We’re all well aware that the NFL is a copycat league. Teams that are successful with a new approach are often mimicked by others who seek to emulate the innovator’s accomplishments.
Enter the Dallas Cowboys.
In today’s NFL with the reliance upon spread offenses and the passing game, the position of running back has been undervalued. Teams don’t want to spend big money and high draft picks on ball carriers. But Jerry Jones bucked that trend in 2016 when the Cowboys made Elliott the fourth overall pick.
At this point you won’t find many if any in Jerry’s World who regret the pick. Elliott is fast, powerful, quick and an asset in the passing game both as a receiver and a blocker. And clearly, he took advantage of personnel groupings more intent of containing the passing game.
Front offices, scouts and coaches around the league are looking for speed in their linebacker corps and of course in the secondary. They seek safeties who can cover space instead of the overly physical types that can play in the box. Nickel defenses have become the norm.
Yet such tactical personnel maneuvering and situational sub packages are more susceptible to a powerful rushing attack. And that in at least a small way explains the success of the Cowboys and Elliott. Will others be inclined to keep up with the Joneses? If more teams follow suit, it could trigger a shift in the type of defenders teams seek. The more traditional alignments that have faded could be in vogue again.
The Ravens have let it be known that they plan to upgrade their rushing attack. Greg Roman has been added to the coaching staff to see to it and John Harbaugh has made overtures that the team would like to add to their offensive backfield. Such overtures have left many wondering if Ozzie Newsome will call the names of Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette if either of the talented tailbacks are available to the Ravens with the 16th overall pick.
There is plenty of evidence to support the notion that Joe Flacco is more effective when supported by a competent run game. But is a first-round draft pick the way to go?
If the Ravens do make such an investment, they’ll have their bell cow for 5 seasons. But what happens after that? Let’s assume Cook or Fournette are very successful as Ravens. Would the Ravens then pony up the cash to keep a star running back around? Even before his domestic violence case, Ray Rice had shown signs that he was on the decline just two seasons into the 5-year, $40M deal that he signed in 2012.
There’s financial risk that can become a drag on a team’s cap. And if the solution is to move on and not pay a successful RB the big money that is typical of a second contract, is that a wise way to invest a first-round pick? The Ravens most successful No. 1 picks were players who played positions that have a longer career-life expectancy than running back.
No one would argue that the Ravens need to get better running the ball. Adding Roman was the first step. Re-tooling the offensive line is another and of course adding a complementary back to the duo of Kenneth Dixon–Terrance West makes sense.
A first-round pick doesn’t.
That pick needs to be someone that Ravens can count on to not only play beyond the level of their rookie contract, but to also earn that second contract and play to the level of THAT contract. Messrs. Ogden, Lewis, Reed and Suggs come to mind.
Let’s not worry about keeping up with the Joneses.