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2019 NFL preview: Ranking the NFC North running backs

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Where do the Lions stand in terms of backfield talent?

Carolina Panthers v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

You could see a lot of different running backs in the NFC North this year. While the starters mostly remain the same from last season, each team used at least one draft pick on a back this year, and in the case of the Bears and the Vikings, they spent as high as a Day 2 pick on the position.

So who has the best crop of players in the backfield? Let’s rank each team in the division.

Previously: Ranking the NFC North quarterbacks

1. Minnesota Vikings (Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Mike Boone, Roc Thomas)

Dalvin Cook may be the most complete back in the division. He’s got power. He’s got speed. He can catch the ball. He can pass protect. Of anyone else in the division, he is the best suited to be a three-down back.

Of course, the main concern here is health. Cook tore his ACL in 2017, but came back and was just as effective in 2018. A hamstring injury held him out of five games last season, but he managed to still rush for 4.6 yards per carry behind the division’s worst offensive line.

Behind Cook, the Vikings added third-round pick Alexander Maddison. The Boise State product is coming off back-to-back 10+ touchdown seasons in college. The depth beyond that is a little scary (Hi, Ameer!), and that should be a concern in Minnesota, but this group has the highest ceiling.

2. Detroit Lions (Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Ty Johnson, Mark Thompson)

Speaking of injury concerns, Kerryon Johnson is full of them. Luckily for Detroit, they have the best depth at the position of anyone else in the division. Anderson, Riddick and Zenner all have starting experience and all have brought varying degrees of success to Detroit.

The Lions are also pretty well rounded at the position. They have a shifty between-the-tackles runner in Kerryon. They have the bruiser in Anderson. They have the pass catcher and pass blocker in Riddick and the utility/special teamer in Zenner.

And, of course, if Johnson can stay healthy all year, he could quite possibly be the best back in the division. In his rookie year, he displayed flashes of power, agility and tremendous vision. Finishing the season with 5.4 yards per carry is nothing short of a miracle in the post-Barry era in Detroit.

3. Chicago Bears (Mike Davis, Tarik Cohen, David Montgomery, Kerrith Whyte Jr., Ryan Nall)

The Bears made a bold move by trading Jordan Howard this offseason, and color me a little skeptical. I know he may not have been the best of fits under Matt Nagy’s new offense, but passing along all of his responsibilities to third-round rookie David Montgomery is undoubtedly a big risk.

That being said, Tarik Cohen is a huge weapon capable of breaking a big play either as a runner or a receiver. He’s someone defensive coordinators absolutely have to gameplan for, and that’s pretty good for a guy that isn’t expected to be the team’s No. 1 back in 2019.

4. Green Bay Packers (Aaron Jones, Dexter Williams, Jamaal Williams, Malcolm Johnson, Tra Carson)

There was one player in 2018 who finished with a higher yards per carry than Kerryon Johnson. That man was Packers running back Aaron Jones. So why are the Packers at the bottom of the list? Well, for one, I think you could make the argument for just about any team anywhere on this list. With a group of so many young players on each team—and such a small sample size for most of these players—most of this is simply a guessing game.

That being said, I’m just not that impressed with the Packers’ depth. Jamaal Williams is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry over his first two years. Dexter Williams is a sixth-round rookie in a poor draft class.

Packers fans are excited about Aaron Jones—and they absolutely should be—but there isn’t much else to like here.