We’re going to wrap up the NFC South position rankings with the running backs. I saved that position for last because I think it probably is the most intriguing of all the groups in the division.
There are three guys who can make a legitimate claim to being No. 1 based just on their past résumés and a few other guys who could enter the argument if they stay healthy and catch a few breaks. On to the list.
Michael Turner, Falcons. I went with Turner at No. 1 because I’m thinking he’ll have the best statistics in the division when all is said and done. Turner’s on a mission to prove his huge 2008 season wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He admitted he let himself get out of shape before last season and that may have caused his slow start and led to some injuries. Turner’s been working on his conditioning all offseason and I think he’ll have a bounce-back year.
DeAngelo Williams, Panthers. If Williams was in a different offense, I might go with him at No. 1 because I think he’s the most complete back in the division. He’ll get his 1,000 yards again and catch some passes, but he doesn’t get all the carries in Carolina.
Jonathan Stewart, Panthers. He and Williams might comprise the best backfield duo in the league. Flip a coin on who gets more carries because that’s pretty much what coach John Fox does. These guys are both studs. The Panthers run enough to keep both of these guys happy.
Reggie Bush, Saints. I know I’ll take some hits for this one, but I feel pretty strongly that Bush is in for a big season. He looks healthier and faster than I’ve seen him in recent years. Is he ever going to get 30 carries a game like Turner? No. But this guy is so dynamic that he’s a threat to score any time he touches the ball and Sean Payton will always find ways to get him touches.
Cadillac Williams, Buccaneers. One of the most inspirational guys in the NFL the last few years, Williams finally is coming into a season where he didn’t have to spend the entire offseason rehabbing an injury. He’s overcome two major knee injuries and he’s going to get the bulk of the carries for the Bucs.
Pierre Thomas, Saints. He and Bush are kind of a lighter version of Stewart and Williams. They’re going to share carries and they may even have a third guy in the mix. Thomas is more of a traditional running back than Bush and he’s a guy who can run for 1,000 yards if he gets enough carries.
Jason Snelling, Falcons. This guy came out of nowhere last year and helped the Falcons get to a winning record, despite Turner’s injury problems. Snelling has become a favorite of the coaching staff and probably has earned a share of the carries this year. He’s big and dependable and can also fill in at fullback if needed.
Jerious Norwood, Falcons. He is the classic tease. Norwood will give you some runs that are worthy of the highlight reel. But he also lacks durability and never has truly been able to carve a niche in this offense.
Kareem Huggins, Buccaneers. The Bucs saw enough out of this kid that they went ahead and unloaded Derrick Ward, who simply just didn’t fit in Tampa Bay. Huggins is undersized, but he flashed all sorts of big-play ability in training camp and the preseason.
Mike Goodson, Panthers. He got only 22 carries last year and there aren’t a lot of opportunities with Stewart and Williams around. But I think you might see a bit more of Goodson this year. He’s got big-play ability and can catch the ball out of the backfield.