When the 2014 NFL draft ended, while most people were discussing the most polarizing 7th round pick in Draft history, I couldn't get my mind off the fact that the first running back taken wasn't until pick #54. It also struck me that this was the second straight year no running back was taken in the 1st round.
Let me make this perfectly clear, Bishop Sankey (the 54th pick) Carlos Hyde, Tre Mason and Ka'Deem Carey, while maybe not top 10 caliber running backs, are no slouches. If this were 2006, a year where four running backs went in the 1st round (Reggie Bush, DeAngelo Williams, Laurence Maroney and Joseph Addai) Tre Mason, Carlos Hyde and Sankey are likely mid to late 1st round or high 2nd round draft picks. Instead, they dropped to the late 2nd and 3rd round.
Perhaps this trend changes in 2015 where T.J. Yeldon and Todd Gurley could end the running back-less 1st round but NFL GM's and offensive coordinators are making one thing clear, running backs are no longer as coveted as they once were.
As Matt Brown of Sports on Earth pointed out, in 2003 the number of NFL running backs who averaged 20+ carries a game was 13. In 2013 that number dropped to only one.
Again, from Matt Brown's article, notice the same downward spiral of carries per game trend in the NFL is taking place in college football.
So what does this have to do with Alabama? Well, everything. If you're a high school football player and you can play multiple positions like a Bo Scarbrough (running back, corner and maybe even wide receiver) and you see the top players being drafted aren't running backs, what position will you want to play in college? Sure, there will always be Derrick Henry's and Trent Richardson's but will there be a day when the next Henry chooses to play linebacker instead of running back?
And if you don't think high school players are paying attention, you'd be wrong as we may already be starting to see the ill effects in the 2015 recruiting class.
Dang, I really can't think of a 2015 RB that could roll in that top 10 from backs 13-15...— J Drumm (@LeaderoftheMen) June 25, 2014
0 RT@SBNRecruiting: If you had to rank the top 10 RB recruits from 2013-15 classes, how many 2015 backs make it? Any? (not including JUCO)— YouthSportsSanDiego (@yssd) June 25, 2014
@SBNRecruiting maybe one. Two at most.— JN Gerhart (@JNGerhart) June 25, 2014
Let me put it another, possibly more glaring way: Alabama currently has the #1 ranked recruiting class with 19 commitments and only has a single running back in the group. Just one. When was the last time Alabama had this many commitments and didn't have what most recruiting experts consider an elite running back in the entire group?
If you said 2013, you'd be right. So out of the last 45 players 'Bama has signed/ recruited, just two running backs and one was listed as an athlete.
Bo Scarbrough is the only player in the '13 class that projects as a running back. You could certainly blame Alabama's current running back depth chart for the lack of players taken at that position in the last two years but coupled with the lack of quality running backs in the 2015 class AND the NFL draft trend of devaluing RB's, could the future style of Alabama's offense be in jeopardy?
Under Saban, Alabama has been a balanced offense that likes to use the power running game, along with a controlled "take what the defense gives you" passing attack to efficiently demoralize opposing defenses.
Saban also employs a two back system that allows the offense to have fresh running backs late in the game to run against tired defensive lines.
While the two back, spreading out carries and effective passing attack offensive style should work at 'Bama for the next 3-4 seasons, if the number of quality running backs coming out of high school decreases, how will offenses like Alabama's continue to play their preferred style of play? And will they even have a choice?
After-all, Alabama isn't the only balanced/run heavy offense in college football. Florida State, LSU, Auburn, Stanford, Mississippi St, tOSU, Florida, just to name a few, also use running backs just as effectively as Alabama. And with fewer elite players to go around will these schools, along with Alabama, be forced to adjust to the recruiting and draft trends that are completely out of their control?
And what does this mean to the type of offensive lineman we see coming out of high school? Less run first offenses means offensive lineman will have to adjust and be better equipped to pass block. So does this mean less Chance Warmacks for Alabama to recruit?
There aren't any legitimate 2016 recruiting rankings released to date, so we'll have to wait and see what kind of running backs are in that class, but even early '15 mock NFL drafts only include one, maybe two, running backs in the first round. So if the trend continues, the question is where will Bama find our next Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon or Derrick Henry? And if we can't, what will Saban do next?