Friday, October 30, 2009

Next Wave of Young Running Backs

In week 8 of the NFL, there are a few teams that will be giving some young running backs a chance to show off their skills, possibly propelling them as the next new wave of young running backs in the NFL. With injuries to both Brian Westbrook and Leon Washington, rookies LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles and Shonn Greene of the New York Jets are going to see an increased workload. And with some off the field issues, week 9 for the Kansas City Chiefs could have second year man Jamaal Charles as the primary back. All three of these backs have flown under the radar in their early careers, not gaining nearly as much publicity as other young backs such as Knowshon Moreno and Chris "Beanie" Wells.

Let's first take a closer look at LeSean McCoy. It might surprise you to learn that McCoy is actually the leading rusher this season for the Eagles, gaining 15 more yards on the ground than his counterpart, Westbrook. And with Westbrook continuing to be plagued by injuries every season, McCoy is looking more and more like the every down back of the future; the man to replace Westbrook full-time. Not to say that Westbrook is done his career by any means, but this is Westbrook's 8th NFL season, and everyone knows that the average lifespan of an NFL running back isn't very long. Most "experts" say that a running back usually sticks around for seven seasons, with about four or five productive years. With that being said, Westbrook's career seems to be on the downswing. And who is next in line? McCoy did have a solid game in week 3 against the Chiefs, putting up 84 yards on 20 carries, adding one touchdown. And the New York Giants, who the Eagles play this week, are giving up on average 103 yards on the ground each game, and have allowed 10 rushing touchdowns. So I'm expecting a breakout performance for McCoy to put him on the map permanently.

And as for Shonn Greene, he is in a little bit of a different situation, but is primed to put himself on the map as well. He is taking the place of back-up Leon Washington, behind Thomas Jones. However, last week, both Greene and Jones had huge games against the Oakland Raiders. Greene put up 144 yards and two touchdowns while Jones put up 121 yards and one touchdown. And with Rex Ryan's rush happy offense to help protect rookie Mark Sanchez, there are going to be plenty of touches for Greene. And if we go back to the average lifespan of a running back, Jones' career is about to be done as well. This is Jones' 10th season, so if we go by averages, Jones might be calling it a career soon. But that remains to be seen, as Jones has posted totals of over 1,000 rushing yards the past four seasons, and is on his way to do it again this year. But the day that Jones hangs up his jersey, it looks as if Shonn Greene will be ready to become the every down back. All of this is just speculation, and will depend on the return of Leon Washington, who was placed on the injured reserve after breaking his leg after one carry last week.

Finally, we have Jamaal Charles, who has a lot to prove before he can step into the shoes of Larry Johnson, who has been increasingly in the negative news in the past few years. After a great career at the University of Texas, Charles was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2008 NFL draft, and hasn't shown too much in the NFL in his first two seasons. The one chance that he did get last year against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Charles rushed for 106 yards on 18 careers, but hasn't done much since, rarely getting more than five carries a game. And with Larry Johnson being currently suspended, Charles will be given the opportunity to try and prove himself. The Chiefs have a bye week this week, but take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 9, who are giving up about 99 yards a game, but only surrendering three rushing touchdowns. So we will see what awaits Charles. And once again, if we go back to the normal lifespan of an NFL running back, Johnson is also on the down swing, with this being his seventh season.

I know that there are a lot of other young running backs out there, but these are three that haven't really gotten a lot of press or opportunities to play. Obviously, people like the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall (it kills me to admit this) are on the upswing of their career, and there are other sleepers out there, such as the Colts' Donald Brown, but he is behind Joseph Addai, and not really getting enough carries yet to show what he can do. But in the next few weeks, let's keep an eye on McCoy, Greene, and Charles to see if they can replace their elder counterparts and bring in a new wave young running backs.

Can LeSean McCoy, Shonn Greene, and Jamaal Charles be the next wave of top running backs in the NFL?

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