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The NFC West is loaded with talented running backs. In a division consisting of potential Hall-of-Fame RB candidates and promising young rushers, there are varying degrees of wear on each team’s tires.
The NFC West - often considered the toughest division in the NFL - features a pair of the league’s elite rushers, and at the same time, looks to be loaded with a few of the league’s premier running backs of the future. From Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore to Carlos Hyde and Tre Mason, the division proudly boasts a pair of the NFL's best workhorses, along with several eager young rushers who’ve yet to have a meaningful carry as a pro.
But the gap in accomplishments of the aforementioned studs and that of their hopeful replacements is vast...as is the chasm in experience - and mileage - between the combined career rushing statistics amongst the team’s projected starters.
Let’s have a look at the odometer on the NFC West’s rushing trio’s...
[Note: Trios are based on Ourlads current depth charts, and are listed below by yardage, not position on depth chart]
Frank Gore has been a mainstay in San Francisco since being drafted in by the team in 2005. Had it not been for a hip injury in November of 2010, we’d be having discussions about Gore having finished eight consecutive seasons with 1,000+ rushing yards; something only Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Curtis Martin, Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Steven Jackson have accomplished. That’s good company. Gore currently ranks 29th on the all-time leading rusher list [w/ 9,967 yards], and another [4th consecutive] 1,000-yd campaign in 2014 would move him up to 19th on the all-time list; tied with Warrick Dunn. Carlos Hyde, drafted 57th overall in 2014, looks to be the heir apparent to Gore, who turned 31 in March. The 49ers also have Marcus Lattimore and LaMichael James competing for playing time, and their spot on the team’s depth chart. Scary.
* QB Colin Kaepernick would rank 3rd, having rushed 155 times for 939 yards since 2012.
Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch draws the headlines in Seattle, and doesn’t look to be passing the torch anytime soon. Lynch , has only had two seasons in his 7-year career where he didn’t eclipse the 1,000-yd mark. His best work, statistically, has come since being acquired by the Seahawks in 2011. Since then, his workload [and production] have far eclipsed that during his first three seasons in Buffalo. Lynch currently ranks 52nd on the all-time leading rusher list. Using career averages, Lynch would be somewhere in the ballpark of 9,500 yds at the end of the 2016 season. Use his rushing averages since becoming a Seahawk in 2011, and you can chalk him up for 9,757 yards [good for 31st on the all-time list]. Christine Michael, the Seahawks top pick [62nd overall] in 2013, only played in four games in his rookie year. As you can imagine, earning playing time behind Lynch and Turbin didn’t come easy. That being said, the Seahawks head coach - Pete Carroll - [in an interview with Pro Football Talk] sees Michael being more prevalent in 2014...
He’s really talented and he’s a really exciting guy in our program. Probably has the most breakout potential out of anybody because you haven’t seen much of him yet. We’ve seen him, we know that he can do really special stuff.
* Russell Wilson would rank second on the team’s list for attempts and yards [190 attempts for 1,028 yards in two seasons].
Here’s where the disparity amongst career carries and yardage is brought to light. Both of the aforementioned NFC West backs [Lynch/Gore] have single-handedly rushed for more yards than the Cardinals [and Rams] starting trios combined.
5th and 6th round draft picks from 2013 [Ellington and Taylor] look to be far more involved than their rookie seasons, after last year’s starter - Rashard Mendenhall - retired in March. Ellington saw his workload increase drastically in the second half of the season [28 carries in the first seven games, 80 carries in the final eight], totaling over 1,000 offensive yards for the year [652 rushing/371 receiving], with 4 TD’s.
The Cardinals only notable offseason RB acquisition of 2014 was signing another former-Steeler, Jonathan Dwyer. Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians was the Steelers’ offensive coordinator during Dwyer’s first two NFL seasons. He’s familiar with the offense and looks to add depth, and experience, in a promising young backfield.
The youngest - and least experienced - of the bunch comes from the projected starting trio in St. Louis. Zac Stacy, the team’s 5th round selection in 2014, was a pleasant surprise; earning Carroll Rosenbloom honors as the team’s offensive rookie of the year. Had it not been for his near-absence in the offense for the first four weeks of the season, Stacy could’ve been a contender for the league’s OROTY honors.
Cunningham, who was an undrafted free agent last year, contributed heavily on special teams; primarily as the team’s kick returner. He did, however, put together a 13-run, 109-yard, 1 TD performance against the Bears in Week 12.
In what may have come as one of the more surprising moves in the most recent draft was the Rams’ 3rd round selection [75th overall] out of Auburn, Tre Mason. Prior to May’s draft, it seemed like a no-brainer that Stacy was again to carry the majority of the workload for the Rams in 2014. And while Stacy may indeed get the nod as the team’s starter, Tre Mason looks to immediately contribute, cutting into the Stacy’s carries. That may not be a bad thing, simply for durability concerns. Either way, Mason made it clear he’s working hard this offseason to become the team’s starter by September.
The "mileage" amongst these trios means little in regards to their potential success for 2014 and beyond. While fresh legs are great, no one’s questioning the ability of veteran backs like Lynch and Gore to inflict the same kind of damage they have for the majority of their NFL careers.
The gap in career attempts and yards is intriguing though. Marshawn Lynch, who ran the ball 301 times in 2013, had more attempts in one season than the Rams’ trio has combined in their careers .
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