The bottom 10: Worst starting running backs in the NFL today

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At a time when two of the NFL’s best running backs are holding for new contracts, a growing consensus builds surrounding the devaluation of the position.

It’s a trend seen across the league with running back-by-committee becoming a more common approach. When some of the best ball carriers in the NFL are viewed as replaceable, it says even more about the state of their peers below them.

Making it as a starting running back in the NFL is an accomplishment. Unfortunately, the position is draining and Father Time never loses. It often leads to swift decline at running back when injuries and carries pile up.

Players who were once considered among the greats see their prime pass them by, while the next wave of talented backs come in needing to prove themselves. Here are the 10 worst running backs in the NFL today.

Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

Houston’s willingness to potentially trade a third-round pick for Duke Johnson says everything about its confidence in Miller. While he improved upon his woeful 3.7 yards per carry (YPC) in 2017 to 4.6 last year, he took a step back as a receiver and failed to surpass 1,000 rushing yards or hit seven total touchdowns.

The Texans have now brought in Johnson to take over as Deshaun Watson’s top weapon out of the backfield. Miller will see a reduced role in 2019 and keep running behind one of the worst offensive lines in football.

Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay chose not to upgrade over its backfield from last season and that could come back to bite the team in 2019. While Bruce Arians will help boost this offense, even he can’t make up for an underwhelming backfield.

Barber’s 871 rushing yards in 2019 came at an underwhelming 3.7 YPC, and his work out of the backfield left much to be desired with just 92 receiving yards on 20 receptions. Ronald Jones just needs to take a marginal step forward in 2019 and the starting job will be his.

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

It only took head coach Brian Flores a few weeks of watching Drake before he started giving first-team reps to Kalen Ballage. No one could blame him after Drake largely underwhelmed running the football in 2018.

Drake rushed for 70-plus yards just once last season and the team frequently limited his carries due to his lack of consistency. He is a reliable third-down back who can make some explosive plays out of the backfield, but that’s all he is at this point.

David Montgomery, Chicago Bears

Unproven players thrust into featured roles will always have the most to prove. While reports are glowing right now for Montgomery, fans need to temper their expectations for the rookie. He offers plenty of big-play ability and his elusiveness is off the charts, but taking a few touches in the preseason and projecting greatness into games that matter is dangerous. Montgomery could live up to the Kareem Hunt comparisons, but he’s a rookie and there will be valleys that come with the peaks.

Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles

Once the darling running back in Chicago and viewed as the team’s future workhorse, the Bears traded him to Philadelphia for a conditional sixth-round pick this offseason. The 24-year-old saw his YPC fall from 5.1 in 2016 to 4.1 in ’17 and 3.7 last year.

He can be rotated off the field on passing downs, and with his effectiveness running the football on the decline, Howard’s standing in the league has followed. Howard will put up solid numbers with Philadelphia, but it might not be long before another young running back like Miles Sanders surpasses him again.

Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins

While Peterson seemed to find the fountain of youth with Washington last season, he often benefitted from just receiving a lot of touches. The 32-year-old’s first 1,000-yard season since 2015 also came with the 32nd ranked YPC (4.2) in the NFL.

A running back who averaged a YPC equal to Doug Martin and nearly equivalent to Latavius Murray shouldn’t be considered a high-end talent. Things are going to get even worse for him in 2019 with Derrius Guice back and left tackle Trent Williams away from the team.

LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

We all remember how Shady ran the football and dazzled crowds from 2010-16. Now the hits have added up for the 31-year-old and with injuries mounting, we’re witnessing a shadow of the running back everyone loved. McCoy was limited to just 161 carries in 2018 and could only muster 3.2 YPC and three rushing touchdowns with those opportunities. Now he’ll share touches with Frank Gore and Devin Singletary in a committee that wipes away any shot at a productive year.

Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens

Ingram’s three-year, $15 million deal signed this offseason should indicate everything about where the market is for running backs and how the NFL values him. It’s not an issue of being limited to running the football because Ingram has proven he can be trusted in third-down situations. He’s just not a great running back, and after averaging 4.5 YPC in his career, his efficiency will likely take a step back this year.

Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

While the selections of Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley with top-four picks have worked out for their respective teams, Jacksonville can’t be loving the returns with Fournette at this point.

The No. 4 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft didn’t average four YPC in his rookie season and progressively declined in 2018 at 3.3 yards per attempt. Even if Jacksonville’s offensive line and quarterback play are bad, averaging fewer YPC than T.Y. Yeldon is embarrassing. The Jaguars missed on another top draft pick.

Josh Jacobs, Oakland Raiders

Rookies need to prove themselves to be recognized in the NFL and the chances of success are getting worse for Jacobs in Oakland than previously anticipated.

Offensive guard Gabe Jackson will miss eight weeks after suffering an MCL injury, Richie Incognito will be serving a two-game suspension and left tackle Kolton Miller was awful in his rookie season. If Derek Carr isn’t more consistent, then it’s difficult to see Jacobs’ production matching his talent until the situation improves.