Many say the NFL is a passing league now, and that there isn't much place for a running back anymore. It's the first time ever that no runner was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft for two years in a row. The best players are usually quarterbacks.
However, I definitely think there's whispers of a change. The running back is making a comeback. They are slowly becoming the pacemakers for quite a few teams. The St. Louis Rams had Zac Stacy, the Seahawks had the tone setter in Marshawn Lynch. The entire Vikings offense went through the thunderous calves of Adrian Peterson. So let's see how the NFC East division fared when it comes down to the running backs.
I'm going to be looking at a couple different aspects with which to grade these positions. It's very simple, there are three categories that I'm going to make my judgments on. Is this perfect? Nah.
Performance - I'm going to look at how each position did last year because I think that it's a strong measure of success in the future. Of course there will be fluctuations from year to year, but I think that it's a fairly reasonable predictor of how the player might do in the future. It'll be graded out of 100, and will count towards 50 percent of their final grade. If the starter is a rookie, I'm going to go based off of how I ranked that player in this past upcoming draft.
Upside - This is a wide encompassing category. I'm going to be looking at return from injury, any beneficial/harmful scheme changes, any changes in personnel that might affect this position (for example, for quarterbacks, you look at changes in offensive line and wide receiver). This'll be graded out of 100 and be worth 25 percent of the final grade.
Depth - While it may seem like the position should be based solely on the starters, equally as important is your depth pieces. Your backups and situational players are your first line defense in case someone goes down and they can play important specialist roles as well. This'll be graded out of 100 and be worth the final 25 percent of the final grade.
Eagles - 97/100
Redskins - 93/100
Cowboys - 90/100
Giants - 84/100
In terms of performance last year, the New York Giants do not currently have a 1,000-yard rusher on their roster. Rashad Jennings came closest with the Oakland Raiders with 733 yards to go with 6 TDs. David Wilson, the other running back available to the Giants, was in line for a big season before undergoing season ending neck surgery early in the year. Andre Williams is a rookie that led the NCAA in rushing yards last year.
In stark contrast, Lesean McCoy of the Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards, averaging over 100 yards/game. He's probably in competition for best running back in the league with Adrian Peterson, probably is better, as he'll tell anyone who will listen. To add to that, the Eagles have now added Darren Sproles who is a running back in the vaguest sense of the word. He had a down year last year, but he's still a multifaceted threat that makes him the prototype offensive weapon in the NFL. Add both of those together and you have a recipe for a monstrous run game.
The Cowboys and Redskins are fairly close together, though Alfred Morris is a better player than Demarco Murray. He racked up 1,275 yards and is poised to have another big year. He is joined by Lache Seastrunk, a player that I compared to David Wilson and was one of the 3 best RBs in this year's draft in my eyes. He should add an explosive component to their team. I've rated him on par with Andre Williams for the purposes of this rating. They also have Roy Helu, who is an effective three-down back. Demarco Murray had a good year as well, racking up an awesome 5.2 yards per carry en route to 1,121 yards and 9 TDs. His main backup is Lance Dunbar, a size/speed player with 150 yards last season.
The upside of the Eagles here is the Lesean McCoy reprises his role in Chip Kelly's run-heavy scheme. McCoy is supremely talented and I don't see a drop off in his play. Sproles is getting older and at some points last season, broke down. He'll have limited snaps but I think this new scheme will be perfect for him as a mid-to-short range weapon.
The Giants get high marks here because while there is supreme uncertainty with their RB corps, the upside is massive. Jennings has been a career backup, no doubt, but he's got his chance as a steady running back by committee leader. The reason why I have the Giants two points above the Cowboys and Redskins is the "X" factor. David Wilson. He was a first-round pick for a reason, and he flashed greatness. His spinal injury is NOT something that will limit him physically on the field IF he is cleared (and he will be). There is risk involved, but it's quite low, and there is no physical deterioration in performance. Andre Williams can be an effective closer and masher.
The Redskins and Cowboys are near equal here for me, as their leading rushers are near identical in terms of performance. I don't think Jay Gruden's run scheme will be as effective as Mike Shanahan's was. Demarco Murray is injury prone (and he gets the kind of injuries that can limit him on the field). Ultimately those concerns cancel each other out.
I'm a fan of the Redskins depth chart at running back. Alfred Morris, Roy Helu Jr., Lache Seastrunk make for a solid trio. The Eagles combat that with Lesean McCoy, Darren Sproles and Chris Polk. I think while Polk can be a solid player, I don't see the upside there that Seastrunk can bring. The Giants have three guys that could very well split the carries down equally in Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and David Wilson. Whether that's a comment on the state of the starters or their depth is dependent on your perception. The Cowboys have Murray, and then the aforementioned Lance Dunbar, with the unimpressive Joseph Randle backing them up.
Well, once again, we see the Giants coming in last. The issue here is that the team was exceedingly bad last year. They were the only team to not come close to having a 1,000-yard rusher en route to a disappointing finish. However, the high upside score shows that there is some wiggle room here and the potential for next year is among the highest in the division. The Giants also have three guys in relatively similar standing, so the potential for competition is exciting. We're coming closer to becoming a better offense. guys. Don't worry, we're not going to be last in everything!