History says it would be uncharacteristic for the Baltimore Ravens to take Leonard Fournette or Dalvin Cook with the No. 16 overall pick. The Ravens have used a first-round pick on a running back only once, and that was Jamal Lewis in 2000.
But the need at running back in Baltimore, the explosiveness of Fournette and Cook and the immediate success of Ezekiel Elliott all could lead to an end of that 17-year drought.
No one should be surprised if Baltimore chooses a running back with its first pick this year, especially after hearing Ravens coach John Harbaugh’s stance on first-round runners.
“They’ve done pretty well,” Harbaugh said at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. “Ezekiel Elliott is a pretty good example of that. He’s an example of a guy we were very interested in when we were picking so high last year. I think any great player, any playmaker, is worth a first-round pick.”
Elliott, the No. 4 overall pick who led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, is paving the way for teams to invest first-round picks in running backs once again. But the numbers suggest quality running backs can be found throughout the draft.
Among the running backs who ranked in the top 10 in total yards last season, there were as many drafted in the fifth round (Jordan Howard and Jay Ajayi) as the first round (Elliott and Melvin Gordon). David Johnson, who led the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage, was selected in the third round.
What has to be determined by the Ravens and the rest of the NFL is whether Fournette and Cook are special enough to warrant a first-round pick.
Fournette, who had been considered the top back in this draft, raised eyebrows when he weighed in at 240 pounds. He said he was at 235 at LSU last season, when he averaged 120.4 yards rushing per game.
Some concerns were alleviated after Fournette ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, which is astounding for a player his size.
“I know my talent and hard work is going to pay off and show for itself,” Fournette said when asked if it was important for him to be the first running back drafted.
Cook, the better all-around back, had a better showing at the combine. He showed off his straight-line speed by running the 40 in 4.49 seconds and impressed with his strength with 22 reps on the bench press (third among all running backs).
“I just feel like I am the best back in this class,” Cook said.
The Ravens consider running back as one of their needs in this draft. Harbaugh wants a back who can take it the distance every time he touches the ball, which is not something Baltimore had last season with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon.
Even though the Ravens haven’t taken a running back in the first round since using the No. 5 overall pick on Lewis in 2000, the team has contemplated doing so in the past two drafts.
In 2015, the Ravens were hoping Todd Gurley would slip to No. 26 because he was coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But Gurley was selected at No. 10.
It could be a similar decision for the Ravens on April 27 if Fournette or Cook falls to the middle of the first round.
“I feel like if I can put in the right system,” Cook said, “I can do the same things that Zeke did.”