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NFC West position rankings 2015: 49ers come in 2nd at running back

Could Kendall Hunter make a significant difference at running back?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, we started posting our NFC West rankings by position, starting with the safeties. As much as I wanted to put the San Francisco 49ers on top of that position, I just couldn't. I'd take Antoine Bethea over Kam Chanellor given their 2014 seasons, but Earl Thomas isn't just better than Eric Reid, he's the best safety in the league.

If you were hoping the Seahawks' dominance goes away after just the one piece, you may not want to read further. This time around, we're covering the running backs, a position I think is mostly straight-forward. Obviously, the San Francisco 49ers have been set at the position for ages thanks to Frank Gore, the No. 9 leading rusher last season, but he's with the Indianapolis Colts now and a younger, unproven but promising player is set to take over.

But let's get right into the rankings, shall we? I encourage you folks to post your own lists in the comments and tell me why I'm so wrong. These players come from official team rosters.

Seattle Seahawks with Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Christine Michael, Rod Smith, Thomas Rawls

The Seattle Seahawks take the top spot because they've got the best starter, and it's not even close. Marshawn Lynch is still fascinating to me, given what he did with the Buffalo Bills before joining the Seahawks. Lynch is going to give struggling running backs hope for a long, long time. He went from an afterthought to one of the hardest runners in the NFL.

Lynch is difficult to tackle, he picks up the yards he needs and he basically carries the Seahawks offense. I think if the Seahawks can't replace Lynch once he's done, Russell Wilson won't look quite as good as we think he does now. He carried the ball 280 times for 1,306 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and 13 touchdowns last season.

Behind him, the Seahawks have Robert Turbin and Christine Michael. I know Seahawks fans are really big on Michael, but I think we've seen far too little from him to form a real opinion. Yeah, he had a 5.1 yards per carry average last season, but he only carried the ball 34 times. I think Turbin is the better player, and with 4.2 yards per carry over 74 attempts, I think he's basically shown about as much as Carlos Hyde at this stage. Seattle has the best starter and a couple decent backups at the very least, and that's enough to give them the top spot.

San Francisco 49ers with Carlos Hyde, Reggie Bush, Kendall Hunter, Mike Davis, Kendall Gaskins

I do wonder if this will be the first selection that has people calling me a homer. I've put the 49ers above the team below them for a couple reasons, but the biggest is that I simply think Hyde looked better than their starter last season, even if we've seen less from him at this stage of the game.

Hyde runs a lot like Gore, and that's a big comfort. The 49ers are going all-in on him and he'll be expected to effectively carry the load immediately. I think it's a lot easier to tell when a running back is going to be "the guy," early on in their careers, Lynch notwithstanding, so I don't think it will take long for us to determine whether or not moving on from Gore was a good idea.

Behind Hyde, the 49ers have Reggie Bush, a guy who should have a positive impact on the offense just by being back there. That said, I don't expect Bush to put up numbers on his own. Then there's Kendall Hunter, a guy I think has the potential to be better than most of the players on the next two teams, sans the one player that should be fairly obvious. Of course, Hunter is a question mark given his injury history. Rookie Mike Davis is super intriguing as well, but he doesn't factor much into these rankings.

St. Louis Rams with Todd Gurley, Tre Mason, Benny Cunningham, Isaiah Pead, Chase Reynolds

The St. Louis Rams want to run the ball, and they made that clear by drafting 100 offensive linemen and spending a first-round pick on Todd Gurley. Obviously, a guy like Gurley has some question marks given his injury history, and we've seen dominant college running backs completely blow it at the next level, but I think Gurley's projected talent alone puts the Rams in third place on this list.

Then there's Tre Mason, who carried the ball 179 times for 765 yards and four touchdowns last season. Mason has shown more than Hyde at this point, but I simply thought Hyde looked like the better running back once the ball was in his hands. There's also the fact that the Rams obviously don't think Mason is their starter with the drafting of Gurley.

Arizona Cardinals with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, David Johnson, Kerwynn Williams, Marion Grice

I may not have much confidence in Mason, but Andre Ellington simply isn't a great running back. I don't like his running style and I don't think he's the kind of guy that makes a difference on these rankings. He'll make a few plays here and there, especially in the passing game, but ultimately I think he's the weakest of the starters, even given how little we've seen of Hyde and the fact that the Rams are set to start a rookie.

Behind Ellington, who has had concerns about his durability, is Stepfan Taylor. He's mediocre at best, and does a lot of the same things Ellington does. Where the Cardinals get interesting is rookie David Johnson. This was a fantastic class for running backs, and I think Johnson is one of the overlooked gems. I think he'll be an important guy to keep an eye on going forward, and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up being the starter sooner rather than later.