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    Running backs’ importance has fallen in NFL draft

    It’s possible only one running back will be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft for the second straight year. That would make it only the third time that’s happened since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Just three RBs went in the opening round in 2010.

    Tale a look at a breakdown by decade of running backs selected in the first round:

    1970s -- Average of 4.4 RBs in first round: High mark: 8 in 1971, though five of them didn’t crack 500 yards rushing for their careers.

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    1980s -- Average of 4.8 RBs in first round: High mark: 7 in 1982, with Darrin Nelson (7th) going ahead of Gerald Riggs (9th) and Marcus Allen (10th). There were also 7 drafted in the first round in 1987, and all of them were busts with a reasonable exception of Rod Bernstine.

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    1990s -- Average of 3.2 RBs in first round: High mark: 6 in 1990, with Emmitt Smith (17th) taken between Blair Thomas (2d) and Darrell Thomspon (19th).

    2000s -- Average of 3.2 RBs in first round: High mark: 5 in 2000, including three with more than 9,000 yards rushing (Jamal Lewis, Thomas Jones, Shaun Alexander). There were also 5 drafted in the first round in 2008, not including second-rounders Matt Forte and Ray Rice and third-rounder Jamaal Charles.