NFL Predictions: 10 Running Backs Who Will Emerge in 2011
Every NFL season, there are breakout running backs. Last season we saw the emergence of Arian Foster, Ahmad Bradshaw, LeSean McCoy, Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles as premier backs.
Who will it be this season? Who will be the guys who come out of nowhere and make us all say "WOW!"?
There are quite a few candidates at running back who are primed for breakout seasons in 2011. Let's take a look at 10 running backs who can emerge as premier backs in 2011.
Mark Ingram: New Orleans Saints
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The New Orleans Saints made a smart move and moved up in the draft to get running back Mark Ingram out of Alabama. He is a smart, powerful runner and can finally give the Saints a legitimate running attack.
Mark Ingram does have some competition though. Teammates Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas will definitely get reps this season and will be stiff competition for the number one running back job. The Saints also signed Darren Sproiles, but he will most likely fill the "Reggie Bush role" now that Bush is no longer on the team.
Even with Ivory and Thomas on the roster, Ingram is the favorite to lead the team in carries. With a strong offensive line and dominant passing game, there should be plenty of holes and opportunities for the rookie to prove to everyone he can be a premier back in this league.
Ryan Torain: Washington Redskins
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Assuming Ryan Torain stays healthy, he is an easy pick for a 2011 breakout season.
Last season, Torain took advantage of the opportunity given to him by Mike Shannahan and the Washington Redskins. He replaced long-time starter Clinton Portis as the starting running back and ran for 742 yards off of 164 carries and scored four touchdowns. It is worth noting that Torain had some ugly blocking in front of him.
Although he has some strong competition in Tim Hightower, whom the Redskins are very high on, Torain could be even more effective than last season. In fact, he and Hightower could be a deadly duo if utilized correctly.
With Washington improving their offensive line over the offseason and Mike Shannahan further installing his always unstoppable running attack, Ryan Torain could be headed for a huge season in 2011.
Tim Hightower: Washington Redskins
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Tim Hightower had a lot of hype when he first made his appearance as an Arizona Cardinal. He ran hard, tough and downhill. When the Cardinals' offensive line continuously got worse and worse, so did Hightower's production.
Well, Hightower is a Cardinal no more. He will now take place in Mike Shannahan's running back factory with the Washington Redskins.
While Ryan Torain did well last year and will most likely continue to do so this season, Hightower is more of a fit for Shannahan's system and is the favorite to win the starting job in Washington.
With better blocking schemes and an offensive line, Tim Hightower will have his best season to date with Mike Shannahan and the Washington Redskins. Even if he has to split carries with Torain.
Ryan Mathews: San Diego Chargers
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Ryan Mathews was a bit of a disappointment for the San Diego Chargers last season. He was often injured, fumbled five times, and did not look very impressive while running for only 678 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. With that being said, him being a rookie has to be put into perspective.
Mathews is still a talented player, he is on a good team with a great quarterback, and he will only get better. He is still in line to be the starter going into the 2011 season and Mike Tolbert is really his only competition for the job. While Tolbert is a solid player, he will probably not get more carries than Mathews this season.
Mathews can only improve from last season. The Chargers are still high on the former first-round pick and he still has the most potential to be the most complete running back from that draft class. That potential just has to be show up on the field.
2011 is not a make or break season for Mathews, it is simply another step forward. He will improve from his 2010 production and emerge as a good player in this league.
Jahvid Best: Detroit Lions
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Jahvid Best is extremely explosive. He can hit a home run at any time and defenses should be scared of him. He had a nice start to last season, but slowed down after getting injured. He ended up with an ugly 3.2 yard per carry average with 555 yards, and four touchdowns behind a so/so offensive line with the Detroit Lions.
Mikel LeShoure just recently received a bad injury and the running back job is Best's to lose. His only competition is not Jerome Harrison, who is a very good runner. While Harrison is tough competition, Best will win the Lions starting running back job.
Best will receiver more carries in 2011 and needs to be more consistent than he was a year ago. With Mike LeShoure out for season, Best will most likely lead the Lions in touches. He is a major option as a break out running back of 2011.
CJ Spiller: Buffalo Bills
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The Buffalo Bills want to use CJ Spiller more than what they did last season, but he has yet to develop into a decent pass blocker and still struggles to run between the tackles. There are times when Spiller shows flashes of Jamaal Charles, and times when he shows flashes of Reggie Bush (not in a good way).
Last season, Spiller only ran the football 74 times for 283 yards. He was injured too much, and too inconsistent, but that will change. Spiller will only improve in his second season and will get a lot more touches.
With teammate Fred Jackson being unhappy in Buffalo, Spiller could get even more touches than expected if Jackson leaves Buffalo for any reason. Spiller would have to live up to the ninth overall selection and prove he can be a true number one back. 2011 could be a great year for CJ Spiller to prove himself.
Knowshon Moreno: Denver Broncos
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
There are a lot of Knowshon Moreno fans out there, but to be honest, he has not done much to be such an over-hyped player. He has yet to eclipse 1,000-yards rushing in one season, yet everyone acts like he has. But this season could be different for Knowshon Moreno.
If Moreno stays healthy, he could end up with over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. A lot of the time, a player's third year is when they break out into a real premier player. Knowshon Moreno could be just another player who breaks out in his third season.
Moreno has been a solid player over the last two seasons, but he has not been good enough to say that he has already emerged as a premier back. That will happen this season. With new head coach John Fox, the Denver Broncos will be more of a running team and Moreno will see a ton of work. 2011 could be the year of Knowshon Moreno.
Beanie Wells: Arizona Cardinals
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Beanie Wells has been nothing short of a disappointment thus far for the Arizona Cardinals, but things are about to change.
Wells is a tough inside runner who will benefit from Kevin Kolb being traded to Arizona. With Kolb, the Cardinals passing attack will be much improved. With an improved pass attack comes an improved run attack.
Arizona was looking forward to starting second round pick Ryan Williams this season, but he suffered a season-ending injury which re-opens the door for Beanie Wells.
Beanie once again has a shot to prove himself. He should have a better chance than he had before because of the improved offense, and this is probably his last shot to show the Cardinals what he has a starting running back.
With Ryan Williams injured and Tim Hightower being traded, Beanie Wells will be the primary back in Arizona and could be on his way to his first good season as a professional football player in 2011.
Shonn Greene: New York Jets
The New York Jets really like what they see in Shonn Greene. They like him so much, that they have practically named him the starter over LaDanian Tomlinson (who had an exceptionally good bounce back season last year). Greene runs hard, fast, and has shown spurts of what he is capable of.
The Jets are a run-first football team with an incredible offensive line. Greene will still split reps with Tomlinson, but he will definitely get more touches than the 185 carries he had last season.
While the Jets had high hopes for Greene last season and he did not necessarily produce great, he still played solid. He will only improve as he gets more experience and he knows he can rely on Tomlinson to take some pressure off of him.
The Jets want to use Greene as a workhorse back, so expect his 766 yards and two touchdowns to increase dramatically in 2011. Especially behind that offensive line.
Felix Jones: Dallas Cowboys
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jerry Jones loves him some Felix Jones, and so do the rest of the Dallas Cowboys. Although he has incredible break-away speed, Jones is not afraid to run between the tackles and does a good job of it.
While Felix Jones has done well as a professional football player already, he has yet to emerge as a premier back. That will change this season. The Cowboys are no longer unmotivated and lost under Wade Phillips. Felix no longer has to split time with Marion Barber seeing as how he is with the Chicago Bears now. Tashard Choice has been injured and disappointing in training camp. This leads to Felix Jones being the main, feature back.
If Jones can stay healthy, and that is the key, he can have a huge year for Dallas. Head coach Jason Garrett has installed a lot of screen plays for Jones and the offense will run through him more than it ever has.
With Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, there will be plenty of holes for Felix Jones to run through. Again, the most important factor to Felix Jones finally emerging as a premier back is him staying healthy. If Jones can stay healthy, he is primed for greatness.
In 2011, Felix Jones could have the biggest breakout season than anyone in the NFL.