Positional Battles: Running Back

By Amol Nadkarni

There are many players going into camp and preseason battling for the starting running back gig. We discuss here.

Ezekiel Elliott vs. Darren McFadden vs. Alfred Morris – On the surface, when the Cowboys drafted Elliott with the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, it was pretty much assumed that he would be starter coming into the season. That very well might be the case, but Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris are no scrubs. Both are former Pro Bowl players and can still contribute. Still, Elliot was a Jerry Jones pick and Jones will want him to be the workhorse back. What Jerry wants, Jerry gets.

LeSean McCoy vs. Karlos Williams – McCoy might be a four-time Pro Bowler but coming into the 2016 season he will be in a battle for carries with standout second year player Karlos Williams. Although McCoy will be considered the starter in 2016, the Bills will employ a committee approach as Williams is too talented not to see the field. This season, McCoy might see himself more involved in the passing game, and both backs could lineup on the field at the same time.

Jay Ajayi vs. Kenyan Drake – Kenyan Drake served as Derrick Henry’s backup at Alabama and if reports out of Dolphins OTAs are to be believed it looks like he will be a backup once again in the NFL, this time to Jay Ajayi. Ajayi has impressed during OTAs and when Miami opted not to resign Lamar Miller, it showed they had faith in the former Boise State Bronco. Drake is a talented but limited back, who is better served in the third down role. Ajayi is a physical, bruising back, who is better suited for the workhorse role.

Justin Forsett vs. Javorius Allen vs. Kenneth Dixon – Based off pedigree alone, Justin Forsett should be seen as the favorite to win back his starting job. However, last season he tailed off and battled injuries, leading to the possibility of a battle with second year back Javorius Allen and rookie Kenneth Dixon. If Forsett is fully healthy he should remain the number one back but Dixon, who has exciting change of direction abilities, could push the veteran for at least shared reps.

Isaiah Crowell vs. Duke Johnson – Last season Isaiah Crowell showed glimpses of being a starting back in the NFL, but ultimately he just does not look the part. That is not to say that Duke Johnson should be anointed the starter, but he definitely has more talent than Crowell, especially in the passing game. However, in order for him to be a three down back, he will have to improve his pass blocking and that could be the ultimate decider on who will win this battle.

T.J. Yeldon vs. Chris Ivory – Chris Ivory had a Pro Bowl year in New York last season but there was a reason that the Jets opted not to resign him. His punishing running style is what makes him great but it is also his eventual downfall. He can’t keep that physical running style up for much longer. It will be a tight battle but expect T.J. Yeldon, who is more creative in his running, to get the majority of first teams reps, with Ivory as a short yardage and goal line back.

DeMarco Murray vs. Derrick Henry – Demarco vs. Derrick Henry might be the most interesting running back battle heading into the 2016 season. Both backs are very talented, with Murray having won a rushing title in 2014 and Henry winning the Heisman trophy last season. It will be interesting to see who wins this battle, as both backs are similar power runners. Expect Henry to have the slight edge just because he has less wear and tear, but both should feature prominently in a committee backfield.

C.J. Anderson vs. Devontae Booker – Last season C.J. Anderson was considered a top fantasy back. Entering this season, he is in a battle for playing time with talented rookie Devontae Booker. The former Utah Ute is a three down back who has power, elusiveness, and can catch balls out of the backfield. Anderson will have to show more than he did last season and stay healthy if he wants to keep his job because Booker has starter potential written all over him.

Matt Jones vs. Keith Marshall – Matt Jones showed flashes last season that he could be a quality starter in this league, however, as the season progressed he regressed. Enter rookie Keith Marshall. Marshall was highly recruited out of high school but injuries and depth kept him from realizing his potential at Georgia. Still, he is a talented back who has a very high ceiling and although Jones will head into camp as the starter, it would be no surprise if Marshall at least splits carries with Jones as the season progresses.

Jeremy Langford vs. Jordan Howard – When the Bears decided to not to re-sign Matt Forte (who had been their franchise running back since he was drafted out of Tulane in 2008) this offseason, it signaled that they had great faith in Jeremy Langford. However, they might have just drafted an even more talented back in Jordan Howard. The former Indiana Hoosier is a powerful runner, who also has great vision and shiftiness. His relentless running style could make him an instant starter for the Bears this season.

Thomas Rawls vs. Christine Michael vs. C.J. Prosise – It will be hard to replace Marshawn Lynch and from the looks of it, Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael, and C.J. Prosise alone won’t be able to fill that void. It is hard to say who will be the starter out of the three and without a workhorse like Lynch, Pete Carroll will likely turn to a committee backfield. Rawls might have the slight edge to be deemed the starter, but the rookie out of Notre Dame, Prosise, could work his way into the conversation by the end of preseason.

Latavius Murray vs. DeAndre Washington – Although the Raiders drafted DeAndre Washington, Latavius Murray should be seen as the clear cut starter going into the season. In his first year as the starter, Murray showed that he can handle the workload. Washington might feature occasionally as a third-down back, but Murray is an integral part of Oakland’s young and dynamic offense.