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The dangers of this year’s running back class

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The Buccaneers face tough decisions on draft night.

Texas A&M v LSU Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Buccaneers have yet to have a consistent running game since Jameis Winston was drafted in 2015. And when I say consistent, I mean consecutive seasons.

A quarterback’s best friend is a good running game, among other things. After being fifth in rushing yards per game in 2015, the Bucs offense has since ranked 24th and 27th in the same category in the past two seasons. But things could start changing in just 14 days.

The 2018 draft class is loaded with running backs. Tampa Bay can be fortunate enough to have Penn State running back Saquon Barkley fall to them at No. 7, or if he’s not there, the possibility of them drafting (reaching?) for another back is possible at the same slot. We’ll get to that in a second.

In regards to the draft, general manager Jason Licht and the front office have a couple things going against them. First is the history of running back careers from the first round. There aren’t many that are still in the league. In the past 10 years there have been 20 running backs taken in the first round. Of those 20, only nine are currently on rosters while three of those nine were drafted in the first round of the past two drafts (Jonathan Stewart, Mark Ingram, Doug Martin, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey).

The second thing going against the Bucs is last season’s draft. They missed out on running backs Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt. Licht tried to trade for Cook but was unsuccessful, and the Saints drafted Kamara high in the third round while the Chiefs drafted Hunt later in the same round. Of course, there wouldn’t be a Justin Evans or a Chris Godwin on the Bucs’ sidelines if either Hunt or Kamara were drafted instead. It depends on who is/was valued most.

Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if there was 100-percent confidence in the running game. But since there is not, this is why this is a very dangerous position to be in. I feel the Buccaneers may have the running back position graded very high on their boards aside from the “Big 3.” If that is true and Barkley is off the boards when the seventh pick rolls around, they may reach and draft another back, like LSU’s Derrius Guice or Georgia’s Sony Michel. While they are certainly first-round talents, are they worthy of a Top 10 pick? It may be Tampa Bay’s only play at No. 7 if Bradley Chubb, Quenton Nelson, and Barkley are all gone and there are no trade-down options.

The NFL isn’t too kind to running backs and their longevity. Even drafting Barkley seventh overall can leave you thinking if he will last long enough to make that pick feel worth it. But with a potential of a run on running backs later on in the first round and the Bucs having to pick in the Top 10, selecting another back at No. 7 does not seem far from reality.

And an even bigger reality is that this regime has to hit on their top pick.