The NFL’s Top Ten Running Back Groups
Let's be honest here, today's NFL is known for its great quarterbacks and the amazing passes they through. Don't get me wrong, we've had three 2,000-yard rushers in the past 11 years (Jamal Lewis, Chris Johnson, and Adrian Peterson), but what's being even more talked about is the numbers that passers like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are putting up. Now, the key to the running game is to have more than one rushing threat per team. Obviously, guys like A.P. and Marshawn Lynch will still get the majority of the load, but with the careers of tailbacks continuing to get shorter, it's probably best to share the rock. So, as you might have guessed, let's check out the top ten running back groups of the NFL.
If these guys were together in 2009, they probably would've been number one on the list. Now, both of them are almost certainly on the bottom-half of their glory days. Take Jones-Drew for example: just two years ago, he began a training camp holdout for a better deal. Today, he's just lucky to be on a team. Still, if he and McFadden channel their former selves, they could still be effective for one more season.
Although they are at number nine right now, they could quickly rise up on the board as the season progresses. In the games that they played together, James Starks was a true change-of-pace back for Eddie Lacy, who looked like a young Earl Campbell through most of his rookie campaign. Also, with Johnathan Franklin officially done in Green Bay, DuJuan Harris will most likely take over the "scat-back" role and could be used mostly on third down.
The Bush/Bell duo really caught steam near mid-season, but with nagging injuries, Detroit's running game seemed to teeter. If Bell plays an increased role in 2014, I'll be interested to see how Bush will react. Although he hasn't truly lived up to his number two overall draft selection, he's still effective, and he might like to return to a one-back system, like he had in Miami.
As I said before, I think that "Beast Mode" is one of those backs that can handle about 25+ carries each game. However, that doesn't mean he won't get any help. Robert Turbin isn't the biggest name for backup running backs, but there has been some rumbling in Seattle that he may be ready for an increased role in 2014. Christine Michael is another guy who I would watch out for; when Seattle selected Michael in the second round in 2013, I remember I got a little bit of the chills. No, it didn't rock the football universe in any aspect, but he was definitely put in the right system, so he could become a big name in a year or two.
If you ever watch ESPN or NFL Network, any talk about the Bills is as rare as no talk about Johnny Manziel. Maybe that's why nobody realizes how impressive their running back corps truly is. Spiller has so far struggled to stay healthy, but it's difficult not to rank him as a top-10 back. Fred Jackson hasn't been himself for the past few seasons, but his load has been shortened with Spiller on the roster, which has lengthened his future. Finally, Bryce Brown was acquired this offseason in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. He showed some real potential with Philly in 2013, and he now gives the Bills insurance if Spiller or Jackson goes down during the regular season.
I really enjoy this duo because they both make each other better football players. In Norv Turner's offense, Mathews was starting to become expendable, but once Mike McCoy became the head coach, he kept his role as the starter and got his career back on the right track. However, he definitely couldn't have done it without Danny Woodhead. Ever since Darren Sproles left San Diego for the New Orleans Saints, they were without a scat-back, which was a major piece for Philip Rivers and the offense. Once Woodhead filled that role, the Chargers have once again become a threat in the AFC and may now be serious Super Bowl contenders.
Yes, the first quartet of the top-10. It's hard to say if all four make the final 53-man roster (Richardson would most likely be the odd-man out), but they could all certainly play a role. After being released by Tennessee, Chris Johnson has the perfect opportunity to once again become an elite tailback. It also helps that Chris Ivory is now his running sidekick and power-back; perhaps Johnson may have the same success that he had when similar running back LenDale White was paired with him while on the Titans. Bilal Powell, on the other hand, is probably the most-balanced back of the three, possessing both speed and a little bit of "umph" in his game. With Richardson (who started a few games with St. Louis) wrapping things up as an insurance back, New York has a shot of being a powerful and balanced offense, depending on how well they play at quarterback.
Say what you want about Pittsburgh, but they are one of the best at finding great football players. Although Eddie Lacy and Keenan Allen were the most-talked about rookies last season, Bell was an incredible complement to Ben Roethlisberger late in the season, and he almost surged them straight into the playoffs. While playing in New England, Blount might have been the best power-back in the league, and it especially showed in their divisional playoff game against the Colts (166 yards, 4 TDs). At 178 lbs., rookie Dri Archer is bound to be Pittsburgh's scat-back, and there's reports that he could be playing a large role very soon.
If your team is playing the Eagles in 2014, watch out. In Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense, even Vince Lombardi couldn't have asked for a better duo than McCoy and Sproles. McCoy, who earned the rushing title in 2013, is believed to be this generation's Barry Sanders (I wish I was kidding, but I'm not). Also, you may have noticed that every team is trying to get a player similar to Darren Sproles. Well, Philadelphia decided that they were going to acquire the Darren Sproles. That's like hiring Steve Perry for your Journey Tribute band! I don't like making over-the-top predictions, so this is as far as I'll go: If both McCoy and Sproles are healthy throughout the season and into the playoffs, not one team will want to play them. See, it's not very "over-the-top", but it's good enough for me.
Holy cow, now that's what I call a running back corps. It's hard to say if all four will be healthy at the same time, but I really don't want to know what will happen if they are. Although he's already 31, Frank Gore has shown little-to-no signs of slowing down. However, even if he does take a step or two back, the 49ers have a plan. With the 57th overall pick, San Francisco basically stole Ohio State back Carlos Hyde, which was around the same time Green Bay picked Eddie Lacy in 2013. If you were to ask me before the draft who Hyde compares to the most in the NFL, I would've said Frank Gore, his new teammate. This pick shows that San Fran is already preparing for the future. Ever since they've become a Super Bowl contender, Kendall Hunter has been an extremely durable backup to Gore, and there's no doubt that he can once again play that role at any time. Finally, perhaps the most dangerous of these four runners is Marcus Lattimore, the college stud who may finally be making his NFL debut. I mentioned him as one of the potential 2nd-year players to break out in 2014 in a previous article, and I still wholeheartedly believe that if he's healthy, he'll quickly rise up the ranks as one of the top running backs in the entire league. With these four at the helm, all Colin Kaepernick has to do is extend his arm for handoffs. However, I somehow doubt that's all he'll be doing.