Breakout Player Recap: Running Backs

Chris IvoryWith so many players having the talent just lacking the opportunity, running back is a popular position to find guys who could breakout. This shows in the group of players I picked this past year. Some took advantage of the opportunity, others were still limited by their teams while unfortunately the injury bug also bit some of the players I had pegged to breakout. What I wrote about the players leading up to the 2013 season can be found here.

Lamar Miller, Dolphins: With Reggie Bush leaving the Dolphins in free agency, it looked like a big year was in store for Miller. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t go as myself (and many others) would have expected. In many instances, it wasn’t uncommon for the Dolphins to simply abandon the run in certain games. There were multiple times where Miller got in a rhythm but for some reason Mike Sherman decided to only call a handful of running plays in the second half. Along with that, the team on many occurrences opted to go with the plodding, less talented Daniel Thomas instead of Miller.

While Thomas is a stronger runner, Miller offers more big play ability and showed that he can run between the tackles. The final stats of 709 yards and two touchdowns is solid.  However behind a stronger offensive line and different game planning, it could have been much more. Miller is currently the favorite to start over newly signed Knowshon Moreno in the Dolphins backfield. Even with a new offensive coordinator in place, this looks like Miller even if starting would work in another committee with Moreno.

Hit or miss: Miss

David Wilson, Giants: Wilson had everything going in his direction for the hype machine to be in full force leading up to 2013. Not only did he finish his 2012 rookie campaign strong, he also figured to be the lead back in a major market. Unfortunately, Wilson’s season got cut short after five games due to a season ending neck surgery. The time he did play though wasn’t much to write home about. Wilson ran for 146 yards and a touchdown in five games averaging 3.3 yards a carry.

To go along with that, he also fumbled two times which is an easy way to get in Tom Coughlin’s doghouse. Fortunately for Wilson, he figures to continue his playing career this upcoming season. This year he figures to specialize as a kick returner and a change of pace back. If he ever gets back to full health, Wilson is a name to pay attention to as while his 2013 stats don’t indicate it, he has rare game changing ability.

Hit or miss: Miss

Bryce Brown, Eagles: Knowing that the Eagles were going to have a potent ground game, Brown seemed like he was going to be in for a very nice year even with LeSean McCoy as the clear starter. Brown didn’t get as much work as I would have expected, but had solid overall numbers rushing for 314 yards and two touchdowns on 75 carries. His package of natural talent and size/speed ratio can compare with any back in the league.However, Brown has the tendency to want to run to the outside which could have frustrated Chip Kelly.

During the draft, he was traded to the Bills for a conditional draft pick. While he is currently behind both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, both backs are either on the last year of their deal or have the ability to opt out. Brown may not be much of a factor this upcoming year, but don’t be surprised if he’s a popular name come 2015.

Hit or miss: Miss

Shane Vereen, Patriots: There is a lot of “what could have been” talk looking back at Vereen’s 2013 season. Going into the year, I said Vereen would be a huge part of the Patriots offense similar to roles players like Darren Sproles have had in explosive offenses. It seemed destined to happen as Vereen started off strong with 14 carries for 101 yards to go along with seven receptions for another 58 in week one against the Bills. Unfortunately, Vereen broke his wrist that game and didn’t return until the second half of the season. In eight games, Vereen did make a big impact as a receiver racking up 47 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns. His final rushing numbers were solid as well rushing for 208 yards and a touchdown while averaging 4.7 yards a carry. Vereen showed what he can do when given an opportunity, so look for his role to expand even more this upcoming year.

Hit or miss: Push

Chris Ivory, Jets: Being a big fan of Ivory’s talent, I was excited to see him go to the Jets to see what he would do as the team’s feature back. With a rookie quarterback at the helm, I was also thinking Ivory would be getting all the carries he could handle. The Jets on the other hand, had other ideas. They decided to have Ivory and Bilal Powell in an almost identical timeshare. Ivory had only six more carries than Powell for the season despite averaging over a half a yard more per attempt.

For the year, Ivory finished with a very solid 833 yards and three touchdowns. His reward for his efforts will be the certainty of splitting carries with Chris Johnson. This pairing has the potential to be very effective however. They compliment each other well as Ivory is more of a brusing back who has the potential to break long runs. Johnson while he may not have his 4.24 speed anymore, still has game breaking potential. Ivory may never become the 1,000 yard back I envisioned going into 2013, but at the very least he should be a very effective contributor for the foreseeable future.

Hit or miss: Push

Ben Tate, Texans: Due to the talent he has and the chance he had to play, Tate seemed like a good bet to breakout in 2013. The first part of my prediction came to life as Tate received more of an opportunity. Unfortunately, it came as a result of Arian Foster needing back surgery and missing the second half of the season. Tate went on to have a career high in carries with 181 recording 771 yards and four touchdowns. The highlight of that being a huge game against the Patriots where he ran for 102 yards and three touchdowns. Even more impressively was that Tate managed to do this with four broken ribs along with a nagging ankle injury before being placed on injured reserve with two weeks remaining in the season.

Tate now has a very good opportunity this year as in free agency he signed with the Browns. Kyle Shanahan has a history of being very run oriented and even if he does split carries with rookie Terrance West, there should be plenty of opportunities. The Browns also have an underrated offensive line, so if Tate can stay healthy, and hold off the talented West as the starter, big things could be in store.

Hit or miss: Push

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