2017 NFL Player Rankings: Top 10 Running Backs

For a very long time, having the best running back meant having the best offensive weapon in the league. Now, the position has changed. The importance of a running game began to diminish. Nevertheless, there are backs in the NFL that simply change the game. Whether you believe in the value of having a playmaker in the backfield or not, the guys on this list could mean the difference between a win or loss on any given Sunday. Here are the top 10 running backs in the NFL heading into the 2017 season.

Honorable Mention

Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

2016 Stats: 205 car, 1,043 rush yds, 6 TD, 46 rec, 341 rec yds, 4 TD

This may be a surprise for some of you, especially when you realize that Adrian Peterson didn’t make the list. The truth is Mark Ingram has been pretty consistent when he is healthy. In an offense that focuses almost all of its attention on the passing game, Ingram is coming off his first career 1,000-yard season. In fact, Ingram finished fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt, racking up 5.09 yards per carry.

Of course, this season, he will have one of the greatest running backs in NFL history joining him in the New Orleans backfield, which could mean one of two things. One, after getting rid of Brandin Cooks and adding AP, the Saints could be shifting more attention to the run game. As a result, more opportunity to shine would be eminent. Or two, Ingram is going to suffer from the addition of Peterson, ultimately surrendering the starting position. Only time will tell.

Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

2016 Stats: 278 car, 885 rush yds, 6 TD, 43 rec, 327 rec yds

Last season was not a good one for anyone in a Rams uniform, especially Todd Gurley. After exploding onto the scene in 2015, Gurley’s sophomore season was a bust. He did have to deal with his fair share of distractions between moving to L.A., Hard Knocks, and All Or Nothing. On top of that, there was plenty of drama surrounding rookie quarterback and number one overall pick Jared Goff, not to mention the firing of head coach Jeff Fisher.

Innovative, offensive coach Sean McVay is in charge now, and I suspect Gurley will be put into a position to shine in this offense. I’m calling it now, Todd Gurley will be off the honorable mention and back onto this list next season.

10. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

2016 Stats: 260 car, 1,272 rush yds, 8 TD, 27 rec, 151 rec yds

Jay Ajayi burst onto the scene in 2016 with a flurry of 200-yard games in the middle of the season. He helped rookie head coach Adam Gase and the Miami Dolphins secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2008. Ajayi finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2016.

This season was looking promising for Miami before Ryan Tannehill went down in training camp. The Dolphins quarterback is now forced to have season-ending knee surgery. Miami’s solution? Smokin’ Jay Cutler. I do have to say that Cutler looked pretty impressive in his lone season under Gase. Nevertheless, Cutler will need to ease his way into the starting role, so Ajayi will most likely be the focal point this season.

9. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders

2014 Stats (Last full season w/ SEA): 280 car, 1,306 rush yds, 13 TD, 37 rec, 367 rec yds, 4 TD

Breaking news, the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas. Somebody tell Marshawn Lynch that because the Oakland native is back in the game and ready to light the Bay on fire. After a year off of football, Lynch decided to come back for another shot at a ring.

Lynch completes an already stacked offense led by star quarterback Derek Carr. Lynch joins a dominant receiving core that includes Pro Bowlers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Most people have high expectations for Marshawn, but realistically, it will be an uphill climb for a guy whose been out of the game an entire season. Regardless, Oakland is stacked and poised for a Super Bowl run in 2017.

8. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

2016 Stats: 227 car, 1,079 rush yds, 11 TD, 54 rec, 462 rec yds, 2 TD

The NFL’s highest paid running back is coming off an impressive 2016 season that he almost capped off with a Super Bowl win. After making back-to-back Pro Bowls, it’s about time people stop acting surprised about Freeman’s skills on the field.

The only thing holding Freeman back from putting up the kind of stats that the top guys on this list put up is the fact that he is a part of the most lethal backfield in football. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it is most certainly one of the reasons Atlanta made a Super Bowl run last season. As long as Tevin Coleman continues to take touchdowns away from Freeman, he will remain low on this list.

7. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

2016 Stats: 252 car, 1,313 rush yds, 6 TD, 29 rec, 298 rec yds, 1 TD

The one shining spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the Bears was their rookie running back Jordan Howard. He finished second in the NFL in rushing, despite not starting until week 4 of the season. A change at quarterback and an extreme weakness at wide receiver means that Howard is going to be the bell cow this season.

Chicago could be in for another long season, but with Pro Bowlers Kyle Long and Josh Sitton on the offensive line, I expect Howard to put some more ridiculous numbers in 2017. Although after looking at their schedule, I see a possible 2-14 season on the horizon.

6. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

2016 Stats: 254 car, 997 rush yds, 10 TD, 41 rec, 419 rec yds, 2 TD

Melvin Gordon continues to battle injuries early in his career, but when he is heathy, he looks like an All-Pro caliber back. His season was cut short in 2016, preventing him from reaching 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, coming up just three yards short.

The Chargers are moving to Los Angeles this season, and Danny Woodhead is no longer in town, so Gordon will be the feature back for all of 2017. With former college teammate and fullback Derek Watt leading the way, I expect Gordon to return to form this year.

5. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

2016 Stats: 293 car, 1,287 rush yds, 9 TD, 53 rec, 377 rec yds, 3 TD

Murray has steadily become one of the best backs in the NFL on a yearly basis. After a historic season in Dallas, he had a rough follow up in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly. He has since rebounded in Tennessee with phenom quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The Titans are hoping to challenge for the AFC South this year, and Murray will have to continue putting up monster numbers in order for that to happen. One thing is for sure, he is an animal. Mark him down for 300+ touches again in 2017.

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

2016 Stats: 234 car, 1,267 rush yds, 13 TD, 50 rec, 356 rec yds, 1 TD

“Shady” McCoy has been a top-5 running back since his second year in the league in 2010. After an injury-ridden 2015, McCoy was back to form in 2016, notching his fifth Pro Bowl appearance. With fellow speedster Tyrod Taylor in the Bills backfield, there should be more fireworks to come in Buffalo.

Although surprisingly, Buffalo traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams, and then in a separate trade, received Shady’s former teammate Jordan Matthews. McCoy’s shiftiness and versatility makes him one of most elite weapons in football year-in and year-out.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

2016 Stats: 322 car, 1,631 rush yds, 15 TD, 32 rec, 363 rec yds, 1 TD

First, I’d like to start out by saying I do not condone or support this young man’s actions whatsoever. Nevertheless, he is an elite footballer and his absence will certainly hurt the Dallas Cowboys. In those first six games that Zeke will miss, the Cowboys play the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals, and Packers.

If the Cowboys can weather the storm, then I fully expect Elliott to bring the thunder when he returns to the field in week 8. He led the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie in 2016, and he finished third in rushing touchdowns for the 13-3 Cowboys.

2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 Stats: 261 car, 1,268 rush yds, 7 TD, 75 rec, 616 rec yds, 2 TD

Bell wants to be paid as an elite running back AND a number two wide receiver. To be honest, he deserves it. Bell has over 4,000 rushing yards and over 2,000 receiving yards in four seasons in the NFL, despite missing extended time due to injuries and suspensions. He has caught 75+ passes in two of those four seasons and finished with more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage in three of four seasons.

The Killer B’s are set for another big season, assuming Bell signs the franchise tag and suits up for the Steelers in 2017. If he finishes in the top-3 on the team in receptions again, Pittsburgh is going to have a hard time not breaking out the check books next offseason.

1.  David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

2016 Stats: 293 car, 1,239 rush yds, 16 TD, 80 rec, 879 rec yds, 4 TD

The most elite weapon in the NFL is David Johnson, third year back out of Northern Iowa. He can run it, he can catch it, and best of all, he can score it. Over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, just shy of 400 touches, and 20 total touchdowns is an absolutely ridiculous statline. Johnson finished with 100+ yards from scrimmage in every single regular season game besides week 1, on his way to his first Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro selection in 2016.

An aging Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald means that Johnson is going to be leaned on even more heavily in 2017. Not to mention, there isn’t much in the receiving core behind Fitz. Head coach Bruce Arians has already said that he plans on giving DJ 30+ touches a game this season. I expect him to finish with the best numbers among running backs. Dude is a beast.

2017 NFL Player Rankings: Top 10 Quarterbacks

The most important position in all of team sports in the quarterback. They touch the ball every single play and dictate what the team is going to do at every point throughout the game. If your team is going have success in today’s NFL, you must have an above average quarterback leading the way. Here are the top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2017 NFL season.

Honorable Mention

Eli Manning, New York Giants

2016 Stats: 63.0%, 4,027 yds, 26 TD, 16 INT, 55.4 QBR, 86.0 RAT

Manning threw for 4,000 yards for the third consecutive season and led the Giants to an 11-5 record in 2016. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall leading the New York receiving core, I think it’s safe to say 2017 will be another impressive season for Eli… if he can avoid turning the ball over.

Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

2016 Stats: 60.4%, 4,386 yds, 33 TD, 21 INT, 63.3 QBR, 87.9 RAT

Rivers finished 2016 with his fourth consecutive 4,000-yard season and eighth of his career, but the Chargers have only won nine games in the last two seasons. Injuries to key rookies Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp have already put a damper on their inaugural season in Los Angeles, but if Melvin Gordon and Kenaan Allen can stay healthy, Rivers and the Bolts could make a splash in the AFC West this season.

10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

2016 Stats: 65.3%, 4,327 yds, 24 TD, 10 INT, 71.6 QBR, 93.3 RAT

Six consecutive 4,000-yard seasons and three trips to the playoffs in that span give Matthew Stafford just enough to sneak into the top-10 heading into 2017. He didn’t have the same overall numbers in 2016 as the top-tier guys on this list, but many still considered him an MVP candidate due to his NFL-record eight fourth quarter comebacks. In a division that’s been dominated by Green Bay for years and without a sustainable running game, it will be an uphill battle for Stafford as he tries to notch his first career postseason victory.

9. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

2016 Stats: 63.5%, 4,240 yds, 31 TD, 13 INT, 71.2 QBR, 96.4 RAT

Luck finished with an impressive 31 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions in 2016, but Indianapolis failed to dethrone the Houston Texans for the second straight season. Luck is 43-27 as a starter and hopes to reclaim the top spot in the improving AFC South in 2017. What was at most a two-team race for decades has become an open battle, as the Titans and Jaguars have significantly improved their rosters over the last few drafts.

8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

2016 Stats: 64.7%, 4,219 yds, 21 TD, 11 INT, 62.9 QBR, 92.6 RAT

Battling injuries and a depleted offensive line for most of the season, Russell Wilson was still able to lead the Seahawks to a fifth straight season of 10 or more wins. Due to an inability to run in 2016, Wilson finished with a career-high 4,219 passing yards. Seattle still has one of the best defenses in the league, and their quarterback is ready to utilize his many weapons including Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, and newly-acquired running back Eddie Lacy.

7. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

2016 Stats: 52.9%, 3,509 yds, 19 TD, 14 INT, 54.0 QBR, 75.8 RAT

Cam Newton had a pretty awful year in 2016, after a phenomenal MVP season and trip to the Super Bowl in 2015. Nevertheless, the guy is still a freak athlete with all the tools to be the best quarterback in the league at any moment. The only problem is he keeps getting banged up and lacks the consistency of the top guys on this list. A healthy Kelvin Benjamin, catch-machine Greg Olsen, and first round draft pick Christian McCaffrey have Newton and the Panthers poised for a huge rebound year in Carolina.

6. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

2016 Stats: 63.8%, 3,937 yds, 28 TD, 6 INT, 60.6 QBR, 96.7 RAT

Derek Carr’s MVP campaign came to a halt in 2016 when he suffered a broken fibula in a week 16 victory against the Colts. The Raiders have been an irrelevant franchise for years, but the recent selections of Carr, Khalil Mack, and Amari Cooper have boosted them to championship contention. Of course, there are a lot of off-the-field distractions that could hinder the progression of this young team with the announcement that the team would be moving to Las Vegas, but the signing of Marshawn Lynch has sparked excitement for the potential of a Super Bowl trip while the team still calls Oakland home.

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 Stats: 64.4%, 3,819 yds, 29 TD, 13 INT, 67.4 QBR, 95.4 RAT

With all the talk about Big Ben possibly retiring after the 2017 season, the Steelers are quietly putting together their best roster in recent memory. Of course, the Killer B’s grab most of the attention, but the young defense led by Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree gives Pittsburgh a lot to be excited about. The truth is as long as Roethlisberger is suiting up for the Steel Curtain, they will be a threat in the AFC. I expect a monster season out of the two-time Super Bowl Champion.

4. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

2016 Stats: 69.9%, 4.944 yds, 38 TD, 7 INT, 83.1 QBR, 117.1 RAT

Last season was full of the ultimate rise and fall for Atlanta star quarterback Matt Ryan. The 2016 season began with Ryan leading the Falcons to the number one overall offense in the NFL, and it ended with him being named Most Valuable Player following his 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The magic continued as the Falcons stormed their way through the NFC and took a commanding 28-3 lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. Well, you all know how that game ended, and now, Matt Ryan and the Falcons are trying to pick up the pieces before they have to face one of the most competitive divisions in football. A return to the Super Bowl is a long way away when you are playing in the ultimate worst-to-first division, and every team has the ability to make a run.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

2016 Stats: 70.0%, 5,208 yds, 37 TD, 15 INT, 70.5 QBR, 101.7 RAT

There is not enough to be said about what Drew Brees has been able to accomplish in the NFL. Last season was his third consecutive season leading the NFL is passing yards and the seventh time in his career, and he did it while completing 70 percent of his passes. The only problem is the Saints have finished with a losing season three years in a row and four of the last five. I don’t blame that on Brees though, because it’s hard to score 40 points per game, and that’s pretty much what he has to do with that defense in New Orleans. Sure, he gets paid A LOT, but he is also going to do down as one of the greatest passers of all time. He will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and as he nears 40, he still remains among the best in the game. With the addition of Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the offense should be more balanced and the team could make a splash in the extremely tough AFC South that accounts for three players on this list.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

2016 Stats: 67.4 %, 3,554 yds, 28 TD, 2 INT, 82.8 QBR, 112.2 RAT

At this point, it’s hard to dispute Tom Brady as the GOAT, and his comeback win in Super Bowl 51 will go down as the greatest comeback in sports history, but he is not the best quarterback in the game today. He finished 2016 with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions despite missing the first four games due to suspension. He led the Patriots to a Super Bowl without their best pass-catcher (Gronkowski), and he seems to find success with anyone who steps on the field (i.e. James White, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell). Now he has Brandin Cooks and a healthy Gronkowski to add to his weaponry, so I expect to see New England back in the AFC Championship game next year.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2016 Stats: 65.7%, 4,428 yds, 40 TD, 7 INT, 78.2 QBR, 104.2 RAT

Aaron Rodgers could be the best quarterback in the NFL and the most underrated quarterback in the NFL at the same time. What this guy is doing on an annual basis is absolutely unreal. If the Falcons didn’t burn out the light bulbs on all the scoreboards in the NFL last season, Rodgers would have won his third MVP award. Forget the fact that he threw 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, but he led the Packers to six straight wins to sneak into the playoffs, then proceeded to beat the hottest team in the NFL in the New York Giants and the top team in the NFL in the Dallas Cowboys to set up an NFC Championship matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

Right now, Rodgers ranks 11th all-time is passing touchdowns with 297. At the same time, he has only thrown 72 interceptions in his career. To put that into perspective, every quarterback that has thrown 300 touchdowns has reached that mark with at least 100 interceptions to their resume. I think it’s safe to say that Rodgers will not throw 28 interceptions before he tosses three touchdowns in 2017. If he has a monster season, he could pass up five more people (Elway, Roethlisberger, Rivers, E. Manning, Tarkenton) on the career touchdowns list, all of which have more than double the amount of interceptions. Oh, and let’s not forget that he didn’t play in his first three seasons, sitting behind Brett Favre.

Rodgers has a 99-52 overall record with the Packers, making the playoffs in all but his first season as starter in Green Bay. Yet another year without a solid running game awaits him in 2017, but I suspect the Packers will be in the conversation about Super Bowl contenders again this winter.

Paul Schaum

The Future For The Chicago Blackhawks

Whenever a team would win three cups in seven years, you would think that their franchise is set for a long while, right? Well, the future for players and coaches of the Chicago Blackhawks could be in jeopardy.

On April 20th, the Blackhawks were shockingly swept by 2nd Wild Card Nashville Predators for another first round exit. Last year, Chicago lost in seven games to their rival St. Louis Blues in the first round, who made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the San Jose Sharks. The Blues were an impressive team last year, dominating the physicality, speed, and playmaking of every game. Although the Hawks took the series to seven games, no one expected the then-defending Champs to be ousted in the first round. While last year’s elimination was disappointing, that doesn’t compare to this year’s embarrassment.

On March 19th, the Blackhawks clinched yet another playoff spot, and would later clinch the Western Conference. Looking back on it, we clinched it too early, in my opinion. With around a week left of the regular season, we decided to rest/limit their star players for the playoffs. While Kane, Toews, and Panarin were getting some playing time, stars like goaltender Corey Crawford and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson were absent from the ice. In the last four games of the regular season, the Blackhawks went 0-3-1, losing to three teams that were not in playoff contention. That worried me. Why? Because their eventual first-round opponent was still fighting for a playoff spot.

Yes, we clinched the Western Conference. But while we were taking it easy leading into the playoffs, the Nashville Predators were fighting with the Los Angeles Kings for the last playoff spot. They never took their foot off the gas pedal, while Chicago had been in cruise control for an entire week. Then the playoffs started, and their first round was against the Preds. The majority of NHL analysts were picking Chicago to move on to the next round, citing their previous playoff experiences. But everyone, including myself, underestimated Nashville’s grit and determination to get revenge on the Blackhawks, who eliminated them in the 2015 playoffs. Goaltender Pekka Rinne shut out Chicago in the first two games to take an early 2-0 series lead. With Chicago having home-ice advantage in the playoffs, one never would expect the Blackhawks to lose two games at the United Center, one of the loudest arenas in the league. Heading into Nashville, the fans were rowdy and the atmosphere is electric. Chicago has been down in series before against some of the toughest teams in the league. But there was something about this Nashville Predators team this year that the Hawks couldn’t solve.

The shot-blocking abilities from essentially every player on the roster frustrated players like Toews, Kane, Panarin, and Marian Hossa. Looking at the stats after every period, the shots on goal were extremely lopsided. Secondly, the defensive pressure of Nashville prevented Chicago from generating any scoring chances, especially in the middle zone. The Blackhawks would end up dumping and chasing the puck, only to, in the end, turn the puck over. Lastly, the Predators’ speed killed Chicago. The aging defensemen on the Hawks couldn’t keep up with the young defensive pairings that the Predators had to offer. The odd-man rushes became natural to them, and the Blackhawks were getting outplayed in every aspect. After such an amazing regular season, they flop in the playoffs and get swept, ending their season short yet again.

Not only were the fans upset and frustrated by another sudden exit, but so was general manager Stan Bowman. He called their postseason efforts a “complete failure” and was “frustrated and angry” after getting swept in the first round. Chicago was one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. A few days later, Bowman fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen, who was teammates with coach Joel Quenneville from 1979-1983 and was also an assistant under Quenneville with the Blues from 1998-2003. Next up was backup goaltender and 2015 first-round hero Scott Darling, who was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. As of May 20th, no other trades or cuts have been made. As far as extensions, winger Richard Panik has agreed to a two-year deal, having career-high numbers last season on the same line as Toews.

What will the future hold for the Chicago Blackhawks? Will any key stars be in danger of getting traded? How will this year’s expansion draft change the roster? How will Bowman approach the rest of the offseason? As the days, weeks, and months go on, we shall see.

Matt Hrncar

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