Next to the quarterback, the running back is probably the most important player on a football team. They have the ability to move the football down the field in a multiplicity of ways. One way would be as a receiver or another and the most common, carrying the ball for a first down.
Though the running back position is one of the most important on the field, the career of a tailback could last only five or six years. It may seem quite a short time for a star player to play, but if people realized the beating that running backs take they'd view the position from a different perspective.
Running backs perform differently in different stages during their career. Their physical capability may diminish or the team surrounding them doesn't have enough star power to get the job done.
The fact of the matter is, running backs peak and fade during different points in their career. Jim Brown, who's widely considered to be the greatest running back who ever lived, only played nine seasons in the league. During his career he won eight rushing yards titles, four league MVPs and an NFL Championship.
Another superstar who went out on top was Barry Sanders. During his 10 year career with the Detroit Lions he was selected to 10 Pro-Bowls, led the league in rushing four times and was league MVP in 1997. All these accomplishments were achieved without ever playing in a Super Bowl.
NFL rushers today have many more tools and training regiments than Jim Brown and Barry Sanders. But one thing is for sure; both hall of famers knew when to call it quits before they began to decline.
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16 Lamar Miller - Rise
Along with Jarvis Landry, Lamar Miller made the Miami Dolphins a prominent offense in the NFL. This past offseason he signed with the Houston Texans, but his productivity will not be phased - if anything, he's sure to put up some impressive numbers as he'll be a workhorse back on an immensely talented team.
The Texans offensive line provided great support for Arian Foster when he won two NFL rushing leader awards and they'll be sure to do the same for Miller. Backed up by an amazing defense, look for Miller to plow through opposing teams as Deandre Hopkins will demand attention from opposing defenses.
Last season Miller rushed for 872 yards while averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Miller will avoid playing against the tough Jets and Bills defenses as well, as the AFC South is quite a step down defensively with the Titans, Jaguars and Colts lacking key pieces on the defensive side of the ball.
15 Jamaal Charles - Decline
Having a 1,000 rushing yard season is a great accolade to have in a running back. However, having consecutive 1,000 yard rushing seasons is phenomenal. Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs has now been in the NFL for eight seasons and has had five 1,000 yards seasons, as he possesses dual-threat abilities in rushing and catching balls from game manager Alex Smith.
Though the powerful running back has earned himself four Pro Bowl appearances, his frequent injuries will probably cut his career short. In October of 2015, his season was cut short when he tore his ACL in his right knee. This wasn't the first time, either; back in 2011, his season ended in Week 2 when he tore his ACL, this time in his left knee.
He's quickly approaching his 30s, and while he is the NFL's all-time leader in career yards-per-carry (an average of 5.5 yards per carry), Charles is bound to slow down with all the compounding injuries.
14 Chris Ivory - Rise
The New York Jets really have failed to secure a consistent running back since LaDainian Tomlinson departed back in 2011. In 2013, they turned a new page and signed Chris Ivory from the New Orleans Saints. In his first two seasons with the Jets, Ivory averaged more than 800 yards and scored nine touchdowns. In 2015, he had his first 1000-yard rushing season and scored a personal best seven touchdowns.
The force that Ivory brings on a weekly basis is truly extraordinary. Now in Jacksonville, a team that is quickly building a powerful offense, there's no doubt Ivory will be a part of many victories to come, as he and TJ Yeldon look to complement each other's playing styles, with Ivory looking to see some goal-line snaps, using his power to mow through opposing defenses.
13 Alfred Morris - Decline
The Washington Redskins developed a whole new team in 2012. They drafted Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick and running back Alfred Morris in the sixth round of the draft.
Washington's offense was unstoppable and earned them a division championship in their first year with their new starting QB and RB. In his first season, Morris rushed for over 1,600 yards in 14 games played. Since then, Morris hasn't been close to surpassing his first season's performance, as he gradually regressed every season, reaching a low point in 2015 as he only rushed for 751 yards, despite the Redskins winning the poor NFC East.
Now in Dallas, he's looking to compete with an injury-plagued Darren McFadden for the backup role, as star rookie Ezekiel Elliot has a firm grip on starting duties.
12 Eddie Lacy - Rise
Last season was definitely a forgettable one for Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers. His increase in weight decreased his playing time and he was constantly splitting carries with fellow teammate James Starks.
After two 1,000 yard plus seasons, it was a setback for the running back to rush for only 758 yards in 2015. Though the decline didn't help Lacy's production, he has recently shed over 20 pounds and is determined to return to the Green Bay backfield better than ever.
With so much talent -both from Lacy and the entirety of the Packers team- it's hard to see him continue to struggle. As long as he stays healthy and in shape, look for Lacy to revert back to his earlier form, putting up impressive numbers in this high-octane offense the Packers employ.
11 Frank Gore - Decline
Players will often sign with a different team in hopes to reinvent themselves or save their career. During the 2015 offseason, Frank Gore left the San Francisco 49ers to join his former college football coach Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts.
In his four previous seasons before Indianapolis, Gore rushed for more than 1,000 yards. He failed to cross that mark in 2015, as injuries plagued the Colts offense. Andrew Luck missed most of the season, allowing opposing defenses to focus on Gore and shut down the run. As a result, Gore's production obviously went down.
Now another year older, Gore will attempt another 1,000 yard season and hopefully a shot at a Super Bowl with Andrew Luck running the show. While he may certainly rebound, we don't have our hopes high for the aging runner, who will be 33 this upcoming season.
10 T.J. Yeldon - Rise
Though the Jacksonville Jaguars finished the season at 5-11, there were many positive offensive performances that showed the Jaguars are a powerhouse in the making. One of these players was the rookie running back T.J. Yeldon from Alabama. With Blake Bortles throwing bombs to Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, look for Yeldon to move the chains as the Jags will look to keep the opposing team's offense off the field.
In his first season in the big leagues, he rushed for 740 yards, while averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Though the Jaguars added Chris Ivory in the backfield this offseason, there's no doubt that head coach Gus Bradley will look towards Yeldon to take on a greater portion of the workload, allowing his speed and his skill to do all the talking.
9 Justin Forsett - Decline
In the fall of 2014, Ray Rice was all over the news for all the wrong reasons. When the Baltimore Ravens released the running back, it was an opportunity for veteran Justin Forsett to shine. And shine he did, as Forsett finished the season rushing for over 1,200 yards and scored a career high eight touchdowns in a single season. Not too shabby for a journeyman running back.
The following year, however, served as a setback for the running back. By week 10 he was projected to shatter his performance set the season earlier, but Forsett suffered a broken arm and was placed on injured reserve.
Older NFL players, especially running backs, have a particularly hard time recovering from injuries and competing on the same level they once did. Don't expect Forsett to come back and recapture the magic he displayed 2 years ago.
8 Latavius Murray - Rise
There was probably no running back in all of the football who improved more last season than Latavius Murray of the Oakland Raiders. In 2014, he rushed for 424 yards; his production nearly tripled in 2015 when he ran for 1,066 yards.
The Raiders are strongly being considered the favorites to win the AFC West since Peyton Manning recently retired from the Denver Broncos. Their offense is all set and they have built up a strong offensive line as well. They are finally doing things right, drafting quality players and filling their holes, allowing players like Murray to shine. Having Derek Carr and Amari Cooper certainly helps things.
Murray's ability to earn first downs wasn't unnoticed either. In 2015 he clinched 49, which was a significant improvement from 2014 when he just had 18.
7 C.J. Spiller - Decline
The 1,244 rushing yard season seems like ages ago for C.J. Spiller. The running back was only three years into the league and had the looks of a talented player for many years to come.
In 2013 Spiller rushed for almost 300 fewer yards. The Buffalo Bills inserted more running backs into the rotation as the years went by and as a result Spiller lost playing time. In 2015 he left Buffalo to play in the Big Easy. In his first season Spiller played in 13 games and rushed for just over 100 yards.
The New Orleans Saints are notorious for using multiple running backs, so Spiller's productivity will continue to go down.
6 Le'Veon Bell - Rise
The 2015 season was not a kind one to NFL running backs. Many had season ending injuries, one who stands out was Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In his third season in the league, Bell was on pace to break his previous season's performance and then some.
Just six games into the season Bell had rushed for 556 yards and was averaging his best yards per carry at 4.9. It was unfortunate that Bell's season ended early knowing what he was capable of accomplishing.
In 2016 Bell is expected to make a full recovery and will probably outwork the competition and become the best running back in the league.
5 Arian Foster - Decline
General Managers don't consider sympathy when filling a roster spot. The Houston Texans sure didn't when they didn't bring back running back Arian Foster this past offseason. During his eight year span in Houston, Foster was elected to four Pro Bowls and was a two-time league rushing yards leader.
Though his past accomplishments make him well known, his two season-ending injuries over the past three years make him more of a liability than an asset on the field.
4 Thomas Rawls - Rise
The Seattle Seahawks really had a lethal combination in the backfield with Marshawn Lynch and rookie Thomas Rawls. In just 13 games played Rawls rushed for 830 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Though Lynch was the starting running back, it was clear Rawls would be his replacement down the line.
In December Rawls fractured his ankle and missed the remainder of the season. This past offseason Lynch called it quits and announced his retirement from pro football. Rawls now has the starting job and will likely take the NFC West by storm and help lead the Seahawks to a division title.
3 DeMarco Murray - Decline
It was quite a surprise when the Dallas Cowboys didn't franchise tag running back DeMarco Murray after rushing 1,845 yards in the previous season. When the Cowboys didn't offer Murray the contract he desired, he signed with their division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles.
Murray was set to thrive in Philly. Playing with former college teammate Sam Bradford and under coach Chip Kelly's fast paced offense, the sky was the limit for the reigning NFL rushing yards leader.
Murray's production was nearly cut in half. In his first season in Philly he rushed for over 700 yards. This past offseason Kelly was fired and Murray was traded to the Tennessee Titans.
1 Todd Gurley - Rise
The St. Louis Rams moving to Los Angeles was a big deal, but what was even more noteworthy was the rookie season of running back Todd Gurley. At just 21 years of age, Gurley has the potential to become one of the greatest backs the league has ever seen.
In 2015 he was named Rookie of the Year, and boy did he earn it! Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. In this year’s NFL Draft the Rams traded for the first overall pick and selected Jared Goff from California.
Now with Goff, Gurley has an opportunity to pick up more receiving yards. His athletic build and quick approach make him one of the most versatile players in the league.
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