Simon’s Top 10 Running Backs Heading into the 2015 NFL Season
The aerial assault seems to be the favoured option of many in the NFL these days, but what about the ground attack? Once the bastion of an offensive coordinator’s plan, the workhorse running back is a breed seemingly facing extinction.
In 2013, 22 different running backs had upwards of 200 carries during the regular season. Last year, that dropped to just 17. If that trend continues in to the 2015 season, we could see as few as a dozen backs break the marker.
That doesn’t mean the League is bereft of talent in the backfield, far from it. So who is going to step up in 2015 to make those hard yards and find the holes?
As with my Top 10 QBs, this is my personal take on the players in the running (yes, awful, I know) to have a great 2015 based on their 2014 season and how their respective offenses stack up for the coming year.
- Jeremy Hill
Hill’s 2014 season got off to a slow start with the Bengals electing to give the majority of carries to Giovani Bernard but, when he was sidelined for three games with injury, the Rookie out of LSU took his chance to show what he could do posting two 140-yard games in that time. The Bengals eventually named Hill the feature back and he finished the season with 1,124 yards – just 5 short of the Bengals rookie rushing record.
Bernard will return in 2015, but I think Hill will see a larger number of carries than he did in ’14, and will likely continue where he left off from his Rookie year, but he’ll need to improve on his ball security if he’s to become the number one choice and climb my Top 10 list.
- Adrian Peterson
I can’t compile a list of the potential Top 10 running backs for 2015 and NOT include Adrian Peterson, but it is hard to know what sort of year we are going to see from the 30 year old running back.
Fresh from a year out of the game with an enforced suspension, we are still only three seasons removed from his epic 2,000+ yard year in 2012, and you simply can not ignore his 86 career rushing touchdowns.
There has been much speculation about where his future would lie on his return this year, but that seems to be settled as being with Minnesota now and I can’t decide whether we’ll see an angry Peterson wanting to prove a point, or a 30 year old running back who has been away from the game for a year.
I’m fully prepared to eat humble pie come the end of the season, but I just can’t find it in me to put him any higher on the list right now.
- Justin Forsett
Justin Forsett may finally have found his home. After the departure of Ray Rice and injury to Bernard Pierce, the ex-Colt/Seahawk/Texan/Jaguar Forsett found himself catapulted from 3rd on the depth chart to being the starting back in his first year in Baltimore, and enjoyed career high 1,266 yards, 8 TD Pro-Bowl season.
He’s a small back that runs hard and is one of the better backs in the League at breaking tackles – if you don’t wrap him up, he’ll likely escape you. His vision and cut-making ability add to that elusiveness which goes some way to explaining his 5.4ypc average despite lacking top end speed.
He’ll return as starter in 2015, and I think he’s set to have another good year.
- Jamaal Charles
The 2014 season was the fifth time that Jamaal Charles recorded a 1,000+ yard season, with an average of 5.0ypc or greater. Something that only two other running backs – Jim Brown and Barry Sanders – have managed in NFL history. It also saw him become the Chiefs’ all time leading rusher ahead of Priest Holmes. All of this while battling injuries throughout the year.
So why does he only make number 7 on the list? Three words – Kansas. City. Chiefs.
Don’t get me wrong I like Charles. He’s a tough runner that will strap on another roll of tape and head back out there, but he finds himself on an offense that can best be described as, well, anemic in my opinion and that prevents him from really churning out the yards week in week out.
I tipped Alex Smith to have a good 2015 in my list of QB’s last month and I think he’ll need to for Charles to be able to have a standout year and climb the rankings instead of another year weighed down by the load of carrying the offence on his shoulders.
- LeSean McCoy
I think it is safe to say LeSean McCoy doesn’t have a ready made career in politics waiting for him when his playing days are over, so it’s probably just as well the 26 year old isn’t quite ready to retire just yet. That said, his ability to change direction seemingly at will would stand him in good stead should he choose to pursue it as a post-football career choice!
McCoy had a slow start to the 2014 season (Weeks 3 and 4 saw him average just under a woeful 1.4ypc) as he struggled behind an injury plagued offensive line but, as the mainstays returned toward the middle of the year, McCoy enjoyed an upturn in fortunes. He still had room for one or two more disappointing games before the season was out mind, ultimately finishing with 1,319 yards.
He’ll have a new set of teammates in 2015 following his trade to the Buffalo Bills and I think he’ll see a lot more of the football than he did this year given Rex Ryan’s apparent desire to “ground and pound it”, so expect to see plenty more of those ankle-breaking jukes and cuts.
- Arian Foster
I was a little hesitant in putting Foster this high on the list given his past injury problems, but I think he deserves the number 5 spot.
His numbers on the ground of 1,246 yards at an average of 4.8 for 8 touchdowns are impressive, but even more so when you consider he only played 13 games last year. As a result, he averaged almost 100 yards per game, far and away better than everyone else on this list with the exception of one who is yet to be named.
For a big running back (6’1”, 227lbs) he is deceptively light on his feet and can change direction as easily as bury his head and run you over. That’s in part due to his exceptional vision but also to his deceptive speed.
He’ll have to stay healthy to warrant being placed this high come the end of the season but, if he does, I may be regretting not putting him higher!
- DeMarco Murray
For all the hesitation in putting Foster so high, it was the exact opposite having Murray drop to 4. Can I really warrant the leading rusher from last year being so low on the list?
Murray spent the year behind undoubtedly the best offensive line in football, and saw the ball an astronomical 392 times. It’s no wonder then that he led the League with 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns. The question is, how much of that is down to Murray’s talent as a running back and how much is down to that line and the sheer volume of carries?
He’ll be playing behind another good line next year in Philadelphia but, as good as they are, they aren’t the best unit in the League. Something that will shift the onus back on to Murray’s ability at the line that wasn’t necessarily as important in 2014.
I’m not suggesting Murray isn’t one of the best backs in the League at present, he is still at number 4 on my list after all, but I don’t see him being as effective in Philadelphia and Chip Kelly’s offense, especially coming off the back of such a heavy workload in 2014.
- Eddie Lacy
The top three running backs on my list could, arguably, feature in any order and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree but, well, having three as ‘joint first’ would be a little pointless, not to mention anti-climactic. In the end, I chose to rank them based on who I’m looking forward to watching the most in 2015.
Lacy’s numbers didn’t necessarily set the world alight amongst the cream of the running back corps last season, but then that’s hardly surprising when you consider who he was lining up behind! Despite this, he still gained a more than respectable 1,139 yards at an average of 4.6, scoring 9 touchdowns on the ground in the process, with his last 6 games of the regular season averaging just shy of 99 yards.
What stands out more for me is his running style. Very much an old school “North/South” runner, at 230lbs and with deceptive speed, he has the ability to both bounce off of tacklers at the line or drop his shoulder and have them bounce off him.
The Packers remain largely unchanged from the 2014 season and I fully expect Lacy to have another solid year of hard running, possibly all the way to Santa Clara.
- Le’Veon Bell
I’ve picked a player at Number 2 that won’t actually be playing the first three games of the season due to suspension.
Having had an excellent 2nd year in the League, Bell finished 2nd in total yards behind Murray and that line, and recorded 290 carries for 1,361 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns. All without a single fumble. He also had 83 receptions for 854 yards and 3 touchdowns and, whilst this is about the running game, it’s hard to ignore those sorts of numbers when evaluating his worth.
He had a 200+ yard game on Week 11, albeit against the woeful Tennessee Titans, but backed that up with a 185 yard, 2TD performance against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks later.
At only 23, the future is extremely bright for Le’Veon Bell providing he can get his off-field issues under control and prevent them from damaging what could be a sterling career in the League. It’s those off field problems that prevent me from being able to put him at the very top of the list – this time around at least.
- Marshawn Lynch
Completing the triumvirate of ground and pound backs atop my Top 10, it’s Beast Mode.
I’m only putting Lynch here so I don’t get fined. OK, so not strictly true. Lynch lands the Number 1 spot for very good reason in my opinion – and that’s coming from a devout 49ers fan!
So many times last year we watched as Lynch bulldozed his way through (and over) defenses, or dragged half of them down the field until they got too tired to hold on any more, on his way to 1,306 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns – the most in the League along with DeMarco Murray.
He’s another archetypal power back who almost always takes more than one man to bring him down, something backed up by the fact he shed a massive 101 tackles last year – the most since the stat began being recorded in 2007.
Unlike many other backs, you don’t go in to a game looking to see how you stop the run game as a whole; you go in looking how you can stop Marshawn Lynch specifically. That kind of attention gives Russell Wilson and the read-offence an extra level of potency every Sunday.
With added distractions such as Jimmy Graham on the line of scrimmage next year, it’s not a task that is about to get any easier for defensive coordinators, and why I think we’ll see another long highlight reel from “Beast Mode” in 2015. Sadly.
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