In a division considered the worst in the league, the NFC West features running backs that may be one of the best units in the entire league. The Rams own the rights to one of the top backs in the league, with the 49ers not far away. The Cardinals have struck gold the last two drafts and may feature one of the better 1-2 punches at running back next season. The Seahawks have a stable of backs and one can emerge a star. Can the Cardinals overtake the number one spot one day?
- Steven Jackson - Jackson wins this battle by a slim margin, but Gore isn't that far out of sight. The Rams abysmal offensive attack has plagued their team the last few years, with the only bright spot being the dominant play by Steven Jackson. He was awarded a new contract last season and should remain the focal point of the Rams' offense next season. He can run, catch, block, and serve as a leader all at the same time. He's battling back issues for now, but will likely reach 100% by the time the season begins.
- Frank Gore - Gore experienced a relatively successful season in 2009. Although he missed some games due to injury, he still finished the season with 10 touchdowns. It's whether or not he can stay healthy in 2010 that is the concern. The 49ers don't have a valid starter beyond Gore, meaning that the offense would suffer a dip in production with him off the field. Should he experience a healthy 2010, Gore will occupy the 49ers' backfield and carry the the ball with the punishing style that we are used to seeing.
- Beanie Wells - Although Beanie Wells isn't the starter right now, and likely won't be when the season begins, we all know that he'll get the majority of the carries when the Cardinals take the field. After a pleasing rookie season, Wells gets the opportunity to head into next season completely healthy and prepared. His devastating running style is entertaining to watch. If he can produce a 1,000 yard performance next year, the Cardinals offense should be in prime position to make another playoff run. Beanie does need to work on his blocking and receiving skills, something we saw little of last year. The biggest blemish on his rookie season was ball security. Eliminating that flaw could propel Wells over the hump and into the upper echelon of backs in the league.
- Julius Jones - Rounding out the list is running back Julius Jones. Jones may not even start next season, let alone see much playing time. For now, however, he gets the nod. After a season in which Jones rushed for 663 yards and two touchdowns, he'll have much ground to make up (literally) in order to keep his job. Justin Forsett saw success in the absence of Jones and after the team traded for Leon Washington, the training camp battle at running back in Seattle just became that much more interesting.
I believe that we'll see a lot of running out of the NFC West next season. Jackson will carry the load for the Rams, while Gore will headline the 49ers offense. Beanie will have his hands full fending off Tim Hightower for playing time and as long as he doesn't put the ball on the ground then he may be able to. How would you rank the NFC West running backs and how many years will it take Beanie to be a Pro Bowl back?