Dylan’s top 10 running backs entering 2015
Like my top 10 quarterbacks and wide receivers lists, the choices made for the top 10 running backs heading into the new season are based on statistical evidence, historic performance and the strength of the team and coaching system around them. It is also to be noted this is a list based on personal preference, with the defining factor being personal enjoyment and desire to watch them play the game. As with the quarterbacks and wide receivers lists, past achievements are obviously vital to help judge selections, but this is about who I would choose to have going forward this year, not a life-time achievement award. Also like the QB and WR run-down it was extremely tough to leave certain guys out, but there is room for only 10, so don’t be too angry if your favourite doesn’t make it, after all, you can always make your own list! So without any further unneeded clarification of rules that don’t exist and don’t matter, here are my top 10 running backs heading ton 2015/16.
10) LeSean McCoy
McCoy was a huge disappointment last season, 1,323 yards may seem like a lot, but at an average of 4.2 yards per carry, the lowest of anyone on my top 10 list it becomes less impressive. He also only scored five rushing touchdowns and was barely a factor in the passing game, receiving for just 155 yards and no scores. He was running behind an Eagles line that was one of the top ranked run blocking units for the season, so the blame really must fall on McCoy. Things may not be much easier for him in Buffalo, whose offensive line was far from impressive in 2014, especially in terms of run blocking, and the addition of Richie Incognito does little to assuage my fears about the ability of Rex Ryan to impose a ‘ground and pound’ style with a distinct lack of talent up front. The Bills did address the line in the draft, with their third round pick spent on guard John Miller, but I am still yet to be fully convinced by the unit as a whole. So why does he even make it onto the list? Ahead of guys like Jeremy Hill (who was very, very close to taking this spot) and the ever-reliable Matt Forte? Well, because he is in a new City, with a run-heavy head coach in Rex Ryan and an offence that is potentially a complete train-wreck at quarterback. McCoy is the stand-alone feature back now and will see a ton of carries, and even behind a suspect offensive line I’m prepared to give him a chance based on what we’ve seen him do in the past. I doubt I’ll be taking a gamble on him in fantasy leagues, but if he can re-capture the form that saw him rush for over 1,600 yards in 2013 then number 10 on this list will seem very low indeed.
9) DeMarco Murray
The league leader in rushing yards last year may at first glance appear to be very low at number nine. However, the sheer amount of work Murray did last year, and the standard of the offensive line he did that work behind fills me with caution in putting him any higher. 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns is all well and good, and Murray deserves great credit for his accomplishments, but I just don’t believe that he is uniquely talented and that a number of other backs wouldn’t have performed just as well, if not even better, given the amount of touches and the amount of offensive line help as he was afforded. Now in Philadelphia, sharing the workload in a three-pronged backfield attack alongside Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles, I can’t see any possible way that Murray doesn’t suffer a huge drop-off from his 2014 figures. That doesn’t mean I think he’ll be bad, but I do think it moves him way down the list of the top ten RB’s entering the season.
8) CJ Anderson
I don’t trust Peyton Manning. There, is that blunt enough? The legendary signal caller didn’t feature in my top 10 quarterbacks list, and Demaryius Thomas suffered in my receiver rankings due to the man who’ll be passing him the football this year. However, when it comes to the number one running back in Denver, the fact that I don’t see the Broncos passing game as a major strength anymore, plus the addition of offensive co-ordinator Gary Kubiak can only be a positive. CJ Anderson may be a surprise entry, especially as it means that other, more high-profile backs will miss out, but as I said, this list is not just about what 2014 taught us, but also about what we expect or anticipate in 2015. With the injury to Ryan Clady, and the departure of Orlando Franklin, Manny Ramirez and Will Montgomery, the Broncos offensive line is truly an unknown quantity, and how well they will be able to protect Manning is anyone’s guess. If they can’t, or if Manning can’t perform to the level expected and required of him, then the bulk of the offensive work could fall on the shoulders of Anderson. Although he may have only rushed for 849 yards last season, he did so at an average of 4.7 yards per carry, and off only 179 attempts, far less than anyone else who made this list. He was also not truly the starter in Denver until week 10 of the season. He scored eight touchdowns and added a further two via receptions, also recording 325 receiving yards. Overall, he had a great 2014, and I see very little evidence to suggest (apart from injury obviously) that he won’t improve in 2015
7) Justin Forsett
After bouncing around for many years, Forsett is now firmly entrenched as the number one back in Baltimore. Last year he rushed for a career high 1,266 yards at an average of 5.4 per carry, the third highest in the NFL and highest of anyone who makes this list, behind one of the most impactful offensive lines in the NFL which was the bedrock on which the Raven’s season was built. One can only imagine it will be a similar story this year, despite the change at offensive co-ordinator from the run-loving Gary Kubiak to former Bears OC Marc Trestman, who becomes the Ravens fourth offensive co-ordinator in as many years and has traditionally favoured a more pass-heavy style. Still, with the Ravens entire offensive line returning, led by the excellent Marshal Yanda, and all reports I’ve seen out of Maryland suggesting that they will be dancing with the one that brought them again in 2015, getting away from a powerful running game doesn’t seem to be on their agenda, and nor should it. The pieces are there for Forsett to continue his transformation from journeyman to star running back of a dominant and powerful offence.
6) Arian Foster
In 2014, Foster chalked up 1,246 yards at an average of 4.8 per carry. This was the sixth most yards of any running back, and a higher average than that of all but one of the men who placed higher on this list. He also found the endzone eight times. Impressive stats even before we factor in the time he missed, meaning he only played 13 games. He performed well in the passing game too, recording five further scores, more than any other back in my top 10. In an offence that desperately needs a quarterback, Foster will be leaned upon just as much this coming season. He’s a bruising, powerful runner, illustrated by his 736 yards after contact, the third highest in the NFL behind Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray. His injury history will always be a concern, but if he can remain fit I expect him to continue to impress. Just as long as he doesn’t sign up for any more Kevin Costner films that is.
5) Jamaal Charles
Talk about being a victim of your own success. Jamaal Charles suffered a ‘down year’ in 2013, recording 1,038 yards at an average of 5.1 per carry, a figure higher than all but one of the players on this list. He also found the endzone on nine occasions, a number only two players in my top ten bettered. He did all this playing behind a poor offensive line in a Kansas City offence that had virtually no passing game whatsoever. This year should be different, or at least should improve in that department. Alex Smith has some new help in the form of Jeremy Maclin, and his presence should relieve some pressure on the running game. Still, Charles is adept as a receiver too, snagging five touchdowns and 291 yards through the air as a key factor in what was an otherwise impotent passing attack. The offensive line in front of him has been bolstered by the additions of Ben Grubbs and Paul Fanaika, plus second round draft pick Mitch Morse, all of which is good news for Charles heading into 2015.
4) Adrian Peterson
I know that the other gents have been wary of ranking Peterson, and that’s perfectly understandable. It’s not ridiculous to suggest that a 30 year old running back who didn’t touch the ball last season has a lot to prove before we can get fully behind him (from a football point of view) again. However, Peterson is no ordinary running back. He currently sits on 86 career touchdowns, and seeing as he has never had a season where he hasn’t reached double figures, adding another 14 to make him only the ninth player in history to reach the 100 rushing TD milestone is not unthinkable. In an offence lead by the improving and impressive, but still developing Teddy Bridgewater, he will be relied upon just as much as we would ever expect, especially in the red zone to finish drives off. His career total of 10.115 yards is still a way off the leading rusher, (Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith holds that esteemed position with a staggering 18,355), but Smith managed this over 14 years, double the time Peterson has been around. I understand why people have their doubts, but people had their doubts he could return after tearing his ACL, and he proved them all wrong by becoming the league MVP the following season. Whatever he has done off the football field aside, he is a once in a generation player and with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to prove people wrong once more I fully expect Peterson to excel this season.
3) Marshawn Lynch
I am a huge fan of Beast Mode, the football player. Not just because of his physical tools, but more because of the fact that he always seems to show up when the chips are down and his team really needs him, shown in the most painful way for a Green Bay fan when he single-headedly wrenched his team back into the NFC Championship game with a monumental display of power, recording a career-high 14 forced missed tackles in the process. His ability to perform when it matters is also probably the major reason why I will never understand or excuse Pete Carroll’s decision to take the Super Bowl out of his hands. In 2014 Lynch recorded 1,310 yards and 13 touchdowns, at an average of 4.7 yards per attempt behind a Seahawks line that is far from elite when it comes to run blocking. He forced 88 missed tackles, far and away the most of any running back, and at the risk of overstating the point, his performances in the big games didn’t waver, with 29 broken tackles in three playoff games. He is a versatile back, with great hands and ability in the passing game, shown by his 408 yards and 4 touchdowns. His average of 9.9 yards per reception was lower than only two men on this list, the two who I placed above him in fact. Though his importance to Seattle shouldn’t be underestimated, I think that the addition of Jimmy Graham suggests that his carries and targets could potentially fall this season, and at 30 years old there is little room now for improvement. If we were grading the top 10 of last season he’d be my number two, but this is about the future, and my gut is telling me that the future is brighter for the next man on this list.
2) Eddie Lacy
After a reasonably slow start to the season, potentially due to a concussion suffered in Green Bay’s opening day defeat to Seattle, Lacy improved steadily throughout the year and by the final six games of the season was averaging just a shade under 100 yards per game. He finished up with 1,140 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground from just 15 games at an average of 4.7 yards per carry. However, it was his proficiency in the passing game that has added so much more value to his game. His 427 receiving yards were bested by only two men on this list, Matt Forte and Le’Veon Bell, and his four receiving touchdowns were more than all of the top 10 except Jamaal Charles and Arian Foster. As a total back; rushing, receiving and blocking, there were few better last year and will be even less this year. He isn’t the fastest or most agile running back in the NFL, but he definitely has the greatest combination of speed, brute power, balance, vision and quick feet in the league, which is noticeable in his ability to ride tackles, step over and through bodies and plow forward for additional yardage. Some might say I’ve just described Marshawn Lynch, and that would be a fair assessment, and if this list was being based purely on past statistics then Lynch (as previously mentioned) would have this number two slot sewn up, however Lacy sits just one spot ahead of ‘Beast Mode’ due to the simple fact that Lacy will be 25 years old entering 2015, Lynch will be 30, and though I expect Lynch to still be a vital piece in a dominant Seattle offence, I don’t see him improving, whereas I fully expect the 2013 offensive rookie of the year to just get better and better as he enters his prime. With a fully fit Aaron Rodgers next to him and another year of experience under his belt, I only see his stock rising. This kid is a tank, and he is just exhilarating to watch in my opinion.
1) Le’Veon Bell
When compiling my top 10 quarterbacks list I didn’t take Tom Brady’s suspension into account, and I will stick to that formula here. Missing three games is a big deal, if indeed that suspension isn’t reduced, and though it will obviously cause a drop-off in statistical gains, it has not deterred me from making Le’Veon Bell my number one running back heading into 2015. Last season Bell totalled 1,356 yards on the ground, the second most of any back behind DeMarco Murray, at the now familiar average of 4.7 yards per carry, the same as Murray, Lacy, Lynch and Anderson. He only recorded 8 rushing touchdowns, but that’s hard to hold against him in an offence as potent as the Steelers. I wrote earlier about Marshawn Lynch’s insane ability to break tackles, and though he obviously led the league with an unparalleled 88 missed tackles, Bell’s 55 was third on the list behind only he and DeMarco Murray, though the fact Murray recorded only 12 more from 104 more attempts speaks volumes. In terms of being a weapon in the passing game, no back can compare to Bell, with his 854 yards at a league leading average of 10.3 yards per reception. He possesses phenomenal ball security, managing to complete the 2014 season without registering a single fumble, something no other back on this top 10 list achieved, apart from CJ Anderson who had 110 less rushing attempts. Bell is a delight to watch, and with his duel-threat talent as both a runner and receiver, age on his side and a superb offence around him I can only foresee either more of the same or an improvement from him in 2015.
Agree? Disagree? As always feel free to comment, like, share and review at all the usual places, and find me on Twitter @Dylanbaker1986