Football has always been a hard-nosed game where if you can control the clock than you can control the game.
Strategies and schemes tend to change with each era of players. You have hard hitters like Jim Brown, Franco Harris, and Jerome Bettis and more agile guys like Barry Sanders, Ladainian Tomlinson, and Walter Payton.
We have seen a shift in the running backs that are coming out of college these days as they are a taller, faster, and are hitting a lot harder. Rookies are starting day one in this league and are keeping veterans and the top of their games.
So, who takes the rushing crown? Will it be a rookie or vet?
Here are five guys that have a chance to be the champ when week 17 ends.
#5 DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans-
Murray had a great comeback in the 2016 season. He rushed for 1,287 yards 9 tds on 293 carries. Murray took the pressure off the 2nd overall pick in Mariota and was one of the reasons why the Titans had some success last year.
Murray will be splitting some of his carries with lasts years 2nd round pick in Derrick Henery which is why he is lower on this list.
#4 David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson is a duel threat running back that can both run and catch out of the backfield. This is what makes him so valuable. Johnson went 1,239 yards 16 tds on 293 carries. Let’s face it, Fitzgerald is not getting any younger and the Cardinals have no one else as a threat on the offensive side of the football which means….
They are going to run through Johnson. He will have more carries but I still don’t see it as enough to unseat the other three that will be in front of him. Teams will begin to stack eight in the box and you’ll see the numbers start to decline.
#3 Leonard Fournrette(R), Jacksonville Jaguars
Fournette is the one rookie that I can see that has a legitimate chance at contending with these vets at the rushing crown. Fournette ran tough in his collegiate career at LSU.
There is a reason why he was drafted fourth overall by the Jaguars who needed to focus on other areas in the draft.
This is a great scenario for this rookie. They have Hurns and Robinson on the outside to let some pressure off and a QB who needs to be able to rely on his RB.
This is a make it or break it season for Bortles which means they will rely heavily on the running game. Fournette has the toughness and speed to be able to make something out of nothing and gain some yardage on his own if he needs to.
#2 Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins
Ajayi was a huge surprise last season.
He was probably the main reason for the success of the Dolphins playoff run.
Yes, quarterback Ryan Tannehill made improvements but the offense didn’t get going until the rushing game sparked. Ajayi rushed for 1,272 yards 8 tds on 260 carries.
He rushed for over 200 yards three times last season and found his jersey in the hall of fame because of the back to back games.
Ajayi’s ability to break tackles and not go down on the first hit is what makes him so good. Ajayi didn’t start a game until week 5 which would have made it interesting to see where his yards would be if he played all 16 games.
It is going to be exciting to see what Jaytrain can do in the second year of his NFL career.
#1 Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Finally we get to the champ, Le’Veon Bell.
Being suspended the first four games did not stop his progress as being the top running back in the league. He rushed for 1,268 yards 7 tds on 261 carries. One of the most patient runners I have watched in a long time. He is elusive and has the behind center vision that most running backs dream of having.
Watching highlights of Bell run it looks like he is in slow motion. There are times when it looks like he stops in the middle of traffic to change direction and re-evaluate the field. Tomlin knows who he needs to run the offense through. Bell is shifty and is going to make a lot of people miss.
It also helps that they have a high-powered offense with Big ben, Antonio brown, and Martavius Bryant back in the mix.
Surprise guy who would be #1 if not for today’s suspension would be Ezekiel Elliott. 2016 NFL Rushing champ falls on this list due to being out for 6 games. Elliott is appealing the suspension but he is still looking at some time missed which will affect his stats.
Other running backs who have a shot to break into the top 5 are: LeSean McCoy, Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffery(R), and Jordan Howard.
For more rankings or if you have any comments let me hear them on twitter: @torytotha