clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NFC North Roster Comparison: Running Backs

New, comments

Compared to the NFC North, the Bears are lacking at firepower at QB, and they don’t have a clear edge on offensive weapons—at least not until the ground game is considered.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Rookie Minicamp Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Previously, I’ve looked at the rosters in the NFC North and ranked the projected merits of the quarterbacks, wide receivers, and tight ends. With those sometimes painful components of the offense considered, it’s time to give some attention to the running backs.

Instead of withholding judgment until the end, I am just going to say upfront that the Chicago Bears have the best running back situation in the NFC North. First, they have Jordan Howard, the only 2016 Pro Bowler in the division (yes, he was an alternate, but no division rival can claim even that). Howard was the #5 running back per Football Outsiders DYAR metric last year, #4 in yards per carry, #3 in yards per game, #2 in total rushing yards, and #2 in total rushing big plays. In other words, all indications so far are that he is something special.

Jeremy Langford and Kadeem Carey are not special. They might be serviceable. However, what they can do is provide a breather for Howard, and they can serve as a change of pace. Additionally, the Bears’ third pick in 2017 (Round 4, #119 overall) provides some developmental potential. I don’t think Tarik Cohen is heading to the Pro Bowl this year, but he does have the ability to become an unconventional weapon. I still find this unit incomplete, but it is still much better (on paper, at least) that its peers around the division.

Meanwhile, any discussion of the Vikings’ running back situation should begin with their second-round selection in 2017. In my opinion, Dalvin Cook has all of the tools he needs to be a Pro Bowl running back. There are good reasons for him to have been only the third running back selected, but (being honest), if the worst thing I can say about a player is that he is not as promising of a prospect as Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey, that leaves a lot of room for him to be good. The problem for Minnesota is that besides the untested rookie, they basically have Jerrick McKinnon (13 starts over 3 seasons for an average of around 600 yards from scrimmage per season). Football Outsiders had McKinnon outside of the top 32 in both DVOA and DYAR.

Perhaps recognizing this weakness, the Vikings did pick up Latavius Murray, the former Pro Bowler from Oakland, but Murray is coming back from surgery and his 2016 was not as productive as his peak in 2015. One way or another, the Vikings unit is (at worst) promising—they have an established player who could be a steal if he comes back healthy, the have a promising rookie, and they have a solid “Grabowski” in McKinnon. This is what it takes to come in at second place in the NFC North.

The Lions have their ups and downs at running back. Ameer Abdullah (their former second-round pick) hasn’t played badly in his 11 starts, but not only is he coming off of a torn ligament in his left foot, he also never showed consistent game-changing ability. Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner combined last year for just under 700 yards, and veteran free agent acquisition Matt Asiata (formerly of the Vikings) might be a versatile player, but he holds the distinction of being almost as bad at picking up yards-after-contact as Jeremy Langford. Still, the Lions have an okay mix of promising and established players who can complement was is (honestly) a pass-heavy offense. Because of this, they are easily ahead of what Green Bay has to offer.

The Packers have one running back on their roster who is not a rookie, and that’s converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Montgomery had under 500 rushing yards last year, and at that he was the Packers leading rusher. Aaron Rodgers (369) was number two. Chances are that at least one of their three drafted running backs (Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Devante Mays) will provide them with at least a serviceable role-player. However, let’s be honest—this is not an offense that needs its running game for much more than keeping defenses a hair more honest. Still, this is obviously the weakest unit in the division.

Next, it will be time to compare the offensive lines around the division and then put it all together for a sense of offenses in the division.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats come from Pro Football Reference, while roster data comes directly from team websites.