In the current landscape of the NFL, the running back position is in a transitional state. The established elite players at the position are almost all aging or injured, and the young talent still needs to produce on a consistent, annual basis to establish themselves as elite. Some who were considered in the upper-tier of the league at the position just several years ago aren't even in the conversation anymore. It's truly a make-or-break time in the careers of many NFL running backs, and many questions will be answered as the 2016 season gets underway.
Of course, as usual, the top two or three players at the position are pretty much set in stone, but there lies a lot of room for variance on the rest of this ranking. Most of the running backs in the league could have had an argument made for them to be included. In the end, however, these are the best 15 in the game as it stands right now. It's safe to say that all of these teams are feeling at least somewhat confident in their running back situation this season. The question is, how much will that change by the end of week 17?
Ranked below are the top 15 running backs heading into the 2016 NFL season.
29 Latavius Murray
While QB David Carr and burgeoning WR talent Amari Cooper have solidified the Raiders as a pass-first offense, Murray is still going to have the chance to put up some big numbers in the backfield. Though he only averaged 4.0 YPC last season (down from 5.2 in his rookie year), he still had a 1,000-plus yard season, with six rushing TDs. While he doesn't excel as a pass-catcher, he's solid enough on a roster with a talented receiving corps, posting 232 yards on 41 receptions. He figures to get the lion's share of the carries, and with defenses having to account for the deep passing game, there should be plenty of room for Murray to break off some big gains. He's not quite in the upper-tier of the league yet, but could make it in that category after a strong 2016 season.
27 LeSean McCoy
While McCoy suffered from injuries that cost him four games last season, he was still impressive in the Bills' offense, running for nearly 900 yards at a 4.4 YPC clip. He's not the same elite player he was in Philly, where he stands as their all-time leading rusher, but he still has the ability to be incredibly effective, provided he can stay healthy. With Karlos Williams and the recently-signed Reggie Bush now in Buffalo's backfield, there may be some competition for carries, but McCoy is still far and away the most talented RB on the roster, and predicts to make a return to a 1,000 yard season. At 28-years-old, McCoy is still young enough to make an impact, and in a run-first offense, he'll have plenty of opportunities in 2016.
25 C.J. Anderson
For the past several seasons, Anderson has been a bit of an enigma in a crowded Denver backfield, but he will look to really break out this season. For the past two campaigns, he posted 4.7 YPC on a combined 338 attempts, registering 13 rushing TDs. At age 25, he enters the prime of his career and is a strong candidate for a 1,000 yard rushing season. While the Broncos have talented receivers in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, a shaky QB situation that includes Mark Sanchez and developing rookie Paxton Lynch may lessen the impact of the passing game. In that case, Anderson will get additional touches, and have a chance to really thrive. The real question will be how well he responds to a season that gives him 200-plus carries, but for now there's no reason to assume Anderson won't produce in the neighborhood of 5.0 YPC.
23 Thomas Rawls
Filling the shoes of a RB like Marshawn Lynch is no easy task, but Rawls might be up to it in 2016. After a strong rookie campaign last season, where he notched a very impressive 5.6 YPC in 13 games played, Rawls figures to be the focal point of the Seahawks backfield. There's still some uncertainty about who else will be getting the carries, but Rawls will without a doubt be the go-to guy. He'll only be 23-years-old when the season starts, and truly has a chance to be an elite RB in the league. For now, he has one impressive season under his belt, and is looking to take the next step. With opposing defenses paying attention to the likes of Russel Wilson, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, Rawls could have some room to consistently make big plays.
21 Mark Ingram
Ingram is headed into his sixth year in the league, but is still in his prime at age 26. The past two seasons he's registered 4.3 and 4.6 YPC respectively, and a combination of 15 TDs. For him, the elephant in the room is his health, as he's only played a full season once in his career, in 2012. Otherwise, he's a quality rushing talent, and became more involved in the Saints passing game, notching 405 yards receiving on 50 receptions in 2015. Some may think that he's overrated on this ranking, but Ingram is a certified RB1 who has been consistent, and is young enough to move into the upper echelon of the league at the position. With Drew Brees' big arm, and Brandin Cooks spreading the defense in the passing game, Ingram will make in impact on the inside running game, recording his first 1,000 yard rushing season of his career.
19 Eddie Lacy
In what was a down year for Lacy in 2015, questions started to arise on how much longer he would get the bulk of the carries in the Packers' offense. It seems as though he's still considered the RB1, and he has a good chance to rebound back to his 2013 and 2014 seasons, where he recorded 20 combined rushing TDs and over 2,300 yards on the ground. He's shed some weight this offseason, and with Jordy Nelson back in Green Bay's passing game, the focus won't all be on stopping Lacy. Look for him to bounce back in 2016, and contend for a rushing title. He's still young in the grand scheme of things, and will prove that last season was an anomaly.
17 Jonathan Stewart
Stewart has had a strange career on the whole of it; one that has seen him overcome injury plagued seasons, and slight lapses in productivity during his eight years in the league. He had a quality season in 2015, totaling nearly 1,000 yards and six rushing TDs. With the advent of Cam Newton in the Panthers offense, it helps Stewart tremendously, and will have another opportunity to put up very impressive numbers this year. When placed in the Panthers offensive system, he's a top-ten RB, and will receive well over 200 carries again this year. Defenses will be keying in on Newton to run the ball so much that Stewart will have ample space to do some damage. Still under the age of 30, he has enough left in the tank to make an impact.
15 Devonta Freeman
This is a make-or-break year for Freeman, who looks to establish himself on a perennial basis within the Falcons offense. Out of nowhere, his production was stellar last year; over 1,600 all-purpose yards, and 14 combined TDs. The fact that he only hit 4.0 YPC is a bit concerning, but there's reason yet to assume that he won't be focal point point in both Atlanta's passing and running game. If he can duplicate his 2015 efforts, he'll be one of the best RBs in the league, but one has to wonder how long his leash will be as the RB1 if he gets off to a slow start. Ultimately, with quality offensive pieces around him, that probably won't happen, and Freeman will establish himself as one of the best in the league at his position for years to come.
13 Lamar Miller
Miller inked a long-term deal with the Texans in the offseason, and he'll be looking to build off of his last two seasons in Miami where he recorded a combined 16 rushing TDs and nearly 2,000 yards on the ground. He's a complete player, who can be a factor in the passing game as well. Alongside a talented receiving corps, anchored by DeAndre Hopkins, Miller shouldn't have any trouble fitting into Houston's offense, and will have an effective 1,000 yard-plus rushing season on a team that predicts to be able to win some games this year. After four seasons in Miami, he'll final have a somewhat stable atmosphere to grow with, and it wouldn't be surprising if he's able to etch himself into the league's top-tier on a perennial basis.
11 Ezekiel Elliott
Purely a projection, Elliott's rookie season should be one of the most effective in the league this season, behind a stellar run-blocking offensive line in Dallas. The Cowboys have made it no secret that Elliott will be getting most of the carries, and coming off a season at Ohio State where he totaled over 1,800 yards on 6.3 YPC, that's probably the best option for them. They're expecting big things from the fourth overall pick, and if his college career was any indication, he should be an elite every-down back in the NFL. Of course, there's always a chance he may not live up to expectations, but with Dez Bryant and Tony Romo's presence on the offense, there should be plenty of room for him to make his mark. Don't be surprised if Elliott's in the hunt for a rushing title in his rookie season.
9 Jamaal Charles
Flying a bit under the radar after an injury plagued 2015 season, Charles still has a good chance to regain dominance this season. It's difficult to count out a guy who's never rushed for less than 5.0 YPC in any of his eight NFL seasons. At age 29, he's still an elite RB if he's on the field, and possibly the best player on the Chief's offense. In comparison with the rest of the league, there are few better as a pure runner even today, though Charles won't be figuring much into the passing game anymore. Still, he'll have every opportunity to have a bounce back season, with another 1,000-plus yards to his name, and in the neighborhood of 10 rushing TDs. Is it a guarantee? No, but Charles has been so good for so long that it would foolish to bet against him.
7 Doug Martin
In the two seasons that Martin has played a full 16 games, he's rushed for at least 1,400 yards in each of them, and combined for 17 rushing TDs. Unfortunately in his other two years in the league, he was hampered by injuries, which drastically effected his production. If we get the former Martin in 2016, we can expect him to compete for a rushing title. He's on a talented offense that will have opposing defenses keeping a sharp eye on burgeoning QB talent Jameis Winston and elite WR Mike Evans. Martin has no competition in the backfield for carries, and will take advantage of this as the defense spreads out, giving him room to break off long yardage. He had a healthy return to form last season, and still in his prime, looks to continue that trend this year, further cementing himself as one of the best in the game.
5 Le'Veon Bell
When Bell is actually on the field, there's no RB better in the game as a pass-catcher and runner combination. In 2014, his only season with 16 games played, he notched over 2,200 all-purpose yards. He's an elite presence when he's healthy. That's the big question though with him, is just how much he'll see the field. After an injury plagued 2015 season where he played in only six games, he's now facing a four-game suspension to begin this season. Any injury setbacks he suffers on top of that, and he'll likely be missing at least half the season, yet again. It would truly be a shame if Bell wasn't able to capitalize on his talent, but it is unquestionable that he has it in droves. There isn't a better all-purpose RB in the league, and he is a certified star if he's on the field. Unfortunately, that just hasn't been the case as much recently.
3 Todd Gurley
In a stellar rookie campaign, Gurley registered over 1,100 yards rushing in just 13 games played last year. The Rams figure to run the ball a lot as rookie QB Jared Goff develops, and Gurley is set to have an absolute monster year, and be a top contender for the rushing title this season. He doesn't figure too much in the passing game yet, but as a pure rusher, it's hard to do any better at the position. He has a nose for the end zone, scoring 10 TDs in 2015, and there's no reason to believe that he won't continue to develop into one of the sport's elite. Over the long term outlook, there probably won't be a better RB in the league, providing that Gurley is able to stay healthy. The future looks bright for him, and he's already a Pro Bowl caliber player, without even reaching the height of his prime.
1 Adrian Peterson
It's difficult to write off Peterson as the best in the game, even at the age of 31, when he's coming off another dominant season. Last year, it happened to be a return season, after he was suspended for the entirety of 2014. He's simply a guaranteed to have a stellar year every season. He's never tallied less than 10 rushing TDs in any season he's played in, and only once had less than 1,000 yards rushing, and that was a season in which he only appeared in 12 games. Flat out, there's not a better pure runner in the game today, and there's simply no reason to believe that it won't continue, until he starts showing obvious signs of wear. With nearly 1,500 yards on the ground in 2015, now is not that time, and he will continue to be the best RB in the league as the 2016 campaign gets underway.