- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 1, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — The oldest NFL draft debate in the books is whether a team is best advised to draft players that fill needs or to take the best player available.

This is too simplistic of a question. There is no way to rank how good players are independent of the situations they play in, no player would perform equally well on any team, and NFL personnel departments are capable of figuring out who the most athletically talented players available are while still considering scheme and fit in order to maximize those talents.

Still, there are luxury buys.

Should the Redskins draft a running back with their first round pick it would, in some ways, qualify as one.

Washington, according to coach Jay Gruden, has a starting-caliber back in Robert Kelley and also has Matt Jones, Mack Brown and Chris Thompson. The Redskins may have only had the 21st-ranked rushing game by yards last season, but offense was not their issue.

So, why would they consider going after one at No. 17 overall? Let Gruden explain:

“When you get a great one? It makes your team different,” he said Wednesday. “It makes your team from a pretender to an immediate contender and we’re all looking for that.”

Translation: if a player like FSU’s Dalvin Cook or LSU’s Leonard Fournette falls to them on draft day, then positional needs be darned.

Running backs typically have short careers and their production hinges significantly on offensive line play. Drafting one with a high pick is usually viewed as risky and shortsighted, though a handful of players have painted an alternate picture recently.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, for example, went No. 4 overall last year. A year before, Todd Gurley went No. 10 overall. Gurley struggled in his sophomore season, but gave the Rams an immediate burst in his first year, as Elliott did for the Cowboys this season.

Gruden said he doesn’t think the position is discounted in the draft, but that there tend to be a lot of good running backs available. Just Wednesday, veterans Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles went on the market.

“It’s very important but again it comes to your team thing,” Gruden said. “How good is your offensive line? I don’t care how good the back is if he doesn’t have a good offensive line he’s not going to be very productive so I think it all goes hand in hand. It’s just a matter of how you want to build your football team but we value the running back position.”

Gruden and Redskins staff had already met with a few running backs by Wednesday morning, and the coach seemed pleased with what he saw.

“I like where we are at running back but there are some special guys,” Gruden said. “We got a chance to talk to a few of them yesterday and I’ll tell you what, they’re going to make teams better.”

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