Power Ranking the 10 Best Running Back Tandems in the NFL
The running back position in the NFL is changing drastically.
Teams have a constant need for players who can churn out yards on the ground, but running backs have short shelf lives in the present NFL. So to combat the fragile nature of the position, many teams are employing a backfield-by-committee approach to keep their backs fresh.
In hopes of bolstering their backfield, the Green Bay Packers spent two picks in the first four rounds on a pair of running backs. Alabama's Eddie Lacy could provide the power the Packers have been lacking from the position, while UCLA's Johnathan Franklin figures to be their much-needed change-of-pace.
While every-down backs are a dying breed, the Minnesota Vikings still go all-in with Adrian Peterson. Some of that has to do with the fact that Peterson is the best back in football, but Toby Gerhart, while a tough runner between the tackles, isn't exactly a highlight reel waiting to happen.
NFL backs come in all shapes and sizes. For every Darren Sproles, there's a LeGarrette Blount. However, having a traditional "thunder and lightning" duo in the backfield isn't a requirement to have a successful tandem of runners either.
Let's take a look at the top 10 running back tandems in football.
10. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart
It's telling that the Minnesota Vikings, who have the league's most dominant running back in Adrian Peterson, only come in at No. 10 on this list, but with their top backup being Toby Gerhart, it's hard to put the Vikings any higher.
Coming off a torn ACL, Peterson had what may have been the best season of all-time for a running back. His total of 2,097 rushing yards speaks for itself, but perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he carried the ball a whopping 348 times less than a year after undergoing major knee surgery.
There are a plethora of talented running backs in today's NFL, but Peterson is the best by far.
Gerhart, the Vikings' No. 2 running back, had a great college career at Stanford, but he's nothing more than an average NFL back. In three years with the Vikings, Gerhart is averaging one fumble every 40 carries, but still, as long as Peterson is wearing purple and gold, the Vikings' running game will be among the best in the league.
9. New York Giants
David Wilson and Andre Brown
The Giants let go of Ahmad Bradshaw, the team's leading rusher in 2012, but they're still in great shape at the position with second-year player David Wilson and journeyman Andre Brown.
Bradshaw rushed for 1,015 yards last season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. When Bradshaw was out of the lineup dealing with an injury, Wilson and Brown filled in admirably.
For the season, Wilson and Brown each averaged over five yards per carry. The duo combined for just 743 yards in 2012, but the Giants' offense didn't miss a beat without Bradshaw.
Former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs has been vocal about his desire to return to New York, per ProFootballTalk, but the Giants seem to be content with who they have. All eyes will be on Wilson and Brown this season. If history is any indication, the Giants will be at least two-deep in the backfield once again.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael
For the past couple seasons, the Seattle Seahawks haven't employed much of a rotation in the backfield. The entirety of their ground game has rested upon the shoulders of Marshawn Lynch.
After racking up 1,590 yards on the ground in 2012, Lynch will certainly receive the bulk of the carries for Seattle in 2013. The Seahawks, however, have taken to the draft to get Lynch some help in each of the past two offseasons.
Last year, the Seahawks spent a fourth-round pick on Robert Turbin. The former Utah State star managed to produce 535 total yards in a limited role as a rookie, but that didn't stop the team from using its second-round draft pick in 2013 on Texas A&M's Christine Michael. Seattle picked Michael with the final pick in Round 2, and if he can prove his doubters wrong, he could be in for a sizeable workload as a rookie.
Lynch has carried the ball 600 times in the past two seasons, so one way or another, the Seahawks will likely look to take some pressure off him in 2013.
7. Carolina Panthers
DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart
The Carolina Panthers have put a lot of money into their backfield.
On top of quarterback Cam Newton, the face of the franchise, the Panthers gave DeAngelo Williams a five-year contract worth $43 million in 2011 before extending the contract of backfield mate Jonathan Stewart with a five-year deal worth $36.5 million last offseason.
Williams recently restructured his contract, which likely means he'll stay in Carolina beyond this season, according to NFL.com.
Newton handles a chunk of the Panthers' ground game on his own. He has racked up over 700 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons, but the Panthers have one of the league's most talented one-two punches at running back.
Stewart has played in all 16 games three times in his five NFL seasons. In those three seasons, he has averaged 910 yards and has never averaged fewer than 4.5 yards per carry. Combine his production with that of Newton and Williams, and the Panthers may have the league's most feared three-headed monster running the football.
6. New Orleans Saints
Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram
As long as Drew Brees is under center and Sean Payton is the head coach, the New Orleans Saints will have one of the league's most prolific passing attacks.
The Saints also boast one of the best groups of running backs in the NFL.
Darren Sproles is the definition of a matchup nightmare in the passing game. Since signing with New Orleans in 2011, Sproles has caught 161 passes and 14 touchdowns in just 29 games.
Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram provide the Saints with a pair of traditional between-the-tackles runners. In fact, Thomas may be one of the league's most unappreciated players. He's been nothing but consistent for the Saints in his six NFL seasons.
While Ingram may not be the player the Saints envisioned when they spent a first-round pick on the former Heisman Trophy winner, New Orleans is in great shape between their three backs.
5. Houston Texans
Arian Foster and Ben Tate
Since taking over as the starter in 2010, Texans running back Arian Foster has been one of the most productive players in football, regardless of position.
In the past three seasons, Foster has appeared in 45 games, averaging 126.7 total yards and a touchdown. His 351 carries last season were the most of his four-year NFL career, but with a healthy Ben Tate returning to the field next season, Foster could be in for a slightly lighter workload in 2013.
Tate missed five games last season, causing his production and impact on the offense to plummet on a downward spiral. In 2011, Tate averaged 5.4 yards per carry, racking up 942 yards in a reserve role behind Foster.
The Texans have a balanced offense led by quarterback Matt Schaub. When Tate and Foster are both at their best, the Texans are extremely difficult to stop.
Head coach Gary Kubiak said in March that he needed more from Tate this season. If Kubiak gets his wish, the Texans will be a tough out in the playoffs yet again.
4. Baltimore Ravens
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce
The Ravens' top two running backs, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, are the definition of a successful backfield tandem in the NFL.
Whereas the Vikings handed the ball to Adrian Peterson 348 times last season, the Ravens put a much lighter load on Rice's shoulders.
Rice carried the ball 257 times for 1,143 yards and nine touchdowns last season while the rookie Pierce racked up 532 yards on 108 carries. The combination of Rice and Pierce helped the Ravens become one of the NFL's most balanced offenses, leading them all the way to Super Bowl XLVII.
While Rice is among the league's most well-rounded running backs as a between-the-tackles runner and catching passes out of the backfield, the presence of Pierce helped keep Rice fresh for the Ravens' playoff run.
Fresh off their Super Bowl victory, the Ravens have lost several key contributors this offseason, but with their Super Bowl MVP quarterback and talented running back tandem returning for 2013, the Ravens should continue their offensive success in the upcoming season.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown
There's never a shortage of storylines headed into a new NFL season, but Chip Kelly coaching the Philadelphia Eagles is among the most intriguing.
Kelly, who orchestrated the fastest-paced offense in college football at Oregon, will bring a unique offensive attack to the Eagles. With the talent the Eagles have on the offensive side of the ball, Kelly will be like a kid in a candy store—on the day before Christmas.
Kelly used multiple backs at Oregon, so the combination of LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown will give Kelly some options in Philadelphia.
McCoy had a breakout season in 2011 before injuries stunted his 2012 campaign. With McCoy on the sidelines, Brown emerged within the Eagles' offense.
The 22-year-old Brown was one a top college recruit out of high school before flopping at the college level. Brown, however, certainly showed flashes of his potential in his rookie season with the Eagles. Pairing him with McCoy will give the Eagles an extremely dangerous one-two punch.
2. Buffalo Bills
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller
It's been a while since the Buffalo Bills have claimed the top spot in anything, but with the human highlight reel, C.J. Spiller, and the always-reliable Fred Jackson sharing carries in the backfield, the Bills just may have the league's top tandem.
Last season, Spiller emerged as one of the most explosive offensive players in football. Spiller finished behind only Vikings running back Adrian Peterson among all running backs in per-carry average last season, averaging 6.0 yards.
Jackson has missed six games in each of the past two seasons, but when he's healthy, he's a consistently productive player for the Bills in his own right.
Both Spiller and Jackson are effective catching the ball out of the backfield, as well as being tough runners between the tackles.
Doug Marrone may not have a clear-cut starting quarterback in his first season as Bills head coach with Kevin Kolb and E.J. Manuel battling it out, but he has two starting-caliber running backs to make things easier on the quarterback.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Frank Gore, LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter
It's to the point that when considering which NFL team is in the best shape at any position, the San Francisco 49ers are the first team to come to mind—certainly at running back.
Frank Gore, 30, has been San Francisco's workhorse since coming into the league in 2005. Between his size and speed, Gore is as complete a back as you'll find across the NFL. In eight seasons with the 49ers, Gore is averaging over 1,100 yards and six touchdowns per year.
Behind Gore, the 49ers have assembled a unique duo of running backs to split the carries.
Kendall Hunter, a fourth-round pick in 2011, played in all 16 games as a rookie. He missed the team's final five regular-season games last season and the entirety of the playoffs with an injury, but he'll be looking to bounce back in a big way in 2013.
LaMichael James, a second-round pick in 2012, found the field once Hunter went down and filled in admirably. James scored a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game and averaged 5.9 yards per carry in the 49ers' playoff run.
San Francisco also added Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of this year's draft, so expect to see the 49ers continue their backfield dominance for the foreseeable future.
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