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NFL teams strike gold in mid-round running backs

OU's DeMarco Murray and OSU's Kendall Hunter are projected to go in the third round of this week's NFL Draft. And that's not a bad thing.
By Jake Trotter, Staff Writer, Published: April 26, 2011

In 2007, the Minnesota Vikings made Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft. Two years before, Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson and Cadillac Williams all went in the top five of the draft.

But these days, the NFL appears to be trending away from splurging high picks on the workhorse running back.

Alabama's Mark Ingram is the only back going in the first round of mock drafts. The last time fewer than two backs went in the first round? 1984.

But all of this isn't such a bad thing for the futures of Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter and Oklahoma's DeMarco Murray, both of whom generally are being projected to go in the third round of this week's draft.

After all, mid-round backs like Hunter and Murray are becoming the lifeblood of the NFL ground game.

Because maybe more so than any other position, running backs picked in the middle and later rounds — or not drafted at all — are materializing into quality players.

“The value that you can get in the draft later on is significantly better at running back than at offensive or defensive lineman,” longtime Cowboys executive and current Sirius NFL radio host Gil Brandt said on a conference call.

“There's a huge drop-off in linemen.”

Running back, not so much.

Just look at the NFL's top 10 rushers last season. Only Peterson, Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall and Steven Jackson were first-rounders.

Jamaal Charles went in the third round, Michael Turner the fifth, Maurice Jones-Drew the second, Ahmad Bradshaw the seventh and Ray Rice the second. And Arian Foster, the reigning NFL rushing champ? Well, he was undrafted.

Other 1,000-yard rushers included Peyton Hills (seventh-rounder), LeSean McCoy (second), Matt Forte (second), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (undrafted) and undrafted Tampa Bay rookie LeGarrette Blount, who alone came close to outgaining all three 2010 first-round running backs (C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best) combined.

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