For many reasons, running backs tend to regress harder than any other position. Whether it comes from wearing down, changed offensive scheme, or offensive line changes, there is a lot that can go wrong for them from year to year. Here are five running backs that will disappoint this season.
Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
After the Dolphins traded lead back Jay Ajayi to the Eagles during midseason last year, Kenyan Drake exploded onto the scene. The Alabama product rushed for 644 yards and 4.8 yards per attempt, and also had 239 receiving yards. Since he only was the lead back for half a season, it’s easy to imagine Drake’s numbers spiking up as the lead guy for a whole season. However, there are some things that get in the way of Drake continuing to produce at such a high level. For starters, Miami released center Mike Pouncey during the offseason. Pouncey is one of the game’s better centers, and his presence will be missed when the offensive line needs to open up holes for Drake to get into open space. The Dolphins signed running back Frank Gore in the offseason, which means Drake will go back to being a complimentary back rather than the main guy. Expect Gore to get a lot of short yard and goal-line carries, which could hurt Drake’s touchdown numbers. Since Drake came out of nowhere last year, it was hard at first for defenses to adjust and have a game plan to stop him. Most of Drake’s production came in a two-week stretch vs the Broncos and Patriots in Weeks 13 and 14, where he rushed for 214 yards and had 100 receiving yards. This shows Drake may be just a product of a couple good games, considering his production tailed off before and after that two-week performance. Drake’s inconsistency will hurt him as he tries to put up the production of an elite running back, especially considering Miami has done almost everything possible to put him in a bad situation to succeed in.
LeSean Mccoy, Buffalo Bills
Sticking with the AFC East, LeSean McCoy is set to have a down year for multiple reasons. For starters, it’s unclear that he’ll be able to even play. The NFL is currently investigating McCoy’s role in an alleged home invasion of his ex-girlfriend. If they conclude that he was involved, he could face serious discipline that could cost him at least most of the season. Even if they find him not guilty and he can play, there’s no guarantee that McCoy will have a good season. For starters, his yards per attempt went down from 5.4 in 2016 to 4.0 in 2017. It took him 287 carries to get 1138 last year when it only took him 234 to get 1267 the year before. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor helped open up the running game for McCoy, as he was constantly a threat to run as a dual-threat quarterback. Now, he’s with the Browns after the Bills traded him for a third-round pick. That means McCoy will either be taking handoffs from q career backup in AJ McCarron, a rookie in Josh Allen, or Nathan Peterman, who threw five interceptions in the first half of his first career game. Think it couldn’t get worse for McCoy? It does. The offensive line is much worse than it was a year ago, with both center Eric Wood and guard Richie Incognito retired. Buffalo wasn’t able to find suitable replacements for either of them, which means a 30-year-old McCoy will have to create holes and make plays for himself. Add in the fact he has to learn a new scheme with Brian Daboll taking over as offensive coordinator, and this has the makings of a disaster season for McCoy.
Carlos Hyde, Cleveland Browns
After signing with the Browns, Carlos Hyde will be a part of a running back by committee that involves rookie Nick Chubb and receiving back Duke Johnson Jr. Together, the three could form a lethal trio, but that doesn’t mean that Hyde will have a successful season. Only averaging 4 yards per carry, Hyde is more of a bell cow than a complementary piece. In other words, his best trait is his ability is to take on at least 15-25 carries a game, which is being wasted in a running back by committee. In San Francisco, Hyde was the main back and still wasn’t able to eclipse 1000 yards. Therefore, he may not even break 500 yards in a running back by committee. Chubb and Hyde share very similar traits as inside runners. Since Chubb is the younger options with higher upside and the Browns will almost certainly not be in the playoff race, Cleveland may be inclined to give Chubb the bulk of playing times on rushing plays. That could hurt Hyde, especially since he still has at least 2-4 years left of his prime self before he regresses as he ages.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Part of a two-headed rushing attack with rookie Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram had his best season as a pro last year. He rushed for 1124 yards, had 4.9 yards per carry, and added on 418 receiving yards. However, he almost certainly won’t be able to put up those kind of numbers again. Ingram is suspended for the first four games of the season due to violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy. Once he comes back, it could take him a while to get going, as Ingram is a notoriously slow starter. Usually, it’s okay for Ingram to take some time to get in his groove because he finds usually by Week 5 or 6, and doesn’t look back. Last season, he didn’t have a performance with 100 combined yards until Week 6, but he had six more after that. However, by the time he’s in his groove, it will already be Week 11 or 12. The Saints won’t be able to let Ingram get back into the groove slowly if he struggles until then so they may turn to other backs such as Kamara, or newly signed Terrance West to fill the void. The Saints have already started to look past Ingram, as he’s in a contract year. This suspension and the struggles that may follow may speed up that process.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Drafted in the second round, Kerryon Johnson is expected to the be the Lions’ running back of the future. That should eventually happen, but it may take longer than one would expect. Johnson was the bell cow for the Auburn Tigers last year, as he had 24 carries a game. However, that likely won’t be the case with the Lions. Detroit is notorious for being a pass first team, especially since offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter took over. Last season, they ranked 31st in the NFL and last in the NFC in rush attempts, with only 363. That’s only 22-23 carries a game, which is less than what Johnson alone received at Auburn last year. Detroit will split carries with Johnson, newly signed LeGarrette Blount, and former second-round pick Ameer Abdullah. Receiving back Theo Riddick also will be used on passing downs, meaning Johnson will mostly be a one-dimensional complementary piece for the Lions. Considering that the Lions haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in a game since Reggie Bush four years in 2013. Johnson could break that curse if given the chance to be the bell cow, but since he’ll be a complementary piece in a pass-first offense, the drought will live on past 2018.