Despite the NFL’s transition to a pass heavy league, the value of a strong running game is still an important part of winning in this league. As the age of the lead back starts to fade, there is importance in having a deep and diverse backfield.
While these rankings put weight on the talent of the main back, the talent behind him will play a factor in a team’s ranking.
The 49ers have been carried to success over the past three years in large part to their strong running game. They have a talented offensive line to pave the way, but they still have a very strong corps of running backs. Frank Gore leads the way and while he is getting up in age, he still manages to pick up yards in chunks with his hard running style.
Behind him, the Niners have two young and talented backs in Marcus Lattimore and rookie, Carlos Hyde who are both hard running, physically gifted power backs who can continue to key a powerful running game. There are a lot of variables with Lattimore’s health given he suffered two knee injuries in college, but he is very talented and if he can stay healthy, the 49ers have a great young corps behind Gore.
The Bills running game has the potential to be one of the best in the league, but there was some severe inconsistency with personnel usages, which hurt the continuity of the running game, but the group is very talented. The group starts with CJ Spiller who has all the tools of an elite running back. He has fantastic speed, acceleration, and change of direction ability and has an awesome impact on the passing game. He was woefully underutilized last year, but with proper touches, he can ascend to one of the top backs in the league.
The Bills also traded for former Eagle, Bryce Brown, during this offseason and he adds a tremendous young talent to their backfield. He has incredible power and acceleration, but has raw vision and needs to improve his ball carrying.
In a back up role, he should be a perfect change-up from Spiller. Fred Jackson, who never seems to go away, will likely have an impact as well this year albeit in a more limited role. Jackson is a strong runner and a talented receiver, but he isn’t on the same planet of Brown or Spiller’s talent, but him being a third option makes this a talented and versatile backfield.
An important part of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl run was their fantastic running game. Marshawn Lynch may be coming off a hold out, but he was a top three back in the league last year and even a slight drop-off would still leave him among the league’s elite. He has incredible vision, a hard running style with incredible lower body strength, and he is an incredibly creative runner.
The Seahawks drafted Christine Michael in the 2013 draft and he adds another physically gifted runner to the backfield. He has very good strength as well but possesses much better long speed than Lynch. He will likely step into the featured role as Lynch comes towards the end of his career and there shouldn’t be a huge talent drop off. Robert Turbin is a decent third option with good speed and size, but he needs to play a bit bigger than he is. He is still a viable third option for the team and a good compliment to a very good top two backs.
Pretty shocking, but an Andy Reid team was basically carried by its running game. Jamaal Charles was absolutely incredible for them. He is a fantastic speed back with great change of direction ability and vision. He was also very patient this year and ran in between the tackles very well. He was also the biggest part of their passing game as he has great hands, phenomenal quickness and can create after the catch. He is a fantastic back for today’s NFL.
The Chiefs drafted Knile Davis in 2013 and he has phenomenal physical talent that could push him into a starting role down the road. He is a strong runner with good size and speed, but has an injury history that may limit him. This past draft; the Chiefs selected speed freak, De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas has incredible long speed and acceleration and is a major threat as a receiver. He isn’t the biggest or most physical player, but he has game breaking speed that can take the Chiefs’ running game to a high level.
The Eagles were able to make the playoffs in large part to a spectacular season from their running game and specifically, Lesean McCoy. McCoy has phenomenal vision, the best change of direction ability in the league and good long speed. He is a fantastic receiver and can threaten a defense at every level of the field. The scariest part is that he is just entering his prime and dropped excess weight in order to gain quickness.
If his dynamic wasn’t scary enough, the Eagles traded for former Saints back, Darren Sproles. Sproles is another tremendous pass catching back with elite quickness. Having receivers like he and McCoy in the backfield at the same time will be dangerous. The Eagles’ third back is likely to be Chris Polk.
Polk was on his way to being a high draft pick in 2012 if injuries did not derail his stock and he eventually went undrafted. He is a tougher back with a hard running style who perfectly compliments Sproles and McCoy. The Eagles have the best three-headed monster in the league and should enjoy another season of rushing dominance.