NFL 2015: Which 10 running backs should you be watching?
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By BRANDON LEE
July is the time of year when player storylines emerge and we begin getting a glimpse of what's to come. Players are trying to prove themselves, keep their jobs, get promoted or just make the roster. Many players have key roles to play in 2015, but others are mere speculation. Here are 10 running backs that have piqued interest during the offseason.
10. Roy Helu Jr., Oakland Raiders
After living in Alfred Morris' shadow in Washington for three years, Helu is getting his chance to shine in Oakland. Sure, Latavius Murray is in the starting spot now, but Helu has a great deal of talent and can do almost anything. He can run, catch the ball, beat defenders (according to Pro Football Focus, he led all backs with 11.7 yards after the catch in 2014), block and even play on special teams. Very few people are paying attention to him, but that's quickly changing.
9. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For two years in a row, Martin disappointed his team, his fans and himself with lackluster performances. His rookie year held so much promise. He played all 16 games, rushed for 1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns. Since that 2012 outing, he hasn't even reached the halfway mark of those stat lines. His performance was so disappointing that Tampa Bay decided not to pick up his fifth-year option. But it seems that rejection lit a spark because Martin has had his best OTAs in three years, he dropped down to 210lbs to improve his speed and now it seems he beat the much-talked about Charles Sims for the starting role. This guy is playing with a chip on his shoulder.
8. Joique Bell, Detroit Lions
Watch out, Bell! Ameer Abdullah is right behind you. Joique Bell had to miss OTAs due to knee and Achilles surgeries, allowing rookie Abdullah to impress while taking first team snaps. And let's not forget the omnipresent pressure from Theo Riddick, another back looking for touches. Meanwhile, none of this has phased Bell, telling the media he's going to rush for a minimum of 1,200 yards. Alright, then. We'll keep an eye on that, but until he's back on the field and making cuts without aggravating his many injuries, we can't go all in.
7. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills
Once McCoy was traded to the Bills, he wasted little time before ripping into his former coach and the situation he left behind. But how successful will he be in his new, frigid home? Last year, McCoy logged 300-plus carries and 1,319 yards in Philadelphia. Where he lacked was in the passing game and his overall scoring of touchdowns. The simple reason was the existence of Darren Sproles.
With McCoy now in Buffalo, he's going to go back to his pass-catching ways. Yes, Fred Jackson is there and he's a pass-catching back like Sproles, but Rex Ryan continues to make it clear that McCoy is the guy, the main guy. Let's not forget the horrific quarterback situation in Buffalo. If defenses decide to stack the box on every play because they don't need to respect the pass, McCoy could have a difficult time finding production, even with a lot of carries.
6. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers
Frank Gore left for Indianapolis, so Hyde is the obvious favorite to be the new 49ers workhorse, but why are people not excited? Hyde only carried the ball 83 times last year during his rookie season, but managed to rush for 333 yards, four touchdowns and averaged 4.0 yards per carry. Unfortunately, their new offensive coordinator, Geep Chryst, gives off an impression that San Francisco will utilize a rotation of backs, which includes Reggie Bush and rookie Mike Davis. We haven't seen yet if Hyde can handle an every-down workload, but if you are a fantasy owner that wants to take a chance on him, you would like to see him try.
5. DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles
Murray's numbers from his 2014 season with the Cowboys were incredible. He carried the ball 393 times for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also caught 57 passes for 416 yards. But if you know anything about football longevity, there is no way Murray can continue at 24.5 carries per game. During a tumultuous offseason, Murray found himself in Philadelphia playing for sports science coach, Chip Kelly. Kelly prefers a one-cut running back, so Murray felt like an obvious fit.
However, when it comes to that untenable workload, times they are a changing. McCoy lost touches to Sproles last year, and many fear the same for Murray in 2015. But maybe there is a method behind the madness... Chip believes his approach to conditioning and play-calling helps avoid injuries and gets the most out of individual players, while working towards a team win. Perhaps this move is exactly what will prolong Murray's career.
4. C.J. Spiller, New Orleans Saints
After a strong season and a renewed contract, it appeared Mark Ingram was going to be the solo back in New Orleans. But we all should have known better because that team rarely leans on one player in the backfield, so of course they brought in C.J. Spiller during free agency. A shoulder injury sidelined Spiller for a large portion of the 2014 season, but it's safe to say he's in town to catch passes out of the backfield, a la vintage Darren Sproles. Getting Spiller involved in the air is imperative, especially since the Saints parted ways with both Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills during the offseason. Drew Brees needs weapons. It looks like Spiller is healthy and he looked great during OTAs, but we've heard that story in the past before being disappointed.
3. Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts
Since 2011, Frank Gore has rushed for 1,000-plus yards every season. His touchdown numbers have been all over the map, but his ability to be an elite, rushing workhorse has never been in question. Now in Indianapolis with an elite quarterback in a weak division, all signs point to Gore having yet another productive season. Last year, he was the one of the only threats in San Francisco, and Scott Kacsmar from Football Outsiders tweeted that Gore ran against eight or more in the box a league-high 76 times. Now surrounded with exceptional skill players, maybe those touchdown stats will go up. He's happy. He's motivated. And if you play fantasy, he's one of the cheapest workhorses on the board.
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
A year away from the sport? No problem. It sounds like Peterson tore it up at OTAs. 30 years old? Again, this guy is a machine so age is just a number, right? Let's set aside his criminal indiscretions for a moment (if you can) and look at the football situation. Last year, dynamic offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, took over in Minnesota. Peterson only played one game under his scheme before being put on the league's exempt list. Now he's back and things have changed.
The rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, is now a hopeful sophomore looking to take a big step forward. Norv wants to run an offense with a pass catching running back. That's something Peterson can do, but it was rarely asked of him. Already there's whispering about monitoring Peterson's snap count. If you rule out last year (if you can), Peterson's worst season came in 2012 when he only played 12 games and still finished with 973 yards and 12 touchdowns. Almost everyone believes Peterson will give another elite performance in 2015, but it's time to keep an eye out for changes.
1. Joseph Randle – Darren McFadden – Mystery Man, Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys went from the most dominant rusher in 2014 to a mystery smorgasbord of unproven or habitually underperforming backs. The team continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth, as well. One day they come out and say they fully expect the committee of running backs to share touches, and then the next day it's Joseph Randle's job to lose.
The team's overall theory is their elite offensive line will do enough to establish a strong run game regardless of who carries the ball. That is true to a certain extent, but DeMarco Murray is a special player. In the last three years, not one of the current Cowboys running backs have rushed for over 750 yards. It's hard to believe any of them are capable of mirroring Murray's 1,000-plus yards, double-digit touchdown performance from last season.
Which running backs are you excited to watch in 2015?