Is 2015 the best running back draft in years?

After becoming devalued in the new pass-happy NFL era, the running back position has become a premium asset this offseason. DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy both signed five-year deals for $40 million or more, and the 2015 draft is loaded at running back. Most prognosticators believe that this NFL draft will have at least one running back selected in the first round for the first time in two years. Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Jay Ajayi, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah, T.J. Yeldon and Jeremy Langford head a deep group that could contribute from Day One. Before a knee injury sidelined Gurley, many thought the Georgia runner was the most talented back since Adrian Peterson. Only time will tell if the experts are correct in predicting the quality of this year’s crop, but here’s a look at what the 2015-ers are up against from the last five RB drafts:   2010 — 13 RBs drafted 1st round C.J. Spiller, drafted 9th overall by the Bills, rushed for 1,244 yards in 2012, but a broken collarbone shortened the explosive player’s 2014 campaign. Ryan Mathews, drafted 12th overall by the Chargers, has started 53 games and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, but he can’t shake the injury bug. Jahvid Best, drafted 30th overall by the Lions, played in just 22 games before concussions ended his career. 2nd round Dexter McCluster, drafted 36th overall by the Chiefs, was a running back/receiver and never exemplary at either, though he did make the Pro Bowl as special teamer in 2013. Toby Gerhart, drafted 51st overall by the Vikings, served as Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota and then struggled when given an opportunity for more with Jacksonville. Ben Tate, drafted 58th overall by the Texans, broke his ankle as a rookie, allowing Arian Foster to take his spot. He ran for 942 yards the next year for Houston but has been on three different teams since. Montario Hardesty, drafted 59th overall by the Browns, was plagued by injuries and last played in a regular season contest in 2012. Sleepers Drafted by the Packers (193rd overall, 6th round), James Starks rushed for 316 yards in the 2010 postseason during Green Bay’s Super Bowl run. Grade D: This class not only lacked depth, but the first seven backs selected are no longer with their original team.   2011 — 24 RBs drafted 1st round Mark Ingram, drafted 28th overall by the Saints, had his best year in 2014, rushing for 964 yards and nine touchdowns after battling myriad injuries. 2nd round Ryan Williams, drafted 38th overall by the Cardinals, has been plagued by injuries, including rupturing a patella tendon before taking a regular season snap and a shoulder injury that ended his second season. Shane Vereen, drafted 56th overall by the Patriots, emerged as an effective runner, receiver and blocker especially on third downs. Mikel Leshoure, drafted 57th overall by the Lions, tore his Achilles tendon before playing a regular season down for Detroit and did not play for a team during the 2014 regular season. Daniel Thomas, drafted 62nd overall by the Dolphins, has averaged under 3.9 yards per carry in each of his four seasons. Sleepers Drafted by the Cowboys (71st overall, 3rd round), DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards in 2014. Drafted by the Patriots (73rd overall, 3rd round), Stevan Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards in 2012 before fumbling issues put him in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. Drafted by the Redskins (105th overall, 4th round), Roy Helu surpassed 100 rushing yards in three consecutive weeks as a rookie. Drafted by the 49ers (115th overall, 4th round), Kendall Hunter averaged 4.6 yards per carry for his career before tearing his ACL in last year’s training camp. Drafted by the Jets (126th overall, 4th round), Bilal Powell started 11 games while rushing for 697 yards in 2013. Drafted by the Falcons (145th overall, 5th round), Jacquizz Rodgers, a shifty third-down back, has scored 10 career touchdowns. Grade C+: Murray can’t redeem a class whose early-round picks had their careers hampered by injuries and that lacks many full-time starters.   2012 — 19 RBs drafted 1st round Trent Richardson, drafted 3rd overall by the Browns, has become one of the NFL’s biggest draft busts of late. Doug Martin, drafted 31st overall by the Buccaneers, rushed for 1,454 yards as a rookie before suffering a shoulder injury and then falling out of favor with the Tampa Bay coaching staff. David Wilson, drafted 32nd overall by the Giants, retired prior to the 2014 season because of neck injuries. 2nd round Isaiah Pead, drafted 50th overall by the Rams, carried the ball a total of just 17 times during his three years in St. Louis. LaMichael James, drafted 61st overall by the 49ers, was relegated to the Dolphins’ practice squad before joining their active roster late in the 2014 season. Sleepers Drafted by the Broncos (67th overall, 3rd round), Ronnie Hillman started four games for Denver last year before the emergence of C.J. Anderson. Drafted by the Ravens (84th overall, 3rd round), Bernard Pierce rushed for 1,334 yards in three years with Baltimore before a recent DUI arrest led to his release. Drafted by the Redskins (173rd overall, 6th round), Alfred Morris has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,613 during his rookie season, and 4.0 yards per carry each year. Drafted by the Bengals (191st overall, 6th round), Dan Herron started all three playoff games for the Indianapolis Colts last season. Drafted by the Rams (252nd overall, 7th round), Daryl Richardson rushed for 475 yards as a rookie. Grade D+: A 6th rounder — Morris — is the best of a lot that included major busts in the early rounds.   2013 — 23 RBs drafted 1st round None Selected 2nd round Giovani Bernard, drafted 37th overall by the Bengals, amassed 1,209 yards from scrimmage during his rookie year while making a slew of highlight plays. Le’Veon Bell, drafted 48th overall by the Steelers, was initially slowed by knee and foot injuries as a rookie before emerging as one of the NFL’s best weapons in his second season. Montee Ball, drafted 58th overall by the Broncos, never developed into more than a part-time player as he struggled with injuries and fumbling issues. Eddie Lacy, drafted 61st overall by the Packers, has become the best back Aaron Rodgers ever played with. Christine Michael, drafted 62nd overall by the Seahawks, has averaged 4.9 yards per carry during his career, though Marshawn Lynch’s backup only has 52 career rushes. Sleepers Drafted by the Chiefs (96th overall, 3rd round), Knile Davis has proven to be a nice complement to the smaller, speedier Jamaal Charles. Drafted by the Jaguars (135th overall, 5th round), Denard Robinson, the former college quarterback, twice surpassed 100 rushing yards as he grew into his new position during his second season. Drafted by the Rams (160th overall, 5th round), Zac Stacy started 12 games his rookie year before falling out of favor in his second season. Drafted by the Raiders (181st overall, 6th round), Latavius Murray surpassed 75 rushing yards three times during the last five games of the 2014 season. Drafted by the Cardinals (187th overall, 6th round), Andre Ellington has produced 2,078 yards from scrimmage during his two-year career. Drafted by the Lions (199th overall, 7th round), Theo Riddick caught four touchdowns last year and likely will take on a bigger role after Detroit lost Reggie Bush. Grade A-: The second round featured a star back in Bell and two very good ones in Lacy and Bernard. The later rounds unearthed several part-time or full-time starters, which could’ve been even better had 4th rounders Johnathan Franklin and Marcus Lattimore not retired early.   2014 — 20 RBs drafted 1st round None selected 2nd round Bishop Sankey, drafted 54th overall by the Titans, disappointed as rookie, averaging only 3.7 yards per carry and never registering more than 61 yards in a game. He had as many touchdowns as fumbles. Jeremy Hill, drafted 55th overall by the Bengals, shined as the star of the class, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and stealing the starting job from Giovani Bernard. Carlos Hyde, drafted 57th overall by the 49ers, averaged 4.0 yards per carry last year and is poised to assume the starting role in 2015 with Frank Gore off to Philadelphia. Sleepers Drafted by the Rams (75th overall, 3rd round), Tre Mason came on strong in the latter part of the season as St. Louis’ main back after not playing in the first four games. Drafted by the Browns (94th overall, 3rd round), Terrance West started six games for Cleveland. Drafted by the Vikings (96th overall, 3rd round), Jerick McKinnon averaged 4.8 yards per carry and could become Minnesota’s main back if it parts ways with Adrian Peterson. Grade B: This class could produce as many as six starters on 2015 rosters, but Hill is the only Pro Bowl-level talent. Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin  

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