I hear a lot of Vikings fans hoping that the Vikings select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III with the 11th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. I like Gordon as much as anyone. I think he’ll be a very good NFL running back. I also don’t think the Vikings should take him – nor do I think they will.
Gordon is one of two players I’ve been asked most about since the season ended with regards to whether the Vikings will take them at 11 in the draft. The other is talented Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. As I stated in my first mock draft of the offseason, I don’t see any way Cooper slides out of the top 10 and falls in the Vikings’ lap at 11. If Rick Spielman wants the best wide receiver in this year’s draft, he’ll need to trade up and get him.
As for Gordon, I didn’t have him going in my top 20. Not yet anyway.
Before all my neighbors from across the border start yelling and name-calling, let me clarify. Gordon is the best running back in this year’s draft -- due in large part to the ACL injury suffered by Georgia running back Todd Gurley in November. Truth be told, Gurley was the best running back I saw this season but the knee injury sabotaged his first-round draft value. Even so, Gordon has the explosiveness to be a feature NFL running back, if there is such a thing anymore.
In fact, as things stand now, Gordon projects as potentially the only running back to go on Day 1 of the draft. He might go in the top 20. He might even go top-15. I might have him included somewhere in the top 15 of my future mock drafts if it becomes apparent that a team is strongly considering taking him. Overall, he might very well be one of the 10 best players in this year’s draft.
However, he’s a running back, and running backs as a position are no longer valued by NFL teams the way they once were. Even five years ago, Gordon might have been a top-five pick in the draft. In case you hadn’t noticed, though, today’s NFL is all about the passing game.
Both this season and last season only 13 players topped 1,000 rushing yards. In 2012 that number was 16. In 2011, 15 players topped 1,000. In 2010 it was 17. In 2009 it was 15, 2008 had 16, 2007 had 17 and in 2006 there were 23 players with more than 1,000 rushing yards. The “one star running back” system is eroding. Most teams now favor a running back committee – like the Patriots have done for years. Five of the eight teams that played in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last weekend employed a backfield by committee approach (Panthers, Ravens, Colts, Bengals, Lions) for a good chunk of the season. The Ravens finally settled on one back (Justin Forsett) while injuries eventually forced the Cardinals into a committee backfield.
Last year, not a single running back went in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Tennessee Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back selected in the second round with the 54th overall pick. Jeremy Hill went to Cincinnati one pick later and Carlos Hyde was taken by the 49ers two picks after that in a mini run on running backs. I like Gordon better than all those guys, which is why I think he goes in the first round – just not to the Vikings.
The Vikings squeezed 1,108 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns from the duo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon this season. They got 1,549 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns from the duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart the season before. That’s a difference of 27 rushing yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Vikings part ways with Peterson this offseason and choose to retain Asiata (he’s a restricted free agent). Let’s also say McKinnon gets even a little better in his second season and the Vikings do something to improve their offensive line, even a little. If all these very feasible things occur, my guess is the Vikings could squeeze something around 1,500 yards and 10-12 touchdowns out of their running backs next season. And that might be selling them short – there are NFL observers who feel McKinnon could develop into a pretty solid NFL running back. Heck, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry in part-time duty as a rookie so why not?
Is it really nice to have an elite player like Peterson in the backfield? Of course. Would it be really cool to have Gordon in Vikings purple? Absolutely. However, it’s just more of a luxury than a necessity at this point.
The Vikings – and pretty much every other team in the top 20 of the draft – have more pressing needs than a stud running back. In case you missed it, the Vikes have holes to fill at offensive line, linebacker and wide receiver -- and could also use help at cornerback and safety. They can’t plug all those holes in free agency.
When the Vikings’ front office self-scouts their most pressing needs, I’m guessing running back is not near the top of the list.
This is the point where someone usually reminds me (read: scolds me) that teams should always take the best player available rather than draft for need. That’s great in theory. If your team is without a glaring need – or perhaps has needs that can be adequately addressed in latter rounds, by all means take the best player available. However, 10 teams passed on J.J. Watt four years ago when they shouldn’t have, so you can’t tell me the “best player available” strategy is always in play. And if Jameis Winston slides to 11 in the draft this year, I’m guessing the Vikings won’t take him, even if he’s the top-rated player left on their war room draft board. They have a quarterback last I checked.
In short, the Vikings have bigger fish to fry. Get a guard, get a tackle, get a wide receiver or get a linebacker... then maybe later in the draft if there’s a value pick at running back, grab him. This is a pretty good running back draft class. If Peterson is gone, the Vikings might select one later on to complement McKinnon. There will still be good ones available in the third and fourth rounds.
Gordon looks like he’ll be a very good NFL player so I’m not knocking his talents at all. I’d really, really like to get him in my dynasty fantasy football league this summer. He’ll help whatever NFL team he goes to.
I just doubt it’s going to be the Vikings.
Go to VikingsJournal.com for more on the NFL Draft and all the speculation on the Vikings landing Larry Fitzgerald.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell