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NFC South round up: How do the running backs compare to each other this year?

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It’s been a rough year for most of the NFC South running backs.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

In a division with four good QBs, the attention paid to running backs might normally be diminished. However, all four NFC South teams also have quality running backs, even if they aren’t the first names that pop up in conversations about these offenses. How have those backs fared this year? Let’s take a look.

Atlanta Falcons

Even though Devonta Freeman was the clear #1 RB in Atlanta last year (on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection), 2016 has been different. The emergence of Tevin Coleman has given the Falcons a heck of a “one two” punch at running back, as both players can run and catch the ball effectively. Here’s a quick glance at their stats through the first ten weeks.

Freeman: 145 attempts, 669 yards (4.6 Y/A), 3 TDs

Coleman: 59 attempts, 234 yards (4.0 Y/A), 5 TDs

Additionally, Matt Ryan has also used both backs in the passing game with great results as well, though Coleman is clearly the more explosive of the two players.

Freeman: 31 receptions, 252 yards (8.1 Y/R), 2 TDs

Coleman: 19 receptions, 330 yards (17.4 Y/R), 1 TD

As you can see, the combination of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman has accounted for 1,485 yards and a whopping 11 TDs - and that’s with Coleman having missed 3 games on the year. There’s little doubt the combination of Freeman and Coleman has been a boon for the 2016 Falcons offense, and they are arguably one of the best running back tandems in the NFL.

New Orleans Saints

Under Drew Brees and Sean Payton, the Saints have been known as a “pass first” offense, but they also like to use their running backs a good bit. In fact, many would argue that the Saints are the most dangerous when their running game is being utilized more often. The Saints have used several backs this year, but the bulk of the workload has gone to Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower. Here is how they’ve fared this year:

Ingram: 115 attempts, 548 yards (4.8 Y/A), 2 TDs

Hightower: 76 attempts, 297 yards (3.9 Y/A) 1 TD

And their numbers in the passing game...

Ingram: 26 receptions, 180 yards (6.9 Y/R) 3 TDs

Hightower: 6 receptions, 55 yards (9.2 Y/R) 0 TDs

While the Saints clearly rely on their passing game more, Ingram and Hightower have done enough to make this a highly dangerous offense on the ground as well.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have traditionally had a very strong running game, though 2016 has been marred with injuries to several key guys including Jonathan Stewart. With Stewart injured for several games, guys like Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker have helped pick up the load. Here’s how they’ve performed so far in 2016:

Stewart: 92 attempts, 334 yards (3.6 Y/A), 4 TDs

Artis-Payne: 36 attempts, 144 yards (4.0 Y/A), 2 TDs

Whittaker: 38 attempts, 191 yards (5.0 Y/A), 0 TDs

And as receivers...

Stewart: 3 receptions, 32 yards (10.7 Y/R), 0 TDs

Artis-Payne: 1 reception, 11 yards (11.0 Y/R), 0 TDs

Whittaker: 23 receptions, 187 yards (8.1 Y/R), 0 TDs

Part of Carolina’s offensive struggles in 2016 can be seen here. While their backs have been mostly effective, they’re just not contributing to the TD totals like in 2015. With Cam also having a down year, this unit has failed to pick up the slack.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs have been absolutely ravaged by injuries at the running back position. They’ve fielded at least 4 different starters and had 5 different running backs get significant carries. While Doug Martin was intended to be the primary RB for the team, he’s only managed to play 3 games so far this year. Guys like Charles Sims, Jaquizz Rodgers, Peyton Barber and Antone Smith have all had to step in with several of those guys also sustaining injuries this year. Here’s how that banged up unit has performed thus far:

Martin: 41 attempts, 118 yards (2.9 Y/A), 1 TD

Sims: 41 attempts, 116 yards (2.8 Y/A), 1 TD

Rodgers: 88 attempts, 393 yards (4.5 Y/A), 1 TD

Barber: 39 attempts, 160 yards (4.1 Y/A), 1 TD

Smith: 10 attempts, 47 yards (4.7 Y/A), 0 TD

And as receivers...

Martin: 6 receptions, 47 yards (7.8 Y/R), 0 TD

Sims: 14 receptions, 112 yards (8.0 Y/R), 1 TD

Rodgers: 9 receptions, 58 yards (6.4 Y/R), 0 TD

Barber: 4 receptions, 24 yards (6.0 Y/R), 0 TD

Smith: 6 receptions, 77 yards (12.8 Y/R), 0 TD

As you can see, the Buccaneers rushing attack can be effective, if it weren’t for all of the injuries. With all signs pointing to Doug Martin returning soon, the Bucs could possibly reverse their fortunes somewhat, but this is not a rushing offense that intimidates anybody.

Your thoughts on how the running backs in the division compare to each other in 2016?