The Hungriest NFL Backups Who Should Be Starting
Oftentimes, there is no more beloved figure on the team than the backup. Fans get to fantasize about what their team would be like if the second-stringer actually got a chance to show what he can do full-time.
Obviously, this happens more often when a team is struggling at a specific position, but good teams have hungry backups that are pining to be the man as well.
Generally, we associate this type of dynamic with quarterbacks, but it goes beyond the signal-callers.
This slideshow identifies 15 guys with their eyes on starting, either for their current club or elsewhere.
Alex Smith has to be miffed, and that's certainly justifiable. Not only did he lose his starting job after an injury, but he wasn't playing poorly when he was replaced.
This hit created the concussion that opened the door for Colin Kaepernick to replace Smith:
Smith had just won NFC Player of the Week after completing 18 of his 19 passes against the Arizona Cardinals on October 29. He is obviously not the player the Niners prefer, as they used his injury as an excuse to play the guy they favored to begin with.
Kaepernick is a very talented young quarterback, but he doesn't necessarily give the Niners a better chance to win right now as they near the playoffs, when experience and veteran leadership becomes much more valuable.
Smith is a starter-turned-backup, but you can bet he's hungry to become the man again.
Rodgers is only 5'6", but he's built like a fire hydrant. He's only had 68 carries this season, but he's rushed for 274 yards and a touchdown.
He obviously doesn't look like the ideal starting running back, but if you compare him to Michael Turner at the present moment, Rodgers is the better back.
In the last three games, Rodgers has rushed for 108 yards on just 23 carries. Turner has picked up 156 yards on 40 carries. Clearly, Rodgers is doing more with less.
The roles need to be rearranged in Atlanta's backfield. Rodgers should be the primary back; Turner should be the short-yardage back. "Burner" is too heavy for any other duty at this point. One of his thighs is the size of Rodgers' torso.
It's not a good look.
Ever since Joe Webb jumped over seven bags in a private show-off session prior to the 2010 NFL draft, there has been a buzz about him.
As you can see, he's quite the athlete, but I've been impressed with his ability to look downfield while on the run as well. He hasn't had a ton of opportunities to show his skills, but whenever he's on the field, there is an electricity about him.
He's a raw talent—his three touchdown passes and five interceptions in 152 pass attempts are proof of that.
However, as the Minnesota Vikings begin to fade from the NFC playoff picture with Christian Ponder under center, would it hurt to show Webb some love?
I'm in no way implying that Bernard Pierce should supplant Ray Rice as the Ravens' feature back. However, Pierce deserves to get more carries from somewhere.
The rookie out of Temple is averaging 4.2 yards per carry in an offense that doesn't even give it to Rice as much as it should. Pierce is a tough, physical runner that scored 53 touchdowns in three seasons at Temple—and 27 of those came in 2011.
With Pierce locked in until 2016, he'll likely be Rice's backup for the next two or three seasons.
It's a shame that barring an injury to Rice—which we'd never want to see—Pierce may not get an opportunity to start until he's 26.
Most backs start to slow down at 27.
He could have an extended shelf life because he won't be carrying the load, but he's not going to maximize his ability in Baltimore.
Spiller is perhaps the most electrifying back in the game, yet he doesn't start if Fred Jackson is healthy. Jackson has proven himself to be a great all-purpose back, but keeping Spiller off the field has to be tough.
The former Clemson standout can take it to the house anytime he touches it, and his stats prove his game-breaking ability. As a receiver or a runner, Spiller is extremely dangerous.
In the last five games, Spiller has averaged just under seven yards per touch.
Both he and Jackson have been banged up this season, but there is no doubt Spiller would prove capable of special things if he had more touches.
Greg McElroy stepped in and threw what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown in a pitiful 7-6 New York Jets victory.
Now there may be a full-fledged QB controversy in New York—and Tebow is not even a part of it. That's a tough pill to swallow for a guy that has done everything asked of him without complaining.
He's taken this insulting role from the Jets despite leading the Denver Broncos to an 8-8 record and a division title in 2011. Sure Peyton Manning is doing much more with virtually the same offensive weapons, but Tebow doesn't have to be better than Manning.
Until now he's had to prove he can be better than Sanchez—and now he has to do the same with McElroy.
Meet the Houston Texans' version of Bernard Pierce.
Ben Tate will never overtake Arian Foster as the featured back unless there's an injury. Foster is an elite performer, but Tate has proven in limited opportunities that he could be a solid starting back himself.
Last season, while Foster missed three games, Tate saw more carries. He nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark despite only getting 175 attempts. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry in 2011.
Tate is only 24 years old and he has a ton of life left in his legs. Will he ever get a chance to show what he can do as the No. 1 guy?
Probably not in Houston.
Ballard deserves to start for this Marvel Comics-like dive into the end zone against the Tennessee Titans on October 28.
Beyond this great effort, Ballard has been just ordinary. That said, I've never been a big Donald Brown fan.
Ballard is at least as good as Brown right now, and as a rookie, we can assume he has more upside. Brown has produced only 98 yards on 34 carries in the last four games, whereas Ballard has tallied 202 yards on 50 carries in the same span of time.
His improvement could make him the feature back in Indianapolis in 2013. As evidenced by the spectacular effort against the Titans, Ballard is plenty hungry.
Reggie Bush has had a great stay in Miami, but Daniel Thomas is a horse. He doesn't possess the game-breaking speed that Bush does, but he is an excellent north-south back with good hands.
You'll never see his worth if he is relegated to spell Bush. He's the type of power back that wears down a defense. At 6'1", 230 pounds, Thomas is a between-the-tackles, plowing runner.
The Dolphins are using him as a short-yardage back this season, and he's scored four touchdowns in that role. Still, he is capable of more.
Bush doesn't have the same hold on the top spot as the aforementioned Foster and Rice, but he's keeping Thomas from getting the 20 to 25 carries a game he needs to shine.
He has battled some injuries in his two years in the NFL, but if he ever gets a shot at carrying the load behind a good offensive line, he'll produce.
Mark Ingram is one of two former Heisman winners on this list, and he's part of a logjammed backfield in the Big Easy. Ingram has always reminded me of Emmitt Smith, but he hasn't ever had a chance to do Emmitt-like things in New Orleans.
I honestly don't know why the Saints used a first-round pick on such a talented player to only give him 220 carries in 22 games.
Ingram hasn't exactly set the world on fire with his opportunities. He's averaging 3.7 yards per carry in his two-year career, but he is the type of back that needs consistent touches.
Ingram needs a change of scenery to reach his full potential.
Joe Morgan has only been targeted 15 times this season. He's made five receptions, but two of them have been of the spectacular variety.
This catch-and-run at Tampa Bay:
And this diving catch against the San Francisco 49ers:
These display Gordon's desire, athleticism and hands. I know Devery Henderson is a speed merchant, but Gordon's potential seems apparent. The Saints have got to find a way to get him on the field a little more.
Even Drew Brees could benefit from a weapon like Morgan as he tries to will his team into the playoffs.
Chris Ivory is also caught in the Saints' crowded backfield, but he is perhaps the best of the bunch. At 24 years old, Ivory has shown perhaps the most upside of any of the Saints backs.
This season, he ripped off a 56-yard touchdown run against the Atlanta Falcons on November 11.
The run displayed all of Ivory's talents as a ball-carrier. He showed speed, agility and ferocity in breaking several tackles and racing to the end zone.
For the season, Ivory has rushed for 195 yards on only 36 carries.
He's 6'0" and 222 pounds of energy and desire. He deserves to be the Saints' feature back.
Up until November 5, he hadn't even played in a game this season. He mentioned being frustrated earlier in the year, and the Saints resisted trade offers from other teams, per Pro Football Talk.
Ivory is a restricted free agent at the end of this season. Unless the Saints are planning on using the franchise tag on him, Ivory could be feeding his hunger for another team next season.
There must be a prerequisite at Abilene Christian that states all players under 225 pounds must run at least a 4.3 40-yard dash. The Wildcats have produced speedsters like: Danieal Manning, Johnny Knox, Bernard Scott and now Daryl Richardson.
The St. Louis Rams running back is lightning fast.
He looks like he's a missed tackle from a touchdown whenever he touches it. Of all the players on this list, he stands to see the starting lineup the soonest. He has started in spots for an injured Steven Jackson, and he's been effective.
He's averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 85 attempts this season.
As of now, if Jackson is healthy, he'll get the nod, but Jackson's days in St. Louis are almost certainly numbered. He'll turn 30 years old in July, and I can't see the Rams bringing him back after his injury troubles.
Expect to see St. Louis bring in another back, but the starting job should be Richardson's soon.
Mario Manningham proved he could be a prime-time receiver in the Super Bowl for the New York Giants. He left New York for San Francisco and hasn't seen the field as much as he might have expected.
He has 41 catches on 53 targets this season, and he's currently listed below Randy Moss on the depth chart. You can make the argument that even Moss is being under-utilized in the Niners' run-first offense too, but Manningham is just 26 years old.
Perhaps he figures to play a significant role in San Francisco down the road, but as of now he isn't getting the tick he deserves.
David Wilson has the tools to provide the New York Giants with something they haven't had since Tiki Barber: a running back with game-breaking speed.
Wilson is even faster than Barber, though.
Early in the season, he struggled, and an early-season fumble landed him in Tom Coughlin's dog house, per the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
His fumbling "issue" was really overblown.
The gaffe took place in the kid's first game on his second carry. He hasn't fumbled since, so it seems like a ridiculously short leash was placed on him to begin with.
Now with Andre Brown done for the season, the Giants will have to give Wilson a look, per New York Daily News. Don't be surprised if, by the end of the season, Giants fans are clamoring for Wilson to be the feature back.
He's already displayed a taste of his ability with the ball in his hands. Even though he's only had limited carries, Wilson has already ripped off runs of 40 and 20 yards this season.
He's the real deal, and he's hungry for more.