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2013 NFL Running Backs to Watch

They may not get the glamorous respect that quarterbacks get, but running backs are one of the most valuable elements to the NFL game. As a matter of fact, every NFL MVP award has gone to either a quarterback or a running back since 1986, when Laurence Taylor won the award as a linebacker. One of these MVP’s is last years winner, Adrian Peterson (who is a safe bet to say will be mentioned again later in this content). The 2013 season is prepared to see a bevy of running backs make their way on the scene. Here is a look at some players you’ll expect to run rampant this season, and some surprises to keep an eye out for.

It seems almost fair to put Adrian Peterson into a category all his own when it comes to a tier of running backs. AP, All Day, AD, Purple Jesus or whatever you want to call him, is a downright freak athlete who has been breaking records since he came into the league. It’s nearly unbelievable to think that just two years ago, AP was injured and many thought he’d be out for over an entire season. However, with hard work and determination, and the advancements of modern technology, Peterson returned to start the 2012 season. And if that wasn’t enough for disbelievers of how good he is, AP went on to win the NFL MVP award and was just 9-yards short of setting a single-season record for rushing yards. You can bet that AP has the taste of success in his mouth and will be determined to once again make a run at the record books. And without much support in Minnesota, he will be called on early and often. Expect another huge year from Adrian Peterson, as is becoming a regular occurrence for him.

The Seattle Seahawks bandwagon is filling up with hoards of fans with each passing day. They have a load of talent at nearly every spot on their team, including Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. When Beast Mode isn’t enjoying Skittles on the bench, he’s running defenses over with brutal force and determination to not be stopped. Lynch may not have the same agility as some other backs, but don’t be fooled thinking that he can’t turn small yardage situations into huge gains. The last few years fans have seen glimpses of what Lynch can do for the Seahawks, but this year should be something special. Seattle finally has an all-around team that defenses will have to respect, meaning Beast Mode will have more space and options to break huge runs and rack up a ton of touchdowns.

Two years ago, Adrian Peterson was injured and the top two backs in the league were Arian Foster and Ray Rice. While Rice had proven himself in previous years, Forster burst onto the seen as an undrafted player who wasted not time making a name for himself. In his first game with Houston, he set the franchise record for rushing attempts (33) and yards (231) in a game. He went on to finish the season by winning the rushing title with 1,616 yards, the most ever by an undrafted player. Foster has continued to look great the last few years and a lot will be expected of him this year, especially considering the Texans are among the top teams in the league.

Ray Rice is coming off a Super Bowl championship, which is something none of the backs ahead of him on this list can say. As influential as Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis were to the Raven championship last year, so was Rice and his running efforts. Rice is a hard working back who uses his short stature as an advantage, rather than a disability. You can expect Rice to have another 1,000-yard-plus rushing season, which has had for the last four-seasons.

Peterson, Lynch, Foster and Rice are four backs that should almost certainly keep up their efforts with the coming season. Baring injuries or complete breakdowns by their offensive line, these guys are simply too talented to slow down. Part two of our content will take a look at a few guys who have been big in previous years, but will need big years of their own to stay relevant.

The lifespan of a NFL running back is said to be around three years of full potential. And with some of the names that are going to make the second part of this blog, you will notice how quickly guys can fall out of favor with their respective coaches and end up struggling to stay relevant in the league. So without further adieu, lets take a look at those players.

The first guy we’re going to talk about could just as easily made our last post that discussed the best relevant backs in the league. Because the truth is Steven Jackson is still a beast and has shown little sign of slowing during his time in the league. The problem was that he was on a terrible St. Louis team and defenses knew that he would be getting the ball more often than not. After all of the carries he had, Jackson took a beating and wasn’t up to full strength last year. Now, he finds himself in Atlanta, a place where he could return to the upper tier of running backs in the league. After all, with Matt Ryan flinging the ball to Roddy White and Julio Jones, defenses will have to respect the long ball of the Falcons, opening up a ton of room for Jackson to get some huge runs in. This should be a great year for Steven Jackson, and we might get to see what kind of talent he truly has, even at his age.
A lot of people gave Matt Forte a hard time for not wanting to play for the Chicago Bears without a new contract that would protect his future. But after attaining an ankle injury at the end of last season, his concerns made a lot more sense. However, Forte will be expected to come play this year and play well. Just a few years ago, he was among the top backs in the league, hence why he was so eager to get paid what he felt he deserved. But in reality, the entire Bears organization is going to be under the gun to perform this year. And if Forte can’t carry his load, you can bet that the Bears will try and find another solution to balance out their passing game.

Another guy that refused to play until he got paid was Chris Johnson. And again, rightfully so, Johnson got the money he dservered, being the leading rusher in the league two years ago. Unfortunately, Johnson was slightly better than terrible to start last season. Johnson was quick to blame it on his offenseive line, while others pointed the finger at Johnson not being in the shape that he should’ve been. But with this season, there is no room for excuses for Johnson. He is still one of the fastest players in the league and the Titans are going to rely on him all year if they hope to make a run at the Super Bowl.

Much like Steven Jackson, who was never on a team that truly matched his own individual talent, Maurice Jones-Drew enters this season once again as the starting back for the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. MJD was in contract negotiations last year, and was not pleased that he wasn’t getting paid what he believed he should be valued at, especially considering he was the only offensive production for one of the least offensively productive teams in the league. But with everything finally ironed out, there is still only one downside that remains with MJD, and that’s the fact he’s still in Jacksonville. It’s going to be hard for Jones-Drew to regain his position among the leagues best, but not because of his lack of talent as much as his supporting casting.

Reggie Bush has had a roller coaster career since being drafted 2nd overall by the Saints after a stellar career at USC. The problem in New Orleans was that Reggie never progressed to be the fulltime back that he was expected to be and was more of a special teams threat than an every-down back. When his time was up in New Orleans in 2010, he found his way to Miami and hoped for a fresh start that would allow him to become the back everyone thought he would one day become. But unfortunately, things still never shaped out as expected, although last year there seemed to be signs of potential. This year, Bush will join a powerful Detroit team and he will be the number one back for the Lions. There is no more excuses for Reggie and this needs to be a big year for him. With Matthew Stafford slinging the rock to Megatron on the outside, it should open up some opportunities for Bush to find openings that he probably hasn’t seen since his collegiate days.

It is a bit surreal to talk about Reggie Bush and others in this content, in the sense that they may be on the downswing of their careers. After all, it seems like just yesterday Bush was winning the Heisman and playing at USC. But, as expected in the NFL, the life of a running back isn’t as long as some of the other positions on the field. Keep a close eye on all of these backs to see what type of performances they put in and what type of success they can garner.