The NFL has switched to a pass-heavy league over the past few years. Some teams still use a ground-and-pound philosophy, but they are few and far between. Even in a pass-first league, though, there is still a rushing title up for grabs.
In the lockout-shortened season, there were plenty of injuries throughout the league. Here is a look at six running backs coming off of injuries that could win a rushing title in 2012.
Adrian Peterson injured his ACL toward the end of last season, and most believed he wouldn’t be back in time to start the 2012 season. While an injury of that magnitude would sideline most for almost a year, Peterson's quick recovery may add to the rumor he is superhuman.
Even though it looks as if Peterson will start the season opener, he will probably have a light workload in the beginning. Toby Gerhart will most likely be the primary beneficiary while Peterson works his way back to full strength.
While AD will be sharing carries, he will still end near the top of the league in yards. A majority of the offense already runs through him and that doesn’t look like it will change.
In the games Murray started, he averaged 5.5 yards a carry and was not a bad receiving option out of the backfield with 26 receptions. Against the St. Louis Rams, Murray had 25 carries for 253 yards, proving that he has big-game ability.
In the offseason, the Cowboys signed fullback Lawrence Vickers to block for Murray. Vickers did a great job for the Texans last year and helped them to the second-overall rushing attack. The fullback might be an endangered species in the NFL now, but of the few left, Vickers is near the top.
Murray has said (via The San Antonio Express-News) that he feels 100 percent. While that’s how he feels, live contact is a whole different story. If he can come out and not worry about his knee getting hurt, he will have a legitimate shot at a rushing title.
Matt Forte injured his knee against the Kansas City Chiefs last year, which effectively ended the playoff hopes for the Chicago Bears. Forte has been a major weapon for all facets of the Bears' offense.
Forte has had over 50 receptions every year he has been in the league. With the departure of Mike Martz, there may be less emphasis on using Forte as a receiver, and more as a rusher.
While more focus could be placed on the rushing game, Forte will still be a receiving option. If Forte doesn’t win the rushing title, he will be in heavy contention to lead the league in yards from scrimmage.
Jackson surpassed his rushing total from 2010 in six fewer games and 52 fewer carries last season. He also passed his career high in rushing touchdowns. If last year showed what kind of back Jackson can be, a rushing title is not out of the question.
Last year he averaged a career high 5.5 yards per carry, and since the Bills still have a fairly inconsistent passing game, they will rely heavily on Jackson. If Jackson can match his output from last year through a full 16 games, then he will be in heavy contention for the league’s leading rusher.
Last season, Jahvid Best only played six games. Much like Matt Forte, he is a threat in the passing game as well as on the ground. Best is the real long shot to win a rushing title, but his explosiveness gives him a chance.
Best also has breakaway speed that can up his yards per carry. That speed also will help him once he hits the second and third levels of defenders. It will take a lot to get Best to the top, but if he puts it all together, he has a real chance at claiming the rushing title.
Jamaal Charles injured his knee in Week 2 against the Detroit Lions. Every year Charles has gotten a chance to play, he has gotten better and had a 6.9 yards per carry last year before going down.
In 2010, Charles averaged 6.4 yards per carry, so 6.9 isn’t outlandish. During that 2010 season, Charles was keeping pace with Chris Johnson during his 2,000 yard campaign once he took over as the starter.
The one thing that could keep Charles from winning a rushing title is Peyton Hillis. Hillis is one year removed from a season that landed him on the cover of Madden.
The Chiefs typically use the running back that has the hot hand to take the bulk of the carries.
Charles will most likely regain his form. So as long as he can fight off his change-of-pace back in Hillis, he will be one of the early favorites to be the league’s leading rusher.