NFL Running Backs: Who Will Be No. 1 at Season's End?

Dan Wilkins@@DanWilkinsNFLCorrespondent IIOctober 15, 2012

NFL Running Backs: Who Will Be No. 1 at Season's End?

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    Success as a running back at the NFL level through six weeks is one thing, but what is more important is the consistency that a team can count on throughout an entire season. This is true for NFL teams themselves and with fantasy owners as well.

    At season's end, the running backs leading the league in rushing will feature both a few new faces, and a few who are no stranger to the top of the leader board.

5. Ryan Mathews

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    Much has been expected of Ryan Mathews since his arrival into the league, but he experienced some struggles out of the gate courtesy of both injuries and some ball security issues.

    Regardless, there has been no denying his talent as a running back, and he now looks ready to reach his potential.

    Mathews enjoyed a breakout game of sorts in Week 5 against the Saints, rushing for 80 yards on just 12 carries. Currently averaging 5.1 yards per carry in just three games this season since coming back from injury, expect Ryan Mathews to get more and more opportunities as he reclaims his role in Norv Turner's balanced attack.

    He and the Chargers will enjoy a favorable schedule down the stretch, and play in an AFC West division that struggles defending the run. If he can stay healthy, as is the key for any running back, he has a chance to shoot up the rushing leader boards, and quite possibly finish near the top by season's end. 

4. Alfred Morris

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    Heading into the season, not even the most informed of league insiders knew who Mike Shanahan's choice was for the Redskins' starting running back position. By Week 1, rookie Alfred Morris had earned the job, and through six weeks of play, he has not looked back.

    Shanahan-led offenses have long been built around a solid running game, and this year is no different. Add in the threat of the zone read option with Robert Griffin III under center, and the running game becomes even more wide open for the running backs.

    Currently sitting at third in the NFL with 538 rushing yards, as well as fourth in attempts with 116, we can expect to see the same consistent production and opportunities from Morris for the remainder of the season.

3. Ray Rice

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    Ray Rice has been no stranger to the NFL's rushing yardage leader board, as he has been a workhorse for the Ravens ever since his arrival in the league. Already off to a strong start to the 2012 season, both his role and that of the Baltimore running game altogether should see an increase moving forward.

    With the rash of injuries experienced on the defensive side of the ball, that unit has begun to struggle. Ray Rice will now be relied upon even more to lead a running game that will be key in winning the time of possession battle, and keeping the defense off the field.

    Currently sitting at seventh in the NFL with 482 yards, Rice's numbers should climb quickly with more opportunities than his current 16.2 carries per game. With the Ravens' playoff hopes now likely resting on the play of their offense, look for Ray Rice to step up.

2. Arian Foster

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    Arian Foster burst onto the scene in 2010, leading the NFL in rushing just one year after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee. Since then, he has proven himself to be among the most consistent and dominant running backs in the NFL.

    Foster, the feature back in the Houston Texans' run-based offense, currently sits second in the NFL with 561 yards rushing, and leads the league with an average of 26.4 carries per game.

    As the running game goes, so too does the entire Texans offense, so we can expect his opportunities to remain consistent.

    Although he is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry so far this season, look for that to increase moving forward as the somewhat new look Texans offensive line continues to come together. Should this happen, Foster can easily find himself at least within the league's top five leading rushers for the third consecutive season.  

1. Jamaal Charles

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    Many did not know what to expect from Jamaal Charles heading into the season, as it is extremely difficult to have instant success just one year removed from an ACL injury. So far, Charles has proven all of the doubters to be extremely wrong.

    Capable of taking a running play to the end zone from anywhere on the field, Charles is proving why he is one of the league's most dangerous playmakers. He currently leads the league in rushing with 591 yards, including an incredible 233-yard performance in Week 3 against the Saints.

    In a Kansas City offense where the running game has proven to be the only reliable way to move the football, he will continue to get many opportunities to add to that total. As scary as it is for opposing defenses—Charles has only played six games since coming off of the knee injury—he will only get better as the season wears on.