The New England Patriots certainly need to address the running back position in the offseason, and they'd be best suited to add a veteran in free agency and another back in the draft. Both players can duke it out during camps and the preseason to win a spot on the roster.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock held a phone conference to break down the NFL draft and he explains his thoughts on the running back position, which he calls "a solid running back class like usual."
Mayock has presented his top five running backs in Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott (he "will go in the first round. After that I don't think anybody will."), Alabama's Derrick Henry ("People will either love Derrick Henry or not like him that much."), Utah's Devontae Booker and Louisiana Tech's Kenneth Dixon ("there's a bunch of those kind of third-round change-of-pace guys, maybe even second round"), and Indiana's Jordan Howard ("I like Jordan Howard from Indiana as a bigger back.").
Mayock gave an in-depth opinion on Arkansas' Alex Collins ("I think he's a third-round tailback"), who would be Mayock's "sixth running back in this draft."
"I don't think he's a natural running back as far as one of those guys who is just innately gifted with when and where to cut, but I think he's got size, I think he's got strength, I think he gets north and south, and I like his pass protection. He knocked one of those defensive tackles from Alabama right on his butt, and that caught my attention."
I have Collins 4th in my rankings, but in the same tier as Howard.
Mayock makes an important note when he says that his third- and fourth-best running backs are fringe second round candidates. He only believes Elliott and Henry are locks in the first two rounds, while the others are more suited to go in the early third.
Running backs have been getting drafted later, on average, but five players have been selected in the top two rounds on average over the past decade.
Running backs have been getting drafted later on average. pic.twitter.com/YTbB3rLrKe— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) February 24, 2016
Of course, only 3 running backs were taken in the first two rounds of 2014 and 4 were taken in 2015, so we could be at the start of another shift in running back devaluation. Mayock seems to think that's where we're headed.
"In today's NFL, let's face it, it's a pass-first league," Mayock said. "That position has been devalued. I can't tell you how many coaches and GMs have said, we don't even worry about running backs. We can get one of those guys in the fourth or fifth round."
Mayock also highlights that he projects seven or eight running backs to go in the first three rounds, which matches historical averages (roughly 7 running backs have been selected in the first three rounds over the past five drafts).
The Patriots need to get a running back and those taken in earlier rounds fare far better on average than those that are drafted late or are undrafted.
Bill Belichick and company could wait until the end of the third round to take a running back, when they'll have both their standard draft pick and their projected 3rd round compensatory draft pick for Darrelle Revis. It's very possible that a player like Indiana's Howard, or Arkansas' Jonathan Williams, or UCLA's Paul Perkins could still be on the board.
Personally, I think the Patriots would be better suited to use their first couple of draft picks on some boring positions like offensive tackle and cornerback, or on a top tier wide receiver if they somehow slide down the board, and then maneuver the draft board to take a running back in the early fourth.