Mark Kaboly | Tribune-Review
If it is up to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, the Steelers should take a long look at bruising Alabama running back Eddie Lacy with the 17th pick in April’s NFL Draft.
Mayock said the reason is that general manager Kevin Colbert “has always valued need” and it’s hard-pressed to find a greater need than running back for the Steelers heading into the draft.
With free agent running back Rashard Mendenhall unlikely to return, the Steelers are left with Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and fullback Will Johnson on the roster.
“If Eddie Lacy is sitting there – and I think he could be – that is the only guy I would put a first-round grade on,” Mayock said. “He kind of fits what Pittsburgh does so he could be a potential consideration at this point.”
The Steelers’ run game could use a shot in the arm.
As a team, the Steelers rushed for 1,537 yards – their second fewest in a full season since the NFL adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978. It also was their fifth-worst rushing season in the past 50 years and their worst in any nonlosing season during that time. Dwyer’s 623 yards also represented the second-lowest total by a team leader to Merril Hoge‘s 610 yards in 1991.
The 5-foot-11, 220-pound Lacy could provide an immediate impact. He rushed for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns at Alabama last year including 140 yards in the title game against Notre Dame, but getting a running back in the first round doesn’t mean automatic success, according to Mayock.
Over the past five drafts, there were 14 first-round picks. However, eight of them missed significant time due to injury.
That could be the reason why there have been only four running backs taken in the first round over the past two years, two of which came from Alabama – Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
“The first-round running back is by no means a bang the table, starting top line running back,” Mayock said. “I think you can get a running back in the second, third and fourth rounds, I really do.”
But after that, you are pushing it.
Only seven of the 32 starting running backs in the NFL at the end of last year were picked after the third round.
“You can get running backs pretty much two, three and four,” Mayock said. “Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Bernard Pierce, DeMarco Murray, Steven Ridley, Jamaal Charles – I think you can get those guys. I do believe that you can get quality in the second, third and fourth rounds at the running back position.”
There are quality after the third round like Washington’s Alfred Morris, Atlanta’s Michael Turner and undrafted Arian Foster of Houston, but for the most part, running backs after the third round come with baggage, according to Mayock.
“When you drop into the third and fourth rounds, what you are getting is one or the other,” Mayock said. “You are not getting a three-down back. You are either getting the guy who is a third-down, change-of-pace guy or you are getting that bigger back that really doesn’t have that burst or acceleration. What that means in that you need two of them.”
Since the merger, the Steelers drafted only five running backs in the first round – Franco Harris, Greg Hawthorne, Walter Abercrombie, Tim Worley and Mendenhall.
TOP OF THE CLASS
Here is a list of current starting NFL running backs
and what round they were drafted:
Marshawn Lynch – Seattle
Steven Jackson – St. Louis
Beanie Wells – Arizona
Doug Martin – Tampa Bay
C.J. Spiller – Buffalo
Reggie Bush – Miami
Trent Richardson – Cleveland
Chris Johnson – Tennessee
Knowshown Moreno – Denver
Darren McFadden – Oakland
Ryan Mathews – San Diego
Adrian Peterson – Minnesota
Jonathan Stewart – Carolina
David Wilson – N.Y Giants
Cedric Benson – Green Bay
Ray Rice – Baltimore
Maurice Jones-Drew – Jacksonville
LeSean McCoy – Philadelphia
Matt Forte – Chicago
Mikell LeShore – Detroit
Stevan Ridley – New England
Shonn Greene – N.Y. Jets
Jamaal Charles – Kansas City
DeMarco Murray – Dallas
Frank Gore – San Francisco
Vick Ballard – Indianapolis
Michael Turner – Atlanta
Jonathan Dwyer – Steelers
Alfred Morris – Washington
Arian Foster – Houston
Benjarvus Green-Ellis – Cincinnati
Pierre Thomas – New Orleans