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Running backs out to buck trend

INDIANAPOLIS – In 2013, a running back wasn't picked in the first round of the NFL Draft for the first time in 50 years. Then it happened again in 2014. For top prospects like Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, that's a discouraging trend.

"There are a lot of running backs out here, including myself, that are trying to break that trend," Gordon said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The 2015 running back class is competing against each other for positions on draft boards, but they are united in their mission to have someone break through the first-round wall.

"We've been trying to show people all year that we are capable of being drafted in the first round," Gordon said. "That's been our goal."

The NFL has become a passing league, and few teams rely on a single workhorse back anymore, instead opting for backfield by committee. So if a team is going to use a first-round choice on a running back nowadays, that player is going to need to amaze NFL teams to a point where they feel forced to take him.

"I have been around teams that have had feature backs," Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said. "When I was Denver we had Terrell Davis, in Buffalo we had Thurman Thomas. Then I got to the Giants, and we always seemed to have the crew. First it was Tiki (Barber) and Ron Dayne. Then Tiki became the lead back. Then it became Ahmad (Bradshaw), Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. I think it depends on what you have.

"I don't see any issue with a guy carrying most of the load, if he is the right guy in there and has got the right makeup. And there is nothing terrible to have two or three quality running backs at the same time."

Gordon and Georgia's Todd Gurley appear more than capable of carrying the load. Gordon was a Heisman Trophy finalist after rushing for an astounding 2,587 yards and scoring 31 total touchdowns as a junior in 2014.

Gurley rushed for 911 yards and nine touchdowns in just six games during his junior season. However, he was suspended for four games after accepting impermissible benefits. When he returned to action, he tore his anterior cruciate ligament – an injury that is keeping him from participating in drills at the Combine or Georgia's Pro Day.

But when Gurley was on the field, he was enthralling to watch. Like Gordon, he displayed the total package – vision, elusiveness, strength and breakaway speed.

Gurley wants to make sure no one has forgotten.

"I want to be the No. 1 pick. I just want to show teams that I can come back healthy," Gurley said. "I'm not here to be No. 5 overall or a second-round pick. I want to be the best. I know what I can do. You might think I sound ridiculous, but that's the confidence I have in myself."

It's not just Gordon and Gurley that make this crop of running backs special. Gettleman pointed out the depth of the group when he met with the media Thursday. Others like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Miami's Duke Johnson all have the talent to tempt teams early in the draft.

And if these running backs get passed over in round one again, they'll head to teams as highly motivated high-value picks when their names are called.

"I feel like in this class there are a lot of guys who are deserving of a first-round pick," Abdullah said. "But we can't control that, so we are just going to continue to work."

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