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April 27, 2018

A look at what the other NFC East teams did in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft

The first round of the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books. While the Philadelphia Eagles traded out of the first round, each of their rivals were busy. Here's a look around at the rest of the NFC East, and what the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Dallas Cowboys did to improve their rosters.

New York Giants, Pick No. 2: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

I'm sorry, Giants fans, but your general manager has no idea what he's doing, and your franchise is going to be a disaster until your ownership realizes the mistake they made in hiring him.

When asked about positional value in the draft, Giants GM Dave Gettleman responded, "I think it's a crock. At the end of the day, a great player is a great player. (Former Giants GM) Ernie (Accorsi) and I have talked about it a lot. He's a touchdown maker. He is a touch... down... maker. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he gets his hands on the ball. 

"Like I said, I think a lot of that is nonsense. I think it's someone who had this idea, and got into the analytics of it, and did all of these running backs and went through their whatever. Hey, Jonathan Stewart is in his 10th year, and he has hardly lost anything. 

"I don't believe in it. I don't care who you take. They can all get hurt. Nobody is immune."

I should note that Gettleman mimicked a nerd typing on his keyboard during his brilliant analytics sentence, while a half-asleep Pat Shurmur watched his fingers:

To begin, the idea that Stewart has hardly lost anything is comical. Stewart looked cooked last season, and his yards per carry have fallen in each of the last three years, most recently with a 3.4 yards per carry effort in 2017. 

Jonathan Stewart YPC 

Take Stewart’s rushes out of the equation and the Panthers averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 2017. 

As for Gettleman's assertion that "all players can get hurt," yes, that's true, but running backs very clearly have shorter shelf lives than players at other positions. The simple reality is that 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 Age*
Marshawn Lynch Raiders 32
LeSean McCoy Bills 29
Mark Ingram Saints 28
Lamar Miller Texans 27
Carlos Hyde Browns 26
Le'Veon Bell Steelers 26
Devonta Freeman Falcons 26
David Johnson Cardinals 26
Jerick McKinnon 49ers 26
Isaiah Crowell Jets 25
Devontae Booker Broncos 25
Melvin Gordon Chargers 25
Ty Montgomery Packers 25
Kenyan Drake Dolphins 24
Jay Ajayi Eagles 24
Ameer Abdullah Lions 24
Sony Michel Patriots 23
Alex Collins Ravens 23
Leonard Fournette Jaguars 23
Derrick Henry Titans 23
Jordan Howard Bears 23
Peyton Barber Buccaneers 23
Todd Gurley Rams 23
Marlon Mack Colts 22
Kareem Hunt Chiefs 22
Ezekiel Elliott Cowboys 22
Samaje Perine Redskins 22
Dalvin Cook Vikings 22
Rashaad Penny Seahawks 22
Joe Mixon Bengals 21
Saquon Barkley Giants 21
Christian McCaffrey Panthers 21

*as of 4/27/18

As you can see, only ONE of the NFL's projected starters at running back, Marshawn Lynch, is 30 years of age or older, and he has already retired once. The average age of the running backs above is 24.2 (!) years old.

This isn't "analytics." It's more of an easily recognizable fact that running backs wear down quickly. 

Beyond that, 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. And the importance of the position cannot be understated. Teams can be exposed when they 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.

Saquon Barkley is a great player, and he could pay immediate dividends for a bad Giants offense. This in no way is an indictment on him. He has it all. He's fast, strong, he can catch, run inside, run outside, pass protect, and by all accounts he's a good kid. It's just an atrocious use of resources to take a running back with the No. 2 overall pick.

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 realistically going to compete for a Super Bowl anytime soon and you have a 37-year old quarterback who isn't good anymore, then maybe you should consider drafting a player at a position of far higher importance.

Washington Redskins, pick No. 13: Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

You could maybe quibble here and say that the Redskins should have drafted Florida State safety Derwin James, but Da'Ron Payne is a really good player worthy of this draft slot. He is a strong defensive tackle who will do the dirty work on the interior, making life easier on the back seven behind him.

Unsexy, but solid pick.

Dallas Cowboys, pick No. 19: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

At 6'4, 256, Vander Esch is a big, three-down linebacker with outstanding athleticism.

From a height-weight-speed perspective, Vander Esch is as impressive a defensive prospect as there is in this draft.

Though he's a bit of a one-year wonder, Vander Esch filled up the stat sheet in 2017, recording 141 tackles (8.5 TFL), 4 sacks, 2 INT, 5 pass breakups, and 4 forced fumbles. 

A neck injury had some teams concerned about Vander Esch's long-term future in the league. The Cowboys were not among them, however, it's worth noting that eschewing medicals burned them in 2016 when they selected Jaylon Smith with the 34th overall pick.

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