Power Ranking NFL RB Depth Charts
You can make a very good argument that Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL. But the National Football League has moved away from a one-running back system for most offenses. In today's game, running back depth is equally as important as having one very good runner.
In the NFL 1000 series, we looked at which running back played best in 2013. But, which team has the most talent at the position? Looking at current depth charts—courtesy of Ourlads—and projecting ahead, which team has the game's best depth chart at running back?
It's important to know that this is a projection—both in terms of the depth chart and in how each player will play. That means using predraft rankings when evaluating rookies and a wide margin of forecasting when projecting how young players will develop and veterans will decline.
Looking at the top ball-carriers on each team, who has the best group of talent at running back?
32. New York Giants
Projected Depth Chart: Rashad Jennings, Da'Rel Scott, Andre Williams (rookie), Peyton Hillis
The New York Giants have a running back problem.
Projected starter Rashad Jennings has shown flashes in his career, but he hasn't stuck around in Jacksonville or Oakland as a solution. Thinking he'll have a career-defining season behind a rebuilt offensive line in New York isn't realistic.
Behind Jennings, look for rookie Andre Williams (Round 4, Boston College) to be the future of the backfield. He's a power runner with good downhill ability and the skill set to carry the load. He has to be tabbed as a replacement for Peyton Hillis, who did play well on short notice last fall.
Da'Rel Scott is a nice complementary back, but he doesn't offer much potential for big plays for starter production.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Projected Depth Chart: Steven Jackson, Devonta Freeman (rookie), Jacquizz Rodgers, Jerome Smith (rookie)
If you just looked at the names on this list, you might be impressed with what the Atlanta Falcons have to offer at running back. But looking at the play of these backs in recent seasons, it's easy to see why the team invested in two rookies.
Steven Jackson was a major disappointment in 2013, and while he'll still be the starter in 2014, don't expect a heavy load or heavy production from him at this stage of his brilliant career. Jackson's decline is why the team brought in Devonta Freeman and Jerome Smith in the draft.
Freeman is an exciting, Ray Rice-type back. He can run between the tackles, outside the hashes and catch the ball very well. He's not built like Jackson but can be a very good complementary back. Smith is more of a prototypical build but hasn't shown the speed to be thought of as a long-speed player in the pros.
Jacquizz Rodgers may be the odd man out once Freeman and Smith get acclimated to the NFL, but until then he'll continue to be the team's best bet in passing situations due to his hands and blocking ability.
30. Indianapolis Colts
There was a time when Trent Richardson was thought to be the next Adrian Peterson. That time has passed, though, and now the former No. 3 overall pick must prove himself in his third NFL season.
Richardson certainly has potential, but after being traded to Indianapolis he looked timid, unsure and too often had trouble finding rushing lanes. On screen passes, Richardson made some of his best plays because he was able to operate in space. That will be the goal of the Colts this year—to scheme him more touches in space.
Behind Richardson, there's not much to get excited about. Vick Ballard is solid but unspectacular. Ahmad Bradshaw is on the downside of his career and no more than a short-term ball-carrier. Even youngster Dan Herron hasn't shown anything to excite the fanbase.
This backfield is all about Richardson producing. And if he doesn't, the Colts wasted a first-round pick and will see plenty of blitz packages all season.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars
Projected Depth Chart: Toby Gerhart, Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, Storm Johnson (rookie)
The Jacksonville Jaguars have a load of promise in their backfield but little established talent to fall back on. That's why their ranking is lower than you might expect in this preseason look.
Toby Gerhart was a star at Stanford but got lost in the shuffle in Minnesota playing behind Adrian Peterson. Still, his hard-charging style of running is a fit in a short-yardage role and in power sets. But is he a legitimate No. 1 running back? Probably not.
Jordan Todman, like Gerhart, flashed at times with the Vikings and Chargers before coming to Jacksonville in 2012. But remember, Todman is on his third team in as many seasons, and there's usually a reason for that no matter how high the summer optimism.
The real stars here may be Denard Robinson and Storm Johnson. Robinson's conversion from quarterback to running back has now had a full year, and bigger things are expected from him as a speedy, shifty, dynamic option in the offense.
Johnson, a Round 7 addition, has NFL starter goods. He's powerful, fast and a very good receiver. An issue with fumbling and a huge amount of talent in the 2014 draft pushed him down further than he was expected to fall, but the Jaguars got a steal with pick No. 222.
28. Tennessee Titans
Projected Depth Chart: Bishop Sankey (rookie), Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Leon Washington
The Tennessee Titans allowed Chris Johnson to leave town, which opened a big hole atop their running back depth chart.
Sankey has talent but is a first-year player coming off a very heavy workload at the University of Washington. His tools are great, but his inexperience does bring down the ranking of the team, as does Greene's injury and his own struggles to be a go-to back.
Behind the two, the Titans have solid depth with Jackie Battle and Leon Washington—a third-down type back and good return man.
27. Miami Dolphins
Projected Depth Chart: Knowshon Moreno, Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas, Marcus Thigpen
The Miami Dolphins had big running back issues in 2013, and they hope to have filled their need for a true feature back by bringing in free agent Knowshon Moreno. By their placement on this list, you can imagine how excited fans should be about his prospects.
Moreno is a good back, but he's not a feature back type at this stage in his career. That would be fine for many teams, but the Dolphins missed out on that with both Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. Now both are in complementary roles with no real go-to back on the roster.
A trio of Moreno, Miller and Thomas isn't the worst in the league, but it's far from the best—especially when you consider they'll be running behind an offensive line built entirely in this offseason and with two rookies starting on that front five.
26. Arizona Cardinals
Projected Depth Chart: Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Jonathan Dwyer, Robert Hughes
The Arizona Cardinals have a running back depth chart dominated by youth, and that's a good issue to have heading into 2014.
In his rookie season, Andre Ellington proved many teams wrong by rushing for 652 yards on just 118 carries. The sixth-round pick looks like a long-term starter at the position and has the goods to do more damage with extended touches over a 16-start season.
Behind Ellington is where things get tricky and why Arizona doesn't see a higher ranking.
Stepfan Taylor has good ability as a complementary back, but he's very untested as a fellow 2013 rookie. And what the team lacks behind their two young backs is much depth. Jonathan Dwyer is an average power back but cannot test a defense outside the tackle box. Robert Hughes is incredibly unproven after playing with four teams in his first three seasons and logging just one carry during that span.
The ceiling here is high, but the floor is pretty low too.
25. Denver Broncos
Projected Depth Chart: Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, Jerodis Williams
The departure of Knowshon Moreno shouldn't seem like a huge loss for the Denver Broncos, but this is a very unsettled running back depth chart—even with Montee Ball entrenched as the starter.
Ball will get his chance to shine, and if you look at his flashes from 2013 you can be very encouraged. But behind him, Ronnie Hillman will be looking to make his own mark, and he has the goods to do damage. Hillman's speed is something to watch out for, especially with Ball being more of a one-cut runner. The two are a nice duo but very unproven as pro backs.
C.J. Anderson and Jerodis Williams are as unproven as the back end of any depth chart in the league. It would be a surprise for either to see many in-season reps.
24. Oakland Raiders
Projected Depth Chart: Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, Latavius Murray, Jeremy Stewart
The Oakland Raiders have two big names at running back, but if we're going off recent history, those two names are questionable to deliver more than frustrations and weeks spent on injured reserve.
Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew make up what would have been a dream backfield five years ago. Today, McFadden continues to be plagued by injuries, and Jones-Drew is nearing the end of his career at 29 years old and coming off a 3.4 yards-per-carry campaign in 2013.
Behind the veterans, keep an eye on Latavius Murray to emerge should one of the two primary backs go down with injury. Jeremy Stewart has some talent as an undrafted free-agent pickup in 2012, but he may be the odd man out in a four-deep depth chart.
23. St. Louis Rams
Projected Depth Chart: Zac Stacy, Tre Mason (rookie), Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead
Look at the St. Louis Rams' depth chart and you can easily fall in love—especially if you're a believer in Zac Stacy, and many are.
Stacy burst onto the scene in 2013 when he rushed for 973 yards and seemed to emerge as the Rams' go-to back. But then the team added a running back very early in the 2014 draft (Round 3) in Tre Mason from Auburn. A two-headed approach is good when you have diversity, but both players are very young and largely untested here. The Rams are in a Catch-22 in attempting to go young in replacing veteran Steven Jackson while sacrificing a proven commodity.
Benny Cunningham is a good No. 3 back, but Isaiah Pead is nearing bust status after failing to make an impact in his first two seasons. With Mason on the roster, his chances for an impact are slim.
22. San Diego Chargers
Projected Depth Chart: Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, Marion Grice (rookie), Kerwynn Williams
The San Diego Chargers got a full season from Ryan Mathews in 2013, and he produced like the former first-round pick was expected to from day one.
With 1,255 yards rushing and six touchdowns, Mathews was one of the AFC's most productive runners last season. The Chargers are hoping he can put together two consecutive 16-game seasons for the first time in his career and continue to be their go-to guy.
Behind Mathews there is some depth. Danny Woodhead is a strong runner and very good receiver, but he is also limited as an overall player. He's a situational player and would not step into the RB1 role if Mathews went down.
That would go to Donald Brown, most likely, and that idea can't please fans. Brown, now in his sixth NFL season, isn't a load-bearing back over the long haul. If Mathews is dinged up, the team could turn to rookie Marion Grice—a talented dual-threat back from Arizona State—or Kerwynn Williams first.
21. Dallas Cowboys
Projected Depth Chart: DeMarco Murray, Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, Ryan Williams
The Dallas Cowboys have hosted some of the NFL's great running backs—think Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith—but since the former left town, they've been looking for a true go-to back. They found one in DeMarco Murray, when he's healthy.
The 26-year-old back has yet to play a full 16-game season in his three years as a pro, and that's a concern when you look at the depth on this roster.
Lance Dunbar was a star at North Texas but went undrafted in the 2012 lottery. He has the wiggle and shake to make defenders miss but isn't a threat to touch the ball 20 times if Murray goes down. That role would likely go to Joseph Randle.
The former Oklahoma State back has good potential to carry the rock and help as a receiver. He would be the favorite should Murray miss time again.
Ryan Williams, a former second-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals, would give fans some assurances if he could stay healthy himself. But Williams' time in Arizona was mostly spent with the training staff.
20. Houston Texans
Projected Depth Chart: Arian Foster, Andre Brown, Dennis Johnson, Alfred Blue (rookie)
Arian Foster remains the heart and soul of the Houston Texans offense, and for this team to bounce back in 2014 he'll need to be the big threat he was previously.
The Texans have one of the game's best starters at running back, but now that Ben Tate is starting in Cleveland, the team lacks a great option in the No. 2 slot. Andre Brown is a fine back, but he's not scaring defenses when Foster needs a breather or the team wants to keep his legs fresh.
Dennis Johnson is a smaller, speedier back with nice third-down potential, but he's limited between the tackles and more of a specialist. The sleeper might be rookie Alfred Blue.
The former LSU back has the power and vision to beat up defenses between the tackles but, like Tate, can get outside and pick up yards too. Don't be surprised if Blue is taking reps from Brown this season.
19. Detroit Lions
Projected Depth Chart: Reggie Bush, Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure
The Detroit Lions have an ideal mix of a one-two punch at running back, but it's the third and fourth option that keep them hanging around the middle of the rankings.
When talking about total talent at the position, the Lions are in good shape with Reggie Bush and powerful Joique Bell. The failure of Mikel Leshoure to develop into a threat is maddening, though, and he can't be relied on as a producer at this stage of his career.
Theo Riddick is an enticing option as a third back, but the 2013 sixth-round pick doesn't have the speed or power you want in an NFL feature back.
In Bush and Bell the Lions are set, but should either miss time, they're in trouble at running back.
18. Cleveland Browns
Projected Depth Chart: Ben Tate, Dion Lewis, Terrance West (rookie), Isaiah Crowell (rookie)
The Cleveland Browns have invested a lot of resources into the running back position in the 2014 offseason, and they're really hoping it pays off early and often.
Alfred Morris became a star in Kyle Shanahan's offense in Washington, and there's a good chance Ben Tate can go from being Arian Foster's backup to his equal in a run-heavy offense that features a lot of holes created by a moving pocket. Tate has the straight-line speed, size and vision to excel here.
The depth behind Tate is raw. Dion Lewis is more of a pass-catcher and scat back, and wouldn't be the go-to guy should Tate miss time with injury. That would fall to rookies Terrance West—a bowling ball from Towson—and Isaiah Crowell.
Both have big potential but fell in the draft due to their own concerns. West saw limited big-time defensive play, and Crowell was dismissed from Georgia and had several off-field issues to address. Their promise, though, helps the Browns achieve a good preseason ranking at the running back spot.
Projected Depth Chart: Alfred Morris, Roy Helu, Evan Royster, Lache Seastrunk (rookie)
With a new regime in place in Washington, many are waiting to see just how effective the running game will be without Mike and Kyle Shanahan working the magic that created so many 1,000-yard rushers in Denver.
Alfred Morris should be just fine no matter who is calling the plays. He's a master of getting upfield and is powerful enough to run over defenders or put a shake on them in space. He has the goods to once again go over 1,200 yards rushing in Jay Gruden's offense.
Behind Morris you have to appreciate what Roy Helu does as one of the better receiving backs in the game. He comes in on sub-package plays and can work outside the hashes well but doesn't run the ball especially well.
Evan Royster is the incumbent at No. 3, but he'll get pushed by rookie Lache Seastrunk. The Baylor product is great in space but will have to prove he has the strength and vision to succeed between the tackles in the pros before he can add much to this group.
16. New York Jets
Projected Depth Chart: Chris Johnson, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell, Alex Green, Mike Goodson
The New York Jets have a very good collection of running backs, but they are penalized for the fact that no one really impresses as a go-to feature back.
That can be OK, as long as the division of labor is such that a player can get into a groove. With bigger backs like Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, it's important to let them beat up on a defense and get into a rhythm. The days of 25 carries for one back are over, but both are heavyweight hitters in that regard.
Chris Johnson may have all the name recognition in the world, but if we're being honest, he's been average since 2011. Fans will point to his 1,000-yard seasons, but game film will show you that Johnson is a shell of his former self.
Having five good backs is nice, but the Jets do need one of them to step up and be "The Guy" this season.
15. Carolina Panthers
Projected Depth Chart: DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Kenjon Barner, Tyler Gaffney
The Carolina Panthers had the NFL's most expensive running back depth chart last season but are sitting at No. 15 overall in terms of talent. Something doesn't compute there, and it's why the team was salary-cap strapped in trying to replace Steve Smith and Jordan Gross this offseason.
DeAngelo Williams had a strong season and went over 1,200 total yards from scrimmage, but he hasn't posted 1,000 yards rushing since 2009. He also turned 31 in April, and history shows that running backs are no longer the same after 30. Williams is still very valuable—and expensive—but he's not a showstopper.
Jonathan Stewart, another high-profile back, must prove he can stay healthy before anyone can count on him as a factor in Carolina. He's missed significant time in the last two years.
The Panthers' expense at running back hasn't kept them from adding parts. Kenjon Barner (2013 draft, Round 6) and Tyler Gaffney (2014 draft, Round 6) could be the future but are both unproven and—based on predraft rankings—a bit overdrafted.
14. Chicago Bears
Projected Depth Chart: Matt Forte, Ka'Deem Carey (rookie), Michael Ford, Jordan Lynch, Shaun Draughn
Matt Forte is the ideal modern running back, and the Chicago Bears are carried in this ranking by his production and talent.
Forte's ability to impact the game as a runner, receiver and blocker is incredible. He's the type of player who doesn't have to leave the field in any situation thanks to his versatility. On a short list of the NFL's best running backs, he ranks high.
Behind Forte, though, there are some questions. Ka'Deem Carey is blessed with vision and patience, but the 2014 fourth-round draft pick doesn't have great inside or outside speed. Michael Ford is a nice option when the Bears want an inside-outside runner, and his 4.4-second 40-yard-dash speed shows up on film.
In terms of developmental players, former NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch is someone to watch, but he has a long road ahead of him before he's ready to compete in the NFL regularly.
13. New Orleans Saints
Projected Depth Chart: Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson, Tim Flanders
Even the loss of Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory in back-to-back seasons can't hurt the New Orleans Saints. Around here, it's a true "next man up" philosophy, and it's working.
Pierre Thomas may not be outstanding or flashy, but he's incredibly solid and consistent as the Saints' starting running back. He's powerful, smart and has the vision to run between the tackles. Mark Ingram may never live up to his predraft hype or draft stock, but he's become a very good complementary back with the power to earn his keep in short-yardage situations.
The guy to watch is Khiry Robinson. He came on late in 2013 and was a major contributor in the team's last three games of the year. Robinson is a bowling ball and would fill a similar role to Thomas or Ingram's, but he's young, cheap and has big upside.
Tim Flanders might be the guy to replace Sproles. He's a smaller, shiftier back with the hands to be a factor on third down if he can learn to protect the quarterback.
12. Minnesota Vikings
Projected Depth Chart: Adrian Peterson, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard
Let's be honest—the Vikings are ranked this high because they have the NFL's best running back. In fact, Adrian Peterson might be the best back of this generation. Call him the greatest running back post-Barry Sanders and you won't get many valid arguments otherwise.
Behind Peterson, the Vikings have some potential but no proven options now that Toby Gerhart is in Jacksonville.
Jerick McKinnon is a fantastic athlete, but he was a quarterback at Georgia Southern and will be making a big transition to NFL running back. Matt Asiata is the most likely backup to Peterson heading into the season, but the former undrafted free agent has a big jump to make in his fourth season.
Joe Banyard is a depth player, and not much is expected in 2014 unless injuries hit the corps hard.
11. Green Bay Packers
Projected Depth Chart: Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, James Starks, DuJuan Harris
The Green Bay Packers loaded up on the running back position in the 2013 NFL draft, and that move paid off instantly for them.
Eddie Lacy took the starting job last training camp and never let go of it. And when Aaron Rodgers went down with injury, Lacy carried the Packers and kept them in playoff contention. He's earned the RB1 role and is on track to be one of the NFC's best running backs in 2014.
Johnathan Franklin had incredible talent coming out of UCLA—he ranked as my top back before the draft—but struggled to get on the field for Green Bay. His speed and second-gear running style would be an ideal complement to Lacy if he can find his way into the rotation this fall. Based on potential, the Packers are in great shape here.
James Starks and DuJuan Harris offer ideal depth and veteran experience in the backfield. Both are accomplished inside runners and pass-protectors—which could keep them in the lineup over Franklin on third downs.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers
Projected Depth Chart: Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Alvester Alexander
The Pittsburgh Steelers have built LeBackfield, and it's a good one with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount anchoring the running game. This is old-school Steelers football we're talking about.
Bell struggled out of the gate in his rookie season, but by season's end he was the workhorse running back the Steelers hoped he could be when they made him the No. 48 pick in the 2013 draft. To complement (and supplement) Bell, the Steelers added another horse in Blount.
Blount fell out of favor in Tampa Bay but resurfaced in New England and showed the speed and power to impress. In Pittsburgh he'll be asked to ram into the defense and use that special blend of skills to eat away at the soft front teams show against Ben Roethlisberger's passing game.
Dri Archer is a guy to watch. The Kent State speedster will get the ball in many conventional and unconventional ways, but be sure that when he has the football, his speed will make him a dangerous weapon.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Projected Depth Chart: Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Cedric Peerman
The Cincinnati Bengals have a nice collection of riches at running back. Between speedster Gio Bernard, the freakishly powerful Jeremy Hill and the gritty running of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, this could be mentioned as one of the best backfields in the NFL.
What's holding this team back is that Bernard is only a second-year player, and while good in his rookie season, he didn't exactly set the NFL on fire. He'll get that chance now that he's starting, but remember, he didn't start one game in 2013.
Hill was brought in to be the thunder to Bernard's lightning, and also to eventually phase Green-Ellis out. The LSU back was one of the best power backs in college football but saw his stock fall due to off-field question marks. On the field, he's powerful and aggressive.
Between Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman, the Bengals are covered should Bernard hit a sophomore slump or Hill struggle to break out.
8. Seattle Seahawks
Projected Depth Chart: Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael
The Seattle Seahawks rode an impressive, dynamic running game all the way to a Lombardi Trophy in 2013. Chances are they can do it again in 2014.
Marshawn Lynch may be weird off the field, but on it he's a man to fear. Lynch has bruising, bone-breaking power, but he combines that with rare breakaway speed for a man his size. He's the Muhammad Ali of running the ball right now—able to beat you with speed or power.
Behind Lynch, the Seahawks are set up well for the future with Robert Turbin and Christine Michael.
Turbin—a 2012 fourth-rounder—is built like Lynch, at 5'10" and 222 pounds, and he runs with great body lean and power. Plug him in for Lynch and this offense could still roll. Michael, on the other hand, is more of a speed back compared to his two teammates.
The former Texas A&M back was a second-round pick and brings 4.4 speed to a power offense. If he gets loose, he can fly, but he also brings 220 pounds behind his pads and can work inside and outside on a defense.
7. New England Patriots
Projected Depth Chart: Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, James White (rookie)
The New England Patriots are known for the right arm of Tom Brady, but look behind him and you'll see an impressive group of running backs.
Bill Belichick doubled up on backs in the 2011 draft when he selected Shane Vereen (Round 2) and Stevan Ridley (Round 3). Now three years later, the Patriots have two starting-caliber running backs with complementary styles of play.
In Vereen the team has a receiver, speedster and outside runner. Ridley, the former LSU back, is a classic between-the-tackles back with the agility to bounce outside and pull away from a defense. The duo makes up one of the elite one-two punches in the game.
Behind Vereen and Ridley, Brandon Bolden must be watched too. Bolden has the size (5'11", 220 lbs) to eat up yards between the hashes and can get low and run over defenders in the hole. James White, a 2014 rookie, can do the same and brings more thick-legged running to an offense leaning more and more on the run game.
6. Buffalo Bills
Projected Depth Chart: C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon
The Buffalo Bills ended the 2013 season with an impressive roster of talent at running back. The group got even better after a draft-day trade for Bryce Brown.
C.J. Spiller is what a modern running back should be, and he's the team's true No. 1 back when he's on the field. His speed, vision and hands make him a threat for the defense to always account for. Fred Jackson may be hitting the end of his career now that he's 33 years old, but he's still a valuable power back and short-yardage player at worst. At his best, Jackson can carry the load in a featured role if needed.
Brown will push Jackson, though, and should be looked at as the future in the RB2 spot. The Bills do still have Anthony Dixon, too, and he's one of the better goal-line specialists in the league.
5. Philadelphia Eagles
Projected Depth Chart: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, David Fluellen
The Philadelphia Eagles have Chip Kelly's uptempo offense and a stable of running backs ready to frustrate and terrify NFL defenses.
LeSean McCoy is capable of challenging Adrian Peterson for the title of NFL's best running back, and when you factor in his ability as a receiver, he just might be the better all-around player. McCoy is fantastic, and his Barry Sanders-like agility makes him one of the hardest players in this era to tackle.
As if the Eagles didn't have enough speed at running back, they went out and added Darren Sproles. The team now has two of the NFL's best receiving backs on one roster and will be able to confuse the heck out of defenses with sub-packages and mixed personnel.
What the team lacks in power could be a concern, but Kelly loves Chris Polk. Before the 2012 draft, Polk was my No. 2 rated running back, but injuries forced him into an undrafted situation and have hurt his early chances at reps. If healthy in 2014, he could break out.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Projected Depth Chart: Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, Cyrus Gray, De'Anthony Thomas (rookie)
Jamaal Charles is one of the NFL's most dangerous offensive players—regardless of position—and gives the Kansas City Chiefs a ton of legitimacy at running back. But unlike some other teams, the Chiefs rank here because of their total talent and not just one player anchoring the unit.
Charles is a great player, and he's carrying the Kansas City offense, but as was seen in the playoffs last year, Knile Davis and Cyrus Gray are talented in their own right.
Davis is a more powerful runner but has freakish speed and strength when met by a defender. If he can cure some fumbling issues and stay healthy, he could eventually be a starter in the NFL. Gray went from relative anonymity to the spotlight in Indianapolis and showed his value as the team's No. 3 back.
Adding De'Anthony Thomas is the icing, and you can bet Andy Reid is already dreaming up jet sweeps and screen packages for the explosive Oregon star.
3. Baltimore Ravens
Projected Depth Chart: Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Justin Forsett
The Baltimore Ravens hope to get back to the playoffs in 2014, and to do that they need a very good year from a strong running back corps. It all starts with Ray Rice.
Rice has All-Pro ability, but he could also miss time this season if suspended for an offseason altercation with his fiancee (now his wife). Think what you will of Rice off the field, but on it the Ravens are a much different team without him.
Rice's ability as an inside-outside runner and receiver is tough to replace, but Bernard Pierce can do it. Pierce has proved in his two seasons and limited duty that he can get the job done if given the reps. The Ravens might not be actively looking to replace Rice (yet), but Pierce should get the job if/when they are.
The team knew running back depth would be needed, so they drafted Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. In an odd twist, Taliaferro was also arrested on charges of destruction of property and public intoxication. Taliaferro is a bruiser on the field but will have to prove himself to the front office and coaches following his arrest.
If you can look past their issues, the Ravens have an impressive amount of talent assembled at running back.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Projected Depth Chart: Frank Gore, Carlos Hyde (rookie), Kendall Hunter, Marcus Lattimore, LaMichael James
The San Francisco 49ers have a very impressive collection of names at the running back position. But that doesn't equal the NFL's best talent at the position. Not yet, at least.
Frank Gore is one of the game's best, and the fact that he's been so productive and consistent in spite of his age (Gore turned 31 on May 14) proves his worth. But how long can he hold up?
The 49ers have drafted Marcus Lattimore and Carlos Hyde with an eye toward replacing Gore with another power back. Lattimore, though, sat out all of his rookie season after recovering from a second ACL tear suffered during the 2012 college football season and is a complete mystery to all right now. Before his injuries he looked like a top-tier running back, but now? No one knows.
That's why Hyde was drafted in Round 2. He's a bruiser but also has soft hands and enough speed to run away from defenders. Barring a big development from Lattimore, Hyde is the future here.
Kendall Hunter is a very good change-of-pace back but not a starting-quality ball-carrier. LaMichael James is fast and flashy but has never found a role in this offense and could be cut or traded before the season begins.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Projected Depth Chart: Doug Martin, Mike James, Charles Sims (rookie)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are blessed with three running backs, each with the talent to be a starter and featured back in another city. That's a great problem to have.
Doug Martin is a legitimate top-10 back if you look at his first two seasons and his potential for improvement and production moving forward. His bowling-ball style of play is ideal for Lovie Smith's team, too. Martin has All-Pro potential.
Behind him the team has wisely built depth. This will be a running football team, and should Martin go down, the Buccaneers offense would be in good hands with Mike James and rookie Charles Sims in the fold.
James is talented enough to be carrying the load as a starting NFL running back right now. In fact, he would be the favorite to start for most of the teams in the bottom 10 of this list. Charles Sims was one of my favorite backs in the 2014 class due to his inside-outside running skills and his super soft hands. Adding him to an already loaded backfield just gives Tampa ridiculous talent at running back.