Ranking The Running Back Groups In The NFC North

In these reviews I will be going over how each position group did individually then compare them against the rest of the NFC North teams to see how the upcoming season might go for the group. This time I’ll be covering the running backs in the NFC North.

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Jordan Howard had another fantastic year. Getting 1122 yards running and averaging 4.1 yards per carry is a great return. He’s a very under rated running back in the league who is often overlooked when speaking about the best, but he has certainly proved his worth in that conversation in my eyes. Combined the bullish running style of Howard the Bears have Tarik Cohen as their change of pace back. Cohen also had a good year with his main strength being in receptions, of which he had 53 for 353 yards. Getting 78 first downs between them alone proves what an asset they are to the team. The duo are going to be a fearsome combination to face for years to come in the division and I would say they are one of the best 1-2 punch combo backs in the whole NFL. Next season there is no reason to expect them to slow down with some nice additions to the offense that will make the Bears more explosive. Having a potent passing attack could see the numbers of their running backs increase further when they aren’t facing an 8 man box a lot of the time.

Jordan Howard RB 16 16 276 1122 4.1 53 5 9 70.1 61 22.1
Tarik Cohen RB 16 4 87 370 4.3 46 4 2 23.1 17 19.5
Benny Cunningham RB 14 0 9 29 3.2 12 0 0 2.1 1 11.1
Totals     372 1218 9 11 79

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Ameer Abdullah was expected by many to have his breakout year last year as the Lions premier running back. Coming back healthy and with an o-line in front of him, he was expected to perform. Frankly he didn’t. In fact he had quite an abysmal year only managing 552 yards on the ground (not much more than most second choice backs). The Lions also employed a running by committee approach having a back allocated for specific situations. Theo Riddick did his usual thing of getting a lot of receptions (53 for 444 yards) which is a nice return but when running the ball he was less than effective. Tion Green got hyped massively after his first game but this was very premature and his getting cut in the offseason proves his worth was minimal. A change was in order and signing LeGarrette Blount and drafting Kerryon Johnson was what was needed. Combining them with some upgrades along the offensive line should result in the Lions having a strong run game for the first time in years. Will we see the first 100 yard rusher since 2013?

Ameer Abdullah RB 14 11 165 552 3.3 34 5 4 39.4 24 14.5
Theo Riddick RB 16 5 84 286 3.4 21 1 3 17.9 11 13.1
Tion Green RB 5 0 42 165 3.9 33 1 2 33.0 9 21.4
Dwayne Washington RB 5 0 20 44 2.2 6 0 0 8.8 1 5.0
Zach Zenner RB 8 0 14 26 1.9 14 0 1 3.2 2 14.3
Totals     363 1073 7 10 47

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I have to admit I didn’t pay much attention to the Packers running backs but looking at them some things stand out. As individuals that had very different seasons. Jamaal Williams had a very average season with 3.6 yards per carry and 556 yards in total, nothing special and honestly only slightly better than Abdullah. However Aaron Jones had a fantastic year, with 72 less carries than Williams he managed to only fall just shy of his yard total by 108 yards. Averaging 5.5 yards per carry makes you think he’ll be their starting back come next season if not a great compliment to Ty Montgomery. If he continues that trend with more carries he’ll be a real threat to opposing defences next season.

Jamaal Williams RB 16 7 153 556 3.6 25 1 4 34.8 32 20.9
Aaron Jones RB 12 4 81 448 5.5 46 6 4 37.3 21 25.9
Ty Montgomery RB 8 5 71 273 3.8 37 1 3 34.1 13 18.3
Devante Mays RB 8 0 4 1 0.3 2 0 0 0.1 0 0
Totals     309 1277 8 11 66

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I was gutted when the Vikings signed Latavius Murray as I thought he was exactly what the Lions needed last season, a good downhill runner who isn’t afraid of contact. That gutting feeling didn’t go away as the Vikings also snapped up Dalvin Cook as he somehow fell to the second round. My fears came true as he had a phenomenal start to the season before picking up a season ending injury. If he hadn’t picked up that injury he was on for a potential 1.4k rushing yard season. Murray and McKinnon had to step in and they did very well as replacements. Both averaged near to 4 yards per carry which for a running back is ideal with both getting a good number of first downs and keeping the chains moving during games.

Latavius Murray RB 16 11 216 842 3.9 46 7 8 52.6 42 19.4
Jerick McKinnon RB 16 1 150 570 3.8 58 2 3 35.6 23 15.3
Dalvin Cook RB 4 4 74 354 4.8 33 4 2 88.5 15 20.3
C.J. Ham RB 16 1 7 13 1.9 3 0 1 0.8 5 71.4
Totals   447 1779 13 14 80

Final verdict

Lions – 4th

Going into this I thought the Lions would be dead last by a long way. I wasn’t wrong. As a running back committee they weren’t just the worst in the NFC North, they were the worst in the NFL. Hopefully with the additions of Blount and Johnson, as well as new coordinations for all positions that will relate to the running success they will see their fortunes turn around this upcoming season.

Packers – 3rd

They somewhat went under the radar even though they were average. I heard very little about them during the season. With Ty Montgomery coming back and the emergence of Aaron Jones they could have a productive season in the coming year.

Bears – 2nd

Howard individually was the best running back in the NFC North last year and Cohen was a very good compliment to him. Ranking them first would have been a fair assessment but the Vikings had a better unit. I can see the same trend happening next season with the Bears and the Vikings having the stand out running back units and Howards once again will put up a great rushing performance of a season.

Vikings – 1st

If Dalvin Cook wasn’t injured I think he would have been in the conversation for rookie of the year. He was having an amazing season until he was injured and hopefully next season he picks up where he left off. Murray and McKinnon filled in very well as a group they had substantially more yards than the Bears duo. With Cook coming back fully fit next year the Vikings offense will be scary as he has all the features of a top back in the league.

Thanks for checking out the article everyone. Go Lions! Let me know what you think on Twitter @Alex_Watt_Lions and be sure to join the community on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Alex Watt
Alex is a Detroit Lions fan from the UK, his love for the Lions came about from the fact he loves an underdog story and he believes the Lions embody that pretty well! He has a particular love for the defensive side of the ball and he favourite player is Darius "Big Play" Slay, although he has a soft spot for Glover Quin. When he isn't writing for the DetroitLionsPodcast he enjoys gym and sports, playing American Football himself.