Yesterday, Ramblin’ Fan ranked the starting quarterbacks in the NFC West, headed by the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. Today, we are going to look at all of the “skill positions” in the division. Instead of comparing individual players, we are going to rank the units as a whole. Without wasting anymore time, lets get started with the running backs…
1. Marshawn Lynch/Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks
The top spot in this category is a no-brainer, especially after the ‘Hawks drafted Christine Michael, who might have been the most gifted running back the 2013 NFL Draft class. The incumbent back, Marshawn Lynch, finished the 2012 season just shy of the 1,600 yard mark and trailed only Adrian Peterson in “missed tackles,” or tackle that were either avoided or broken. Outside of a small case of fumble-itis, Lynch has an all-around monster in the run game, and figures to be even more effective with the rookie to spell him and Percy Harvin to clear out the box.
2. Frank Gore/Kendall Hunter/LaMichael James, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ have the most talented 3-headed monster at running back in the NFL, lead by the undervalued Frank Gore and boosted by the scatback, LaMichael James. With all the backs healthy, Gore will likely see a moderately reduced role in the offense, at least in terms of carries. However, it is doubtful their running attack will see much of a drop off, especially with Kaepernick jolting out of the backfield on nearly 1 of every 10 dropbacks.
3. Daryl Richardson/Isaiah Pead/Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
Call them the “Anonymous Trio” because no one outside of the NFC West has likely ever heard of any of the three players that will be lining up in the Rams backfield in 2013. Richardson was a fire cracker last season, taking 98 carries for 475 yards, good for 4.8 per attempt. Pead was slow out of the shoot, marred by roadblocks in the offseason as a result of Cincinnati’s odd academic calendar. Stacy was the man brought in to replace Steven Jackson in the short-yardage situation. The three should prove to be an efficient combination, in what appears to be a more “pass friendly” offense. Also look for Tavon Austin to get some carries out of the backfield…
4. Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals
No one is exactly sure what the Arizona Cardinals will be doing in the run game next season. They picked up Stefan Taylor and Andre Ellington in the draft, and stole Rashard Mendenhall from the equally running back-bare Pittsburgh Steelers. Mendenhall figures to be the starter, but the pickup itself is sort of confusing given that the problem in Arizona last season was keeping players healthy and, when they were healthy, holding onto the football. In his time in Pittsburgh, Mendenhall has been the embodiment of both of those issues, having missed significant time in 2012 with injury and having, at least, 3 fumbles per year throughout his career outside of his 2011 season.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Prior to the acquisition of Anquan Boldin from Baltimore, the 49ers still had the best receiving corps in the NFC West; clearly, they will maintain that spot with Boldin. Michael Crabtree was the only receiver in the NFC West that finished the season in the Top 30, in terms of receiving yards, and was Top 10 in touchdowns (9) and broken tackles (13) in a bornerline Pro Bowl season. Even with injury concerns about Manningham and the possibility that the A.J. Jenkins’ selection was a “bust,” the ’9ers still have a dynamic duo on the outside. Oh yea, and they stole Quinton Patton in the 4th round of the draft…
2. Arizona Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald alone is enough to move the Cardinals into the No. 2 slot. The Cardinals took a risk/reward player in Ryan Swope in the 6th round and have Michael Floyd returning for his sophomore season, after putting up decent number in this rookie debut. Andre Roberts is a nice piece in the receiving puzzle too, all of whom should see a drastic boost in their production now that there is an actual NFL quarterback throwing them the football.
3. St. Louis Rams
The third and fourth spot on this list are nearly interchangeable, but we’ll give the nod to St. Louis due to their “award winning” 2013 draft class. Tavon Austin is projected by most to be the next Percy Harvin, minus the injuries and temperament, or Randall Cobb, minus Aaron Rodgers. Austin will reunite with Stedman Bailey, the Rams’ second choice in the 3rd round, who, together, racked up a combined 228 receptions, 2911 yards, and 37 touchdowns in 2012 at West Virginia University. The rookies will join forces with Chris Givens, who set the rookie record for consecutive games with a 50+ reception. As the “main guy” in St. Louis, due to Amendola’s injury, Givens averaged 75 yards per game over a six-game stretch in the middle of the season, including an 11 catch, 92 yard performance in a win over the San Francisco 49ers and a 5 catch, 115 yard game against Arizona. Tack on an expanded role for Brian Quick, and the continuing development of Austin Pettis, who snagged 4 touchdowns in 2012, and you have a solid case for the St. Louis Rams at No. 3!
4. Seattle Seahawks
Golden Tate and Sidney Rice are not intimidating to anyone in the NFL, and reaped the benefits of having defenses stack the box to stop Marshawn Lynch and/or spy the quarterback so he didn’t take off around the end. The duo combined for a pedestrian 1,436 yards, but did manage 14 touchdowns (13 touchdowns, if you don’t count the Green Bay interception, which no one outside of those living in Seattle does). However, only 30% of their receiving yards game after the catch, with Sidney Rice breaking a grand total of ZERO tackles in his 797 offensive snaps on the field. Percy Harvin is the wildcard, being one of the more electrifying players in the NFL… when he is on the field. The problem is, Harvin has a knack for finding a way to “man the sidelines.” At Florida, Harvin was forced to have heel surgery prior to his Junior year, followed by a high ankle sprain that kept him out of the SEC Championship game. After leaving early for the NFL, Harvin tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine. During the 2009 season, Harvin went through a wave of “injuries,” first a virus, then the infamous “migraines” which continued on through the 2010 season. In 2012, this last season with Minnesota, Harvin was on pace for his first Pro Bowl invite as an actual wide receiver… that is, until he suffered an ankle injury have sent him to the IR. Seattle’s receiving corps could battle for the top spot in the NFC West if the oft-troubled player can stay on the field…