The great thing about the NFL is that it's always full of the unexpected. One never surely knows what they are going to get from one season to the next. Top-tier players seem to be the most consistent, whereas middle-to-lower-tier players fluctuate more often than not.
This can be said about players at every position. Some positions see more turnover than others during the offseason, and it just depends upon the year and the strength of the draft class at that position.
This year's list of starters at the running back position is shaping up to have quite a few familiar names. So, let's do our best to project realistic stat predictions for every starting running back in 2013.
Even though Rashard Mendenhall posted strong numbers in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Pittsburgh Steelers passed on re-signing the former first-round pick. An ACL injury towards the end of 2011 and other nagging injuries last season easily scared the club away.
Yet that didn't stop the Arizona Cardinals from swooping in and snatching him up in free agency this offseason. Newly appointed head coach Bruce Arians is familiar with Mendenhall's skill set and ability after spending four seasons with him in Pittsburgh.
Look for the 225-pound back to return to form, as he will now be the Cardinals No. 1 option in the backfield.
The team parted ways with the underachieving Beanie Wells on March 11.
2013 Projected Stats: 264 carries, 954 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns; 10 receptions, 60 receiving yards and zero touchdowns
The St. Louis Rams' all-time leading rusher decided it was time to move on after head coach Jeff Fisher decided that a running back by committee approach was best suited for his ball club. Jackson understood the stance and showed no hard feelings toward the organization, so he felt that playing for a Super Bowl contender at this point in his career was the only other option.
Green Bay and Atlanta were both vying for his services, but Jackson felt the Falcons were the better fit after they released Michael Turner and his bloated contract. SJ39 may not be the rusher he once was, but he has an incredible chance to keep his 1,000-yard streak alive in Atlanta's offense.
If he eclipses the 1,000-yard plateau in 2013, it will mark his ninth-straight season doing so.
2013 Projected Stats: 267 carries, 1,068 yards rushing and five rushing touchdowns; 25 receptions, 175 yards receiving and one touchdown
Much like Jackson, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has a streak of his own to keep alive. He will be eyeing his fifth-straight 1,000-yard season in 2013, and that is not to mention that of the five years Rice that has been in the league, he has never averaged below four yards per carry.
Despite having Bernard Pierce as a more than capable backup, Rice will continue to shoulder the load. As a starter, he's never carried the ball less the 250 times in a season, and has never been targeted in the passing game less than 80 times.
Shipping Anquan Boldin to the 49ers will force Raen's offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell to feed No. 27 even more during the earlier part of next season until a solid No. 2 option opposite Torrey Smith develops in the passing game.
2013 Projected Stats: 261 carries, 1,175 yards rushing and nine touchdowns; 54 receptions, 511 yards receiving and two touchdowns
Despite being absolutely sensational every time he touched the ball, former Buffalo Bills head coach Chan Gailey loved to limit the number of touches C.J. Spiller received. I get that a team doesn't want its biggest playmaker getting hurt or overworked, but at some point, a coach has to give his team the best opportunity to win.
And Spiller did that.
He forced 53 missed tackles on 207 carries, picked up 742 yards after contact and he averaged six yards per carry. That is not a bad season for a guy who only started nine games. One can only hope that new coach Doug Marrone realizes that having Spiller in the ball game will make the Buffalo Bills a more successful organization.
2013 Projected Stats: 209 carries, 1,170 yards rushing and six touchdowns; 42 receptions, 380 yards receiving and two touchdowns
Running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams were both given large contracts under former general manager Marty Hurney. One was a good decision (Stewart) and one was a not so good decision (Williams). To no one's surprise, Carolina is now looking to dump Williams' contract and move forward with Stewart and Mike Tolbert (per NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal).
This should be good news for the sixth-year pro out of Oregon. When given the opportunity, Stewart has shown uncanny ability as a full-time lead back. In 2009, he carried the rock 221 times, rushed for 1,133 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
He could easily reproduce those same numbers if Williams is shown the door prior to the 2013 season.
2013 Projected Stats: 202 carries, 848 yards rushing and three touchdowns; 38 receptions, 347 yards receiving and one touchdown
Even though the Chicago Bears added Michael Bush to the backfield mix prior to the 2012 season, Matt Forte still managed to carry the rock 248 times. His numbers in the passing game were down with the addition of Brandon Marshall at wide receiver, but that may have been a blessing in disguise.
Keeping Forte healthy and on the field has always been the Bears' biggest challenge. He hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2010, and he has battled through numerous nagging injuries that seem to hamper his performance in one way or another.
Little has been said about newly appointed head coach Marc Trestman's offensive philosophy, yet we do know one thing: Forte has been the team's most consistent player, year in and year out, ever since his rookie season in 2008.
His fat contract and elite talent will make him the team's offensive focus by default.
2013 Projected Stats: 270 carries, 1,231 yards rushing and six touchdowns; 46 receptions, 489 yards receiving and three touchdowns
The former New England Patriot may have failed to captivate the common fan in 2012, but he really showed signs of life as the Benagals season wore on. He posted four 100-yard games over the course of Cincinnati's final six games, and he helped the team win six of its final seven regular season games.
Yet there's no guarantee that BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be the team's starting running back come Week 1 of the 2013 season. Word is quickly spreading (h/t Stripe Hype) that Eddie Lacy from the University of Alabama may be on the Bengals radar either in Round 1 or Round 2.
However, Green-Ellis has the ability to be successful, whether he's in a starting role or not.
2013 Projected Stats: 252 carries, 967 yards rushing and seven touchdowns; 12 receptions, 77 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
The Cleveland Browns have added exceptional talent at numerous skill positions over the past few drafts. However, none of them have been more of a home run than 2012 first-round pick Trent Richardson. Richardson quickly made a name for himself as a power running back during his rookie season.
He scored 11 touchdowns, forced 40 missed tackles and amassed 558 yards after contact, and one can only expect his rushing totals to skyrocket in 2013. Cleveland's offensive line is improving, and Richardson should be fully healthy after playing through ankle and rib injuries for a majority of his rookie season.
The 230-pound running back barely scratched the surface in 2012. Look for this upcoming season to be his breakout year.
Final 2013 Stats: 320 carries, 1,422 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns; 41 receptions, 393 yards receiving and one touchdown
It's hard to remember the last time the Dallas Cowboys had a rock-solid running game, and long gone are the days of Emmitt Smith. Despite having more than a few promising statistical seasons in the last decade, the Dallas Cowboys have had a hard time finding someone who can be successful at the running back position on a weekly basis.
DeMarco Murray has shown flashes during his first two seasons, yet he hasn't been able to stay healthy for a full 16-game slate. He has missed nine games in 32 eligible contests. In 2011, Murray suffered an ankle injury, and in 2012, he missed time early on with a sprained foot.
The talent is there after posting a 5.5 yard per carry average as a rookie, but he needs to avoid the injury bug, a problem more than a few running backs deal with year-after-year.
2013 Projected Stats: 234 carries, 1,099 yards rushing and five touchdowns; 36 receptions, 309 yards receiving and two touchdowns
The writing isn't entirely on the wall yet, but it may be coming soon. Even though Willis McGahee is listed at the top of the Denver Bronco's depth chart, he may never be the player he once was after another knee injury forced him out of action for the Bronco's final six regular season games in 2012.
Depending on the overall health of his knee, McGahee may have ample competition when training camp rolls around. If his knee is healthier than before, and if he can hold off up and comer Ronnie Hillman, No. 23 still has the skill set required to carry the load at age 31.
A 1,000-yard season is definitely out of the question, but short-yardage first downs are not.
2013 Projected Stats: 158 carries, 616 yards rushing and three touchdowns; 13 receptions, 86 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
Jahvid Best may not be giving up hope after numerous concussions, but it seems as if the Detroit Lions have an answer to this problem after adding free agent running back Reggie Bush this offseason. Throughout his career, Bush has proven to be a top-notch playmaker and an overall threat that can be used in a wide variety of ways.
For his career, he has scored 29 rushing touchdowns, 15 receiving touchdowns and four special teams touchdowns. Not to mention he was named to the USA Today's All-Joe Team in 2011, and he was an All-Pro in 2008.
Bush may not ever be the running back that he was hyped up to be as a rookie, but he will be an upgrade over the Lions former first-round pick.
2013 Projected Stats: 194 carries, 873 yards rushing and six touchdowns; 42 receptions, 371 yards receiving and three touchdowns
The starting running back position for the Green Bay Packers has seemed to change weekly over the past few years. Injuries and inconsistent play are two of the biggest contributing reasons behind the revolving door. However, it's also worth mentioning that it hasn't exactly been a position that needed to be addressed due to the team's vaunted passing attack.
Sure, they would have liked to land Steven Jackson, but they were going to be fine whether they did or didn't because, as previously mentioned, Green Bay is predicated on its incredible passing attack. Aaron Rodgers and the offensive line make the offense tick, not the running backs and the wide receivers.
If James Starks is healthy and returns to his 2010 playoff form, he will be atop the Packers depth chart during training camp. However, I wouldn't expect eye-opening numbers from an oft-injured, middle-of-the-road running back.
2013 Projected Stats: 156 carries, 654 yards rushing and two touchdowns; 23 receptions, 177 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
One of the league's most exciting players on and off the field is no stranger to success. Arian Foster has been named an NFL All-Pro twice, has been selected to three Pro Bowls and was the league's leading rusher in 2010.
Many have wondered if the increase in touches over the years will slow him down sooner rather than later. Some say yes, yet some say no. Regardless of what's believed to happen, it's almost guaranteed that Foster will rush for 1,000 yards, score over 10 touchdowns on the ground and catch 50 passes out of the backfield.
Even if Houston adds one or two more playmakers in the draft, No. 23 will remain the Texans focal point in 2013.
2013 Projected Stats: 290 carries, 1,334 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns; 51 receptions, 478 yards receiving and four touchdowns
Much like the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts haven't had the easiest of luck finding a franchise running back. Many believed former first-round pick Joseph Addai was on the fast-track to success after posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons right out of the gate.
However, injuries and an overall drop-off in performance started to catch up to him. He quickly became an average running back who turned in mediocre performances weekly. These poor performances forced the Colts to draft Donald Brown in 2009.
Brown was supposed to be "the guy." Yet he never became "the guy," and Indianapolis hasn't found consistency at a position of need. If the Colts don't address the position in the draft, expect another season of disappointment from No. 31.
He's never rushed for more than 645 yards in a season, nor has he scored more than five rushing touchdowns.
2013 Projected Stats: 176 carries, 704 yards rushing and three touchdowns; 24 receptions, 236 yards receiving and one touchdown
The lone bright spot for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the years has been running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He's been viewed as the team's only source of offensive production since 2009. He earned consecutive All-Pro and Pro Bowl selections in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
Even though Jacksonville went 5-11 in 2011, he was the league's leading rusher. For his career, he holds a 4.6 yard per carry average, has tallied 63 rushing touchdowns and is only 232 yards short of 7,500 yards for his career. Those are impressive feats for a running back who just turned 28 on March 23.
After a disappointing 2012 season that was marred by injury, newly appointed head coach Gus Bradley is hoping Jones-Drew's bum foot is a thing of the past.
2013 Projected Stats: 288 carries, 1,190 yards rushing and seven touchdowns; 45 receptions, 357 yards receiving and one touchdown
Despite going 2-14 in 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs found a way to send five players to the Pro Bowl. Of the five, there was none who earned it more than running back Jamaal Charles. Charles not only carried the ball more than ever, but he also posted the best statistical season of his career.
He ran for an incredible 1,509 yards on the ground and caught 35 passes out of the backfield. His 285 carries were a career-high, along with his 91-yard touchdown run that took place in Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints.
New head coach Andy Reid is often peculiar when it comes to running backs and how they are used, so I wouldn't expect Charles to have a repeat performance of his 2012 season. Yet he will be the team's most dynamic threat, so it shouldn't surprise anyone if Charles leads the team in all-purpose yards.
2013 Projected Stats: 214 carries, 1,112 yards rushing and eight touchdowns; 62 receptions, 558 yards receiving and two touchdowns
Reggie Bush may have revived his career in Miami, but that doesn't mean that he was worth keeping around. The Dolphins have draft stock invested in Daniel Thomas, so they felt now was the right time to make him the team's top running back.
Thomas has a mere 256 carries over the first two years of his career, and he hasn't averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry on those attempts. Yet he hasn't always been healthy, which may have ultimately effected his play to a large extent.
If Thomas can make it through a full 16-game schedule, he will have the opportunity to be the Dolphins lead back for years to come.
2013 Projected Stats: 231 carries, 1,082 yards rushing and five touchdowns; 44 receptions, 328 yards receiving and one touchdown
When a running back rushes for 2,000 yards in any given year, the expectations remain at that level for the rest of his career. Sure, it's not fair because the odds of him reaching that plateau consistently are slim. But if one player could do it consistently, Adrian Peterson would be that guy.
It seemed as if Peterson defied every medical and physical hurdle placed in his way last season. "Mind over matter" was his motto, and he let nothing stand in his way of achieving greatness. He carried Minnesota to the playoffs, as quarterback Christian Ponder often struggled.
A similar season in terms of team success should be expected, yet another 2,000-yard season should not be expected. The Vikings will be looking to add more playmakers to ease the pressure on Peterson, and the weekly workload, like the one he was getting last year, would be frowned upon.
2013 Projected Stats: 290 carries, 1,479 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns; 16 receptions, 126 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
After drafting Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen in 2011, it was a foregone conclusion that BenJarvus Green-Ellis would be out of the picture by 2012. That sentiment rang true last season, as Green-Ellis became the starter in Cincinnati and Ridley took over starting duties in New England.
Ridley's first season as a starter was a huge success. He became the Patriots' first 1,200-yard rusher since Corey Dillon in 2004, not to mention that he scored 12 rushing touchdowns and picked up 82 first downs on the ground as well.
Even if New England works in Vereen a bit more in 2013, Ridley is still the organization's No. 1 running back.
2013 Projected Stats: 277 carries, 1,246 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns; 18 receptions, 162 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
Former first-round pick Mark Ingram has been a disappoint thus far and Darren Sproles isn't an every down back, so it would be wise to expect Pierre Thomas to enter the 2013 season atop the Saints depth chart.
He has never been the club's first option at the start of a season, yet he has been New Orleans' most reliable option. In the last two years, he has only missed one game while rushing for 1,035 yards on 115 carries.
Let's not forget that he caught 89 passes in that same two-year span. Thomas may not be the strongest player, nor the fastest, but he is accountable. Accountability goes a long way over the course of a long, grueling season.
2013 Projected Stats: 171 carries, 752 yards rushing and three touchdowns; 48 receptions, 384 yards receiving and two touchdowns
Even though Ahmad Bradshaw played a critical role during the playoffs in both 2007 and 2011, his time with head coach Tom Coughlin and upper management came to a close at the end of the 2012 season. Drafting David Wilson in the first round of last year's draft entrenched him as the team's running back of the future.
Wilson played sparingly early on in the season, but came on strong as the season played out. He notched the first 100-yard game of his career against the Saints on December 9, and he registered his first multi-touchdown game that day as well.
One should fully expect Wilson to be a top-10 running back by the end of the 2013 season.
2013 Projected Stats: 186 carries, 1,041 yards rushing and eight touchdowns; 30 receptions, 204 yards receiving and one touchdown
The New York Jets have quickly faded away from their days of grounding and pounding their way to AFC Championship games. As soon as the offensive line regressed, so did the entire offense. Even the back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher, Shonn Greene, has moved on.
This means that the Jets starting tailback is now Bilal Powell, the former fourth-round pick out of Louisville. He has only appeared in 16 games, carried the ball 123 times and caught 18 passes out of the backfield.
However, the organization thinks very highly of him. So if New York can ever get its offense figured out, Powell has the opportunity to make a name for himself.
2013 Projected Stats: 175 carries, 752 yards rushing and four touchdowns; 17 receptions, 138 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
Amongst all the high-dollar cuts the Oakland Raiders have made under GM Reggie McKenzie, it's surprising that running back Darren McFadden has remained with the team. Like countless others, his career has been marred by injuries.
In five years, he has never played more than 13 games in a season, and he has only carried the ball over 200 times twice in his career. Yet when he does play, he's dynamite. For his career, he averages 4.3 yards per carry, makes defenders miss and is one of the fastest players in the league when healthy.
McFadden will be the offensive focal point again in 2013, but his time as a Raider may be running out if he suffers another serious injury.
2013 Projected Stats: 244 carries, 1,112 yards rushing and six touchdowns; 42 receptions, 373 yards receiving and two touchdowns
Now that Andy Reid has moved on, and Chip Kelly has taken over in Philadelphia, Eagles running back LeSean McCoy could be in store for his biggest season yet. For whatever reason, Reid never tailored the offense around McCoy.
He always found ways to make the team one of the most pass-heavy squads in the NFL. That would have been fine if the club had a deficiency at running back, or had a quarterback named Tom Brady, yet the Eagles had neither of those within the past couple of years.
Based on Kelly's offense and the staff that he brought to Philadelphia, No. 25 should be licking his chops for his first-year under one of the most innovative minds in all of football.
2013 Projected Stats: 269 carries, 1,371 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns; 60 receptions, 431 yards receiving and three touchdowns
The Pittsburgh Steelers must have enjoyed watching Jonathan Dwyer in 2012. After lesser roles in 2010 and 2011, Dwyer garnered more playing time after Rashard Mendenhall was in and out of the lineup with a variety of nagging injuries.
In a fill-in role, Dwyer rushed for 623 yards and scored two touchdowns. He posted back-to-back 100-yard games in Week's 4 and 5. He also rattled off multiple 30-yard plus runs and caught passes out of the backfield.
At the age of 23, coupled with the fact Chris Rainey was released, Dwyer's 2013 season is setting itself up quite nicely.
2013 Projected Stats: 229 carries, 936 yards rushing and five touchdowns; 22 receptions, 127 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
When I think of the oft-injured Ryan Mathews, I think of him as an extremely talented player who is equally as fragile to Darren McFadden. Unlike McFadden, though, Mathews has at least played in more than 13 games in one season and has a higher touchdown-to-games played ratio.
Everyone thought Mathews' rookie season was just an injury-riddled fluke after he broke out of his shell in 2011. While rushing for 1,091 yards during his sophomore season, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry as well. Yet his 2012 season looked more like his 2010 season, and it played out much like the rest of the Chargers season did.
To get back back on the right track, Mathews will have to prove that he can be in the lineup on a weekly basis.
2013 Projected Stats: 253 carries, 1,066 yards rushing and nine touchdowns; 55 receptions, 426 yards receiving and one touchdown
Despite two major knee operations in college and a fractured hip in the NFL, San Francisco 49ers' running back Frank Gore has enjoyed success on an annual basis. He's the 49ers all-time rushing touchdown leader, has led the league in rushing, has been selected to four Pro Bowls and has been selected to an NFL All-Pro team.
Many players would be satisfied with such a decorated career, but not Gore. He wants a Super Bowl ring, just like every other NFL player does. He came close in 2012 after a fine regular season and postseason performance, but I think that he will be even hungrier in 2013.
This could mean that Gore's impact on the 49ers may be at its highest point this coming season. It's also worth mentioning that the stout offensive line play and decrease in overall touches from year's past has him playing at a place where most 30-year-old running backs don't play at.
2013 Projected Stats: 216 carries, 1,015 yards rushing and seven touchdowns; 23 receptions, 179 yards receiving and one touchdown
"Beast Mode" Marshawn Lynch's career was once on its way to fizzling out, until John Schneider and Pete Carroll rescued him from Buffalo Bills. Since joining the Seahawks, Lynch has transformed into an All-Pro zone scheme running back.
A far cry from the power runner he was with the Bills, he is still a power runner who punishes people. Yet offensive line coach Tom Cable has taught him to become a more patient runner, and it has paid off. In back-to-back seasons, he has posted the two best statistical seasons of his career.
He was named to his first All-Pro team in 2012, and he was elected to his second-straight Pro Bowl. With the Seahawks on the up and up, expect Lynch to find his way onto plenty All-Pro team's in the future.
2013 Projected Stats: 312 carries, 1,510 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns; 25 receptions, 212 yards receiving and zero touchdowns
After losing Steven Jackson in free agency, the Rams running back position has been a hard one to predict. Seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson played well at times last year as Jackson's spell, but other than that, few others even took a snap out of the backfield.
Even though he was a second-round pick, running back Isaiah Pead couldn't work his way into the lineup. In terms of makeup, he has skill, and he showed it while at the University of Cincinnati. He just needs to spend more time in the playbook.
If he does that, he will be given the opportunity to play on Sundays. If St. Louis stand pat and goes into the season with Richardson and Pead as its top-two backs, No. 26 will win the job outright. Yet he will never be a 250 carry guy—he will be a rotational starter at best.
2013 Projected Stats: 122 carries, 586 yards rushing and two touchdowns; 28 receptions, 231 yards receiving and one touchdown
For whatever reason, there were skeptics who believed that Doug Martin didn't belong in the first round of last year's draft. Boy, I bet those guys are looking back and slapping themselves because Martin went out and proved every naysayer wrong.
He started every game in 2012 and dedicated himself as a rookie. He piled up five 100-yard games, one 200-yard game and scored 12 total touchdowns. Also, let's not forget that he finished the season with an outstanding 1,926 total yards from scrimmage.
His strong performances led him to a Pro Bowl selection and a Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week selection. With big expectations to live up to in 2013, Martin's sophomore season may fall short of his rookie accomplishments.
2013 Projected Stats: 304 carries, 1,337 yards rushing and nine touchdowns; 44 receptions, 422 yards receiving and two touchdowns
After essentially taking a year off in 2011, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson stormed back in 2012. Things didn't come easy this past season, though, as he fought through some pretty lousy effort to make his numbers look respectable.
To get to 1,243 yards rushing, Johnson strung together two 141-yard performances, a 195-yard performance and a 126-yard performance. That is impressive based on the fact that he turned in five performances where he garnered less than 30 yards rushing in a single game.
The acquisition of Shonn Greene may effect Johnson's numbers a bit, but I still expect him to cross the 1,000-yard barrier for the sixth time in his career.
2013 Projected Stats: 256 carries, 1,203 yards rushing and five touchdowns; 36 receptions, 344 yards receiving and one touchdown
The NFL is littered with up-and-coming running backs who will be the face of the league for the next 10 years. Guys like Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson are all expected to be mentioned when talking about the face of the league.
But what about Alfred Morris?
He was a sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic University in 2012. Mike Shanahan typically treats running backs as a flavor of the week, so it was shocking to see Morris start all 16 games. But in truth, Washington's coaching staff didn't have a choice, as he outworked and out performed all of the other running backs.
During his rookie season, he rushed for 1,613 yards, scored 13 rushing touchdowns and put together seven 100-yard rushing games. His 335 carries were a bit alarming, though, so it wouldn't be surprising to see his numbers fall off.
Back-to-back 1,600-yard plus seasons is extremely difficult to pull off.
2013 Projected Stats: 324 carries, 1,587 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns; 14 receptions, 109 yards receiving and zero touchdowns