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MIAMI – The backward position is a modern enigma in the NFL. They were once highly crafted, but now teams are struggling with how to value them properly.
Due to a running backs relatively short prime and heavy wear, many teams have stayed away from drawing them in the first round, opting for late rounds or exhausted backs at a more reasonable price. Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel has been a provider of this movement over the past five seasons.
Since taking over as the San Francisco 49ers’ run game coordinator in 2017 and being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2021, three of McDaniel’s leading rushers were exhausted, one was taken in the sixth round and the other was a second-round pick of a previous diet. .
During that span, the 49ers are in 11th place in team rushing yards, the Dolphins 31. Myles Gaskin (612 yards) and Duke Johnson (330) were the leading rushers for Miami last season when it finished 30th with 92.2 yards pr. match. This is clearly an area that needs to be improved under McDaniel, but presents an interesting dilemma – whether to shoot for one of the leading running backs in the 2022 NFL draft or venture towards McDaniel’s method.
But the fact that some of his most effective rushers have been eradicated believes McDaniel is emphasizing the position.
“The value of the running back position – what value do you put on anything from a third to a half of the matches in a given offensive season?” said McDaniel at the NFL Scout Combination. “You have to realize running backs, collectively … you have about 300 to 400 some touches, so it’s incredibly valuable, but there’s a more diverse way to find them.
“From a historical perspective, there are rookies, second-year players, mid-to-late rounds [draftees] who have more success at that position than some others. But it is … crucial. We just have a concrete set of skills that we found that can really flourish in a zone-blocking system. “
The Dolphins have not taken a running back in the first round since picking Ronnie Brown with the second overall pick in 2005. They have drawn 14 running backs since only five came in the first four rounds.
General manager Chris Grier has taken four running backs in the seventh round since 2019, but with a booming rushing offensive and strong prospects likely to be available in the second and third rounds of this year’s draft, there may be a temptation to break that streak in 2022. Especially with few opportunities at the top of the market for free agents.
“If there’s the talent that’s just so unique that you have to take him – people are debating whether Saquon Barkley has trained or not, but he was an extremely talented footballer,” Grier said of the overall running back who was voted No. 2 by the Giants in 2018. “So you review them a bit and make your assessments, but in the end, you always do what’s best for your team.
“Mike has had great success finding good running backs in the mid-late round in the form of … going through some of his evaluations and talking about it, and all the 49ers people confirmed it. We had [Kenyan] Drake in the third round a few years ago , so the balance is right. You go with your gut feeling, and that information you find out about players. “
Two options to keep an eye out for if Grier chooses a running back in the second or third round of the draft are Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III and Iowa State’s Breece Hall, who delivered impressive performances on the combine. Hall, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, comes from back-to-back seasons with at least 1,700 scrimmage yards and 23 touchdowns. He is a proven three-down back who can contribute as a runner and receiver and lit up Lucas Oil Stadium with a 4.39-second 40-yard line on the combine, giving him the third-fastest time among his position group.
Walker, who is listed at 5-10 and 210 pounds, has fewer touches than Hall and only one year of elite production – 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground for the Spartans in 2021. He turned in the second-fastest 40-yard line time at the combine with a 4.38, but is not as complete as a receiver. ESPN NFL draft analyst Jordan Reid believes Walker is a name to keep an eye on for the Dolphins in the second round.
“Grier has been trying to patchwork the receding space with more late rounds and additions this season,” Reid wrote before the combine. “In need of a lead option with a high upside, Walker is a potential 1A rusher who could make this team better.”