Breaking Down Every NFL Team's RB Depth Chart Heading into 2015 Season
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been the year of running back movement and news in the NFL.
It’s been a fascinating offseason, one that ends Thursday night when the New England Patriots host the Pittsburgh Steelers. Of course, both team’s starters in the backfield are suspended for the contest.
Earlier this year, we saw not only the 2013 NFL rushing champion change teams via trade but the 2014 league leader in the same category leave for greener pastures (literally) via free agency. Quite a few other running backs changed teams as well in the last few months.
Even in recent weeks, teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and Tennessee Titans have orchestrated trades to add depth or another piece to a puzzling backfield.
Finally, for the first time since 2012, we actually saw at least one running back go in the first round of the draft.
So here’s a look at all 32 teams and their current running back depth chart. We will list the starter and the reserves and give our analysis for each club. In the case of a reported prolonged injury, you may not see the team’s regular running back listed as the starter. In the case of suspension, we will make it clear just who the starter is once he is eligible to play again.
Simply put, we will get you up to snuff when it comes to the men who will be carrying the rock in 2015.
Starter: Andre Ellington
Reserves: Chris Johnson, David Johnson, Stepfan Taylor
In 2014, only the Oakland Raiders gained fewer yards on the ground than the Arizona Cardinals.
That seems to be nothing new as of late. Over the past three seasons, Arizona has finished 32nd, 23rd and 31st, respectively, in the NFL in rushing yards.
A year ago, Andre Ellington led the team in rushing yards (660) and total yards from scrimmage (1,055) despite missing the final four games of the season. Now he’s backed up by eight-year pro Chris Johnson, who hopefully still has a big-play spring in his step, Stepfan Taylor and rookie David Johnson—a third-round pick from Northern Iowa. Meanwhile, 2014 late-season flash Kerwynn Williams is back on the practice squad for now.
Can this team increase its production on the ground? A lot will depend on how quickly the offensive line settles in.
Starter: Tevin Coleman
Reserves: Devonta Freeman, Terron Ward
Can a rookie from Indiana University and a new coaching staff reverse the fortunes of the Atlanta Falcons ground attack?
Look at the numbers the last three seasons. Despite finishing as the NFC’s top seed in 2012, only three teams in the league gained fewer yards rushing. The Falcons fell to 32nd in the same category one year later, and this past season, they ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing because they managed only 93.6 yards per game.
New head coach Dan Quinn and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan would love to fix a team that’s run for 100 or more yards just 14 times in its last 48 regular-season games.
That explains the drafting of third-round pick Tevin Coleman. On Tuesday, Quinn confirmed that the rookie will get the start Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, according to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. But once second-year running back Devonta Freeman (who Chris Wesseling of NFL.com reminds us sat out the entire preseason with a hamstring issue) returns, this could be an interesting one-two punch.
Starter: Justin Forsett
Reserves: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Javorius Allen, Terrence Magee
This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens smartly re-signed Justin Forsett to a three-year contract after the journeyman running back rushed for a career-high 1,266 yards. Then-offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak stressed the ground attack, and a team that ran for a total of 1,328 yards in 2013 (a franchise low) finished eighth in the league in rushing this past season.
Forsett will be backed up by 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, who finished third on the team as a rookie with 292 yards rushing and four touchdowns on just 68 carries. Javorius Allen from USC, coincidentally a fourth-round pick this year, totaled a team-high 35 carries (for 88 yards) this preseason.
Starter: LeSean McCoy
Reserves: Karlos Williams, Anthony Dixon, Bryce Brown
You can’t make this stuff up. But it’s the reality in today’s NFL world of free agency and the salary cap.
Two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles led the league in rushing, and running back LeSean McCoy led the NFL in rushing yards, spelled by Bryce Brown on occasion.
That same season, the Buffalo Bills ranked second in the league in rushing, led by the combination of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, who teamed for 1,823 yards in 2013.
Now both McCoy and Brown are members of the Bills, while Spiller (New Orleans Saints) and Jackson (Seattle Seahawks) are in reserve roles elsewhere.
For now, it will be quarterback Tyrod Taylor (who ironically led the Bills in rushing during the preseason) who will be handing the ball to McCoy. Veteran Anthony Dixon and rookie Karlos Williams are in the fold, but could McCoy win a second NFL rushing title in three seasons? Stay tuned.
Starter: Jonathan Stewart
Reserves: Fozzy Whittaker, Cameron Artis-Payne, Brandon Wegher
The last time the Carolina Panthers saw a player rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season was back in 2009, when both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart turned the trick.
Williams, the franchise’s all-time rushing leader, was cut loose by the Panthers this offseason and is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Back to Stewart, who overcame an injury-plagued early season and caught fire late in the year when Carolina made its playoff push. More than half (486) of his team-high 809 rushing yards came in the final five weeks. Stewart totaled 193 yards on the ground in the playoff split with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks.
With Williams gone, Fozzy Whittaker (32 carries for 145 yards and one touchdown in 2014) is now the primary backup. But both Cameron Artis-Payne (30 attempts) and Brandon Wegher (29 carries) got plenty of work during the preseason.
Starter: Matt Forte
Reserves: Jacquizz Rodgers, Jeremy Langford, Ka’Deem Carey
What happened to the Chicago Bears running game in 2014? New offensive coordinator Adam Gase, along with new head coach John Fox, hopes that this is one aspect of the team that improves from a year ago.
Yes, Matt Forte set an NFL record for a running back with 102 catches this past season. But the player who finished second in the league with 1,339 rushing yards in 2013 slipped to 1,038 yards on the ground last year. Meanwhile, only five teams in the NFL gained fewer yards rushing than the Bears did in 2014.
This season, free-agent pickup Jacquizz Rodgers could help as a pass-catcher. This summer, rookie Jeremy Langford and second-year pro Ka’Deem Carey combined for 54 carries, 275 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns.
Starter: Jeremy Hill
Reserves: Giovani Bernard, Cedric Peerman, Rex Burkhead
There’s a good reason that the Cincinnati Bengals ranked sixth in the NFL in rushing this past season.
Two of those factors are a pair of running backs selected in the second round in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
After Giovani Bernard excelled as a rookie two years ago, Jeremy Hill totaled a team-high 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground this past season. Meanwhile, the versatile Bernard totaled 1,029 yards from scrimmage (680 yards rushing, 349 yards receiving) despite missing three games in 2014.
Hill and Bernard make for a productive tandem and one or the other is capable of grabbing Pro Bowl honors. You may get a look at both Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead on occasion, but offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is a fortunate coach.
Starter: Isaiah Crowell
Reserves: Duke Johnson, Robert Turbin
A year ago at this time, the Cleveland Browns had assembled a potent trio in the backfield in the form of free-agent pickup Ben Tate and youngsters Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.
As Mike Pettine’s club prepared for this week’s tilt with the New York Jets, the team had just two running backs on the active roster in the form of Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson. On Wednesday, though, the Browns signed Robert Turbin, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2014, West (673) and Crowell (603) teamed for 1,280 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, which made Tate quite expendable, so he was cut loose during the season. Last week, West (who led the team in rushing during the preseason) was dealt to the Tennessee Titans.
It makes for an interesting situation, especially when you consider the Browns averaged only 80 yards per game rushing in four preseason outings this year.
Starter: Joseph Randle
Reserves: Darren McFadden, Christine Michael, Lance Dunbar
Yes, we know that the 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year and his NFL-high 1,845 yards rushing are now in the City of Brotherly Love.
Yes, DeMarco Murray is now the main man in the backfield for the Philadelphia Eagles. So who will fill that role for the defending NFC East champions in 2015?
“We won’t outline anything before the game,” Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said earlier this week, according to Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Star-Telegram. “We’ll give each of those guys a chance over the course of the week to show us that they’re worthy of opportunities.”
Dallas did not select a running back in this year’s draft and instead signed veteran free agent Darren McFadden to compete with Joseph Randle. According to Hill, Lance Dunbar will be the club’s third-down option. Meanwhile, the Cowboys added former Seattle Seahawks backup Christine Michael via trade this past weekend.
At the moment, Randle sits atop the depth chart at running back.
Starter: C.J. Anderson
Reserves: Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson
While the Denver Broncos will have a new head coach this year, they are hoping their running attack picks up where it left off late last season.
A team that began 2014 by averaging just 89.9 yards per game rushing in its first 10 contests in 2014 upped that to 147.7 yards per outings in its first six regular-season contests.
With head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in tow, running back C.J. Anderson may be even busier than he was down the stretch last year. He accounted for 648 of the team’s 886 yards rushing in those final six games and ran for eight touchdowns over that span. Anderson will be backed up by Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson; former second-round pick Montee Ball was recently released.
Starter: Joique Bell
Reserves: Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner
Only four teams in the NFL gained fewer yards on the ground than the Detroit Lions in 2014, which meant that the organization planned on doing something about that shortcoming this offseason.
Enter rookie running back Ameer Abdullah, a second-round pick from the University of Nebraska who opened some eyes during the preseason. Truth be told, undrafted Zach Zenner led the team this summer with 183 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 35 carries.
Nevertheless, it’s Joique Bell (who missed the preseason) who will open the season as the starter when the club travels to San Diego. He led the team this past season with 860 yards rushing and seven touchdowns and added 34 catches for 322 yards and a score.
Meanwhile, valuable backup Theo Riddick also caught 34 passes in 2014, good for 316 yards and four touchdowns, and his role as a valuable target for quarterback Matthew Stafford doesn’t figure to change.
Green Bay Packers
Starter: Eddie Lacy
Reserves: James Starks, Alonzo Harris
When you lead the NFL in scoring and are led by the league’s Most Valuable Player at quarterback, it’s somewhat easy to overlook other parts of the offense.
Of course, no one is ignoring running back Eddie Lacy, who proved to be a much more valuable and versatile weapon in his second season than some might have imagined. He finished seventh in the league with 1,139 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. But only Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb caught more passes for the Packers than the hard-charging running back a year ago, as Lacy totaled 42 receptions for 427 yards and four scores and averaged 10.2 yards per catch.
Lacy will once again be spelled occasionally by James Starks, who last season ran for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 85 carries and enjoyed a nice run in the 2014 playoffs. The former starter gives head coach Mike McCarthy a proven commodity that other clubs certainly envy.
Starter: Alfred Blue
Reserves: Arian Foster, Jonathan Grimes, Chris Polk
As you can see, we have Alfred Blue listed as the Houston Texans starting running back.
But for how long? Blue is in the No. 1 only because four-time Pro Bowler Arian Foster will be sidelined following groin surgery earlier this year.
“Arian is doing well,” said head coach Bill O’Brien to Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “Relative to the injury that he has and the prognosis early on, I would say he’s ahead of that. Again like I always say to people, I reserve the right to change my mind.”
“As it stands today…,” added O’Brien, “I believe that he’s really working hard to get back. He’s a very hard working guy right now in that training room and I think he’ll be back sooner rather than later relative to what the early prognosis was.”
For now, Houston is loving some Blue and with good reason. As a rookie a year ago, he carried 169 times for 528 yards and two touchdowns when Foster missed three games. Only four teams in the NFL ran for more yards than the Texans in 2014.
Foster will certainly be missed but for how long seems to be the biggest question.
Starter: Frank Gore
Reserves: Vick Ballard, Josh Robinson, Tyler Varga
Now that the Trent Richardson experiment is over with in regard to the Indianapolis Colts, head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson are hoping a seasoned veteran can excel where the third pick in the 2012 NFL draft failed.
Over the past three seasons, the Colts running game has been ranked no higher than 20th in the league. That explains the addition of Frank Gore, whose 11,073 rushing yards were not only the most in the history of the San Francisco 49ers but currently rank 20th in NFL annals. But according to Kevin Bowen of Colts.com, Pagano will be keeping an eye on the 10-year runner as the team prepares to face the Buffalo Bills:
Chuck Pagano said on Wednesday that the Colts will monitor Gore’s workload very closely in the regular season. Gore will be on a pitch count as he enters his 11th NFL campaign. With Gore’s reps being charted, Pagano wouldn’t delve into specifics on what the roles will be for backups Josh Robinson/Tyler Varga this weekend.
If Gore and the ground attack can offer some help to quarterback Andrew Luck (who led the NFL with 40 touchdowns passes in 2014), could the Colts be bound for the Super Bowl in February?
Starter: T.J. Yeldon
Reserves: Denard Robinson, Toby Gerhart, Bernard Pierce, Corey Grant
The Jacksonville Jaguars currently have five running backs on the active roster, and with the exception of rookies T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant, all have seen their share of carries in the league.
Yet it is Yeldon, the former University of Alabama standout and the team’s second-round pick four months ago, who will get the nod as the Jaguars host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Over the past three seasons, Jacksonville has ranked 30th, 31st and 21st in the league, respectively, in rushing yards per game. A year ago, Denard Robinson led the team with 582 yards rushing, followed by quarterback Blake Bortles (419) and disappointing free-agent pickup Toby Gerhart (326).
Now head coach Gus Bradley hopes that Yeldon can turn the tide when it comes to this team’s shortcoming. One-time Baltimore Ravens running back Bernard Pierce was an interesting offseason addition as well.
Kansas City Chiefs
Starter: Jamaal Charles
Reserves: Knile Davis, Charcandrick West
When you have a workhorse like four-time Pro Bowler Jamaal Charles, you get him the football in as many ways possible.
Under head coach Andy Reid the last two seasons, the seven-year veteran has scored 33 touchdowns and amassed 3,314 total yards from scrimmage in 30 regular-season games.
Charles figures to have another big year with an offense that now has a viable downfield threat in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, late of the Philadelphia Eagles, as well as full-time wideout De'Anthony Thomas and second-year pro Albert Wilson.
Meanwhile, Charles is backed up by the talented Knile Davis, who added 463 yards rushing and six touchdowns when called upon this past season.
Starter: Lamar Miller
Reserves: Damien Williams, LaMichael James
The Miami Dolphins featured one of the more improved running games in the league last season, one year after Joe Philbin’s squad averaged just 90.0 yards per game on the ground in 2013. While only six teams in the league gained fewer yards rushing than the Dolphins in 2013, the club jumped to 12th in the NFL in that category this past year by averaging 117 yards per contest.
It was a breakout year for running back Lamar Miller, who rushed for 1,009 yards and eight touchdowns and also caught 38 passes for 275 yards and a score. But more will be expected from the fourth-year pro, who will be once again be backed up by Damien Williams and one-time San Francisco 49ers’ speedster LaMichael James, who joined the Dolphins late last year.
Could we see 2015 fifth-round pick Jay Ajayi later in 2015? He’ll begin the year on the injured reserve-designated for return list. Miami also signed New England Patriots' castoff Jonas Gray to the practice squad this week.
Starter: Adrian Peterson
Reserves: Jerick McKinnon, Matt Asiata
Back in 2012 when he was busy earning NFL MVP honors, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson carried 348 times for 2,097 yards (the second-highest single-season total in league history) and ran for 12 touchdowns.
In two seasons and a total of 15 games since then, the veteran performer has totaled a combined 300 carries for 1,341 yards and 10 scores.
Can you say well-rested? When it comes to the running back position, age is a key number, but rushing attempts are a more significant factor. And Peterson hasn’t seen a lot of wear and tear on the field the last two seasons.
In 2014, Matt Asiata (570) and Jerick McKinnon (538) teamed for 1,108 yards on the ground and nine rushing touchdowns—all by Asiata. That’s some nice proven depth to have…just in case.
New England Patriots
Starter: LeGarrette Blount
Reserves: Brandon Bolden, James White, Dion Lewis, Travaris Cadet
The cornerback position isn’t the only place where there have been wholesale changes when it comes to the defending Super Bowl champions.
The New England Patriots always seem to have a stable of running backs at their disposal, and their ability to have interchangeable parts has always served them well. This offseason, the free-agent departures of Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley and the recent release of Jonas Gray were offset somewhat by the addition of Travaris Cadet, who came over from the New Orleans Saints.
As for this week, Doug Kyed of NESN.com speculates that Brandon Bolden will get the start on Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers in place of LeGarrette Blount, who will miss the game due to a league suspension.
The Patriots are hoping that Blount can take center stage in 2015. Of course with the likes of Bolden, Cadet, James White and Dion Lewis, you can never tell what Bill Belichick’s team has in mind.
New Orleans Saints
Starter: Mark Ingram
Reserves: Khiry Robinson, C.J. Spiller, Tim Hightower, Marcus Murphy
While having a player run for 1,000 or more yards doesn’t seem to make the impression that it used to, it’s not a bad commodity to have.
It’s something the New Orleans Saints haven’t had the luxury of since 2006, when running back Deuce McAllister turned the trick for then-rookie head coach Sean Payton. Of course, this team has done just fine offensively under Payton.
Had Mark Ingram stayed healthy throughout 2014, he may have hit the 1,000-yard mark on the ground. He ran for a career-high 964 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in just 13 games. He will not only be spelled by Khiry Robinson once again, but the addition of speedy versatile threat C.J. Spiller gives quarterback Drew Brees an option similar to former teammate Darren Sproles.
What remains to be seen, despite the presence of backups Tim Hightower and Marcus Murphy, is how the backfield fares without underrated running back Pierre Thomas, whom the club cut loose this offseason.
New York Giants
Starter: Rashad Jennings
Reserves: Andre Williams, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa
Deficiencies in the running game and coach Tom Coughlin are two sets of words not often seen in the same sentence. From his days with Jacksonville Jaguars as well as the majority of his years with the New York Giants, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach has stressed the ground attack.
However, after ranking 29th in the league in rushing in 2013, the New York Giants were a mediocre 23rd in the same category this past season. And we haven’t forgotten that this club finished dead last in the league in rushing in 2011 when Coughlin and Co. went on to win Super Bowl XLVI. But that squad also averaged 28 carries and 116.5 yards per game on the ground in four postseason contests.
The tandem of journeyman Rashad Jennings and second-year pro Andre Williams, who combined for 1,360 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, looks to be a lot more productive in 2015. But the addition of sure-handed Shane Vereen not only gives the Giants some proven depth but one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league.
Just ask the Seattle Seahawks.
New York Jets
Starter: Chris Ivory
Reserves: Bilal Powell, Zac Stacy
This past season, the New York Jets finished with just four wins. However, the big number to focus on when it comes to their running game is three.
That’s because only the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys gained more rushing yards per game than Gang Green did in 2014. New head coach Todd Bowles and new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey inherit a club that averaged 142.5 yards per game on the ground and rushed for 100-plus yards in all but three games.
Chris Ivory led the team with 821 yards rushing and six touchdowns this past season and will be spelled by both Bilal Powell and former St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy. Meanwhile, 2015 free-agent pickup Stevan Ridley will begin this year on the PUP list.
Starter: Latavius Murray
Reserves: Taiwan Jones, Roy Helu
So just how dismal was the Oakland Raiders ground attack in 2014?
The silver and black were not only held below 100 yards rushing in a dozen games this past year but failed to total at least 20 rushing attempts in nine contests. For the first time in his seven-year career, former first-round pick Darren McFadden played in all 16 games, and the team still ranked dead last in the league in rushing.
Now McFadden is gone, and new head coach Jack Del Rio and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave are banking on Latavius Murray, who flashed big-play ability when available. Last year, he finished second on the team with 424 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just 82 carries—an impressive 5.2 yards per attempt.
Taiwan Jones is in the mix, and Roy Helu is a proven commodity who can run the ball (he led the Washington Redskins in rushing as a rookie in 2011) and is also a solid receiver, which is good news for second-year quarterback Derek Carr.
Starter: DeMarco Murray
Reserves: Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner
In his first two seasons as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly showed us how important the running game was to his team, and the numbers bear it out.
These Birds ranked first and ninth, respectively, in rushing yards the last two years, and this summer, they averaged an impressive 140 yards per game on the ground. Raheem Mostert totaled a team-high 39 carries for 157 yards but is currently on the practice squad.
Let’s not bury the lead. You could make a case that no team in the league has a better group of running backs than the Eagles’ quartet of former Dallas Cowboys standout DeMarco Murray, former Pro Bowler Ryan Mathews, versatile Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner.
Yes, both Murray and Mathews have battled injuries throughout their brief careers. However, Murray also comes off a season in which he played all 16 games and led the NFL in rushing yards (1,845) and total yards from scrimmage (2,261). That’s one way to replace running back LeSean McCoy, whom the team traded to the Bills.
Starter: Le’Veon Bell
Reserves: DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer, Jordan Todman
The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to experience a little deja two.
In last year’s playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, we saw what the offense looked like minus All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who was injured the previous Sunday in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now due to a league suspension (that was subsequently reduced by one game), the versatile Bell will miss the club’s first two contests this season versus the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.
How productive was the versatile running back this past season? Bell finished second in the league in both rushing yards (1,361) and total yards from scrimmage (2,215), and his 83 catches (for 854 yards) were second only to All-Pro wideout Antonio Brown (129) on the team.
Veteran DeAngelo Williams and improving Dri Archer, as well as recent addition Jordan Todman, will have to shoulder the load until Bell is available once again.
St. Louis Rams
Starter: Tre Mason
Reserves: Todd Gurley, Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead, Chase Reynolds
While the St. Louis Rams await the return of injured rookie running back Todd Gurley, the 10th overall selection in this year’s draft, their running game is currently clearly in the hands (and feet) of Tre Mason.
But will that be the case this week as Jeff Fisher’s team welcomes the Seattle Seahawks to town? Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com tells us that Mason did not practice on Wednesday. According to head coach Jeff Fisher, it looks like the second-year runner’s availability will “probably be a game-time decision.”
This past season, the Rams ranked just 20th in the NFL in rushing, and the addition of the talented Gurley—once healthy—figures to change that. Of course, that’s the long term.
This Sunday against the two-time defending NFC champions, the Rams may be leaning heavily on Benny Cunningham.
San Diego Chargers
Starter: Melvin Gordon
Reserves: Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, Donald Brown
On the final day of April and the first night of the 2015 NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers traded up two spots in the first round and grabbed University of Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.
It was a logical move for a team that gained all of 1,367 yards rushing this past season (85.4 yards per game)—a disappointing 478 yards less than NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray produced with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. All told, only the Oakland Raiders and Arizona Cardinals gained fewer yards on the ground than San Diego managed a year ago.
With Gordon and a proven trio in Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver and Donald Brown, the Chargers have the potential to feature one of the best running attacks in the league this season—that's great news for head coach Mike McCoy and especially quarterback Philip Rivers.
San Francisco 49ers
Starter: Carlos Hyde
Reserves: Reggie Bush, Mike Davis, Jarryd Hayne
For the first time since 2004, the San Francisco 49ers will be without reliable running back Frank Gore, who in 10 seasons with the team gained a franchise-record 11,073 yards rushing—good for 20th in league history— ran for 1,000-plus yards eight times.
Gore is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, and second-year pro and 2014 second-round pick Carlos Hyde is hoping he can pick up the slack for a team that will be without its veteran presence in the backfield.
Reggie Bush (who enters his 10th NFL season), Mike Davis and 2015 preseason phenomenon Jarryd Hayne also figure in the backfield in some regard. A year ago, the Niners ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and have finished in the league’s top 10 in this category for four consecutive seasons.
Starter: Marshawn Lynch
Reserves: Fred Jackson, Thomas Rawls
The Seattle Seahawks led the NFL in rushing this past season, averaging an impressive 172.6 yards per game. While running back Marshawn Lynch was his usually beastly self, the team got 849 yards rushing from quarterback Russell Wilson.
Will that be the case once again in 2015? With the addition of three-time Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham, you can probably expect more from the arm of Wilson and perhaps a little less from his legs.
If you’re looking for recent backup running backs Robert Turbin and Christine Michael, check the Browns and Cowboys, respectively. Seattle recently waived the former off injured reserve and dealt the latter to Dallas last week.
That means veteran Fred Jackson, who was recently cut loose by the Buffalo Bills, and undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls will be in charge of keeping Lynch as fresh as possible.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Starter: Doug Martin
Reserves: Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey, Mike James
Following a brilliant rookie season by 2012 first-round pick Doug Martin, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ground attack has gone backward the last two seasons. Only three teams in the league ran for fewer yards a year ago, and the Bucs ranked just 22nd in the NFL in rushing yards in 2013.
The falloff can be blamed on injuries to Martin, who amassed 1,926 total yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns as a rookie but has missed a combined 15 games the past two years. That's why the franchise decided not to pick up the former first-round pick’s contract option for 2016.
Martin, 2014 third-round selection Charles Sims, Bobby Rainey and Mike James all return this season. But if Martin can indeed recapture his rookie form, quarterback Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay offense will bear watching.
Starter: Bishop Sankey
Reserves: Dexter McCluster, Antonio Andrews, Terrance West
An awful lot of things went wrong this past season for the Tennessee Titans, who enter 2015 with 10 consecutive losses as they prepare to meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
One was the failure of the running game to emerge. The team ranked 26th in the league in rushing and failed to crack the century mark on the ground in 12 of 16 contests.
Bishop Sankey returns after leading Tennessee with 569 yards rushing this past season in his debut season. Rookie David Cobb pushed him over the summer, but this year’s fifth-round pick will begin the season on the injured reserve-designated for return list.
It should also be noted that no player on this club carried the ball at least 20 times in any game in 2014. Could Sankey change that this season, with help from Dexter McCluster, Antonio Andrews and newcomer Terrance West, who was from the Cleveland Browns earlier this week?
Starter: Alfred Morris
Reserves: Matt Jones, Chris Thompson
Over the past three seasons, running back Alfred Morris has started every game for the Washington Redskins and has amassed 876 carries for 3,962 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns.
You have to marvel at the consistency of Morris, who has been named to the last two Pro Bowls. The former sixth-round pick has totaled double-digit carries in all but one of his 48 starts and has totaled 20-plus rushing attempts in 19 outings over three seasons. But it’s also worth noting that his production has decreased since his impressive rookie year.
With Roy Helu now a member of the Oakland Raiders, 2015 third-round pick Matt Jones will be the main reserve, with third-year pro Chris Thompson expecting to see more action this year.
All free-agent information and player signings/transactions are courtesy of Spotrac. Depth chart information comes via Ourlads. Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics come from Pro Football Reference and ESPN.com.