Ravens Aren't Against Drafting 1st-Round Running Back

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Times have drastically changed since the Ravens selected Jamal Lewis fifth overall in the 2000 NFL draft.

That year, five running backs were taken in the first round. Now, with the NFL in a pass-happy era, there hasn't been a single back plucked in Round 1 the past two years.

The running back has been devalued to the point that there's a debate of whether it's a wise decision to draft one – any running back – in the first round. ESPN's Mel Kiper thinks it's not.

Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz was asked whether Baltimore is against drafting a running back in the first round. It seems the debate may be going on in the team's draft room this week.

"Me personally or this organization?" Hortiz said. "Organizationally, I don't think so. And me personally, I don't think so.

"To me, you're going to take the best player available, the guy that can help you win. If that's a running back, that's a running back."

Hortiz said he can understand teams being "apprehensive" about drafting a running back high in the first round because they demand larger contracts than those selected later. Giving a running back big money is risky because their prime, and overall shelf life, is often shorter than players at other positions.

"But where we're picking at No. 26, you just take the best player available and you take the right guy," Hortiz said. "Ozzie wants to win, just like all of us, and we're going to take the guys that can help us win the most."

This year, two running backs may be drafted in the first round: Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. This week, Sports Illustrated's Peter King wrote that Gordon "will not get past" Baltimore at No. 26.

Gurley is reportedly considered the best all-around player in the draft by one NFL executive. Gurley averaged 6.4 yards per carry over his career, and adds more as a receiver. He put up 911 rushing yards in just six games last season before tearing his ACL. His health is the biggest question mark going forward.

"Strong, physical, downfield runner with home-run ability," Hortiz said. "Great kid. He had the autograph incident [and a four-game suspension], but in terms of a person, he's a really fine person and the coaches say a lot of great things about him. He's a rare combination of size and speed for the position."

Gordon finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting last season, in which he posted a mind-boggling 2,587 rushing yards and 29 rushing touchdowns. He averaged 7.8 yards per carry during his college career, and worked with Ravens Running Backs Coach Thomas Hammock for three years.

"There's another rare combination of size and speed for the position," Hortiz said. "He ran track. He's got a great sprinter's stride, good instincts, vision and make-miss ability. And again, home-run ability, too."

So is this the year when running backs are devalued so much that Baltimore can snag an elite talent near the end of the first round?

"You always look for value," Head Coach John Harbaugh said when asked about running backs. "If you can get something more valuable than the price you pay, it's real simple."

The Ravens have seen their AFC North rivals boost their offenses by drafting running backs in recent years.

The Bengals made Giovanni Bernard the top running back off the board in 2013 (Round 2, No. 37 overall). He ran for 695 yards, posted 514 receiving yards and eight total touchdowns as a rookie. The Steelers drafted Le'Veon Bell in the second round (Round 2, No. 48 overall) that same year. He posted 1,259 total yards as a rookie and was a Pro Bowler last season. Even with Bernard on the board, the Bengals made Jeremy Hill the second running back selected (Round 2, No. 55) last season. Hill rushed for 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie.

"Maybe running backs have been that [value pick] in the last couple drafts," Harbaugh said.

"This year, there are a lot of good running backs. So there might be some good players in the third, fourth, fifth* *rounds, sixth round. But then again, the top players, they're really good. You might want to jump up there and take those guys in the first round this year."

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