Welcome to the 2014 NFL season! As the Week 1 results roll in, we will learn once again that most of what we have gleaned from last year's games, offseason practices and preseason action can be thrown out the window. What we hold to be self-evident will be rendered meaningless by the quarter-pole of the season at month's end. That's why the NFL is the most popular sports league in America.
Keep that in mind as you peruse the 2014 debut of Around The NFL's power rankings. Around The NFL will break down a different position each week, starting with running backs.
Our rankings are based on all data at our disposal. Early in the season, that will include Game Rewind clips from the past few seasons, preseason film, traditional statistics, advanced metrics, expected role and quotes from teammates and coaches.
Several other factors went into the running-back ranks.
This is not a fantasy football cheat sheet, nor is it an attempt to predict which players will finish with the best statistics this season. The premise is which running back we would want to saddle up for the 2014 season.
We are not stuck in the past -- this list has been compiled with an eye toward the future. With history as a guide, though, we are placing a high value on youth and durability. We also realize NFL teams can more easily find a complementary player to fit a niche personnel package than a tailback who can function as the focal point of the offense. Role players simply aren't as valuable as every-down workhorses.
On to the rankings:
Good at football
No NFL running back combines Peterson's mix of power, violent slashing and the speed to take any carry to the house. Don't underestimate the upgrade from Bill Musgrave to Norv Turner at offensive coordinator. The Vikings were perhaps the NFL's most predictable offense a year ago. ... In the inaugural episode of the Move The Sticks Podcast, McCoy received three votes to Peterson's two when NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah polled five personnel executives on the league's best running back. ... More important to his offense than any other running back last season, Charles added "workhorse" and "fourth-quarter closer" to his impressive dossier.
Lynch has been the Seahawks' offensive MVP the past two years. He'll pass the torch to Russell Wilson this season. ... Packers coaches believe Lacy can become the NFL's rushing leader in their new uptempo, no-huddle attack. ... Forte is not only a complete back, but also a picture of durability. ... Finally healthy, Murray led all NFL starters in yards per carry (5.17) last season. He was exceptional against base defenses, averaging a gaudy 5.7 yards per on 130 carries.
- Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
- Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Arian Foster, Houston Texans
- C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
- Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
- Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
- Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
- Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
- Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
- Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
- Andre Ellington, Arizona Cardinals
- Rashad Jennings, New York Giants
Mathews deserved a trip to the Pro Bowl last season as a two-down hammer who ran as hard as any back in the league. From Week 11 on, only LeSean McCoy had more rushing yards. ... Martin was widely viewed as the next great young back before last season was lost to injury. ... Foster is tricky to rank. He looked great last season before undergoing back surgery in November. He impressed again this offseason before a hamstring injury sidelined him again in camp. He's now a 28-year-old back with major durability concerns. Our research has shown that age 27 is the peak year for established NFL starting running backs. According to ESPN Stats & Information, running-back production historically decreases by 15 percent at age 28, 25 percent at age 29 and 40 percent by the age-30 wall.
Spiller is one of the most physically gifted backs in the league. He's yet to prove he can move the chains consistently by running between the tackles. I'm giving him a pass for last year's high-ankle sprain. ... What percentage of Morris' effectiveness to date is due to a gimmick offense and the dual threat of Robert Griffin III? In games featuring at least 20 pass attempts by Kirk Cousins, Morris has averaged nearly a full yard less (3.94) than his career mark (4.85) with RGIII under center. Morris is also a non-factor as a receiver in an increasingly pass-heavy league. ... We don't put much stock in preseason results, but we do look for traits. Ingram was the most impressive back I saw last month, breaking off 10- to 15-yard runs where previously he would have been stopped near the line of scrimmage. He's poised to emulate Ryan Mathews' 2013 breakout season in an offense with record-breaking potential.
I fully expect Ball to have better numbers than Bell, thanks to the Broncos' offense. I think Bell is the better, more well-rounded back, though. ... Gore rightfully deserves a higher spot, but I am an unapologetic ageist when it comes to running backs. I simply have less faith in high-mileage backs on the wrong side of age 30 -- especially when their YPC average plummets down the stretch in the previous season. ... Bernard is already one of the most dangerous receiving backs, but he averaged just 2.38 yards per carry in the last seven games of the 2013 season. ... Rice represents the challenge of preseason rankings. He was a consensus top-six back prior to the 2013 season, during which he played like a top-50 back. Rice was noticeably quicker in preseason action, but Bernard Pierce now has a two-game audition that could result in a lesser role for the veteran.
Ellington's breakout season is coming. I just have strong doubts that his body will hold up to the workload Bruce Arians is prescribing. The Cardinalshad those same doubts about Ellington's body type and injury history last year. ... On one hand, Jennings is a 29-year-old career backup without a single season over 175 carries. On the other hand, he boasts a three-down skill set and was one of the most impressive runners in August.