Dan’s Top 10 Running Backs Going Into the 2015 Season

This week we continue through our top 10 lists of positional talent with our look at running back. In recent years running backs have, at least in terms of contracts been compared to punters, but in terms of importance, it’s a position that is hugely undervalued in the modern game, with the excitement of the passing game favoured for highlight real value. In a league obsessed with speed, the ability to bomb a pass downfield is simply a preferred method.

But there is value in the ground game. Ask Andrew Luck if he’d have liked a 1200 yard back to take the pressure off. The Seahawks are a team that has made the Super bowl the last 2 years in a row, which is in no small part down Marshawn Lynch and his exceptional ability to break tackles.

So let’s celebrate the underappreciated with a look at the players I consider to be the top 10 running backs in the league. Once again this is all done on opinion, with stats to back it up. The list was tough and I’ve left a couple of big names off this list. We’d love to know what you think, so hit us up on twitter (@gridirongents).

Let’s go head first into this.

 

(gulp)

 

10) Jeremy Hill

The 2nd round pick out of LSU had an outstanding rookie year as he became yet another weapon for Andy Dalton to ignore. Hill had nearly half the carries of DeMarco Murray, but still finished the season with 1100 yards on the ground and an extra 215 through the air. Hill got an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and an even more impressive 2.8 yards per carry after contact, meaning he got over half his yards after contact. Hill could be set for a bigger season and if anyone else was to have him higher on their list, I’d totally get it, but I couldn’t put him higher for 2 simple reasons. 1) His 4 fumbles made him one of the worst in the league. Not a serious concern yet, but if he has a similar season this year it becomes a worry. 2) He’s played one year. That’s something I can look past for Odell Beckham Jr, but for Hill, I didn’t see him play the position perfectly, which is pretty much what Beckham did. Hill could be a top 5 player next year; I just need to see more of the same next season.

9) Justin Forsett

2014 was the best year of Forsett’s 6 year career and was really the first year he’d been given the starting job at running back. Forsett grabbed the opportunity with 2 hands and nearly doubled his career stats in one season. The Ravens running back sat above all other 200 carry running backs for yards per attempt, with 5.4. Forsett’s production could be credited to his excellent offensive line, but his 29 missed tackles proved that he had to work hard for his 1270 yards. Forsett probably deserves to be in the top 5 based on last season’s performance, but I have my reservations. Forsett has been in the league for 6 years and this is the first time we’ve seen him play this well. Also with a new offensive coordinator in Baltimore we might see a change in production, although with Tressman in charge there’s a good chance we’ll see him utilised as a pass catcher.

8) Adrian Peterson

I’m going to try to keep this brief. Peterson is simultaneously a force like no other and an unknown quantity. Up until 2014 the Vikings running back had only had 1 season with less than 1000 running backs, in which he got 970 yards from just 12 games. Peterson is also yet to have a season (except last year) where he gets less than 10 touchdowns. It’s these exceptional numbers that mean he thoroughly deserves to be on this list. Yet a year removed from the game and hitting the dreaded 3-0 could mean we see a slight drop in production. That being said, it was thought that he wouldn’t come back from his ACL injury, which of course he followed up with a career year. The problem really is no-one knows what we’ll get from Peterson, but he’s not given us any reason to believe it’ll be nothing if not impressive.

7) Arian Foster

There is a belief that DeMarco Murray was run into the ground last year and with 393 carries he pretty much was. Arian Foster however should take the award for most consistently run into the ground player. Foster has been in the top 6 for carries every year except for 2013, where he only played 8 games. Foster was no. 7 on the list this year and he only played 13 games, averaging at 20 carries a game, despite coming back from a back injury. I think the point I’m trying to make here is that no matter how much they load on him, he always seems to pick up 1200 yards. Foster this year picked up 4.8 yards per carry, with an incredibly impressive 2.8 of them after contact My only concern is that at some point it will become too much for him and we’ll see a drop in production. The Texans offence will live or die at the production of Arian Foster until they improve at QB.

6) Jamaal Charles

Charles is a player I have consistently had in my top 3 running backs. My problem is that it’s a top 3 with 6 players in it. Charles probably should be ranked higher, especially when you look at his career yards per carry of 5.5, which is staggering. Charles pretty much WAS the Chiefs offence last year, running in 9 TDs and catching a further 5, in a year where the Chiefs receivers didn’t catch one. What’s worth remembering is that Charles was part of an offence that has Knile Davis and De’Anthony Thomas who collectively gained 573 yards from 148 snaps, taking the ball out of Charles’ hands a fair amount, yet he still managed to produce at a ridiculous level. In 2015 I’d imagine a similar season to last year for Charles, with Charles gaining his usual consistent 5 yards plus per carry and continue to be the focus of a Chiefs offence that moves the ball 5 yards at a time.

5) DeMarco Murray

It feels strange having the league’s rushing leader this low, but I simply couldn’t put him above the top 4 players on my list. That doesn’t mean to say I wasn’t impressed by last year’s career performance. We can talk about how good the Cowboys offensive line is and speculate that variety of different people could run for 1000 yards behind them, of which I’ve joined in ( I do think Eastenders star Steve McFadden could do well with the Cowboys), but really it takes away from the fact that Murray did a damn good job. Murray got nearly 1000 of his 1845 yards after contact and was 2nd in missed tackles with 67. DeMarco also led the league in runs over 10 yards, with 45.I guess what I’m trying to say is that Murray managed to get production beyond the line, which is down to him. 5 was the highest I could put him, simply because of the ability I think the top 4 have, but another season like the last and he could cement himself as the number 1 back in the league.

4) Matt Forte

If you look at Forte as a just a running back, then he probably doesn’t deserve a place on this list, only just creeping over 1000 this season, ranking him number 12. But if you’re just looking at his rushing stats, then you’re looking at him all wrong. Forte is one of the most potent offensive weapons in the league. For yards from scrimmage Forte finished the season 3rd, with 1846, of which his 808 yards receiving, were the 2nd most for a running back. In his 7 year career, Forte has had 3 seasons with 1000 yards on the ground and 500 yards through the air. Forte has been on varying qualities of Bears offence, with a variety of different coordinators and he’s always produced. Without Forte the Chicago Bears would have finished last season and every season in fact, in a far worse position.

3) Eddie Lacy

Right a quick quiz for non-Packers fans. How many running backs can you name for Green Bay over the last 10 years? Yup, I struggled too. Eddie Lacy feels like the missing piece of a jigsaw. I don’t think there have been any arguments over Green Bay’s aerial attack for the last 20 odd years, but it’s always felt like the ground game was missing. Lacy changed that and turned the Packers offence into a near impossible puzzle. If you load the box to stop the run, they’ll get the ball to Cobb or Nelson. If you sit back in sub packages, then Lacy will run straight through you. Lacy is the most useful element Rodgers has at his disposal, making defences think twice about how to tackle the Packers. On top of his ability to confuse defences, he’s a no-huddle match-up nightmare, with just over 400 receiving yards on top of his 1100 rushing yards. I suppose there could be the argument that maybe he wouldn’t do so well on a different team, but really that doesn’t matter. He’s the perfect fit for the Packers offence.

2) Marshawn Lynch

Whether you love or hate his off the field antics, there is no denying that he is most definitely “all about that action, boss”. The reports during the 2014 off-season were that the Seahawks were trying to move away from Lynch and towards Wilson. That didn’t really happen, well I suppose he did have 20 less carries, but Lynch was still their top weapon. Lynch is a tough ground and pound back that plays like someone 6 years younger. Lynch led the league in missed tackles with a staggering 88, not to mention gaining 829 of his 1310 yards after contact, which also says a lot about the state of the Seahawks line. Lynch was every bit as staggeringly good as he was the previous year and whilst approaching 30 might be a slight concern, we’ve really not seen any signs of a drop in production. Lynch has earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt on this list. Before I move on to the number 1, it’s also worth mentioning that Lynch had his best receiving year in 2014, something that might be worth keeping an eye on this year.

1) LeVeon Bell

There is a decent argument to be had about moving Bell down because of his suspension, to which I respond, “I don’t want to”. In my opinion Bell is the most talented running back in the league. Bell was 2nd in the league for rushing yards and top for receiving yards, something he managed to do despite the vast amount of weapons on the Steelers offence. I could get bogged down in stats here but let me sum up how good I think he is with one statement.

When I watch him he reminds me of Walter Payton. Which is about the highest compliment I can pay him.

What I like about him isn’t necessarily his speed, although out of the open field he has some wheels, for me it’s all about the patience and decision making that I think is 2nd to none on this list. Bell will no doubt be missed for his 3 game suspension, but I get the feeling he’ll be back with a vengeance.

So that’s my top 10, let me know what you think and hit us up on twitter. I’m well aware there’s a couple of big names not on this list, so feel free to tell me how wrong I am!