So, when Cards draft a running back early …

Posted by Darren Urban on April 16, 2015 – 12:51 pm

It is a deep draft for running backs. And the Cardinals are expected to take one at some point. It seems a favorite thing for mock drafters to do, putting a running back next to the Cardinals at their No. 24 first-round pick. I still don’t see this as likely, not with Andre Ellington around, the depth of the available prospects and the question about the top back in the draft (Todd Gurley’s ACL injury.) Another potential part of this equation? What the Cardinals have gotten, or haven’t gotten, out of the backs they have drafted early.

Since the team moved to Arizona in 1988, the Cardinals have drafted a running back in the first or second round nine times:

1988 Tony Jeffery (8 yards in one year in Arizona)
1990 Anthony Thompson (774 yards in three years)
1993 Garrison Hearst (1,503 yards in three years)
1994 Chuck Levy (15 yards in one year)
1996 Leeland McElroy (729 yards in two years)
2000 Thomas Jones (1,264 yards in three years)
2005 J.J. Arrington (654 yards in four years)
2009 Beanie Wells (2,471 yards in four years)
2011 Ryan Williams (164 yards in three years)

Obviously, it’s not a list with spectacular results. Hearst and Jones both had solid NFL careers, but only after they left Arizona. And while only three of those picks have come in the last decade, Arrington and Wells and Williams never made a big enough impact. Wells did have a 1,000-yard season in 2011, but injuries doomed him as they did Williams.

In two seasons, Ellington has already made more of an impact, as a sixth-round pick, than most of the guys on that list — and Ellington produced some in 2014 even though he was never healthy. Given the health concerns of Ellington, and the past issues of Wells and Williams, it’s hard to imagine the Cards taking a flyer on Gurley unless they were completely convinced he was a) not have any lingering effects and b) a special talent. Some believe both those to be the case. But there would be a certain leap of faith. I could see a second-round running back, but again, in this day and age of finding backs later — and with a team that is still going to use Ellington a lot — I think Steve Keim will carefully consider his options.


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