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2018 NFL preview: Ranking the NFC North running backs

There’s a lot of budding talent in the NFC North backfields. But who has the best crew?

NFL: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, we ran down the best quarterback groups in the NFC North. It was a pretty straightforward list with each team in the division having some pretty solid play from their primary passers.

Today, we move onto running backs, which isn’t quite as certain as quarterback. Each NFC North team features tailbacks that were chosen in the past two or three NFL Drafts. While each has shown promise, none have established themselves as a top running back in the league (except for maybe one).

In other words, this list is bound to be very subjective and a bit more controversial than the quarterback list.

1. Chicago Bears (Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Ryan Nall, Taquan Mizzell)

If there’s any team with a proven running back it’s the Bears with Jordan Howard. In his first two seasons, Howard has finished second and 10th in the NFL in rushing yards, all the while averaging an impressive 4.6 yards per carry. Howard is well on his way to becoming a top-five running back in the league, but he’ll need a couple more seasons of production to establish himself among the top tier of runners.

Behind him, the Bears added Tarik Cohen in the 2017 NFL Draft. Cohen’s rookie season was modest, but extremely promising. The speedy back not only proved valuable as a receiver (53 catches, 353 yards), but as a returner as well. Cohen averaged 22.4 yards per kick return and even took a punt return to the house.

2. Minnesota Vikings (Dalvin Cook, Latavius Murray, Mack Brown, C.J. Ham, Roc Thomas, Mike Boone)

Before going down with a Week 4 ACL tear, Dalvin Cook was on his way to potentially competing for Rookie of the Year honors last season. His hard-nosed running style combined with his impressive athleticism proved to be perfect for Minnesota’s style of play. In just under four games, Cook managed to rush for 354 yards at 4.8 a pop.

Throw in Latavius Murray, who proved valuable in Oakland and did an adequate job in relief of Cook last year, and you have a pretty solid one-two punch. If Cook can stay healthy, he could be a top-five running back this year.

3. Detroit Lions (Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington)

The Lions may have the deepest set of running backs in the division, but at this point, it’s mostly unproven talent. There are high hopes for Kerryon Johnson, but there were similar expectations for Ameer Abdullah and we can all see how that has worked out thus far.

That being said, LeGarrette Blount has mostly seen success in his eight-year career, averaging 4.4 a carry and totalling 51 rushing touchdowns. Assuming he doesn’t get the bulk of the carries, Blount may be the best No. 2 back in the division, and Theo Riddick is almost certainly the best No. 3.

However, the Lions may share the division with a couple of top-10 running backs in the league, so I can’t in good faith put them above third.

4. Green Bay Packers (Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, Devante Mays, Joel Bouagnon)

Ty Montgomery is officially a running back now, and the results are very, very mixed. After a promising 2016 season in which he started six games and averaged a whopping 5.9 yards per carry on 77 rushes, he fell back to Earth last season. In 2017, he averaged just 3.8 yards per rush.

So the Packers went out and drafted three running backs in 2017. Last year, Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones pretty much split the season. Jones showed a lot of promise early on, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in 12 games before suffering an MCL sprain. Williams, on the other hand, had just 3.6 a carry.

Overall, the Packers have a ton of potential talent in the backfield, but the sample size is just too small to make any big declarations about how productive they actually will be.


Where do the Lions’ RB rank in the NFC North?

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