With so much of it coming down to opportunity, running back is an interesting position to project breakouts for. The majority of the players I picked had exactly that. However, due to various reasons only one was able to fully capitalize on it. Some of these players will have the same chances in 2016 so they are worth keeping an eye on for the future. What I wrote about this group of running backs leading up to the 2015 season can be found here.
Joseph Randle, Cowboys: With DeMarco Murray having left for Philadelphia, plenty of carries were to be had behind a fantastic offensive line. Randle as expected picked up the majority of them to start the year. In the six games he did play in, there were ups and downs as he totaled 313 yards and four touchdowns. Little did we know when he was forced to miss time with a strained oblique that was the last we will likely see of Randle in an NFL uniform.
The Cowboys waived Randle in early November and since then had been arrested four times as of March. When the arrest count matches the total number of touchdowns scored, it probably isn’t looking good for the projection. Randle is still young so if everything gets settled legally a comeback attempt is possible. However with so many other young backs looking for a shot without the baggage it’s safe to say the odds are against him.
Hit or miss: Miss
Carlos Hyde, 49ers: The 2015 season for Hyde started off on a fantastic note. His week one performance of 168 yards and two touchdowns displayed everything he had to offer as a runner and more. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. Due to a foot injury that ended his season, Hyde only played in seven games finishing with 470 yards and three touchdowns while averaging over four yards an attempt behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines.
Entering 2016, Hyde has another great opportunity but if he can stay healthy is the question. We know how much Chip Kelly loves to run the football and based on what Kelly is saying; Hyde will be seeing it early and often this year. He’ll most certainly be a breakout pick once again for 2016 as we know the talent is certainly there. Unfortunately it will all come down to if Hyde manages to stay healthy.
Hit or miss: Push
Latavius Murray, Raiders: Entering 2015, I noted that there was only a small sample size of Murray but it indicated that he was a size/speed freak and that Derek Carr taking the next step would open up running lanes. Murray didn’t have many of the electrifying type runs I thought he would be capable of, but he was a more than serviceable starter in his first year handling the role.
His 1,066 rushing yards was good for sixth in the league and he added in six touchdowns for good measure. Murray also displayed receiving chops that were better than I expected as he hauled in 41 passes on the season. This helped him achieve his first career Pro Bowl appearance. Despite that, the Raiders were looking to add depth to the backfield this offseason possibly due to Murray struggling with yards per carry efficiency. Considering their additions to the offensive line, if Murray is able to hold off players such as rookie DeAndre Washington for early down carries, he could be in for an impressive 2016 campaign.
Hit or miss: Hit
Isaiah Crowell, Browns: Leading into the year, I mentioned that Crowell had the potential to cement himself as the Browns starter in 2015 and beyond. The talent is still there, but just like this time last year, the Browns running back position is in limbo. Terrance West is out of the picture, but Duke Johnson still remains and he is a very talented prospect in his own right.
One thing holding back Crowell this past year was consistency. He could have a few games where he looks fantastic, but then have two or three games in a row where he barely averages two yards an attempt. For the 2015 season, Crowell racked up 706 yards and four touchdowns with three of those coming in his last four games. With a new coach in Hue Jackson, Crowell has a fresh start and could very become the week one starter. However given Duke Johnson’s skillset, a tandem similar to the one Jackson had in Cincinnati of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard wouldn’t be surprising.
Hit or miss: Miss
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings: In my prediction for McKinnon, I mentioned that it likely would come down to the off chance of Adrian Peterson proving to be mortal. Not surprisingly, it didn’t happen. That didn’t stop McKinnon from impressing when he got his chances though. On 52 attempts, he averaged over five yards a carry and also showed he was capable of contributing in the passing game.
The physical talent is all there and it is very apparent. However with Peterson in the fold, it is unlikely McKinnon has the chance to have a lead role with the Vikings. With the way he played at the end of 2015, look for McKinnon to have a more significant role in the offense this coming season.
Hit or miss: Push