2015 was a strange year at the running back position. Devonta Freeman came out of nowhere, Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles went down with major injuries, Todd Gurley emerged on the scene as a superstar, and at the end of it all the league lost one of its most talented and interesting stars in Marshawn Lynch.

 

Will we be in for more surprises in 2016? Here are my expectations for the year.

 

1: Todd Gurley

This is a tough spot to put a player in his sophomore season, but nothing we saw in Gurley’s rookie campaign suggests that he won’t produce at the highest level. Gurley didn’t start until week four and still managed to put up 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. The rams handed him the ball 229 times and he averaged 4.8 yards a touch.

 

With a rookie QB probably starting on week 1 in Jared Goff, and a sub-par receiving corps of Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, and Brian Quick, expect the Rams to run the ball every opportunity that they get. I expect Gurley to eclipse 300 carries, and his targets out of the backfield will likely increase as well. He’s in for a dominant year in Los Angeles.

 

2: Adrian Peterson

 

AP is 31 years old now and has carried the ball 2,300 times in his NFL career. Any other running back would be run into the ground by now, but that’s what makes Peterson so dominant. Last season he carried the ball 327 times and average 4.5 yards a carry.

 

The Vikings are still developing Teddy Bridgewater, and their receiving corps, although likely improved by the drafting of Laquon Treadwell, still has a lot of developing to do. Adrian Peterson will still be relied on to do the bulk of the work in Minnesota and, barring injury, he looks poised for another strong year.

 

3: Devonta Freeman

 

Devonta Freeman is one of the league’s primary bust candidates. Freeman came out of nowhere last season to absolutely dominate for a 5 game stretch in which he compiled 578 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. The rest of the season he was relatively average, with just 483 yards and 3 TD’s.

 

So why is he number four on my list?

 

Size, speed, and patch catching ability. Freeman is 206 pounds, accelerates well, can run inside or outside, runs solid routes, and has great hands for an RB. Even if Freeman doesn’t have a huge year on the ground in 2016, I expect his pass catching and size to afford him a good year from scrimmage and a decent number of TD’s. Freeman is also a large benefactor of defenses having to back off to accommodate for the talent that is Julio Jones.

 

4: David Johnson

 

David Johnson is in almost as good of a position as his QB heading into 2016. The 6’1” 225 pound running back with a 4.5 40 time should have a huge impact in his sophomore campaign. The Cardinals wealth of skill players will mean defenses won’t be able to focus on Johnson or stack the box.

 

Johnson ran for 4.6 yards a carry last season, and his size and speed should allow him to put up similar numbers in 2016. In addition, Johnson emerged as one of the best pass catching backs in the league, averaging 12.7 yards a catch in 2015. Look for David Johnson to emerge as one of the league’s best RB’s.

 

5: Ezekiel Elliot

 

Remember 2014 when Demarco Murray ran for 1,845 yards on 4.7 yds/carry and 13 touchdowns?

 

What about 2015 when Darren McFadden rushed for 1,089 on 4.6 yds/carry?

 

The Cowboys offensive line is one of the best the NFL has seen in a long time, producing 1,000 yard rushers for 3 seasons straight. Ezekiel Elliot is a big, powerful, fast back that fits the Cowboys mold.

 

6 feet tall? Check.

 

Over 220 pounds? Check.

 

40 time under 4.5? Check.

 

Ezekiel Elliot should fit into the Cowboys system effortlessly; I expect him to get more than 250 carries and at least 50 targets in the passing game.

 

6: Thomas Rawls

 

Thomas Rawls showed incredible promise in the absence of Marshawn Lynch last season, running for a league leading 5.6 yards per carry. Rawls is an incredibly gifted back who combines speed and cutting with the ability to run right through a defender. He should get plenty of looks this season with Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell calling the shots.

 

Rawls biggest obstacle will be the Seahawks mediocre offensive line. The signing of J’Marcus Webb and their first round pick Germain Ifedi should help. I expect Rawls to get a lot of carries and looks in the passing game, and I expect him to take advantage.

 

7: Doug Martin

 

Martin had an incredible season in 2015, staying healthy for 16 games and gaining almost 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Martin was 5th amongst running backs with almost 5 yards per carry. If Mike Evans can continue to produce and Vincent Jackson can return to form, the offense will open up even more for the “Dougernat,” or “Muscle Hampster” if you prefer.

 

Martin probably will see some of his carries go to Charles Simms, who was extremely effective with the ball in his hands last season and continues to improve. Martin would be higher on this list except for his history of injuries and lack of production in 2013/2014 and the ascension of Charles Simms.

 

8: Jamaal Charles

 

We don’t know how healthy Jamaal Charles is going to be going into week one. A healthy Charles could very well still be a top three running back. That being said, even if Charles is healthy, the Chiefs don’t look like they’re ready to hand him a full workload and risk another injury. They resigned Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, and it’s safe to assume the three backs will split the load to some degree. Still, Charles is an incredible talent, and if he’s healthy he’ll still put up big numbers even if he doesn’t get every carry.

9: Jonathan Stewart

 

Jonathan Stewart has a strong 2015 season. He played in just 13 games and was still able to rack up nearly 1,000 yards and get into the endzone 9 times. Stewart benefits from the Panthers versatile offense as Cam Newton draws most of the defenses attention. His heavy build make him a consistent threat in the redzone.

 

If the 29 year old Stewart can catch the ball out of the backfield more effectively and stay healthy in 2016, he should be in for another strong year behind the dominant Panthers offensive line.

 

10: Latavius Murray

 

With Donald Penn, Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Austin Howard leading the way, the Raiders might have the best offensive line in football heading into the 2016 season. Latavius Murray was relatively inconsistent last year, but there is no denying his talent.

 

Murray is a large back at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, and he runs a lightning quick 40 yard dash at his size of 4.38 seconds. Murray ran for 1,000 yards and scored six touchdowns in 2015. As the Raiders offense continues to develop as a unit, Murray should benefit.

 

Honorable Mention: TJ Yeldon, LeSean McCoy.

 

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