CHARLESTON, W.Va. — If the National Football League is devaluing the running back, what is the value of a player like Charles Sims?
A one-and-done product at West Virginia University, Sims is compelling because he can fill multiple roster needs and occupy a single roster spot. That in itself is a valuable commodity in the NFL, where 53-man rosters force front offices and coaching staffs to get creative.
Sims’ versatility as a runner, pass catcher and kick returner could push a draft decision-maker to take him during Friday’s two rounds of the NFL Draft. Round two begins at 7 p.m., and pundits, experts and analysts figure Sims is a third- or fourth-round talent.
Don’t scoff at that.
The Green Bay Packers’ Eddie Lacy was a second-day, second-round pick and finished eighth in the league in rushing yards as a rookie. Zac Stacy didn’t get drafted until the third day — fifth round, No. 160 overall — and fell 27 yards shy of 1,000 in his 2013 rookie season with the St. Louis Rams. Running back Alfred Morris has rushed for 2,888 yards and 20 touchdowns in two seasons with the Washington Redskins. He was a sixth-round pick in 2012.
“I’d bet money that West Virginia RB Charles Sims is this draft’s Zac Stacy or Alfred Morris. He’s a Day Two talent who could start as a rookie,” Shawn Zobel, who runs Draft Headquarters, posted on his Twitter account this week.
That sentiment is being echoed by the media.
“If West Virginia running back Charles Sims lands with the right team, he’ll have a chance to make a lot of other organizations look stupid for passing on him,” wrote Max Olson of ESPN.com.
Sims has the size as a six-footer who tips the scales at just over 200 pounds. He has the speed. He has the hands. He can block. He is willing when it comes to special teams.
Mike Mayock, an NFL Network analyst, projects Sims to last until the third day of the draft. The final four rounds of the seven-round draft are Saturday, and the free agent free-for-all follows.
“I like him, his ability to catch the football is what is important,” Mayock said of Sims last week. “I have him in the fourth round. I think the combination of catching the football, being a big enough back to pass protect and some natural skill sets really helps him. He’s a solid fourth-round guy that provides versatility.”
This isn’t an indictment of Sims’ skills. Mayock sees the evolution of the NFL working against all backs in this draft.
“As far as the running back position, I don’t think there’s any doubt it’s been devalued,” Mayock said. “I just think it’s become a pass-first league. Because of that, it’s flipped upside down. Thirty years ago tailbacks were the most important thing controlling the football, controlling the clock. Now everybody is throwing the ball 40 times a game.
“Right now I don’t have a running back that I think is going to go in the first round,” Mayock added. “There might be a couple with first-round grades; I don’t think any of them are going in the first round.”
ESPN’s Todd McShay has Sims headed to the Baltimore Ravens in the third round with the No. 99 overall selection. If that happens, Sims could be a complement to an aging Ray Rice, and be in position for a heavy workload if Rice gets nicked up or his regression accelerates. That is a best-case scenario for Sims if he wants to go from late-round afterthought to what Lacy, Stacy and Morris accomplished as draft fliers.
And, keep in mind, seven of the 12 playoff teams last season had a 1,000-yard rusher, including the two teams in the Super Bowl.
None of the NFL’s top four rushers last season were drafted in the first round.
JaJuan Seider, WVU’s running backs coach, said Sims’ versatility will help him get a job — and keep a job — in professional football for a long time.
“He’s what you’re looking for now,” Seider said of Sims. “They don’t draft running backs high anymore. They want guys to do multiple things. He can be an every down back because he doesn’t have to leave the field. Whoever gets that kid, he’s going to play for a long time if he stays healthy because he can do so much.
“Charles can play receiver at 210, 215 pounds and do just as good as a slot receiver, so you don’t have to use another spot for a wide receiver. I hope a team with an established quarterback gets him, maybe Seattle, maybe New England, Peyton Manning. Somebody.
“I think he’s going to be a guy who has a great impact on the league.”
If that comes from a fourth-round pick, that’s a heck of a value.