For 8 consecutive weeks this Spring/Summer I will be going division by division and evaluating the RB corps of each team. I’ll be assessing both the overall talent and depth that each team has at the position, while taking into account whether they use a workhorse back as their primary weapon or if they use a committee of backs to get the job done. This week’s featured division will be the NFC West.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: David Johnson, Chase Edmonds, TJ Logan, DJ Foster, Dontae Strickland, Wes Hills, Xavier Turner
A couple weeks ago David Johnson declared that he is the best RB in the NFL. That wouldn’t be as much of a bold take 2 years ago after Johnson had amassed 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns for the 2016 season. But after missing essentially all of 2017 due to a dislocated wrist and then struggling in 2018, making that claim becomes a bit questionable. In the end, he might not get my vote as the best at his position right now but he’s still an elite talent. He’s still capable of doing all the things he could do prior to the injury; a better offensive line and passing game would help him prove that.
Gap, zone, red zone, out wide, in the slot, from the backfield.. nothing this dude can’t do.
My personal favorite RB in the league David Johnson is BACK BABY! pic.twitter.com/IDnMCuLvMo
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) August 1, 2018
Chase Edmonds is the front-runner to return as the primary backup again. He struggled to get anything going his rookie season, but to be fair so did Johnson. The front office remains hopeful when it comes to his potential, as he has the burst and balance to flourish as an outside zone runner and space player. His lack of vision and sound decision-making are legitimate question marks though and could prevent him from being a reliable option.
TJ Logan, DJ Foster, Dontae Strickland, Wes Hills, and Xavier Turner will all compete or the remaining one or two roster spots, and honestly all of them have a legitimate shot.
As we get closer to the season it’s possible that the Cardinals add another veteran RB to either provide depth or serve as Johnson’s backup should Edmonds disappoint. With new head coach Kliff Kingsbury bringing his Air Raid offense to Arizona and rookie QB Kyler Murray providing another legitimate running threat, don’t be surprised if Johnson has a much better season this year. In fact, the Cardinals are going to need him to, considering whom they have lined up behind him.
LOS ANGELES RAMS: Todd Gurley, Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown, John Kelly, Justin Davis
Halfway through the 2018 season Todd Gurley was being viewed as the best RB in the NFL and was even being mentioned in the MVP discussion. However, things can change so quickly in this league. Gurley’s touches started to dwindle late in the season and during the Rams’ playoff run. As a result, the Rams offense no longer was the dominating force it had been earlier in the year. Head Coach Sean McVay downplayed the notion that the limited workload was due to health concerns, but it was recently reported that Gurley does indeed have arthritis in his knee. The biggest question the Rams face now is how much this will affect his career going forward. In order to prevent any decline in his game they’ll not only need to closely monitor and manage his physical health but also tone down his overall workload. This way Gurley can be relatively fresh later in the year when they really need him.
Considering how much Sean McVay’s system relies on Gurley and everything he can do, their selection of Darrell Henderson in the 3rd round of the 2019 Draft makes perfect sense. Henderson has the potential to be a very good RB at the pro level. One word to describe his game would be “explosive”. He’s a perfect fit for the outsize zone run scheme that the Rams use and can be deadly in the screen game. Having a dangerous weapon like Henderson on the field when Gurley isn’t will help keep the offense running as it’s supposed to.
The former primary backup to Gurley, Malcolm Brown, has been solid and efficient when called upon. In 2018 he averaged 4.9 yards per carry on 43 attempts. But while he may be an essential shoe-in to make the roster as the 3rd guy, I still like John Kelly’s skillset and think he will eventually beat out Brown. What I like about Kelly is his exceptional contact balance and receiving ability. He would fit in very well as a complimentary piece to Gurley and Henderson in that backfield. Justin Davis will likely be the odd man out.
#Rams RB John Kelly with his 2nd TD of the game.
Happy the Rams have given him an extended showing the preseason. Wouldn’t be surprised if he passes Brown to be Gurley’s backup this year. pic.twitter.com/KXnjIAlFM4
— Steve Frederick (@_SteveFrederick) August 25, 2018
I look at Gurley and Henderson as 2 of the biggest keys to the Rams’ success in 2019, if not the biggest. McVay will have to make adjustments to his system as defenses started to key in on their tendencies later in the year, especially in the Super Bowl. But if Gurley can’t stay healthy and Henderson can’t step up, it’s going to be difficult for that offense and that system to hit on all cylinders.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson
49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has a specific type of player he looks for when it comes to the RB position, and that’s evident when you look at the guys on their roster. He doesn’t care about having guys in the backfield who compliment each other (speed back with a power back); he cares about having the same type of threat on the field regardless of who is back there. What is the main thing that the top 3 guys on their depth chart have in common? They’re all outside zone runners.
Tevin Coleman signed a low-cost deal as a free agent this offseason to reunite with his former Offensive Coordinator from a couple seasons ago. After splitting carries with Devonta Freeman in Atlanta for several years, Coleman will most likely be the starter and lead back of the committee in San Francisco. Coleman has been one of the fastest runners in the league since he entered in 2015, but he’s also not afraid of lowering his shoulder into defenders for tough yards. He’s also a very good receiver and can be moved around the formation, which Shanahan will undoubtedly do.
Not to be forgotten, Jerick McKinnon was brought in last offseason to be the lead back in this offense, but unfortunately, he ended up tearing his ACL right before the season began. McKinnon is a superb athlete who really started to play well in his final season in Minnesota as a change-of-pace and receiving back. Him and Coleman paired together is a whole lot of speed for opposing defenses to try to contain.
Jerick McKinnon is a good zone runner, but he’s an even better receiver out of the backfield. That makes him a perfect fit for Kyle Shanahan’s system. pic.twitter.com/4iXSlascJu
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) July 14, 2018
Matt Breida was one of the biggest surprises last season as the 2nd year RB filled in as the lead back of the offense in McKinnon’s absence. He performed very well, and there was even a point a few weeks into the season where he was the NFL’s leading rusher. Breida battled through multiple injuries throughout the year but showed extraordinary toughness by playing certain weeks that many people didn’t expect him to be available for.
Raheem Mostert is also someone who has plenty of speed to his game, but that’s not what makes him a very likely candidate to make the roster; It’s his ability as one of the best special teamers in the league that gives him that advantage.
Jeff Wilson is a bit of an interesting case. The coaches really like Wilson, but when it comes down to it there’s just too much talent ahead of him, and the 49ers aren’t likely to keep 5 RB on their final 53. The team can try to sign him to their practice squad, but chances are he’ll likely draw interest from and sign with another team.
The 49ers may not have that one guy who is an elite talent, but they have 3 guys in Coleman, McKinnon, and Breida who are all good players and are exact fits for Shanahan’s lethal zone running scheme. Their combination of explosiveness and versatility make for one of the more underrated committees in the entire NFL.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, CJ Prosise, JD McKissic, Travis Homer, Marcelias Sutton, Bo Scarbrough
The Seahawks changed up their offensive philosophy last season and became a run-heavy team. Eventually it was to a fault as their stubbornness to stick with the run was a huge factor in their Wild Card Round loss to the Cowboys. However, the shift in philosophy has helped their offensive line improve and they’re hoping that the physical style will continue to pay dividends in 2019.
What was ironic was that the lead guy of the rushing attack wasn’t their 2018 1st round pick Rashaad Penny, but rather their 2017 7th round pick Chris Carson. Carson finished the season with 1,151 rushing yards and emerged as one of the most physical and powerful runners in the league. He’ll likely remain the starter heading into this season.
The team still has high hopes for Penny though and expect him to become the talented runner they drafted him to be. He didn’t get many opportunities last season with Mike Davis serving as Carson’s primary backup. But when Penny did get onto the field, he was effective with the chances he got, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. His slashing running style would be a good compliment to Carson’s power running style, giving the Seahawks a solid 1-2 punch. Penny does have the potential to eventually earn the starting job over Carson at some point.
— NFL (@NFL) November 16, 2018
After the 2 of them, projecting how the RB depth chart will play out gets a little tough. CJ Prosise seems like the forgotten man in Seattle due to his inability to stay healthy, but he showed so much promise his rookie year in 2016. His versatility might be hard to ignore if he stays healthy in training camp and pre-season, but that’s no guarantee. Prosise still has a chance to be the passing down back for the Seahawks. At the same time, JD McKissic also provides receiving ability out of the backfield and could be the most likely person to take that role. Travis Homer will also be competing also, but he’ll first have to show he can take better care of the football before having a chance to win a spot over Prosise or McKissic. Marcelias Sutton and Bo Scarbrough will likely be on the outside looking in, but even that’s no certainty.
The Seahawks’ RB committee is a decent group. Carson is already a good RB and Penny could end up being even better. It will be very interesting to see how the rest of the position plays out because any of those players could wind up on the final 53. If I were to decide right now, I believe McKissic will win the 3rd spot while Homer makes the team if they decide to keep 4.