Now that the 2014 NFL regular season has ended and there are only four teams remaining in Super Bowl contention, we can take a look back at the season that preceded. This year saw DeMarco Murray make a challenge for a 2,000-yard season, before falling short of the goal due to some hand issues and defensive scheming to stop him. Marshawn Lynch has been a force of nature for the Seattle Seahawks as they march in pursuit of another Super Bowl title. The running back has been reluctant to share his feelings on the season, aside from a few choice phrases in the most entertaining press conferences we’ve seen in years.
However, this article is not about the running backs that excelled on the field of play and stunned us with their performances. This article is about the players that frustrated us throughout the year, both as fans and fantasy owners. These running backs were expected to carry the load for their respective teams, but fell short of their season goals. In many cases, a season of poor performances has resulted in many fantasy and real world losses.
There are many factors that can contribute to an individual’s lack of success on the football field. If a change in philosophy, blocking scheme, or running style occurs, a running back may find himself with fewer opportunities to carry the football. In other cases, injuries are to blame for a lack of performances. There are always mitigating factors, but these players did not perform up to the expectation of their coaches and fantasy owners. It will be up to them to decide whether next year will be an improvement or a continuation of the same.
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15 Stevan Ridley
In ESPN fantasy leagues, Stevan Ridley was taken with an average of the 83rd pick, making him a seventh or eighth rounder in most fantasy leagues. This selection is typically utilized for a second running back that will ensure a team’s points production on a weekly basis. Ridley failed to do this for both Bill Bellichick and his fantasy owners. He was feast or famine for the first six weeks of the NFL regular season before he suffered a season ending ACL injury. He finished the season with 340 yards on 94 carries with only two touchdowns.
14 Darren McFadden
Darren McFadden played in all 16 NFL games for the first time in his career. He managed to break the 500-yard mark with a total of 534 yards on 155 carries. As a 27-year-old running back, McFadden is getting to a point in his career where a decline in performance may be indicative of the deterioration from previous seasons. McFadden managed to stay healthy for the first time in his career, but still was not able to improve significantly. Oakland will see another fresh face at head coach next year, but may not see McFadden in the backfield much longer.
13 James Starks
James Starks may still be in contention for a Super Bowl title, but there is no question that Starks is playing second fiddle to Eddie Lacy. Starks has played in every game for the Packers this year, but rushed for only 333 yards in the regular season despite carrying the ball 85 times. His yards per carry dropped from 5.5 to 3.9, and he played an almost insignificant role in several of the Packers’ biggest victories against Philadelphia and New England.
12 Trent Richardson
Trent Richardson has been the subject of ridicule after being swapped from Cleveland to Indianapolis for a first round pick last season. In the 15 games he played this season, he only rushed for 519 yards despite carrying the ball 159 times. He was able to improve his yards per carry slightly, but it was still a paltry 3.3 average per carry. Richardson managed only three rushing touchdowns while splitting time and carries with Ahmad Bradshaw and Dan Herron. Despite being a bust, Richardson is still in contention to win a Super Bowl.
11 Shonn Greene
His second season in Tennessee was supposed to be an improvement over his previous campaign, but Greene only managed to slightly trend upwards despite receiving five more stars than in 2013. Green finished the season with 392 yards on 94 carries, while Tennessee struggled to a league-worst 2-14 record. 94 of his yards came in a Week 17 loss against the Indianapolis Colts, making his best performance meaningless to fantasy owners. At the age of 29, we may have seen the best we are going to from Shonn Greene.
10 Donald Brown
Donald Brown left Indianapolis for a shot at more carries and a chance at an AFC title in San Diego. Instead, he found his productivity cut in half, as his average carry dropped from 5.3 yards to 2.6 yards per carry. He finished the season without a rushing touchdown and was only marginally more effective in the team’s passing game. Brown may have been under-utilized in the Chargers offense, and his failure to emerge as a consistent performer hurt their chances at playoff success.
9 Ryan Mathews
Ryan Mathews is another Chargers running back that failed to emerge as the team’s workhorse. 2014 was another season where Mathews missed part of the season and he only managed to participate in eight of San Diego’s regular season games. During that time, he put up 330 yards on 74 carries and three touchdowns. He still struggled to fit into the Chargers passing game despite this being his fifth season with them. With Branden Oliver emerging as a candidate to receive the majority of touches, Mathews' role may be reduced next year.
8 C.J. Spiller
Heading into his fifth NFL season, C.J. Spiller was seeking another 1,000 yard season after just missing that mark in 2013. Instead, Spiller found himself faced with nagging injuries and inconsistency. His yards per carry plummeted from 4.6 in 2013 to 3.8, as he rushed for only 300 yards on 78 carries. His lone touchdown on the season came on a reception against Chicago on the opening day of the season. It will be interesting to see how he factors into Rex Ryan’s plans for the future in Buffalo.
7 Maurice Jones-Drew
Maurice Jones-Drew is another disappointing running back that played in Oakland this past season. Jones-Drew left Jacksonville, where he had periods of great success, but he could not find the time of day to succeed in Oakland. MJD received a career low 43 carries in his 12 games this season, where he rushed for a measly 96 yards. Jones was held without a touchdown and under 200 all-purpose yards on the campaign.
6 Doug Martin
Despite playing in 11 games this season, Doug Martin barely managed to surpass his rushing total from the 2013 season during which he only played six games. Martin only managed to rush for 100 yards once in 2014, a week 17 game against New Orleans, which was meaningless to both teams. On top of that, Martin only managed to score two rushing touchdowns on his 134 carries. It will be interesting to see if he ever returns to the 1,400 yard performance he put up in his rookie season.
5 Toby Gerhart
After spending four seasons in Minnesota as Adrian Peterson’s backup, Toby Gerhart set off for Jacksonville in search of increased carries and opportunity. Gerhart is a former Heisman nominee, but has failed to rush for more than 500 yards in four of his five NFL seasons. 2014 was not different despite Gerhard receiving 101 carries. He managed only 326 yards and two rushing touchdowns, while spending several games as the Jaguars feature back. Gerhart will have to continue splitting carries because he hasn’t proven himself to be an every down back.
4 Zac Stacy
One season after nearly breaking the 1,000-yard barrier in his rookie campaign, Zac Stacy suffered a serious setback during his sophomore slump. Stacy played in 13 games for St. Louis this past season, but only started five of them. During those games, he managed to rush for only 293 yards and one touchdown despite carrying the ball 76 times. Stacy also caught eight fewer passes out of the backfield and fumbled the ball twice. If the Rams hope to be competitive next season, they will need a better performance from Stacy to put their offense on the level of their undeniably elite defense.
3 Chris Johnson
When Chris Johnson signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets, many fans thought that it would bring the resurgence of the rushing game that brought them success in Rex Ryan’s previous years. Johnson failed to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career, running for only 663 yards on 155 carries. His one rushing touchdown gave little solace to Jets fans that were forced to suffer through another season of unsuccessful football. Johnson finished off the season with an arrest in Orlando for carrying two semiautomatic handguns in his car.
2 Ben Tate
He began as the lead back for the Cleveland Browns, but Ben Tate ended up spending time with three different teams in 2014, after getting cut by the Browns and moving to Minnesota in Week 13. He finished things off with a playoff appearance with the Pittsburgh Steelers, which resulted in defeat after Tate rushed for only 19 yards on five carries. Tate’s season went downhill after a 124 yard performance against Tennessee in Week 2. He failed to break 100 rushing yards in any game after that day.
1 Reggie Bush
If you had been asked how many rushing yards Reggie Bush had in 2014, odds are you would not have replied with the correct response of 297. It was the lowest output of Bush’s nine-year NFL career, and he also had his yardage gained on receptions cut in half. Bush scored only two touchdowns for the Detroit Lions. Bush’s downward trend may continue as he reaches the age of 30 this offseason.
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