Top 10 NFL Running Backs Ready for a Breakout Season
Each year, there are running backs who come out of nowhere and take the NFL by storm. Last season, Kansas City Chiefs' Jamaal Charles and Houston Texans' Arian Foster led this group.
Some, like Foster, were not even thought to be a featured back entering the season, and others came off successful seasons but nothing to write home about.
The new crop at the spot, coupled with healthy backs who missed time last season, should lead to some exciting new faces in the top running back conversations.
Here is a look at some running backs who are in great positions to have breakout seasons in 2011-2012.
Ryan Grant: Green Bay Packers
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Ryan Grant missed the entire 2010 season due to a ankle injury he suffered early in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Prior to his injury, Grant had back-to-back 1,200-yard seasons, and the year before, he missed the 1,000-yard mark by just four yards.
Grant is one of the most underrated running backs in the NFL, and it was evident last season when the Packers struggled to move the ball on the ground.
James Starks emerged as the starter last year in Grants absence. It has been rumored that Grant might be cut, and Starks could get the full-time starting gig, but I highly doubt that.
Starks is beyond overrated. He has rushed for over 100 yards just once in 2010 in seven games, and never even reached 75 yards in his other six games.
Grant took a $1 million pay cut this offseason. He wants to play in Green Bay and will return to his 2009 form.
LeGarrette Blount: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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LeGarrette Blount had a monster rookie season in 2010. He rushed for over 1,000 yards on five ypc, and Blount did not start his first game until Week 7.
Blount will not fall into the sophomore slump and could emerge as a top seven rusher in 2011.
He is a risk because the Bucs offense is very young, and quite a bit is expected from them this season.
If healthy, Blount, Josh Freeman and Mike Williams could be one of the most deadly RB/QB/WR combinations in the NFL.
Blount's hard-nosed style of play will get him far in the NFL, as he looks to be a newer (slightly slimmer) Jerome Bettis.
Maybe his nickname could be the Hummer?
Knowshon Moreno: Denver Broncos
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Knowshon Moreno is one of the running backs that I am very high on this season. Moreno had a disappointing season in 2010 rushing for just 3.8 ypc but finished with 1,160 total yards.
He is going to be successful this year mainly because of his new coach, John Fox. Fox likes to run the ball, as he did in Carolina when he turned DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart into stars.
Moreno is also in his third year now, which is typically the "make-or-break" season for running backs who are drafted very high (Moreno was the 12th overall pick in 2009). Since he is so talented, I cannot see him going through a "break it" season.
The Broncos also acquired Willis McGahee this offseason from the Baltimore Ravens who is a touchdown vulture. So I would not expect Moreno's TD numbers to rise significantly, but overall, he will have a great 2011 campaign.
Shonn Greene: New York Jets
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Greene was expected to have his breakout season last year, but LaDainian Tomlinson had other plans. LT proved that his career was still not over, and he was clearly the Jets best running back.
Towards the end of last year, Greene began to outperform LT, and Greene had double-digit carries in eight of his last nine games.
Greene rushed for just 766 yards and just two touchdowns in 2010, but he has now eclipsed Tomlinson on the depth chart.
Greene is also in line for a breakout season because the Jets run the ball so frequently. Last year, the Jets were second in the NFL in rushing attempts per game, and fourth in yards.
Mark Sanchez will struggle early (because he is a sub par quarterback who just happens to play in New York), and the Jets will rely on Greene to carry the offensive load.
Matt Forte: Chicago Bears
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Matt Forte is one of the most underrated players in Chicago Bears history. In each of Forte's three seasons, he has over 1,400 yards in each and over 1,600 in two.
He is also just the second player in Bears history to have multiple season with over 1,600 total yards. Walter Payton is the only other Chicago back to achieve this.
Forte is not the strongest pure runner in the NFL, but he showed improvement last year as a rushed 4.5 ypc.
The real reason Forte is such a great weapon because of his ability to catch passes. Forte tied for the most receptions on the Bears in 2010 with 51 receptions.
Jay Cutler is in line to have a better year in his second season under Mike Martz. This will only lead to more receptions for Forte as well as more defenders being drawn out of the box to free up rushing lanes.
Matt Forte will emerge as a clear top 10 running back in 2011.
Ryan Mathews: San Diego Chargers
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Ryan Mathews missed four games in 2010, which hindered his ability to really get his rookie season going.
But he still had a very impressive first year. Mathews had seven touchdowns and rushed for 678 yards.
Mathews also had to deal with Michael Tolbert taking away touches, but this year, it is clear that Mathews will be the feature back.
He finished last season very strong rushing for 296 yards and breaking the end zone four times in his final four games.
Mathews should continue where he left off and have a very successful second year.
Mark Ingram: New Orleans Saints
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Mark Ingram obviously had a very successful collegiate career, but the NFL is a whole new game.
The Saint's starting running back spot is up in the air, but there is a good chance Ingram will get the job. Ingram will be the Saint's goal line and red-zone back and has played well in the preseason.
Pierre Thomas will not go quietly though, but Mark Ingram has a great chance of being an outstanding running back in the NFL in the saints offense.
Expect him to contribute immediately.
Tim Hightower: Washington Redskins
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Tim Hightower has surfaced as Washington's best running back in a very crowded back field which includes Ryan Torain and Roy Helu.
Hightower spent his first three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals but was never the feature back like he will be in Washington. He is also coming off a great season where he carried the ball for an impressive 4.8 ypc.
Despite Rex Grossman's confidence about winning the NFC East, the Skins do not have a chance at winning the division title.
That being said, the Redskins will be lucky to even get to .500. With their shaky quarterback play, they should rely heavily on the ground game, and Hightower should have a solid season.
Felix Jones: Dallas Cowboys
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Felix Jones is lightning in a bottle.
Similar to Tim Hightower, this will be the first season he will get to showcase his talents as a feature back.
Jones is coming off a good season where he had 1,250 total yards on just 185 carries and 48 receptions in which he had to battle for carries against the ineffective Marion Barber and Tashard Choice.
Felix Jones has a career average of 5.3 ypc but has only been given 9.2 carries per game. Giving the starting job to Jones is way overdue, and as a starter, he has the capabilities of putting up Jamaal Charles-like numbers.
A full season of 225-plus carries for Felix Jones will end with spectacular results for the Dallas Cowboys.
Reggie Bush: Miami Dolphins
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Yes, I know Reggie Bush is an odd selection for someone ready for a breakout season.
I understand that he has never had more than 600 rushing yards in a season, and only one season of over 1,000 total yards.
Reggie Bush is underrated. Yes, he has not lived up to the expectations coming out of college, but when given the touches, Bush is effective.
Bush is not a traditional running back, he is hybrid—half receiver, half running back. Bush is one of the most versatile players in the NFL; he can line up in the back field or on the line of scrimmage.
The simple fact is defenses always have to know where Bush is because he can score from anywhere on the field.
He is currently listed as the No. 1 running back on the Dolphins roster over rookie Daniel Thomas. Thomas will get significant touches this season, but Bush will be the guy in Miami.
Reggie Bush is going to show the New Orleans Saints what they missed out on when he lights up the scoreboards in 2011.
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