1. Bucs

Why the Bucs should not take the best player in the draft

History isn't on Tampa Bay's side when drafting running backs high.
Penn State's Saquon Barkley  was a dynamic college running back, but would he be a good fit for the Bucs? (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Penn State's Saquon Barkley was a dynamic college running back, but would he be a good fit for the Bucs? (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Published Apr. 5, 2018
Updated Apr. 5, 2018

Saquon Barkley might be the most talented running back to ever come out of college.

The 21-year-old out of Penn State is strong, fast, elusive. His immense skill is surpassed only by his tireless work ethic and high character.

This guy isn't just really good, he's special. He can run the ball. He can catch the ball. He can block. He can return kicks. And he can do all of those things really, really well.

At the NFL combine, he put up crazy numbers. He was stronger than All-Pro offensive linemen. He jumped higher than the best wide receivers in the game. He ran faster than the game's fastest players.

Barkley might be as close to perfect as a football player can be. He just might turn into one of the best players to ever play the game.

There's a chance — maybe not a good one, but still a chance — that he will available when the Bucs pick seventh overall in the NFL draft. And they certainly could use a running back. The guess is Bucs general manager Jason Licht would run to the podium to take him.

And that would be a mistake.

Don't do it, Bucs. Don't take Saquon Barkley.

You heard me right. Perhaps the best running back ever and the highest-rated player in this draft might be available and the Bucs should not take him.

Why? He's a running back. And taking a running back that high in the draft is risky business. Too risky.

Running backs have short shelf lives and you can pick up really good ones later in the draft. Or as free agents. Or in trades. But you don't need to use a top pick to get yourself a top running back.

Okay, I can already hear people screaming about all the first-round running backs who turned into superstars. What about Emmitt Smith? What about Walter Payton? To which I counter with: Ki-Jana Carter, another supposed "can't-miss" Penn State running back who was drafted first overall in the 1995 draft and turned out to be a colossal bust.

Look, you can bend the numbers any way you want to make a case for or against taking a running back that high in the draft.

For example, if you look at the top 15 rushers in NFL history, you'll find that 13 were taken in the first round, and many of those went in the first few picks. That suggests that if you want to get yourself an elite runner like Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson, you better snatch him up high in the draft.

Then again, only one of the NFL's top four rushers in 2017 was a first-round pick. Kansas City's Kareem Hunt, the NFL's leading rusher, was a third-rounder. Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell is widely regarded as the NFL's most complete running back. He might be, pound-for-pound, the NFL's best player. He was a second-rounder.

But here is what gets my attention:

The playing career of your average NFL player is 3.3 years. Now, to be fair, some of that is because players aren't good enough to stay in the league longer. But much of that is because of injuries, too.

Meantime, the average career length for an NFL running back is 2.57 years. These guys just don't last.

The other part that convinces me that it's just too risky is the Bucs' own history.

Let's go back to 2005. That year, the Bucs passed on players such as DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman and Aaron Rodgers to take running back Cadillac Williams with the fifth overall pick. At first, it seemed like a great move. As a rookie, he rushed for 1,178 yards and was the AP offensive rookie of the year.

But, with running backs, you need to let these things play out and Cadillac never had a season that good again. Two major knee injuries pretty much wrecked his career. He had one promising comeback season, but was out of football after seven seasons.

Then there's Doug Martin. He was a Bucs' first-round pick in 2012. Of his six seasons, only two were great. The other four were a mess, partly because of injury.

If you do the math, you'd have to consider Martin to be a bust.

Cadillac and Martin are two cautionary tales and, I get it, for every cautionary tale, you can probably find a success story.

In the end, the Bucs have other needs, such as pass rusher, offensive line, cornerback. Those players are much harder to find than running backs. You use high draft picks to find those special players. It's much easier to find a decent running back late in the draft than a shut-down corner.

You could also make a case that running backs aren't nearly as important in today's game, which tends to feature quarterbacks and receivers.

Would the Bucs take Barkley if he is there? Probably.

But will Barkley still be there at No. 7? Probably not.

That actually would be good news for the Bucs.