In the previous article we covered whether or not Carson Palmer and our crew, were better than the Russel Wilson lead Seahawks. It was in my opinion that Russel Wilson was the best Quarterback in the West, followed by Palmer, and then it was essentially a toss up between the Goff lead Rams, and the Kaep/Gabbert 49ers.
This time around we examine the now (Or is it?) Marshawn Lynch-less NFC West. Last season we saw a pair of rookies really show their worth in David Johnson and Todd Gurley. Will either be able to continue that success into 2016, or will the dreaded Sophomore slump kick in? Let's take a look at those two, and the rest of the Runningbacks on each roster.
We mentioned David Johnson in the opener. He's a big back with shocking speed and agility. He showed a lot of development from the start of the season to the end, primarily with fumbling. He took over for Chris Johnson after a tibia injury, and did well with his opportunity. He rushed for 99, 92, and 197 yards in the first three games he got extended reps. Following that he had 39 yards in a complete over the Packers, and 25 in the final game of the season. In the playoffs he averaged only 2.3 yards a carry against the Packers, and was one of the few guys to show up against the Panthers, rushing for 60 yards and a score. During his season, he set a rookie franchise record with 13 total scores, breaking Tim Hightowers of 10.A lot of fans are excited about him this season, so we shall see if he can continue his success.
Behind him is Chris Johnson. Johnson was well on his way to a 1000 yard season, but a tibia injury cut him short at 841 yards. He re-signed with Arizona and has since proclaimed that Johnson and Johnson will be the best duo in the NFL.
Ellington and Taylor enter the final year of the contracts. Both are hoping to show the Cardinals, and 31 other teams that they deserve a bigger paycheck following 2016. Taylor is a special teams ace, who actually has some good hands out of the backfield. Ellington is electrifying when he manages to stay healthy. Can Ellington stay healthy and be a productive third weapon out of the backfield? Can Taylor show he's worth a roster spot despite limited reps?
Kerwynn Williams has been on a number of websites as a player the Cardinals can afford to cut. He's shown talent in the games he's played for Arizona, but he's also not as talented as the players mentioned above. He is a threat as a return man, which adds value, but the Cardinals have a number of players who are threats as returners.
As for Elijhaa Penny, he's a big back (6'2 247 lbs) who had a productive 2015 season at Idaho. He rushed for 1159 yards on 246 carries (4.7 yards per carry). He also scored 22 touchdowns in two seasons at Idaho. He's a long shot to make the roster, unless he can show his worth on special teams, and add some sort of value to the backfield that Taylor may not possess.
Los Angeles Rams:
Right away the top two jump off the page to you. Todd Gurley, the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year, had an amazing campaign. I think any NFC West fan can support that statement. He had a streak of four games where he did not rush for less than 128. That streak unfortunately started against us, when he took over the second half, and compiled 146 yards on 19 carries.
The #2 guy is Tre Mason. Mason is a nice complement to Gurley. After rushing for 700 yards his rookie season, he was relegated to being second on the depth chart due to the arrival of Gurley. NFL.com recently had Gurley and Mason as one of their top five runningback duos.
Behind both and likely the only two players to remain on the roster, are Benny Cunningham, and Chase Reynolds. As you can note from the chart, Mason and Gurley are young in age, so having and 25 year old and a 28 year old behind them can really help both young guys mature. Cunningham has never been anything more than a situational player. He was signed as an Undrafted Player out Middle Tennessee State, and has managed to remain with the Rams since 2013, as they have slowly upgraded their team. Cunningham was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 15, showing his value on Special Teams as well.
As for Reynolds, he has produced on Special Teams since becoming a full time player in 2012. His age (28), and his time in the league (albeit only four years) is a value for a group of young backs, who now play with an inexperienced Quarterback.
Then you have Aaron Green and Malcolm Brown. Green was an undrafted signing following the 2016 NFL draft, after posting 1200 rush yards and 11 rushing touchdowns his senior year. He claims he was "underutilized"" during his time at TCU, and has more to offer in the pros.
For Brown, he was another undrafted selection for the Rams. He spent all of 2015 on the Practice Squad, until being promoted to the 53 man roster on December 31st. Brown could likely be in line for another Practice Squad year, as well as Green, considering the experience, and talent ahead of them both.
San Francisco 49ers:
The 49ers return everyone from last season, and get the bonus of a healthy Carlos Hyde. Hyde was having an okay season prior to going down with a season ending injury on October 22nd against the Seahawks. He was averaging 4.1 yards a carry and had 470 yards by the time he went down. With his return to health, the 49ers should benefit, but a suspect Quarterback situation won't lead to much success.
Behind Hyde is Draughn, who was acquired in a trade from the Browns. Draughn was their lead guy from Week 8, until week 13.
Behind both, and one of the two are likely to go, are Mike Davis, and DuJuan Harris. Harris played in weeks 16 and 17 for the 49ers, accumulating 142 yards in those two games. As for Mike Davis, he only rushed for 58 yards in the six games he played for the 49ers.
You would have to assume that Kelvin Taylor will make it on the roster for two reasons. The first being, how healthy is Hyde? Is he 100% ready to go? Or does he need some time? That is something that the offseason will show, and the 49ers will be able to gauge just how ready he is. The other reason is he is one of their draft picks, and for a team in a rebuilding mode, giving up on a rookie selection shortly after drafting him does not inspire much confidence. He's got talent, that's undeniable, but at the end of the day, does he have more, and have more to offer than guys like Harris and Davis? We'll find out in the next few months.
Fans know that you can find a good runningback, in just about any round now. David Johnson, an unknown player from a small school for the Cardinals in 2015. Same went for the Seahawks, when they signed Thomas Rawls to an undrafted contract. Rawls got an early look at what he can provide, when he rushed for 104 yards against the Bears in Week 3, and 169 yards against the Bengals just two weeks later. When Marshawn Lynch started to battle injuries, Rawls caught on fire, in particular his 209 yard game against San Francisco late in the season. He rushed for an averaged of 108 yards per game in the final four weeks leading up to his injury.
Michael was a second round selection for the Seahawks in 2013. He was traded in early 2015 to the Cowboys, waived, signed by the Redskins, cut, and the re-signed by the Seahawks in December following Rawls injury.
Michael ran for 243 yards in three games, including 102 against Arizona in the final game of the seas on. He continued to do well in the posteason, where he ran for 70 yards against the Vikings, in a 10-9 win. He did not record any attempts against Carolina.
Behind both veterans is four inexperienced, young rookies. Proise, Collins, and Brooks were all draft selections, while Tre Madden was a two year starter at runningback for USC, rushing for 1100 yards and eight scores in two seasons. He could very well make the roster, considering the rest of the group, but it's likely he's a Practice Squad player, while the team focuses on developing Proise (Notre Dame 3rd Round), Collins (Arkansas 5th Round), and Brooks (Clemson 7th Round)
So who's got the best back in the division? The homer inside me yells "DAVID JOHNSON", but the unbiased side says Gurley. Gurley and Johnson could very well end up being the face of Runningbacks for the NFL, once AP eventually retires, and if both players can keep developing, and not hit a plateau anytime soon.
As for a group, I would say it's a close race, but because of the success of Chris Johnson, and the electricity Ellington brings WHEN he's healthy, it tops the potential of Gurley and Tre Mason.
So what say you? Unfortunately, we did not get a lot of Rival trashtalk in the last thread, so hopefully we get a little extra this time.