Scoutlook: NFC West Emerging Running Backs (PREMIUM PREVIEW)
The NFC West is not only the best division in football, it also contains an intriguing trio of young backs with promising futures. For those deciding on whom to consider in the late stages of their draft, it comes down to the most talented player in the best position to succeed should the starter loose a grip on their overwhelming share of touches. Forget handcuffs; these are three players who have value regardless of whether or not you selected the incumbent much earlier.
As a rookie, Michael shined in a pair of preseason games last year, yet he was active for only four regular season games and got 18 carries. Pass protection was certainly a big issue. Michael was asked to pass block 13 times in his first two preseason contests and gave up three hurries. Fellow Seahawks backup RB Robert Turbin pass blocked 35 times in the regular season and allowed only a single hurry.
At Texas A&M, Michael had off-the-field issues, broke his right leg and tore his left ACL. As a senior, he scored a dozen touchdowns despite taking just 88 carries and never exceeding 65 rushing yards in any game. Michael had great numbers at the combine and showed flashes in limited preseason highlights but hasn't done much of anything in a real game. Over the past three seasons, Seattle running backs not named Marshawn Lynch have gotten about 100 combined carries per year. Even if Michael gets, say, 90 of those carries and averages a sizzling 5.5 yards per carry, he's basically 2013 James Starks with just less than 500 rushing yards.
But the case against Michael is really the case for Lynch,the biggest cheap shot on most bust lists. Slow down, fantasy owners. Lynch is 28 years old this season, not 30. He turns 29 next April. Lynch's brief holdout only threw more wood on the fire. Beast Mode runs angry, and he's now literally angry. If Lynch believes he's set to be a salary cap casualty next offseason, he's also playing for a new payday. Lynch dropped from 5.0 YPC in 2012 to 4.2 last season, but his career average also happens to be 4.2. Lynch also averaged 4.2 YPC in his first full season in Seattle, the first of three consecutive 1,200-yard seasons with double-digit touchdowns. Regression due to age or simply regression to the mean? I'll take the latter, even with the mileage getting up there.
The Bay Area has a rookie running back making quick inroads due to injuries to other backups and advanced age at the top of the depth chart. Frank Gore is 31 and showed significant signs of wearing down late in the season. In the regular season finale and three playoff games, Gore managed only 178 yards on 61 carries, 3.4 YPC. He still managed to break 1,100 rushing yards for the third consecutive season, albeit with a career-low 4.1 YPC.
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