Running backs finally broke through on the second day of the National Football League draft.
Bishop Sankey of the University of Washington was selected by the Tennessee Titans with the 54th overall pick, a record for the latest the first running back has been taken. Running backs were then two of the next three picks in the second round, with the Cincinnati Bengals taking Jeremy Hill from Louisiana State at No. 55 and the San Francisco 49ers picking Carlos Hyde from Ohio State at No. 57.
This marked the second straight year that no running backs were drafted in the first round, another sign the NFL is increasingly focused on the passing game. Before last year, the last time a running back wasn’t a first-round pick was 1963.
“It’s pass-first now with 95 percent of the league,” said Super Bowl winning quarterback Kurt Warner, now an NFL Network analyst. “I just don’t know that you’ve got one of those guys where you can say, ‘Hey, we can give the ball to this guy 30 times a game and ride him all the way to the Super Bowl.’ There are just not many of those guys. Because we have the athletes on the outside, the quarterbacks that we have, you’re going to lean that way.”
The NFL had a record 804 touchdown passes thrown last season and the leaguewide passer rating was 86.0, up from the previous mark of 757 touchdowns and 85.6 rating in 2012.
As a result, a record 12 wide receivers were taken in the first two rounds in this year’s draft.
Oakland and New England both drafted quarterbacks in the second round yesterday, with the Raiders taking Derek Carr from Fresno State University at No. 36 and the Patriots getting a possible successor to 36-year-old Tom Brady in Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, the 62nd overall pick.
Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns in 14 games last season, joining Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo as the second Eastern Illinois player to win the Walter Payton Award as the top player at college football’s second tier.
“It’s crazy being able to go to Boston and learn from Tom, learn from Coach Belichick,” said Garoppolo, whose favorite NFL player growing up was Brady. “It’s a great opportunity for a guy like me, a young player. I still have a lot to learn, I know that, and I’m excited about it.”
Three quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the draft the previous day, including Blake Bortles of Central Florida going third to the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Cleveland Browns used the 22nd pick on 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and the Minnesota Vikings closed the opening round by taking Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville.
Nine receivers were drafted before the Titans selected Sankey, who set a school record with 1,870 rushing yards and scored 20 touchdowns at Washington last season. Sankey will help offset the loss of Chris Johnson, who the Titans released last month rather than pay $8 million this season.
“Although I am biased being a running back, I think we can be valuable,” Sankey said on a media conference call. “I’m just going to work on myself and becoming the most valuable player possible. Something I can do to change that is just really show that I’m an all-around player. I can contribute in more ways than one.”
Hill, who rushed for 1,401 yards and averaged 6.9 yards-per-carry at LSU last season, joins the Bengals a year after Cincinnati took running back Giovani Bernard with the 37th overall pick. Until this year, it had been the latest a running back was picked in the NFL draft.
The 49ers followed by taking Hyde to compete with incumbent running back Frank Gore, who is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. The 6-foot, 230-pound Hyde ran for 1,521 yards in 11 games at Ohio State last season.
“I am definitely going to get there and compete to get that starting job and keep that running game alive that Frank Gore brought to the 49ers,” Hyde said.
The 49ers were one of four NFL teams that ran the ball more than they threw it last season, along with the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks. San Francisco also bolstered its receiving corps yesterday by acquiring wideout Stevie Johnson in a trade with the Buffalo Bills for a 2015 fourth-round draft pick.
Five more running backs were taken in the third round, including West Virginia University’s Charles Sims to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 69th pick and Auburn University’s Tre Mason to the St. Louis Rams at No. 75.
The final four rounds of the NFL draft are held today.
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