The Fall of the House of Rusher
- Updated: April 21, 2014
Year after year, one of the most attractive characteristics of the NFL, according to the league itself, is the parity. Annually, talking heads enthusiastically beat us over the head with the fact that the playoffs average a changeover of five teams since 2000. Such turnover is great for fans, right? The most recent example of a franchise pulling a Rodman: is Kansas City, who went 2-14 with a -214 point differential in 2012, then rebounded to finish 11-5 and blow a 214-point lead in Indianapolis during round one of the playoffs.
And something like Kansas City happens every year. The 2011-2012 Colts improved from 2-14 to 11-5. The 2010-11 San Francisco squads amended a 6-10 campaign with a 13-3 record and a division title. There seems to be hope for every franchise (except Cleveland?).
The predictable parity extends beyond reality. Fantasy football rankings and performance fluctuate from season to season, of course, which is part of the fun. Just like the real NFL, the turnover exists everywhere and at each position. For example, take a peek at the top 10 scoring running backs since 2010. The totals are based on the stats and standard scoring system of pro-football-reference.com. Those in italics are the backs who disappeared from the top 10 the following season and those in bold are the ones who replaced the departed.
Just a quick glance clues us in to the fact that, inevitably, about half of the top scoring running backs from last season will not be top scoring running backs again this year. This seems to be a trend for whatever reason, whether it be injury, a change in offensive coaching or scheme, an underachiever masquerading as the opposite, or a simple case of time/age/wear/tear catching up with a known quantity.
We have last season’s top 10. Time to unnecessarily hype those could improve their status and put the stink on those who could potentially fall from grace.
The Big Daddy Kanedidates (most likely to fade):
Chris Johnson- Let’s be clear: I like Chris Johnson. At this point, CJ2K is kind of like Joaquin Phoenix- he’s so overrated that he’s now underrated. Every year Johnson remains healthy, eclipses 1,000 yards, and reaches the end zone a handful of times. Perfect for a second running back or flex. But because of his beyond prolific 2009, people expect more. If Johnson’s ADP last year was at the end of the third round and not the middle of the second, there would be far fewer grumblings. This season owners will have a reason to let Johnson slide a round or two. New York says their backfield will be a time share, which makes sense since both Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell showed flashes of production in 2013. If the J-E-T-S plan on going forward with the Geno Smith experiment (even if they don’t plan on it and decide to play Vick, who will inevitable get injured), having a three-headed monster behind the young and struggling QB wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Knowshon Moreno- This shouldn’t come as a massive shock. From Denver’s top-ranked offense to Miami’s 27th-ranked offense (for the past two seasons the Fish have been 27th, I know there’s parity, but still!). From Peyton to Tannehill. The fact that Moreno’s former QB is recognized by his first name alone, kind of like Kanye, should be a dead giveaway. I say Ryan, you at least think Gosling, Lochte, Reynolds, Bob Ryan, Nolan Ryan, Ryne Sandberg and the Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine before you get to Tannehill. Other than that, 2013 was the first time Moreno played in all 16 games during the course of a season. This may have been due to his shared workload; he toted the ball more than 15 times only once in the first 9 weeks. Infrequent touches in Miami don’t equal the same stats as they do in Mile High.
Marshawn Lynch- He’ll only be 28 by the start of training camp, so Father Time isn’t beating down his door just yet, but if Seattle wants to preserve Lynch and his incredibly physical style, another season of 300+ carries might not be in the cards. Seahawks GM John Schneider called Christine Michael, who is expected to be Lynch’s handcuff in 2014, one of his “most explosive offensive players.” Mix in a healthy Percy Harvin and suddenly Seattle’s offense could experience a renewed sense of balance that wouldn’t require accessing Beast Mode quite as often.
Fred Jackson- Dude is really squeezing every ounce of his NFL run. He’s probably criminally underrated. But he’s now 33, and it has to be approaching do-or-die time for Spiller, who still has the blazing speed and breakneck moves that warranted a top 10 pick. Jackson’s touches decline enough to bump him closer to being the 25th best back.
The Sergeant Majors (candidates to rise in the ranks):
Le’Veon Bell- Started the season banged up, but the Steelers leaned on Bell when he finally got in the lineup. With two more games Bell would have finished with 1,000+ rushing, 50+ catches, and double digit touchdowns. The Steelers simply don’t have the weapons to not maximize Bell as a dual threat again in 2014.
Kendall Hunter- A longshot, sure, but whoever had Michael Bush pencilled in the 9-hole before 2011 began raise your hand. Waiting…. Every top 10 from the aforementioned list has a surprise, from Peyton Hillis strangely scoring 13 touchdowns in 2010 and inexplicably leading me to a championship I didn’t deserve because Jacob Tamme was also in my weekly lineup to Alfred Morris getting drafted 173rd before taking the league by storm as a rookie in 2012. Frank Gore surpassed the magic age number for running backs last season and will be 31 in May. Gore hasn’t missed a game in three seasons and gets counted out every single year. I’m finally piling on. Hunter averaged 4.6 ypc last season and is entering the final year of his rookie contract. #payday
Montee Ball- See Moreno, Knowshon. Also, despite the potent passing attack, Denver still ranked 15th in team rushing last season. You don’t think Ronnie Hillman will be gobbling up those carries Moreno leaves behind, do you?
Zac Stacy- At 5’9” 215lbs, guys like Stacy are built for destruction. You remember how MJD had that six year run where he just mashed everyone in sight, whether he was plowing them over at the goal line or protecting David Garrard? If the Rams stick to their zone blocking scheme, that’s the blueprint for Stacy’s next few seasons.