Everyone likes a shiny new toy, but new doesn’t always mean better. Sometimes you realize that worn-out teddy bear is the best toy you have.
With that schmaltzy metaphor out of the way, here are five running backs who presumably got bumped down the depth chart after free agency and the draft but shouldn’t be counted out just yet.
C.J. Prosise, Seahawks
Replacement: Eddie Lacy
The Seahawks aggressively pursued tailbacks in free agency, eventually settling on the portly former Packers pounder Lacy, who has reportedly trimmed down enough to weigh in under 255 pounds and earn a tidy $55,000 bonus.
With the Seahawks saying they want to run the ball more this season, Lacy is expected to be the workhorse. But don’t count out sophomore runner Prosise, who flashed immense potential as a rookie but was limited by injury to just six appearances.
The Seahawks are reportedly concerned about Prosise’s durability, but he wouldn’t be the first tailback to battle freak injuries as a rookie and then get healthy and settle into a larger role.
Prosise is a converted wideout and an excellent receiver out of the backfield, giving him a clear role on passing downs for the Seahawks. If Lacy’s weight or effectiveness are an issue, it’s entirely possible Prosise will carve out a much larger role – maybe even a featured one.
Jerick McKinnon, Vikings
Replacement: Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook
The Vikings cut ties with longtime superstar runner Adrian Peterson in February, but any door that opened for McKinnon was seemingly slammed shut with the signing of Murray in free agency and the selection of Cook in the second round of the draft.
“Don’t count me out,” McKinnon told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press recently. On the surface, the quote seems laughable. The Vikings, by all appearances, have written McKinnon off after he rushed for just 3.4 yards per carry in 15 games (with seven starts in place of the injured Peterson) last season.
But McKinnon was asked to run behind perhaps the worst offensive line in football a year ago, in an offense that lacked receiving threats. His failings weren’t all his fault.
This offseason, McKinnon claims he’s faster than ever despite adding 11 pounds of bulk. It’s the sort of fluff you hear from players every spring, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Murray wasn’t exactly a world-beater with the Raiders and Cook slid in the draft after a brutal combine performance shed light on his lack of athleticism. It’s not unimaginable that McKinnon will emerge from this pack.
Dion Lewis, Patriots
Replacement: Rex Burkhead
No team’s running back depth chart is more radically changed from a season ago than the Patriots’. The Super Bowl champions didn’t rest on their laurels, letting LeGarrette Blount depart in free agency and signing former Bengals backup Burkhead as an unrestricted free agent and former Bills backup Mike Gillislee as a restricted free agent. Oh, and the Patriots also gave a surprisingly big contract to Super Bowl hero James White.
The forgotten man in all of this is Lewis, whose 2016 season was mostly a write-off as he rushed to return from a torn ACL. Lewis did have his moments, however, like becoming the first player ever to score a touchdown rushing, receiving, and on a return in the same playoff game.
If the 2017 version of Lewis looks like the pre-ACL surgery version, it’s hard to imagine players like White and Burkhead taking snaps ahead of him.
Mark Ingram, Saints
Replacement: Adrian Peterson
Ingram had the best season of his career in 2016, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and topping 1,000 yards rushing for the first time. That’s why it’s so puzzling that that Saints not only signed Peterson but also traded away a 2018 second-round pick to move up in the draft for Alvin Kamara. The rookie will likely play a third-down role, leaving Ingram and Peterson to compete for snaps on early downs and in short yardage.
While the future Hall of Famer Peterson might be expected by most to win out, he’s 32 years old and returning from his latest major knee injury. The Saints might see that the younger, healthier Ingram is a far better option.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers
Replacement: Christian McCaffrey
The Panthers spoke of needing to evolve their offense this offseason, then spent a top 10 draft pick on McCaffrey.
That doesn’t mean the veteran Stewart is out of a job, however. While McCaffrey’s tape suggests he’s a better between-the-tackles runner than his 202-pound frame might suggest, he’s yet to prove he can produce tough yards in the NFL trenches.
Stewart is steady, if unremarkable, and could hold off McCaffrey for playing time if the rookie’s transition to the pros is less than seamless.
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