It may be a little difficult to try to envision the NFL three years from now. As it is, the NFL changed significantly from 2014 to 2017. For all we know, the Browns will be Super Bowl contenders, Tom Brady will have retired, and Cam Newton will be a talk show host. Okay, maybe that last hypothetical will not happen.
The league was competitive this past season. Though the Patriots took home a championship, contenders like the Falcons and Packers in the NFC posed a threat to Brady's team. The important thing that distinctly makes running backs different than any other position is that they do not last very long. Stars will be at the top of their game for a mere three or four years, and the superstars will be there for a couple years more than that. Receivers have a reputation of lasting a little bit longer, for example Brandon Marshall has been a menace to cornerbacks for quite some time. Contrarily, C.J. Spiller was at the top of his game for just two seasons with the Buffalo Bills. He now is a free agent who last played with the New Orleans Saints. Some players on this list have not matriculated into the league yet, and that is standard.
It is obvious that in three years from now, there will be new stars that we've yet to see play in the NFL. Though you may not know who a couple of these incoming prospects are, I highly encourage readers to do some research on the prospects and their level of play. Here is NFL 2020: Predicting the Top 15 Best Running Backs.
15 Lamar Miller
Lamar Miller will apparently lose some workload on the Texans next season. This is not an indicator of his tribulations, but of his over usage this past season. His stat line includes five touchdowns, 1,073 rushing yards, and 31 receptions. It is fair to say that he did not have his best season considering he rushed for eight touchdowns the year before in Miami. Miller is an elusive back who I believe still has work cut out for him in the NFL. I don't necessarily believe he will remain in Houston. He has some nice speed and can be very agile in open space. Additionally, I like how he plays in the backfield as a catching halfback, something very crucial in today's passing oriented NFL. Anyway, I don't see him being much better than the 15th best halfback, but I do believe he will continue to be relevant for some time.
14 Leonard Fournette
This is not one of those no-name prospects I was referring to in the introduction. Fournette has been on the recruiting map since he entered LSU in 2014. He was an All-American in 2015 and has been noted as a downfield threat. I believe Fournette will be a halfback not to be messed with by 2020. In 2015, he rushed for 1,953 yards on 300 attempts. LSU loved feeding the ball to the 6-foot-1 beast of a 22-year-old. There a couple teams I can envision him landing with. Actually, he could be a good fit for the Patriots, although everyone is good within the New England system. I could also see him on the Panthers, a team that will need a running back prospect after the release of Mike Tolbert and having the aging former semi-star Jonathan Stewart. If anything is to be noted about Fournette, he is an aggressive halfback who could make serious impact at the professional level.
13 Dalvin Cook
I think Cook has a little bit more potential compared to Fournette. Why?
The Florida State running back has been on an absolute tear since 2014. But in 2015 and 2016, he brought his stats to another level. In 2015, Cook rushed for 1,691 yards on 229 attempts and in 2016 he upped that ante with 1,765 yards on 288 carries. There seems to be an upward progression with this kid. A lot of NFL pundits have praised him and acknowledged that he may be a perfect fit for the Philadelphia Eagles. Cook is 6 feet and 214 pounds. As of now, he is considered to be one of the top prospects in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft, along with Fournette.
What I like about this guy is his catching out of the backfield. He recorded 935 reception yards in his three years as a Seminole, and 79 receptions. Realistically, I think he has the ability to be a top notch running back in the league, that is if he lands on the right team.
12 Latavius Murray
Murray has been praised by the Raiders organization since he began emerging as the lead back. Actually, Derek Carr really wants him to stay in Oakland, but he may be headed elsewhere - notably Minnesota. Latavius had two great seasons in both 2015 and 2016. He has rushed for 2,278 yards in his career, had 543 attempts, and 20 touchdowns. Along with Derek Carr, the offense had a fantastic 2016 season. Though the pun is "AC/DC", for Amari Cooper Derek Carr, Murray should be in there somewhere. LMACDC Maybe?
The 6-foot-3 halfback entered the league from University of Central Florida. There were little hopes for his arrival, as he was taken in the sixth round in the 2013 NFL Draft. Number 28 has been more than the fans could have hoped for in Oakland. He is very strong and holds himself up when being tackled. I trust Murray to be a top threat in 2020.
11 Mark Ingram
Ingram has been making people's fantasy teams better since 2011. The New Orleans Saints have greatly benefited from his services. The New Jersey born halfback will forever be noted as a legendary college football running back. Unlike the trend many players follow, he has instilled himself as a very solid running back at the professional level as well. This past season, he set his career high in rushing yards at 1,043 and also became the Saints first 1,000 yard rusher since Deuce McAllister. He also obtained 10 touchdowns this season, a very respectable number for any player. Ingram is known to be good at getting in open space. Once he does, his speed usually takes over.
I think Ingram surely still has significant juice left in the tank, and will stay prominent with the great Drew Brees.
10 Melvin Gordon
Gordon burst on to the scene this past season as one of the best running backs. He wasn't very good in 2015, and only managed 641 yards off 0 touchdowns. Contrarily, he upped his game in 2016 making the Pro Bowl and having 997 yards and 10 touchdowns. So yeah, it is fair to say he made strides in the right direction. Gordon was phenomenal in the San Diego offense, though the Chargers were not so great. He is currently starting ahead of Brandon Oliver and Danny Woodhead, and will probably remain with the Chargers for quite a while. He currently is on a four year deal, with a fifth year option. His rookie season was a total bust, as he had 6 fumbles. Fantasy owners were unbelievably disappointed at his lack of awareness and general skill on the football field.
Luckily for Gordon, he proved the haters wrong in 2016 and will look to further cement himself in coming years.
9 Todd Gurley
I think Gurley will rise from his poor season in 2016 and go back to how he was previously. He needs a team change. The Rams offensive line is pure trash, and he cannot get in open space because of this. The sophomore slump is common with NFL players though. Plenty of star studded first year players half a tough time adjusting to the league their second time around. Evidently, Gurley had 1,106 yards rushing two years ago and 885 yards in 2016. This gap is extremely big, but I still do not doubt his ability. For him to rush over 1,000 yards in his first NFL season showed extreme potential.
I am not saying his career will not pan out on the Rams, but, in my opinion, it is more likely to pan out somewhere else.
8 Royce Freeman
Freeman is a high potential prospect from University of Oregon. Out of high school, he was nationally recognized as a top recruit. In his freshman season, he had 18 touchdowns, his sophomore season he had 17, and nine in his junior season. Though there is a minor drop off in ratios, I still like his chances of succeeding at the professional level. Freeman is 5-foot-11 and very agile. He lacks strength, but he makes up for this supposed deficiency with speed and quickness. He will be entering the 2018 draft as a highly ranked halfback.
If Freeman keeps up his success into his senior season, he will land himself a starting job on a team that desperately needs one. I think he is someone to look out for, and a halfback that will be looked at very seriously by scouts.
7 LeSean McCoy
Age is a huge factor in determining the top running backs in 2020, and LeSean will be nearing 32 years old at this time. Regardless, I have trust in his potential to still be a notable running back: number 7 isn't too bad right? McCoy has shown crazy juking and finesse since he entered the league in 2009. He has been equally productive for the Eagles and Bills. Arguably, he had his best season in 2016, in which he had 13 touchdowns and just above 1,200 rushing yards.
McCoy has shown that he is a top five running back at the moment, but I fear he will begin to lose value come a couple years from now. Being the seventh best running back in the league at 32 years old would be a tremendous accomplishment in today's NFL, but McCoy is capable of doing it.
6 Jay Ajayi
Ajayi had a total breakout season in 2016. He managed 1,279 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns off of 260 attempts. He really showed the NFL that he has talent since his rookie year wasn't so hot; he managed one touchdown in 2015. The Boise State recruit was not highly ranked coming into the 2015 NFL Draft. He was selected in the fifth round. What made me place Ajayi this high was simply because of the side of him we saw this past season. He took the Dolphins on his back and brought them to a 10-win season and a playoff appearance.
Ajayi got selected to the Pro Bowl this season, and I envision future selections coming his way. Dolphins nation was super surprised to see this guy emerge as a star, but were very welcoming to his presence nonetheless.
5 Devonta Freeman
From what I observed in Super Bowl LI, it seems apparent that Freeman will be a threat in the NFL for years to come. He is a super aggressive runner, and I think we all witnessed this first hand against the Patriots' high end defense. He has been very productive since 2015, and continued this dominance to his 2016 season. He now has managed 557 attempts, 2,383 yards, and 23 touchdowns. I really like his game and think he will remain a threat to all defenses for years to come. Freeman is volatile in open space and will make any defensive coach pay if they overlook him.
Freeman is not even the only good running back in Atlanta. Tevin Coleman has paved the way as one of the league's premier backups, who could easily start on another team. I envision Freeman continuing his success into the 2020 decade.
4 DeMarco Murray
In case you didn't notice from this image of Murray bodying Dante Fowler Jr, the guy has one of the best stiff arms in all of football. DeMarco struggled in Philadelphia under the exhausting Chip Kelly system, but showed how good he actually is the following year in Tennessee. The Eagles did not utilize Murray how he should be used. Too many times, the Eagles used Murray in the shotgun or out of a different set. Murray is better in a system that allows him to utilize his power. DeMarco managed 1,287 rushing yards this past season and nine touchdowns. Compare these stellar stats to his previous 2015 season of 702 rushing yards and something does not make sense. Murray is a top running back who should remain at the top of every halfback list for some time. He showed extreme resilience as a Titan and a stellar work ethic.
3 Le'Veon Bell
I had a very difficult time placing either Murray or Bell ahead of each other. Bell mainly gets this spot because he is younger than Murray and will be in his prime by 2020. Bell has revolutionized football with his kind of hesitation run technique. He has been an unbelievable presence on the field and along the way has broken a couple of major franchise records. He has broken the Steelers' single game rushing record and the single season receptions record by a running back for the franchise.
He rushed for 1,268 yards this past season which was still shy of his 1,361 rushing yard stat in 2014. Bell is arguably the best running back in football right now, with David Johnson, and other company at his level of play. If he keeps up his production, he will be headed straight to Canton, Ohio my friends.
2 David Johnson
I may be a little biased to put Johnson over Bell since David was on my fantasy team, but I still think he will be a tad bit better than the Steelers back in 2020. Johnson showed extreme poise, maturity, and strength this season in Arizona. I was very impressed at not only his stat line, but his productiveness each game. He managed 16 touchdowns this season and ran for 1,239 yards - so yeah he doesn't really mess around. What I really enjoyed was how he literally made something happen out of nothing on so many different plays, whether in the backfield or receiving.
Though the Cardinals have a solid offensive live, he still shined as a catching halfback. He had 879 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Johnson showed unbelievable ability, and a side him I don't think anyone knew was possible. One thing is for certain. He will be on the Pro Bowl ballot for years to come.
1 Ezekiel Elliott
Boy, did this guy have one hell of a rookie season in Dallas.
Elliott managed 1,631 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. Though David Johnson had a killer stat line in regards to rushing yards, holy crap this guy can move. Along with Dak Prescott, the two shocked the world on how good rookies can really be. Aside from being insanely quick and athletic each time he played a series, he cemented himself as a top tier running back, arguably number one. Along with the Cowboys' insanely talented offensive line, Elliott wrecked defenses in 2016. In 2020, I predict him to be very dominant. Though it may be hard to beat his 15 touchdown season in 2016, here is my prediction for the 2020 NFL season. He will have 12 touchdowns and rush for 1,290 yards - yep there you have it.
I think Dak and Elliott have a great thing brewing for them in Dallas. If they remain Cowboys, I can confidently say that, at some point, they will win a Super Bowl together.