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.
The unearthing of starting backs outside the first round “happens all the time,” draft analyst Mel Kiper said during an ESPN conference call.
The Dolphins, Bears and Buccaneers, meanwhile, committed their top-five picks to running backs in 2005 and hardly got their money's worth.
Benson lasted three years in Chicago before he was released. Williams is merely a backup to Blount. Brown's once-promising career has been derailed by injuries, which has Miami reportedly considering drafting Ingram.
What's more, the rise of the pass and running-back-by-committees have devalued the need to gamble a high pick or high-pick dollars on one runner.
Green Bay won the 2011 Super Bowl using an array of runners, including sixth-round rookie James Starks, the Packers' leading rusher in the Super Bowl.
New Orleans won the Super Bowl the year before relying on a committee that featured undrafted backs Mike Bell and Pierre Thomas.
“Having a franchise running back is not as important as it was,” said NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots. “Unless you have an Adrian Peterson on the board, someone really special, I think you go ahead and wait. I think it's been proved that you don't have to take a running back with your first-round pick.”