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Tuesday, April 16, 2013
West RB ranks: Lynch, Gore and more

By Mike Sando

Quarterbacks give way to running backs as Matt Williamson and I discuss the NFC West positional rankings Williamson provided in his role as scout for ESPN.com.

Those rankings are available in the chart at right.

Matt ranks the Seattle Seahawks No. 1 at running back, followed by the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams.



Williamson: This one was easy for me. I'd be shocked if anyone put them in different order.

Sando: We can always revisit this position after the draft. The Rams will presumably select a bigger back to round out their backfield by committee. Even then, however, St. Louis will be proceeding with largely unproven players at the position. That is by design. It also makes it tougher to justify ranking the Rams higher without additional evidence.

Williamson: To me, St. Louis' backfield is utterly unproven. I don't think Isaiah Pead or Daryl Richardson is a lead back. Both are committee guys, but we haven't seen enough from either one to say either is as good as Rashard Mendenhall in Arizona. And I've always liked Ryan Williams a lot. In Mendenhall and Williams, the Cardinals have two guys you could hit a home run with.

Sando: A couple years ago, you suggested Steven Jackson had lost a step. Jackson is now gone from the Rams. The 49ers' Frank Gore is actually a couple months older than Jackson. Both will be 30 this offseason. Do you see Gore declining? Is that why you ranked the Seahawks No. 1 at running back?

Williamson: Seattle has the best back in the division in Marshawn Lynch, and Robert Turbin is a heckuva backup. It's not a knock on Gore. I like LaMichael James and like Kendall Hunter, too. So, the 49ers have three guys to talk about instead of two for Seattle.

Sando: James and Hunter look like keepers. The 49ers are in position to limit Gore's carries to keep him fresh.

Williamson: I would lighten his load, give him 90 percent of a full workload. The 49ers are a contender. They need 20 games from Gore, not 16. I'd be thinking big picture.

Sando: Gore had 351 touches in 2012 and 341 in 2011, counting playoffs. That's up from 271 per season from 2008 through 2010. Gore missed nine games to injury over that span. He has missed one game over the past two seasons combined. But that postseason workload is something to keep in mind for the upcoming season.

We'll look at wide receivers next.