With each new article in this series, I seem to be digging a big hole to fall in? If you take a step back and consider all the different variables someone can use to come up with these ranking, you'll realize there's just no way to make everyone happy. Making it all worse, I'm writing about division rivals who are road blocks for a fan's favorite team to reach the Super Bowl. Hmm... I really am screwed, aren't I?
Speaking of screwed, the St. Louis Rams are going into the 2013 season without a running back who has scored a touchdown in the NFL. That's right, Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Terrance Ganaway, and just drafted rookie Zac Stacy are all NFL touchdown virgins. The loss of Steven Jackson to free agency looms large with this group, and with Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Personally, I liked what I saw in 2012 when Richardson carried the ball. This is a tough, quick-as-a-flash running back, whose trying to prove his very end of the 7th round choice in the 2012 NFL draft represented a mistake made in the prior 251 picks. He missed being "Mr. Irrelevant" by one pick. I mention this because he's the Rams running back with the best resume going into the 2013 season... Young Daryl had a decent year backing up Jackson: 98 Att, 475 rushing yards, for a 4.8 YPC average. He had 163 receiving yards too, for a 6.8 yard per catch average. While this is a nice total for some rookie running backs, it's hardly the numbers you'd hope your featured back will have.
Vanderbilt's Zac Stacy is getting fantasy football press, but only because he looks to have a decent chance at some carries due to depth at running back. Isaiah Pead has an unfair season coming up. The second year player has way more pressure on him to succeed than is normal. His failure to earn the back up spot last season has fans wondering aloud if he's a bust, but it's way to early to go there. Terrance Ganaway was snatched off of the New York Jets' practice squad last year, and has yet to touch the ball on game day. If there's good news about this group, it's that NFL teams don't have tape to study. Believe it or not, that's a good thing. If they come into camp and get the offense down, this could be an interesting story as the season progresses.
San Francisco has Frank Gore, and a whole covey of back ups. Gore has been a solid contributor since being taken in the 3rd round of the 2005 NFL Draft. His career stat line is impressive: 8,839 rushing yards on 1,911 attempts for a 4.6 YPC to go with 51 touchdowns. He has 2,631 receiving yards on 315 receptions, adding another 10 touchdowns to his already impressive total. With a 6 to 1 rush to reception ratio, his game is well rounded to say the least. He turns 30 years old on May 14th, so age is definitely a factor, but don't tell that to Steven Jackson. Position depth is enormous here for the 49ers. Kendal Hunter, Anthony Dixon, LaMichael James, Jewel Hampton, Bruce Miller, Marcus Lattimore, and D.J. Harper are waiting in the wings at running back as they head into preseason training camp.
Seattle has a "Beast" name Marshawn Lynch. Skittles, "grills" and a "don't get in my way " attitude make this Buffalo Bills discard one of the great free agent signings of the last decade. Signed in mid 2010, Lynch has established himself as one of the top running backs in the NFL. Drafted in the first round of 2007, he never caught on up in Buffalo. After a few off field issues, Seattle pounced - nabbing Lynch for a 2011 4th round pick, and a conditional 2012 choice. The move turned into pure gold. Lynch gained 1,590 of his 6,132 career rushing yards in 2012. He has 46 career rushing touchdowns, and a 4.2 YPC average. Backing him up, Seattle has quality depth in second year man Robert Turbin, and rookie Christine Michael. This is a great running back corps, which reminds me eerily of Pete Carroll's USC days, when he seemed to have stock piles of great ball carriers.
The Arizona Cardinals have some decent running backs, but nothing like those of Seattle and San Francisco. They signed Rashard Mendenhall this off season, to add to Ryan Williams, rookie Stepfan Taylor, Alfonso Smith, William Powell, and Javarris James. Outside of Stanford rookie Taylor, the rest of these running backs have been banged up over the last few years. Mendenhall could be a great signing if he gets over his 2012 attack of 'fumble-itis" that saw him being benched by Pittsburgh toward the end of last season. This group will succeed or fail with how improved the Cardinals' offensive line is for 2013. They have an immobile quarterback they'll need to protect on passing downs too.
My 2013 running back rankings for the NFC West:
My rational: First, every Rams fan who disagrees with me, needs to go back and read the line in the article where I say:
"...the St. Louis Rams are going into the 2013 season without a running back who has scored a touchdown in the NFL."
Think about what this means before you scream at me in the comment threads. Richardson, Pead, Stacy and Ganaway may work out well, but there are just too many unknowns. Arizona has a nice list of talent, but none who seem to have "16 game wheels". Seriously, I think the Cardinals will be better than last season, but they'll still go through quite a few starters at running back. Seattle edged out San Francisco by a nose. It really is close between these two teams' running back corps. I gave the edge to Seattle because Lynch is younger than Gore. I like Lynch's immediate replacement in Robert Turbin. I think he's better than Kendall Hunter - who is coming back from injury.