Cardinals 2024 NFL Draft "What If" Series: Arizona takes a running back sooner than later

Even as a devalued position, good teams still find a way to produce a running game.
Northwestern v Wisconsin
Northwestern v Wisconsin / John Fisher/GettyImages

There are certain positions that NFL teams need to address sooner than later, and the running back position as gone down in value in recent memory making it a secondary spot to worry about. We have seen throughout recet draft history of what can happen to teams if they draft a running back early on. In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys selected Ezekiel Elliott who was an All-Pro with them for many years but then fell down in production during the end of his tenure.

Former Jacksonville Jaguars' running back Leonard Fournette was then taken a year later in the 2017 NFL draft at the exact same spot as Elliott. Fournette, while was productive early on, has not been the same back he once was. It took a change of scenary to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to spark a bit of production before falling down again. Then in 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Najee Harris out of Alabama in the first round and has been inconsistent with his play, to the point where teammate Jaylen Warren provides more of a ceiling than Harris.

The Arizona Cardinals have a lot of needs to improve but in this moment, running back is not one of them. James Conner is coming off his best year of his career while missing four games. He ran for over 1,000 yards in an offense that did not have much outside of Kyler Murray, upon returning from injury. However, reality is going to start setting in soon....

Conner is heading into the final year of his contract with the Cardinals and while Arizona has backups that can assist a little bit, it is not enough to establish a run game. That is where this year's NFL draft can come into play.

What if Monti Ossenfort address running back sooner than later in the draft?

Part of having a successful offense is not just having the franchise quarterback, but also how the quarterback is supported. Part of that is having a running game that can take the pressure off of the offense. While Conner showed he can do that, it is hard to see him repeating his performance. The Cardinals need to take a look at the running back draft class and see if any of the prospects would fit into their offense and can be successful behind Murray in the backfield.

This is not the strongest running back class in recent memory, but if the Cardinals are able to get a player like Braelon Allen out of Wisconsin, Allen would be a fantastic addition to the Cardinals' offense. Coming from an offense where Wisconsin runs the ball a lot, Allen showed that behind a decent offensive line, he can make a defensive coordinator have to game plan for him. He came 14 yards shy of three consecutive seasons of 1,000+ rushing yards and had 35 career rushing touchdowns at Wisconsin.

When it starts to get to the third round, the Cardinals have three picks to work with and if Allen is on the board still during that round, Ossenfort should really consider bringing in the young back on a rookie deal who is a proven player. Two of the three picks in the third round for the Cardinals were acquired from the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans. The Cardinals should use one of those picks as an investment on a high-ceiling running back like Allen.