Despite low success rate, RBs in the draft offer plenty of allure

TORONTO — When it comes to ratio-breakers, Andrew Harris might be the rarest of them all.

The Blue Bombers running back continues to defy the traditional limitations of his position, handling a high volume role for the better part of a decade with no sign of slowing down well into his 30s.

In 2019, Harris touched the ball 295 times, combining for 1,909 yards in just 16 games and helping Winnipeg capture a long-awaited Grey Cup.

Regardless of his position or nationality, Harris is one of the CFL’s most dominant players. But the just-turned-34-year-old offers so much more.

Namely, ratio flexibility.

Whereas CFL teams almost exclusively start an American at running back, Winnipeg was allowed to start 11 Americans on the defensive side of the ball, including an all-American defensive backfield late in the season, with Brandon Alexander at safety.

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That unit became the team’s backbone during an impressive run that saw the Blue Bombers run the table in the month of November — a dreaded gauntlet of Calgary, Saskatchewan, and Hamilton.

Despite never being drafted, Harris is the gold standard for Canadian talent in the CFL. He’s exactly the type of ratio-breaker every team hopes to find on Tuesday, May 4, at the 2021 CFL Draft.

Easier said than done, especially with regards to running backs.

Pretend that running back draft picks are lottery tickets. You may find a winner eventually, but there could be frustration along the way. You certainly don’t want to depend on it. And, the more lottery tickets you buy, the better chance you’ll hit.

Still, there are no guarantees.

Tailbacks Drafted Since 2014 (Min. 1 Career Start)

Thirty-nine running backs have been drafted since 2014, including 13 in the first three rounds of the draft. However, only one third of all running backs selected has gone on to start even a single CFL game.

The list narrows further when you realize it includes Anthony Coombs — who was converted to a receiver by Toronto after being selected third overall in 2014 — along with fullbacks such as William Langlais, Declan Cross, and Jean-Christophe Beaulieu.

The list of actual tailbacks drafted since 2014 that have started at least one game is short: Mercer Timmis, Pascal Lochard, Aaron Milton, Maleek Irons, Ryder Stone, Kienan LaFrance, and Sean Thomas Erlington.

Out of the running backs drafted since 2014, only LaFrance has started more than five games at the running back position.

That is likely to change as early as 2021. The Ticats are equipped to go all-Canadian at the position, with a backfield led by recent draft picks Thomas Erlington, Irons, and converted defensive back Jackson Bennett. Thomas Erlington raced out of the gate in 2019 with 417 yards from scrimmage in only four games before injury ended his season.

In the post Andrew Harris period in Winnipeg, which may not come any time soon, the Bombers could turn to undrafted running back Johnny Augustine, along with 2019 second round pick Brady Oliveira.

Jamel Lyles in BC and Alex Taylor in Edmonton are other running back prospects that could one day have an opportunity to start football games for their respective clubs.

In addition to being drafted, running backs also need patience, professional development, and ultimately, opportunity in order to break through. With only nine job openings, just one chance can be difficult to come by.

Recent history shows teams must weigh the odds when selecting a running back in the draft. Of the seven running backs chosen in the first two rounds since 2014, not one has started more than four games. A much lower success rate than other positions, especially offensive linemen.

But the upside shouldn’t be ignored. The team that can find a young, more than serviceable starter who is Canadian at the running back position will see years of benefits.

Bombers fans should remember the date of Feb. 9, 2016, a significant time in Blue Bombers franchise history. It was the day the club signed top-ranked free agent Andrew Harris, in hindsight a franchise altering move.

Just like the lottery, your odds might be low, but you can’t win without buying a ticket.

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