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ESPN Insider: RB Rankings

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by ChargerRay, Jul 10, 2007.

  1. ChargerRay
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    ChargerRay Producer/Host of BoltTalk Staff Member Super Moderator Podcaster

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    http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/insider/news/story?id=2926897&lpos=spotlight&lid=tab2pos1

    With training camps approaching, Scouts Inc. ranks the NFL teams 1-32 at nine positions. Today's position: running back.

    1. San Diego Chargers
    It is hard to not be ranked No. 1 when you have the reigning league MVP and best running back in the NFL on your roster. LaDainian Tomlinson was unstoppable last season. He is the most versatile running back in the NFL because he can beat you as a runner and receiver. The 2006 coaching staff did an excellent job creating mismatches with him in the passing game. With his vision, run instincts and playmaking ability, we expect him to pick up right where he left off in 2007. The other thing that makes this unit special is depth. In addition to Tomlinson, they have Michael Turner, who is the best backup in the NFL. Turner provides an excellent change of pace to Tomlinson. When both are in the lineup at the same time, they give defenses fits.

    2. Kansas City Chiefs
    We put the Chiefs second not because of their depth, but because of the star power they have in No. 1 RB Larry Johnson. Johnson is the No. 1 workhorse back in the NFL and set a league record last season with 416 carries. Throw in 41 receptions, and Johnson averaged nearly 29 touches per game. With veteran quarterback Trent Green gone to Miami, Johnson will be counted on for similar production in 2007. The Chiefs must avoid overworking him and get better production out of their backups. Often injured and seldom-used backup Michael Bennett has excellent speed, but he can't stay healthy. He could be a solid change-of-pace runner if he can shake the injury bug. Veteran Priest Holmes is still on the roster, but his neck injury remains a concern. Don't look for him to play anywhere in 2007.

    3. Washington Redskins
    If San Diego has the best one-two punch in the NFL, Washington isn't far behind. Starting RB Clinton Portis was limited to eight games last season because of a shoulder injury. That injury really opened the door for backup Ladell Betts. Betts finished the 2006 season with 1,154 yards on 245 carries. Betts, scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2006 season, re-signed with Washington. His return should make for a very good training camp battle with Portis. Depth-wise, the Redskins are excellent. They also signed former Chiefs and Jets RB Derrick Blaylock, have a scat back in Rock Cartwright. Fullback Mike Sellers is a very good special teams player, blocker and pass catcher. With young QB Jason Campbell at the controls, the Redskins will rely on this deep backfield to carry the offense.

    4. Jacksonville Jaguars
    The Jaguars feature runners who can attack the line of scrimmage and make plays consistently. They finished the 2006 season with the No. 3-ranked run offense in the NFL. The leader of this group once again will be veteran Fred Taylor. He led the team in rushing last season with 1,146 yards on 231 carries. Second-year RB Maurice Jones-Drew will dip even deeper into Taylor's carries this season. As a rookie last year, Jones-Drew had 941 yards on 166 carries. Taylor is not the player he once was, but when healthy, he still can make defenders miss and shows very good explosiveness through the hole. Look for the two backs to be closer to a 50-50 split in carries this season, which will put a ton of pressure on defenses.

    5. Minnesota Vikings
    When new head coach Brad Childress went to Minnesota last season, you could see there would be a major emphasis on running. The Vikings' offensive line underachieved a little last season, but with a year to gel, it should be one of the best units in the NFL in 2007. With barely tested Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback, the Vikings once again will focus on the ground game behind starting RB Chester Taylor. Taylor joined Minnesota as an unrestricted free agent after the 2005 season and in his first season as a starter showed he could carry the load as the No. 1 runner. This season he will get some help in that area from rookie first-round pick Adrian Peterson, who dropped right into the Vikings' lap on draft day. These two have a chance to be one of the top duos in the NFL in 2007. Taylor is exceptional out of the backfield catching the ball and Peterson is an excellent inside runner who can get the tough yards. Throw in Mewelde Moore, Ciatrick Fason and Artose Pinner, who played well late in the season, and the Vikings have the deepest running back unit in the NFL.

    6. New Orleans Saints
    You could say the rich got richer this offseason when you talk about the Saints' running backs. The team will once again have Deuce McAllister as its featured back. One year removed from a knee (ACL) injury, he rushed for 1,057 rushing yards in 2006. While that number is not great, it is very good for a player coming off a serious knee injury, and we expect that he will be healthier and more explosive in 2007. Even though McAllister will be the starter, former USC star Reggie Bush will continue to get more involved in the offense in his second season. Bush had 155 carries in 2006 but more importantly, he had 88 receptions. Look for Bush's carries to go up some while still being heavily involved in the passing game. The team also got a steal in the draft, Antonio Pittman, in the fourth round. He might struggle to get touches early, but should have a bright future. The Saints won't put up huge rushing numbers because they love to throw, but this unit is deep and talented.

    7. Seattle Seahawks
    While the depth is not great, the team still features 2005 MVP Shaun Alexander. Alexander rushed for only 896 yards last season, but he missed five games and played the first three games of the season with a broken bone in his foot. He never really got healthy, but still bounced back to have a solid second half of the season. If Alexander is healthy in 2007, look for him to be closer to the MVP of 2005. Backup Maurice Morris proved his worth when Alexander was out. Morris finished the season with 604 rushing yards and averaged 3.8 yards per carry last season. Overall, this is a team with a great back in Alexander and solid backup in Morris.

    8. Denver Broncos
    Despite finishing the 2006 season ranked in the top 10 (No. 8) in rushing, the Broncos shook up their backfield this offseason. They traded starter Tatum Bell to the Detroit Lions. Despite being productive at times, Bell had durability issues, is not a physical runner, and fumbles too often. The team got a solid upgrade when it added former Titans RB Travis Henry. Henry is more experienced, has better vision and is a tougher runner than Bell. Backing up Henry will be Mike Bell, who put together a solid rookie season in 2006 as an undrafted free agent. There is no legitimate star power here, but Henry and Bell will provide a solid 1-2 punch for an offense that loves to work its play-action passing game off the run game.

    9. San Francisco 49ers
    It is hard to place the 49ers when you talk about the running back unit as a whole. This is a team that doesn't have great running back depth. But it has one of the best young runners in the game in Frank Gore. Behind Gore's 1,695 yards, the 49ers featured the NFL's No. 6 rushing offense in 2006. Gore, who has had a history of knee issues prior to coming to the NFL, should continue to get stronger. The depth is not very good here, and if Gore gets hurt, the 49ers would have serious issues. Former college quarterback and backup RB Michael Robinson has been used primarily in short-yardage situations, and Maurice Hicks averaged only 2.8 yards per carry. Gore is a stud in this offense, but the depth is marginal at best.

    10. Dallas Cowboys
    With a new head coach in Wade Phillips, a lot of jobs will be up for grabs. One of those jobs will be the running back position that has been manned by starter Julius Jones over the past few seasons. However, Jones has been pushed by backup Marion Barber III, who will get his opportunity in the preseason to win the starting job. The two bring a little something different to the table. Jones is a better outside runner, and Barber is a more physical runner between the tackles. Neither back is really a feature guy, but used properly, they form a very good 1-2 punch.
  2. ChargerRay
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    11. Atlanta Falcons
    Despite leading the NFL in rushing the past two seasons, Atlanta does not have the top running back unit in the NFL. The reason it led the league in rushing is quarterback Michael Vick's 1,039 yards rushing. Even though he is a better runner than passer, he does not officially get listed in the running back unit. Despite that, this is still a very talented unit led by the underappreciated Warrick Dunn. Despite being 32 years old, Dunn has saved the best for last, having his three best statistical seasons in the last three years. His receiving numbers are down over those three seasons, but he hasn't been asked to catch the ball very much in this offense. Backup Jerious Norwood totaled 633 yards on 99 carries last season for a whopping 6.4 yards per carry average as a rookie. Norwood's role will expand this season, which gives the Falcons a very explosive 1-2 punch.

    12. Cincinnati Bengals
    Despite finishing the 2006 season with the 26th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL, the Bengals have a lot of talent in their backfield. Part of the Bengals' inability to run the ball stems from not staying committed to run and becoming pass happy. Starting RB Rudi Johnson just didn't get enough touches last season. He is a solid No. 1 running back, but he is also a back who gets better with touches because he can wear down a defense. Backup Chris Perry has missed a lot of time with injuries but when healthy is an excellent threat catching the ball out of the backfield. Kenny Watson is also a player who can fill a third-down role, and the team spent its second-round pick this past draft of former Auburn RB Kenny Irons. Throw in FB Jeremi Johnson, who is an excellent player, and all of a sudden this is a team with a lot of talent in the backfield. The key in 2007 will be staying more committed to the run.

    13. Oakland Raiders
    Despite finishing the 2006 regular season ranked 29th in rushing yards per game, it would be hard to argue against the talent the Raiders will line up with in 2007. LaMont Jordan should be the starter, and though he missed some time with injuries last season, he is an extremely talented runner. With the addition of a new coaching staff, the team wanted to add some depth so it added former Colts starter Dominic Rhodes. Rhodes will miss the first four games of the season because of a violation of the substance abuse policy, but will contribute if he can stay out of trouble and return to the team in good physical condition. Rhodes' status moved the Raiders out of the top 10. Throw in speed back Justin Fargas, who was productive at times last season, and the drafting of rookie Michael Bush at the top of the fourth round and this unit is extremely deep. The inability of the Raiders to run the ball last season had to do with poor offensive line play and being behind early and often. Those facts do not diminish the overall talent this unit has going into 2007.

    14. St. Louis Rams
    Starting Rams RB Steven Jackson is a workhorse and one of the best young players in the NFL. Jackson had 1,528 yards rushing last season on 346 carries. He was also second on the team in receptions with 90. Although Jackson is one of the best young players in the NFL, the depth behind him is not great. He will be backed up initially by veteran Travis Minor but look for rookie second-round pick Brian Leonard to get some reps as a change of pace runner.

    15. Baltimore Ravens
    For the first time in a long time, the Ravens will have a new look at running back when they open the 2007 season. Gone is former starting RB Jamal Lewis (Cleveland) and in is RB Willis McGahee (acquired from Buffalo). Lewis had a great Ravens career, but he has lost a step and did not give them the big-play potential that McGahee will provide. McGahee is a tough runner with very good vision who should flourish in the Ravens' cutback run attack. The Ravens also have very good depth with Mike Anderson, who has been a starter in this league, and Musa Smith, who has talent but hasn't been able to stay healthy. The Ravens will once again be a team that relies on the run to set up the pass.

    16. Pittsburgh Steelers
    Some might think this is a little low ranking for the Steelers, but we have questions about their running game. This unit is not very deep and there are no real proven commodities behind starter Willie Parker. Parker had an excellent 2006 season and showed he could carry the load as the starter. The backups are Najeh Davenport and Kevan Barlow, but neither guy has played to his full NFL potential. The offensive line is also in a bit of flux with the retirement of center Jeff Hartings, which could hinder the overall effectiveness of the run game.

    17. New York Jets
    Despite not having a dependable No. 1 back in the fold, the Jets finished the 2006 regular season with the 20th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. With a young, blossoming offensive line and the addition of a proven starting running back in Thomas Jones, we look for their run game to be better in 2007. Jones is a proven commodity who showed in Chicago that he can start and be an effective player when given touches. His leadership will only enhance the play of second-year back Leon Washington and Chris Houston. This was a unit that was more running back by committee in the past. Jones will carry the bulk of the load, but the quick and versatile Washington will provide a nice change of pace.

    18. Miami Dolphins
    Miami finished the 2006 season with the 22nd-ranked run offense in the NFL, but that number is bound to improve under new head coach Cam Cameron, who will be more committed to running the football. The Dolphins have a very good stable of runners to work with, starting with Ronnie Brown, whom Cameron will look to build his offense around. Brown is coming off his first 1,000-yard season and will continue to improve. Cameron also wants to add a little more speed at the position and that is why the Dolphins added former Florida State RB Lorenzo Booker with their third-round pick. Booker is a quick runner with solid hands and should contribute early on as a change-of-pace back to the more powerful Brown.

    19. Philadelphia Eagles
    Under head coach Andy Reid, the Eagles have always had talent in the backfield. When starting QB Donovan McNabb was injured last season, they did a much better job of using that talent. Starting RB Brian Westbrook has shown that he is physical enough to carry the load as their No. 1 option. Westbrook puts a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing defenses because of his versatility. Backup Correll Buckhalter has overcome injuries to be a decent backup. No. 3 RB Ryan Moats is a poor man's Westbrook and is more of a scatback type. This team still lacks that big punisher to run between the tackles, but the Eagles have three running backs who fit the West Coast offense, which is what Reid likes in the position.

    20. Detroit Lions
    The Lions finished the 2006 regular season with the worst rushing offense in the NFL. While some of that has to fall on the running back unit, it's also a product of the offensive line and playing from behind every week. In terms of talent, the Lions have some players to work with. Starting RB Kevin Jones is coming off a foot injury, but has made great strides in rehab and should be ready to go in training camp. Jones rushed for only 689 yards last season but made some contributions in the passing game. The team added some big-play ability by trading for Tatum Bell. Bell is a straight-line speed guy who has been injury prone, but he is a threat to score any time he touches the football. The team also added T.J. Duckett and should get more contributions this year from 2006 third-round pick Brian Calhoun. The Lions have a good stable of RBs. Now, they need to be more committed to running the football.
  3. ChargerRay
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    21. Carolina Panthers
    The best word to describe the Panthers' run game in 2006 would be underachieving. Despite having 205 and 227 carries over the past two seasons, starter DeShaun Foster has failed to eclipse 900 rushing yards in a season. The team stuck with Foster as the starter last season despite backup DeAngelo Williams' showing a little more explosiveness and big play ability. It will be an open competition for the starting spot this season, so don't be surprised if Williams wins the No. 1 job. Regardless of who the starter is, both backs need to be productive and control the ball on the ground to compensate for aging QB Jake Delhomme, who struggled last season. Carolina must be effective running if it is going open up the field for star WR Steve Smith.

    22. New England Patriots
    With a lackluster wide receiving unit last season, the Patriots focused more attention on their ground game and finished the 2006 season No. 12 in rushing offense. Missing from the unit this season will be running back Corey Dillon, who was released. That means second-year back Laurence Maroney is going to have to do the majority of heavy lifting this season. Maroney is talented, but it remains to be seen if he is durable enough to carry the load as a No. 1 running back. He's also coming off offseason shoulder surgery. The team does have good depth with Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk, who is an experienced thrid-down back. Heath Evans can contribute as a running back or fullback. Not a lot of star power here, but the overall depth is solid.

    23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    After an excellent rookie season that saw him rush for 1,178 yards in 2005, Cadillac Williams had a difficult season. Williams never got on track last season, rushing for only 798 yards, and there was some speculation that he never played at 100 percent. He ended the season on the sidelines, missing the last two games with a foot injury. Williams will have to step up and play much better in 2007 if the Bucs are going to turn their fortunes around. The overall depth is solid with veteran Michael Pittman and FB/RB Mike Alstott, who is still solid in short-yardage situations. While the overall running back unit is pretty good, it could benefit from better play up front from the offensive line.

    24. Chicago Bears
    Chicago finished the 2006 season ranked 15th in rush yards per game, but that could drop in 2007. The team traded veteran Thomas Jones to the Jets. Jones was not only a solid player, but an excellent team leader. The No. 1 running back job now belongs to Cedric Benson. Benson never has been the full-time guy and will need to start earning the respect of his teammates this offseason. Jones was very well respected on this team and Benson's attitude has not always set well with his teammates. Benson has the talent to be an elite runner, but time will tell if he can become that. The depth is pretty good behind Benson. Backup Adrian Peterson is a versatile veteran who knows the offense. The team will also look to get rookie third-round pick Garrett Wolfe involved in the offense.

    25. Indianapolis Colts
    The Colts finished the 2006 regular season 18th in rushing yards per game. This might seem a little low for the defending Super Bowl champs, but they lost Dominic Rhodes and have marginal depth behind Joseph Addai. Addai is coming off a solid rookie campaign and likely will have to handle more than 90 percent of the load this season. The Colts see Addai in that Edgerrin James mold; he will rarely come out of a game. Addai is a good runner, and he catches the ball well out of the backfield. He is more than capable of carrying the load, but if he gets injured, the Colts' backfield would be a disaster with only DeDe Dorsey and Kenton Keith as backups.

    26. Arizona Cardinals
    Despite spending a ton of money to acquire Edgerrin James before the 2006 season, the Cardinals finished the regular season ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing offense. However, that had more to do with the offensive line than James. With a new coaching staff highlighted by offensive line coach Russ Grimm, the Cardinals are bound to run the ball better in 2007. Even with James, though, this unit is very average. J.J. Arrington doesn't run hard inside the tackles and consistently tries to bounce his runs to the edge. Marcel Shipp is a good No. 3, but has been reduced to primarily a short-yardage runner. The Cardinals can throw the ball but need more consistency from their rushing attack.

    27. New York Giants
    This might seem a little low to rank the Giants, but they come into this season with a lot of questions at RB. With longtime starter Tiki Barber retiring, the onus of the No. 1 RB position falls to former backup Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs possesses an excellent combination of size and speed and has been productive with his opportunities, but has never had to carry the entire load. The team added his backup when it traded for Reuben Droughns, who is coming off a poor season on and off the field in Cleveland. If Jacobs can be the change-of-pace runner he has shown flashes of, the Giants would move way up this list. Barber meant a lot to this team on the field as a runner and also as a receiver, so Jacobs has huge shoes to fill. Whether he can will go a long way in determining the Giants' fate.

    28. Houston Texans
    Ever since former No. 1 RB Domanick Williams, who changed his name from Domanick Davis, was hit with the injury bug, the Texans' rushing offense has been inconsistent at best. When Williams was healthy, he gave them a legitimate No. 1 threat. Williams missed all of last season, and they are still looking for someone to step up and fill his shoes. Last season the carries were divided among Ron Dayne, Wali Lundy and Samkon Gado. All three will be on the roster when the team goes to camp. But none of the three is a feature back, and that is where Ahman Green enters the picture. Green was added this offseason to carry the load. Green, who recently turned 30, is not the back he once was, but he is still an upgrade for the Texans.

    29. Tennessee Titans
    After finishing the 2006 season ranked fifth in rushing yards per game behind the legs of RB Travis Henry, the Titans come into the 2007 season with the biggest question mark in the NFL at running back. Henry was released this offseason, and the Titans haven't replaced his production. The expected 2007 starter, LenDale White, is believed to have reported to OTAs at close to 260 pounds. The team spent its 2007 second-round pick on Chris Henry from the University of Arizona. Henry is a junior who came out early after having marginal college production. His draft status skyrocketed after Henry had an excellent combine and individual workout. The wild card in this group is veteran RB Chris Brown, who re-signed with the team. Brown was on the outs with management last season, and the former 1,000-yard rusher was inactive for a number of games. Should Brown find his early career form, the Titans' rushing attack could be better then advertised. With QB Vince Young still feeling his way as a young starter, it is imperative the Titans back him up with a solid run game. As of right now, it is tough to see that coming to fruition.

    30. Cleveland Browns
    The Browns' rushing offense ranked 31st in the NFL in 2006. To correct that, the team added former Baltimore RB Jamal Lewis in the offseason. Lewis will be an upgrade over Reuben Droughns (traded to Giants), but how big an upgrade remains to be seen. Lewis rushed for 1,132 yards last season in Baltimore, but he averaged only 3.6 yard per carry, well below his career average. Lewis has averaged just 1,015 yards per season over the last three years. But he will be only 28 when the season starts, so the Browns are banking on his returning to form. The depth behind Lewis is extremely untested and Jason Wright or Jerome Harrison must step up to provide a third-down threat behind Lewis, who is not known for his receiving skills. The Browns are low in the rankings, but if Lewis can return to form, they have a chance to be a good run-oriented offense this season.

    31. Buffalo Bills
    The Bills made one of the most curious moves of the offseason when they dealt RB Willis McGahee to the Baltimore Ravens. McGahee was expected to be a big part of the Bills' run game in 2007, but the Bills knew they would have a hard time keeping McGahee after 2007, so they traded him. While it might be a good move for the future of the organization, it obviously doesn't help their running back situation this season. J.P. Losman is starting to develop into a No. 1 quarterback and to continue on that path, he is going to need to be backed up with a solid run game. The Bills addressed that need by drafting RB Marshawn Lynch from Cal in the first round. With only veteran Anthony Thomas as quality depth, Lynch essentially will be handed the starting running back job. He will not have to be a superstar as a rookie, but he will need to do enough to keep the defense honest and open up the passing game for Losman.

    32. Green Bay Packers
    Aside from whether QB Brett Favre would retire, the biggest offseason question for the Packers was at running back. After a full offseason, they enter training camp with the same questions at running back. Ahman Green left for Houston via free agency. Green's backups -- Vernand Morency and Noah Herron -- saw significant time last season, but neither shows the burst or run instincts to be counted on as a full-time starter. The team did add two running backs in the draft. Brandon Jackson was added in the second round and DeShawn Wynn in the seventh. Look for Jackson to be given every opportunity to win the job in the preseason. The Packers likely will be a running back-by-committee team that rides the hot hand from week to week.
  4. in_a_days
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    in_a_days dgaf

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    No surprise there... is LJ still threatening to sit out?
  5. HEXEDBOLT
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    Turner provides an excellent change of pace to Tomlinson. When both are in the lineup at the same time, they give defenses fits.

    That is what I hope Norv kicks into high gear, LT & Turner running wild through the NFL. If there is a way, I'd love to see Turner get locked up with our Bolt's long term.:bolt2:

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