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Published: Dec. 10, 2014 at 01:08 p.m.
Updated: Dec. 10, 2014 at 01:55 p.m.

Top running backs to start a franchise with

Though the passing game reigns, I believe we're seeing the running back return to relevance a bit.

Think of the Steelers, who have an explosive QB-WR combo in Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown -- and also are relying on a terrific young RB in Le'Veon Bell. Bell's Week 14 performance (235 total yards and three TDs) sparked Chris Wesseling to say on the "Around the NFL Podcast" that if he were starting a team from scratch right now, he'd pick Bell to be his back. Which got me thinking: Who would I go with? So I put together a list, in descending order.

First, some notes on players who didn't make the cut. Marshawn Lynch stands out in Seattle, but I'm not sure he'd be as effective running somewhere else. LeSean McCoy has the fourth-highest yardage total, but I wonder how much of his production can be attributed to Philly's system. Suspended vet Adrian Peterson was not considered.

8 Photos Total

  • The most complete young back in the NFL just became the second player in history to gain 200-plus yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games, joining Walter Payton, who did it in 1977. That should tell you something about his skill level. The second-year pro can go inside or outside, take a quick pitch, run the sweep or run a draw. Bell also can catch the ball like a receiver (71 receptions for 693 yards through 13 games), which is a boon for the Steelers' play-action game. In general, he's a patient runner who waits for the lane to open. Bell can break tackles or make people miss, and he can run away from some defenders. There is a lot to be excited about with this rising star. 8

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    1) Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

    The most complete young back in the NFL just became the second player in history to gain 200-plus yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games, joining Walter Payton, who did it in 1977. That should tell you something about his skill level. The second-year pro can go inside or outside, take a quick pitch, run the sweep or run a draw. Bell also can catch the ball like a receiver (71 receptions for 693 yards through 13 games), which is a boon for the Steelers' play-action game. In general, he's a patient runner who waits for the lane to open. Bell can break tackles or make people miss, and he can run away from some defenders. There is a lot to be excited about with this rising star.

  • It was tough to decide between Bell and Murray at No. 1. Murray, the league's top rusher with 1,606 yards, has some wiggle when he runs, which enables him to make defenders miss. He has good vision and long speed. He also has a terrific stiff-arm, a one-time bread-and-butter technique for NFL ball carriers that Murray has brought back a bit. He's very smart and does not take a ton of hits. His effectiveness helps make the passing game go, and he's a big reason why the Cowboys are 9-4 -- Murray has accounted for more than 40 percent of the team's offensive production. I'm a bit concerned about his heavy usage, but ultimately, I see him producing at a peak level for another three years. 7

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    2) DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys

    It was tough to decide between Bell and Murray at No. 1. Murray, the league's top rusher with 1,606 yards, has some wiggle when he runs, which enables him to make defenders miss. He has good vision and long speed. He also has a terrific stiff-arm, a one-time bread-and-butter technique for NFL ball carriers that Murray has brought back a bit. He's very smart and does not take a ton of hits. His effectiveness helps make the passing game go, and he's a big reason why the Cowboys are 9-4 -- Murray has accounted for more than 40 percent of the team's offensive production. I'm a bit concerned about his heavy usage, but ultimately, I see him producing at a peak level for another three years.

  • Foster has size, vision and cutback ability. He's silky smooth and doesn't look like he's running as hard as he is, but he can really slam it in there. He's quick and can break tackles. Foster's health (he went <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000278768/article/arian-foster-out-for-season-needs-back-surgery">on injured reserve in November</a> last year with a back ailment that required surgery, and he's lost time this season to <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000401495/article/texans-arian-foster-plays-against-bills">hamstring and</a> <a href="http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11924567/arian-foster-houston-texans-inactive-cincinnati-bengals" target="_blank">groin issues)</a> is a concern, but I'd expect him to be productive for at least two more years. 6

    Aaron M. Sprecher/NFL

    3) Arian Foster, Houston Texans

    Foster has size, vision and cutback ability. He's silky smooth and doesn't look like he's running as hard as he is, but he can really slam it in there. He's quick and can break tackles. Foster's health (he went on injured reserve in November last year with a back ailment that required surgery, and he's lost time this season to hamstring and groin issues) is a concern, but I'd expect him to be productive for at least two more years.

  • Aside from tight end Travis Kelce, Charles is really the Chiefs' only offensive threat. He boasts the best yards-per-rush mark (5.5) of any back in NFL history with 1,000 carries or more -- that's better than Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, <i>everybody</i>. Also, he's proven to be a much better pass catcher than folks thought he'd be coming out of Texas. Charles' best attributes are his speed and acceleration. Once he gets past the line of scrimmage, he's very hard to stop. 5

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    4) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs

    Aside from tight end Travis Kelce, Charles is really the Chiefs' only offensive threat. He boasts the best yards-per-rush mark (5.5) of any back in NFL history with 1,000 carries or more -- that's better than Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, everybody. Also, he's proven to be a much better pass catcher than folks thought he'd be coming out of Texas. Charles' best attributes are his speed and acceleration. Once he gets past the line of scrimmage, he's very hard to stop.

  • Forte and Charles both entered the NFL in 2008, but Forte has 550 more carries than Charles, who started his career behind Larry Johnson and missed most of 2011 with a torn ACL. Thus, Forte has a shorter shelf life going forward. Still, he's a big, strong, one-cut runner with vision and instincts -- and a guy who can really catch the ball. In addition to posting the ninth-highest rushing total (854 yards) this season, he's tied for fourth in the NFL in receptions (86, for 724 yards). Forte is also on pace to eclipse 1,900 yards from scrimmage for the second consecutive season, which is phenomenal. 4

    Aaron M. Sprecher/NFL

    5) Matt Forte, Chicago Bears

    Forte and Charles both entered the NFL in 2008, but Forte has 550 more carries than Charles, who started his career behind Larry Johnson and missed most of 2011 with a torn ACL. Thus, Forte has a shorter shelf life going forward. Still, he's a big, strong, one-cut runner with vision and instincts -- and a guy who can really catch the ball. In addition to posting the ninth-highest rushing total (854 yards) this season, he's tied for fourth in the NFL in receptions (86, for 724 yards). Forte is also on pace to eclipse 1,900 yards from scrimmage for the second consecutive season, which is phenomenal.

  • Lacy surprised everyone with how well he could catch the ball in his first season as a pro, posting a solid 35 receptions en route to winning the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He's already topped that total this season, proving himself to be a very good receiver. Between that and his overall strength as a runner, Lacy is a significant offensive threat. He's a physical presence who excels at picking up yards after contact; he'll get hit at the line, and then the next thing you know, he's blown through two tacklers to pick up 18 yards. 3

    Tom Lynn/Associated Press

    6) Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers

    Lacy surprised everyone with how well he could catch the ball in his first season as a pro, posting a solid 35 receptions en route to winning the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He's already topped that total this season, proving himself to be a very good receiver. Between that and his overall strength as a runner, Lacy is a significant offensive threat. He's a physical presence who excels at picking up yards after contact; he'll get hit at the line, and then the next thing you know, he's blown through two tacklers to pick up 18 yards.

  • Hill is a big man who has athletic ability. He's not just a runner -- this guy can catch, as he showed at his LSU pro day. He's <a href="http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?seasonType=REG&d-447263-n=1&d-447263-o=2&d-447263-p=1&d-447263-s=RUSHING_YARDS&tabSeq=0&season=2014&Submit=Go&experience=0&archive=false&statisticCategory=RUSHING&conference=null&qualified=false">the leading rookie rusher</a> with 729 yards, and he's also logged 24 receptions for 201 yards. I like him better than his compatriot in the Bengals' backfield, Giovani Bernard; I think Hill is capable of carrying a running game by himself. He projects as a future Pro Bowler who should get even more involved in the offense in the coming years. 2

    G. Newman Lowrance/Associated Press

    7) Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

    Hill is a big man who has athletic ability. He's not just a runner -- this guy can catch, as he showed at his LSU pro day. He's the leading rookie rusher with 729 yards, and he's also logged 24 receptions for 201 yards. I like him better than his compatriot in the Bengals' backfield, Giovani Bernard; I think Hill is capable of carrying a running game by himself. He projects as a future Pro Bowler who should get even more involved in the offense in the coming years.

  • Ingram has played in just 10 games this season -- and yet, he's got 810 yards and six touchdowns. From Week 8 on, he's racked up 651 rushing yards, the second-best total over that span in the NFL. After struggling to make an impact over the first three years of his career, Ingram has finally shown something. He's running hard with some quickness and juice, and he has some receiving ability, too. There might be some doubt as to whether he'll continue to play like this after signing a new contract this offseason, but anybody who's done what he's done over the past seven weeks has <i>something</i> going for him. 1

    Aaron M. Sprecher/NFL

    8) Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

    Ingram has played in just 10 games this season -- and yet, he's got 810 yards and six touchdowns. From Week 8 on, he's racked up 651 rushing yards, the second-best total over that span in the NFL. After struggling to make an impact over the first three years of his career, Ingram has finally shown something. He's running hard with some quickness and juice, and he has some receiving ability, too. There might be some doubt as to whether he'll continue to play like this after signing a new contract this offseason, but anybody who's done what he's done over the past seven weeks has something going for him.