NFC West position rankings: Running back a close race at the top

USA TODAY Sports

We take a look at the next position in the NFC West rankings: running back.

After a bit of thought and careful reading of the comments posted here following the ranking of the NFC West tight ends, I'm pretty much in agreement that the St. Louis Rams should have been No. 2, ahead of the Seattle Seahawks. I did do a little underestimation of Lance Kendricks and a little overestimation of Zach Miller.

That said, we're going to move forward to another position today: running back. This one is surely controversial, given the relative strength of the position within the division, and of course, given the insanely high potential for it to get much, much better with some of the younger players.

Let's begin, shall we?

1. San Francisco 49ers with Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, LaMichael James, Anthony Dixon and Marcus Lattimore

It's true that the 49ers didn't have the top running back in the NFC West as far as yardage is concerned, but they have stronger depth, and really, the numbers weren't too far apart. Marshawn Lynch had 1,590 yards, 5.0 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns. Frank Gore had 1,214 yards, a per carry average of 4.7 yards and eight touchdowns. Lynch added 196 receiving yards and a touchdown reception, while Gore added 234 receiving yards and a touchdown reception.

They were both productive running backs, and while Lynch gets the nod on pure production, age and thus, upside going forward, the players behind tip the scales in San Francisco's favor. As with Seattle, the quarterback was the second-most productive rusher on the team, though Colin Kaepernick almost bested Wilson's productive in fewer games played.

Sticking to the running backs though, Kendall Hunter with his 371 yards and two touchdowns in limited time was beyond that of Seattle's next-highest rusher, and LaMichael James, though he saw the field before the 49ers wanted him to, had 125 yards and a per carry average of 4.6 yards. Marcus Lattimore is a non-factor right now but could be the back of the future.

2. Seattle Seahawks with Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Spencer Ware

Again, Lynch was a productive running back, more so than Gore in 2012-13, but after Lynch, it gets a little fuzzy. There's a lot of hype around Field Gulls surrounding Christine Michael, likely due to the fact that Seattle was without a first-round pick. They've suggested that Michael is already better than both Hunter and James, based on "size and a little bit based on draft hype," though I'm not really sure what that means.

When it all comes down to it, Robert Turbin rushed for 354 yards and zero touchdowns as the primary backup to Lynch. He had a 4.4 per carry average and played in all 16 games, while Hunter, playing in just 11 games, had 371 yards and two touchdowns, and had the highest per carry average of all running backs between the two teams at 5.2 yards.

There's not much else to talk about with Seattle. Lynch will be good, Turbin will be productive, Wilson will punish defenses and the whole running game should be more effective with new toys for Wilson in the passing game. Michael is a wild card right now, and Seattle isn't going to get the nod on the back of a rookie.

3. Arizona Cardinals with Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Andre Ellington

Arizona had an abysmal rushing attack this past season, thanks in part to the fact that their running backs sucked, and in part to the fact that they had the worst offensive line in football. Fortunately, only one player from last season stands a chance to be on that running back depth chart in Ryan Williams.

Williams disappointed big time with a 2.8 yards per carry average, but the addition of Rashard Mendenhall could be a solid one. Before his issues this past season, Mendenhall had 928 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games in 2011, and had 1,108 yards with 13 touchdowns in 2010. The big-play potential is there, which puts him above any of the St. Louis running backs.

Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington were also interesting draft picks. I like to refer to those two as the "discount Green Bay Packers" route, given that Green Bay took Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin in rounds two and four. Taylor and Ellington have high ceilings, and could be special, but for now, this is all based on Mendenhall.

4. St. Louis Rams with Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy, Terrance Gannaway

The Rams will be without Steven Jackson, and that's a scary proposition for them. Daryl Richardson looks like he could be the real deal, with 475 yards and a per carry average of 4.8 yards. But one has to wonder if he's going to end up with too much responsibility too soon.

There's not enough tape on Richardson to give them a higher ranking just yet, and Pead is virtually a non-factor. Zac Stacy is an interesting draft pick but in the end, the Rams have an uninteresting and less-than inspiring situation at running back right now.

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