Packers A Lock To Choose Running Back In The First Round? Think Again
With the NFL draft coming up at the end of April, talk around Green Bay is focused on what the Packers intend to do with their first pick, 16th overall.
Since Ahman Green left the team as a free agent, the general consensus is, if either Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch is available, the Packers will draft a running back in the first round for the first time since 1990.
The first thing I tell those fans is, don’t count on it; at least not if the Packers look back at past drafts.
Since 1982, the Packers have drafted just two running backs in the first round; Brent Fullwood in 1987 and Darrell Thompson in 1990. They combined for 9 seasons with the team rushing for just 3343 yards and 25 touchdowns.
When General Manager Ron Wolf came to Green Bay in the 1990s, he proved to the organization and fans that star running backs don’t need to be top picks in the draft. Evidence of this is from the teams’ last three 1,000 yard rushers.
Edgar Bennett for example was a fourth round draft pick who started his Green Bay Packers career playing as a full back. He didn’t get a chance to be the Packers starting running back until 1995 when he rushed for 1,067 yards; the first Packers running back to break the 1,000 yard mark in 17 years.
By the time the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, they replaced Bennett with another player who saw time on the Packers roster as a full back and backup half back, Dorsey Levens. Levens, a 5th round pick, was the 16th running back selected in the 1994 draft and the second back drafted by the Packers (LeShon Johnson, who ended up playing just over a season with the team, was selected in the 3rd round).
Once he got a chance to be a full-time starter in 1997, he rushed for 1,435 yards (the 3rd best season ever for a Packers running back) and 7 touchdowns. He gave the Packers another 1,000 yard season in 1999 before injuries forced him into a back up role.
This history can also be applied to Green, who is the Packers’ second all-time leading rusher and had 1,000 or more yards in 6 of his 7 seasons with the team. Since Green came to the team via a trade with the Seattle Seahawks (for cornerback Fred Vinson) a lot of fans don’t realize he wasn’t selected by Seattle until the 3rd round of the 1998 draft.
Four of the five running backs chosen before Green are no longer in the league, including three that were chosen in the 1st round.
It is proof that, while choosing a running back early might gain headlines and fan approval, being patient and sticking with the game plan that has worked for the last 15 years will likely prove to be the best choice for the organization.