NFL draft betting: Will Round 1 go without a running back for first time since 2014?

Sam Cooper
·3-min read

The value applied to drafting a running back in the first round of the NFL draft has shifted pretty significantly in the last 10 years.

In the 10 drafts from 2001-10, there were 30 running backs chosen in the first round. That stretch included five in the 2008 draft. In the last 10 drafts, the number of first-round running backs plummeted to just 14.

In only four of those 10 drafts (2012, 2015, 2017 and 2018) were multiple running backs selected in Round 1. In the other six years, there either wasn’t a single RB selected or just one went off the board in the first.

In this year’s draft, oddsmakers are expecting a similar outcome. At BetMGM, the total is set at just 0.5 for running backs selected in Round 1. The over has some heavy juice at -225, with the under at +175.

Despite recent trends at the position, the first round hasn’t gone without a running back since 2014. Last year was close, though. The Kansas City Chiefs chose LSU product Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the 32nd and final pick of Round 1.

Who are the top RBs in this year's draft?

Alabama’s Najee Harris is the top running back on the board this year, according to Yahoo Sports NFL draft expert Eric Edholm. Oddsmakers agree. Harris has -140 to be the first running back chosen. But will it be in Round 1?

Even if it’s not Harris, Edholm believes we will see at least one back chosen to hit the over 0.5.

“Last year, we had a surprise RB1 [Edwards-Helaire] in Round 1 and then a run on backs — five of them — in Round 2. It might happen similarly this time around, although it's not as deep of a group,” Edholm said. “But I still feel like we're going to get at least one back in the first, and if pressed to guess I'd say it's Najee Harris.”

Edholm identified the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 24 overall as a potential landing spot for Harris, who rushed for 1,466 yards and a whopping 26 touchdowns in 2020 for the Crimson Tide.

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) runs the ball and fights off a tackle attempt by Notre Dame linebacker Drew White (40) in the second half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game in Arlington, Texas, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)
Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) runs the ball and fights off a tackle attempt by Notre Dame linebacker Drew White (40) in the second half of the Rose Bowl in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Next on Edholm’s running back rankings are Javonte Williams out of North Carolina and Clemson’s Travis Etienne. Williams rushed for 1,140 yards and 19 TDs while splitting time with Michael Carter in UNC’s backfield in 2020. Etienne is the ACC’s all-time leader in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, total touchdowns and yards from scrimmage.

“It wouldn't completely stun me to see either Williams or Travis Etienne slip into the top 32 one way or another,” Edholm said. “There are a handful of RB-needy teams early in Round 2, and one of them could jockey for positioning and possibly slide up to leapfrog the others in line.”

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