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March 15, 2016

Drafting Ezekiel Elliott at eighth overall would be a bad use of resources

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031516EzekielElliott Ross D. Franklin/AP

Should the Eagles draft Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott at eighth overall?

When the Eagles traded up from 13 to 8 on the first day of the new league year a week ago, it opened up a whole new list of possibilities in terms of who could be available to them in the draft. One of those possibilities is Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. 

To begin, let's be very clear -- Elliott is really, really good. This is in no way a slight against Elliott, rather, it's a about the value of drafting the position he plays at the eighth overall pick.

After trading DeMarco Murray, the Eagles are down to Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Kenjon Barner. Mathews is frequently injured, while Sproles will turn 33 in June and is in the final year of his deal. The Eagles can use help at running back. There's also the argument that the Eagles don't currently have an explosive talent in their offense, and that's what Elliott has the potential to be.

For those reasons, Elliott makes sense. However, the reasons Elliott makes sense are far outweighed by the reasons he does not, which we'll enumerate below.

The lifespan of an NFL running back is incredibly short

Running backs take a pounding in the NFL. Their bodies wear down, and even the good ones rarely make it beyond the age of 30. Below is a chart of the projected starting running backs for all 32 teams, as their rosters currently stand:

Player Team Birthday Age 
Frank Gore Colts 5/14/1983 32 
Adrian Peterson Vikings 3/21/1985 30 
Rashad Jennings Giants 3/26/1985 30 
Justin Forsett Ravens 10/14/1985 30 
Matt Forte Jets 12/10/1985 30 
Jamaal Charles Chiefs 12/27/1986 29 
Ryan Mathews Eagles 5/1/1987 28 
Jonathan Stewart Panthers 3/21/1987 28 
 DeMarco MurrayTitans 2/12/1988 28 
LeSean McCoy Bills 7/12/1988 27 
Darren McFadden Cowboys 8/27/1988 27 
Doug Martin Buccaneers 1/13/1989 27 
Mark Ingram Saints 12/21/1989 26 
 Dion LewisPatriots 9/27/1990 25 
Eddie Lacy Packers 1/1/1991 25 
C.J. Anderson Broncos 2/10/1991 25 
Latavius Murray Raiders 2/21/1991 25 
Lamar Miller Texans 4/25/1991 24 
Carlos Hyde 49ers 9/20/1991 24 
 Jeremy LangfordBears 12/6/1991 24 
 David JohnsonCardinals 12/16/1991 24 
Le'Veon Bell Steelers 2/18/1992 24 
Devonta Freeman Falcons 3/15/1992 24 
Jeremy Hill Bengals 10/20/1992 23 
Isaiah Crowell Browns 1/8/1993 23 
 Matt JonesRedskins 3/7/1993 23 
Melvin Gordon Chargers 4/13/1993 22 
 Ameer AbdullahLions 6/13/1993 22 
 Jay AjayiDolphins 6/15/1993 22 
Thomas Rawls Seahawks 8/3/1993 22 
T.J. Yeldon Jaguars 10/2/1993 22 
Todd Gurley Rams 8/3/1994 21 

As you can see, only five of the NFL's projected starters at running back are 30 years of age or older. Two of those backs -- Justin Forsett and Rashad Jennings -- have less than 750 career carries. Had they carried the load for the entirety of their careers, they'd probably already be out of the league.

The average age of the running backs above is 25.5 years old, and that's before the draft, when some rookies will replace aging vets atop the depth chart. By comparison, the average starting age of NFL quarterbacks heading into the 2016 season is 29.4, and that's with an almost 40-year old Peyton Manning having already retired.

In short, if you're a Super Bowl contender looking for an immediate impact player for the short term, then sure, go draft yourself a running back talent in the middle-to-end of the first round. If you're not currently a Super Bowl contender, however, (cough, Eagles, cough), it becomes harder to justify taking a running back at eighth overall and putting two years of wear and tear on him before you're likely going to be in a position to compete for a Super Bowl.

Running backs drafted highly can be busts, just like any other position

There's a notion that drafting certain positions highly will more often produce a bust than a star player. That's true, and it's kind of the nature of the NFL Draft in general. Running back is no different. Here is a list of all the running backs taken within the first 20 picks since 1995:

Year Player Team Pick number 
1995Ki-Jana Carter Bengals 
1995Tyrone Wheatley Giants 17 
1995Napoleon Kaufman Raiders 18 
 1995James Stewart Jaguars 19 
 1996Lawrence Phillips Rams 
 1996Tim Biakabutuka  Panthers 
 1996Eddie George Oilers 14 
 1997Warrick Dunn Buccaneers 12 
 1998Curtis Enis Bears 
 1998Fred Taylor Jaguars 
 1998Robert Edwards Patriots 18 
 1999Edgerrin James Colts 
 1999Ricky Williams Saints 
 2000Jamal Lewis Ravens 
 2000Thomas Jones Cardinals 
 2000Ron Dayne Giants 11 
 2000Shaun Alexander Seahawks 19 
 2001LaDainian Tomlinson Chargers 
 2002William Green Browns 16 
 2002T.J. Duckett Falcons 18 
 2005Ronnie Brown Dolphins 
 2005Cedric Benson Bears 
 2005Cadillac Williams Buccaneers 
 2006Reggie Bush Saints 
 2007Adrian Peterson Vikings 
 2007Marshawn Lynch Bills 12 
 2008Darren McFadden Raiders 
 2008Jonathan Stewart Panthers 13 
 2009Knowshon Moreno Broncos 12 
 2010C.J. Spiller Bills 
 2010Ryan Mathews Chargers 12 
 2012Trent Richardson Browns 
 2015Todd Gurley Rams 10 
 2015Melvin Gordon Chargers 15 

There is a whole lot more buyers' remorse in that list above than there were teams who were happy with their selections. If anyone tells you that Elliott is a "can't miss" prospect, they are wrong. He may very well end up being great. Or he could be Curtis Enis.

The 2017 running back class is STACKED

Over his college career, Elliott has put up eye-popping rushing stats at Ohio State.

Ezekiel Elliott Rush Yards YPC TD 
 201330 262 8.7 
 2014273 1878 6.9 18 
 2015289 1821 6.3 23 

Again, there is no question that he is a great player. However, there is an absurd number of really good sophomore running backs who will be eligible to enter the NFL Draft in 2017. A quick list:

• Leonard Fournette, LSU: Beast of a human being, ran for 1953 yards and 22 TDs on 6.5 yards per carry in 2015.

• Dalvin Cook, Florida State: Ran for 1691 yards and 19 TDs in 2015 on 7.4 yards per carry.

• Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: One of three Heisman finalists in 2015, ran for 2019 rushing yards and 8 TDs, added 45 catches for 645 yards and 5 TDs, returned a kick for a TD, returned a punt for a TD, and threw 2 TD passes.

Royce Freeman, Oregon: Ran for 1836 yards and 17 TDs on 6.5 yards per carry. In 2014, as a freshman, he ran for 1365 yards and 18 TDs.

• Nick Chubb, Georgia: Ran for 1547 yards and 14 TDs on 7.1 yards per carry as a freshman, and then 747 yards and 7 TDs on 8.1 yards per carry before suffering a serious leg injury in the Bulldogs' sixth game.

• Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Ran for 1713 yards and 21 TDs on 6.5 yards per carry as a freshman, and then 1349 yards and 16 TDs on 6.0 yards per carry as a sophomore.

And then there's Wisconsin's Corey Clement, Pitt's James Conner, and Baylor's Shock Linwood, who will all be highly regarded seniors in 2016.

Even if you believe that Elliott is better than every single one of the players listed above (I don't, for the record), wouldn't it be much better value to get a marginally less talented back in the second round in 2017 than Elliott at eighth overall?

Finding a good running back isn't like finding a franchise quarterback, a quality offensive tackle, a good cover corner, or a stud edge rusher. Good running backs are easy to find. The other positions, not so much.

Furthermore, you can be exposed if you don't have a QB, OT, CB, or lack a pass rush, whereas teams routinely have shown they can thrive without a top-flight running back.

Elliott is a great player, and he could pay immediate dividends for an Eagles offense that does not have much in the way of home run threats. Just not at 8.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski