This past weekend I rolled out the first post in a series look at the NFC West position-by-position, looking at divisional wide receivers. The idea is to go through all the positions at different stages of the offseason. Depending on how the labor stuff pans out, we're looking at this first set before the draft, then again over the summer before the season starts. Free agency could lead to a third version of it but we'll see how that plays out.
For this second post I thought I'd take a look at NFC West running backs. We've discussed Frank Gore's injury issues and his work load. We've discussed the under-utilization of Brian Westbrook for much of last season and whether Anthony Dixon could be an answer as the number two running back for the 49ers. Throw in the folks interested in Shane Vereen and the subject is getting plenty of discussion.
Th NFC West has what you might view as mirror images when it comes to running back situations. The San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams are similar in that they rely on work-horse backs. When healthy Frank Gore and Steven Jackson run the majority of carries for their respective teams. Steven Jackson ran approximately 70 percent of the Rams rushes, while Frank Gore had half the 49ers carries in spite of a significant injury.
On the other hand, the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals had a bit more of a mixed bag of rushers. For Arizona, Tim Hightower had 153 rushes while Beanie Wells had 116 rushes. In Seattle, the Cal connection saw Marshawn Lynch rush 165 times, while Justin Forsett rushed 118 times. It will be interesting to see how those two teams divvy up their respective work loads, particularly the Cardinals with regards to Beanie Wells.
As we discussed with regards to receivers, do you see any sleepers in the mix within each team's running backs? It's a bit more difficult when dealing with running backs. All four teams have guys that are not flying under the radar. Of course, they've also got some young talent well known within their own ranks that other folks might not know as much about. It's a tough call who will be the biggest sleeper in 2011, so we might as well stick with our own guy....
49ers: At this point Anthony Dixon is the only real sleeper candidate on the roster. I suppose Xavier Omon could absolutely shock the world, but that goes beyond even a "deep sleeper." He's not even on the charts really.
Cardinals: Beanie Wells had his struggles last year, but he seems to be the long term answer for the Cardinals. The question is how they handcuff him going forward. Will Stephens-Howling gain some playing time? i'd say LS-H would be the primary sleeper candidate in Arizona.
Seahawks: Justin Forsett strikes me as a guy who could perpetually remain a sleeper candidate. He took a step backwards from his rookie season as the Seahawks tried to figure out their identity. Marshawn Lynch looks to be around at least another year and given his up and down status at times, Forsett could get some opportunities throughout the season.
Rams: Sorry, but Steven Jackson is the man in that backfield. They have some young talent in Kenneth Darby and Keith Toston, but neither looks to impede too much on Jackson's carries. Jackson is a work-horse and they'll basically have to take back the football from his cold, dead hands.
San Francisco 49ers
St. Louis Rams