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Five reasons for the running back renaissance

On Thursday night, Georgia's Todd Gurley became the first running back selected in the first round of the NFL Draft since the Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson year in 2012.

Five picks after Gurley went at No. 10, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon was selected by the San Diego Chargers.

And while this may just be an aberration -- running backs, after all, have become more expendable and less coveted by the year -- we might be on to something here.

Could the 2015 draft represent, in part, a changing landscape around the NFL? Might we be seeing the groundwork of a new era around the league?

Here's a few quick takeaways on the miniature running back renaissance and what it might mean for NFL teams over the next few years:

1. There is a shortage of good quarterbacks, and ball control is the next best thing: If you don't have a cerebral passer to take advantage of the NFL's evolving crusade against defensive backs, then don't force it. The Seahawks -- a bit of a bad example since Russell Wilson is fantastic -- showed teams what a nasty defense and a punishing running game can do. A great running game can make up for so many flaws a quarterback has and bolster one of the greatest weapons an offensive coordinator has: Play-action.

And this isn't necessarily limited to drafting a running back, either. The Browns and Redskins also used high picks to bolster their interior offensive line, thus making the path for their current running backs easier. The theory is the same. Uncertain with the guy under center? Pound the rock until teams stack the box, then drop it over their head.

2. We're in a copycat league: Owners that whip out the note pad during the playoffs noticed a definite trend among teams thriving in 2014-15. Seattle had Marshawn Lynch and Pittsburgh had Le'Veon Bell. The Packers, had Eddie Lacy and the Cowboys had DeMarco Murray. So on, and so on. So when the draft gets close and everyone brings their notes together, any opinion is most certainly met by the thought that Hey, we need one of those guys and we'll be good, too!

Just like everyone wanted a Wes Welker four years ago or a Colin Kaepernick three years ago or a lengthy, Legion of Boom-approved cornerback this past year, the power running back is fashionable.

3. Defenses are in an interesting transitional period: The passing revolution was met, in some respects, by its own type of panic. Teams needed to get smaller, quicker and more versatile in a hurry. Nickel linebackers were -- and probably still are -- more important than the prototypical thumpers. Sub package pass rushers, far smaller and less potent against the run than a three-down defensive end, were also on the rise.

That left a vacancy for teams like Seattle to build around a running game and a defense. Quarterbacks are the premium position that takes up a gigantic portion of your cap space. Cheap quarterbacks, on the other hand, could allow you to rapidly increase spending on offensive line and defensive line.

4. Enough time has passed since 2012: As much as teams won't admit it, public perception matters to a degree (maybe less in Pittsburgh, New York, ect.)

That being said, it would have been more difficult to explain a first-round running back a year after the Richardson, Martin, Wilson trio. Why else would teams be so gun shy on premium talent like Bell and Lacy? It's not like scouting has changed significantly over the past two seasons. I'd be willing to bet those two were much higher on people's boards than expected.

5. It's a talent pool that only comes around once every four or five years: Some classes are solid, like last year's Charles Sims, Tre Mason, Bishop Sankey and Carlos Hyde. Some classes are potentially franchise-altering.

The tape on Gurley and Gordon is scary good. They're powerful and agile. They're both three-down backs, though they won't necessarily have to be. Some NFL teams came into this draft with far less than 32 players on their board with first-round grades, but I'd be willing to bet that almost all of them had Gurley and Gordon in the top 20.

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