NFL’s top 5 running backs for 2015

After switching teams and unlikely to get the ball as much in 2015, last year’s rushing leader, DeMarco Murray, isn’t in our top three for this year.

We can feel the outrage as we hit the “publish” button. How can DeMarco Murray not be first on a list of running backs after leading the NFL in rushing?

First, this is a list based on ranking the top backs for 2015. Murray may have led the NFL in several key statistics in 2014, but he’s with a different team and he hasn’t had a consistent track record of that sort of production over the years. And then there is the matter of the Dallas Cowboys not believing enough in Murray’s staying power to have him stay around on a big contract, declining to match an offer the averages $8 million per year that the Eagles were willing to fork over.

While Murray still makes the list, he isn’t No. 1 and his former team didn’t adequately replace him with another superstar, despite the consistent rumors that they were angling for Adrian Peterson. Instead, the Cowboys opted for someone who was once considered a potential superstar, Darren McFadden, that never lived up to that billing.

But, this isn’t about snubs, it’s about expected production and there are plenty to like in backfields across the NFL this year:

1. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Bell does well. You can use that phrase preceding the three phases of running back – running, catching and blocking. In only his second season, he rushed for 1,361 yards (second in the NFL) and he added 854 yards receiving and three touchdowns on 83 catches, averaging 10.3 yards per reception. An impressive 25.2 percent of his runs went for first downs and he didn’t fumble once. He is a complete back with plenty of yards ahead of him.

2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
He’s back! After 15 games off last year dealing with legal problems, Peterson should get his first full season in Norv Turner’s offense. Arguments can be founded on both sides of the effectiveness question: One side can say he’s 30 and that’s the natural decline for running backs while the other side can say he had a year off and should be fresh. So what should be expected of Peterson? How about somewhere around his career average: 1,445 yards over the first seven years of his career … which would have put him second in the NFL last year.

3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
The assumption is that Lynch is the bell-cow running back in the NFL, but he was only sixth last year with 17.5 carries per game. He finished fourth with 1,306 yards and tied for first with 13 touchdowns. Over the last four years, he has averaged about 1,340 yards per season. Lynch is 29 years old, but here’s an interesting stat: Going into last year, Peterson had 2,033 career carries. That’s exactly how many Lynch has now.

4. DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles
Murray was easily the workhorse of NFL backs last year, carrying the ball a whopping 392 times (the NFL record is 416 from Larry Johnson in 2006). With that workload, it’s no wonder Murray was able to average 115.3 yards per game (no other back averaged 100 yards per game). It was also the first time Murray has played all 16 games and the first time he had carried the ball more than 220 times. So how much will his new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, rely on him and will he be able to keep pace in Chip Kelly high-paced offense? Here’s guessing the race for the rushing title is much closer this year and Murray comes back to the pack at around 1,300 yards.

5. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Justin Forsett or any one of about a half dozen backs could fill this final spot, but Charles is getting it because of his history as a 1,000-yard back in every season in which he started at least six games (five times), his average, and him being one of only four backs to average at least 5 yards a carry and gain 1,000 yards last year. But here is why Charles was only 13th in rushing yards: He only averaged 13.7 carries a game. Give him the ball five more times a game and he is a 1,500-yard producer at 5 yards a carry.

Honorable mention: LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Justin Forsett, Jeremy Hill.

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