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Inside Zone: A look at the NFC West running backs

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We continue our weekly look at NFC West positions, this time with the running back situations.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals-OTA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you are interested in catching up with the series, here is last weeks list.

As we enter the dead portion of the offseason, it is important to note, that in less than two months the Cardinals will be playing in a meaningless Hall of Fame game. That game will at least give us the fans some semblance of real football. But for now, we will continue our offseason full of lists and grades.

Last week we took a look at the NFC West quarterback situations. I thought it was a very straightforward list, with the only debate stemming from who was third and last. The voters agreed. Out of 205 total votes, the Seattle Seahawks received 146 votes as the best situation in the west. The Cardinals came second with 44 votes, Rams third with eight, and the 49ers rounding out the list with seven.

This week it seems as straightforward with the top two selections, but the third and fourth ranked teams on this list are a little harder to split. This week should cause a lot of discussion and debate, and I can’t wait to take part.

San Francisco 49ers: 4th

Carlos Hyde
Matt Breida
Tim Hightower
Kapri Bibbs
Raheem Mostert
Joe Williams

Carlos Hyde has gotten better in each season he has played. Each season his carries go up, his yards go up, and his average goes up as well. Hyde has only played in 20 games the last two seasons, which brings his durability into question. Hyde has struggled to fit into new coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, according to multiple reports. He figures to be the teams day one starter, but in early April John Lynch went on record to say the team wanted to wait-and-see how well Hyde fit.

Behind Hyde sits former Cardinals running back Tim Hightower. Hightower had a career resurgence in 2016, after being out of the league from 2012 to 2015. Hightower was hampered by injuries through the early portion of his career and has found his niche as a backup.

Kapri Bibbs and Raheem Mostert are the only two players left on the roster with any sort of NFL experience. Bibbs is expected to be the team's primary backup to Hyde, while Mostert has to show something more than being a perennial preseason star.

Joe Williams could the X-factor for the 49ers. Matt Maiocco has gone on record saying Williams could immediately unseat Carlos Hyde as the team's starter.

For these reasons, I truly believe the 49ers have the most questions among their running backs. It is not necessarily a room devoid of talent, but more so they have a lot of questions to answer this season.

Los Angeles Rams: Third

Malcolm Brown
Justin Davis
Lance Dunbar
Aaron Green
Todd Gurley
Lenard Tillery

Todd Gurley had a rough 2016 season. A number of factors from, poor blocking, lack of talent, and poor coaching hurt his progression after a stellar rookie season. Gurley will bounce back in 2017, but it is the lack of consistency behind him that hurts this group.

Lance Dunbar figures to be the Rams third down back, limiting Gurley's role. Dunbar was a threat out of the backfield during his tenure with the Cowboys, which will give Sean McVay more options with his running backs.

Only Malcolm Brown has NFL reps, posting 22 carries for 56 yards.

Aaron Green had a good preseason in 2016, but the Rams kept him from the final 53.

The Rams don’t lack talent, but they lack consistency behind Todd Gurley, which hurts them in the long run. With the addition of Dunbar, the Rams will have two backs who pose a threat receiving out of the backfield, allowing the offense more leeway in different situations.

Seattle Seahawks: Second

Alex Collins
Mike Davis
Eddie Lacy
Tre Madden
J.D. McKissic
C.J. Prosise
Thomas Rawls

In terms of NFL experience, the Seahawks are loaded. They have two backs with more than 1000 rushing yards in the league. Five of their running backs have 30 or more NFL carries, and everyone with carries has scored touchdowns. The big dilemma for the Seahawks is durability. Eddie Lacy has played in a full season just once in his four-year career. Thomas Rawls has played in 22 of 32 possible games to start his career. Both players figure to compete for the lead role, but both figure to see plenty of work in 2017.

On top of Lacy’s injury worries, Lacy also has a history of being overweight. His weight issues have lead to multiple benchings throughout his career. He is currently working towards his goal of 245 pounds because he will be due 55,000 dollars if he weighs less than 250 by the start of July.

Rawls will have the easiest path to start if he has fully healed from the ankle injury he suffered in 2015. C.J. Prosise enters his second season, and after being limited to six games his rookie season is on the rise this offseason. Prosise is the team's best receiving back.

The Seahawks were very shallow on running back depth last season, and with their top three guys having questions about health and durability, the team will hope that each can shake those concerns.

Arizona Cardinals: First

David Johnson
Andre Ellington
T.J. Logan
Elijhaa Penny
James Summers
Kerwynn Williams

The Cardinals do have depth concerns. Behind David Johnson sits the oft-injured Ellington, an unproven commodity in Penny, and a small back in Williams.

David showed in 2016 he will be one of the best backs in the NFL. He averaged 100 scrimmage yards for 15 straight games, an NFL record. He was on pace to push that to 16 games had it not been for his knee injury in the season finale. Johnson is easily the best overall back in the West, a title that could be shared with Gurley by the end of 2017.

Ellington has a battle on his hands this offseason. He currently sits on the cusp of being a roster cut if the cuts were to be made today. The rise of Kerwynn Williams has pushed him to that point. If Ellington wants to make the teams 53 man roster, he has to show he can stay healthy and become a more physical runner.

Williams has been on and off the Cardinals roster for a number of years. This past year, he showed enough for Arians to pencil him in as the team's primary backup. A threat receiving, as well as being a tough runner, Williams has earned his shot.

TJ Logan will focus on special teams to start his career but has an opportunity at some point to earn carries.

Penny is a big physical runner with deceptive speed. Penny will have a shot to be the team's third back.

Poll

Who has the best running back situation in the NFC West?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    San Francisco 49ers
    (18 votes)
  • 7%
    Los Angeles Rams
    (24 votes)
  • 37%
    Seattle Seahawks
    (117 votes)
  • 49%
    Arizona Cardinals
    (155 votes)
314 votes total Vote Now

What say you? Discuss and debate in the comments below!