INDIANAPOLIS-It’s not a stretch to say the Arizona Cardinals are in the market for a running back in this spring’s NFL Draft.
In this particular case: the stats don’t lie.
Only the Oakland Raiders rushed for less yards than the Cardinals (1308) in 2014. Granted, Andre Ellington’s injury-shortened season skewed the numbers a bit but the 2013 late-round steal recently split a tendon in his foot. Bruce Arians insists he will remain a focus point in the offense but past injury concerns, coupled with the fact Ellington isn’t a heavy workload back in the first place has many believing adding depth at that position is vital, especially with two-back sets becoming more of the norm around the league.
The Cardinals haven’t tipped their cap as to when they will select a back but to run the type of offense Bruce Arians does an effective run game goes a long way.
“When you’re rushing the football,” ESPN NFL Insider Chris Mortenson told Sports360AZ.com at the Combine. “Obviously explosive plays come down the field…running backs get injured. You want guys who are durable.”
There are plenty of “big names” in the 2015 draft class but recent history has shown teams have shied away from taking running backs too early due to the physical pounding and often lack of longevity in their career.
Many inside NFL circles believe Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon could be a fit in Arizona, maybe even with the 24th overall pick. He proved to be a workhorse in Madison and can play both smooth on the edge and powerful between the tackles.
“I watch a lot of running backs,” Gordon said from Indianapolis. “I try to take different bits and pieces of their game and try to mix it with mine.”
Two more versatile names to watch are Georgia’s Todd Gurley, who experienced off-the-field and injury problems in 2014, and USC’s Buck Allen who was nearly unstoppable last year against Arizona State. Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon is another player who will garner plenty of interest from teams this spring, as will Nebraska’s productive Ameer Abdullah and Jay Ajayi. Many experts believe this is one of the best collection of rookie backs in recent history.
Mortenson believes help is already on the roster but not necessarily in the backfield.
“They need Jonathan Cooper to come up and be the dominant player everybody thought he would be,” he explained. “They’re just not that far away and the running game obviously is vital.”