps ANY team he goes to in 2015, I don't think it's the wisest move considering Miami already is thin on draft picks, running back isn't a huge need, first round backs tend to underwhelm, and most importantly, it would completely derail the progression of Lamar Miller who had one of the best seasons in the league at RB last year.
If you are still a fan of Gurley with Miami's first pick, then never fear, he will likely be a Dolphin now that I have written this post and have jinxed it by giving it my Kiss of Death. Either way... Thursday should be interesting!
*For those curious on the math above on why WR is a 36% better value than RB... I gave the scenario of Miami having a choice of drafting a RB or a WR at pick 14 and the hypothetical scenario that BOTH become top 5 players of their respective positions. In 2015, the average WR in the top 5 of their positions makes 13M/yr and the average RB in the top 5 of their position makes 10.2M/yr. So 13M-2.4M(average cost of the14th pick per year) would yield a 10.6M savings for Miami based on cost per production for a WR. While 10.2-2.4M(average cost of the 14th pick per year) would only yield a 7.8M savings for Miami based on cost per production for a RB. That means Miami would likely save 2.8M/year to spend elsewhere (10.6M-7.8M) if they got elite production for a WR instead of a RB. That comes out to WR being a 36% value than RB. [Also thanks to my friend who is way better than math than me]