While quarterback is an insanely contentious position when you’re talking about the best grouping in the division—or even the NFL—things are simpler for the NFC South when it comes to running backs. There’s only two teams that have a legitimate case to be in the conversation.
The first, naturally, is our Atlanta Falcons, and they’re my (homerific) pick. Devonta Freeman has been a top ten running back since his 2015 emergence, and while injury caused him to have a bit of a disappointing 2017, he’s still one of the better, more well-rounded backs in football. Tevin Coleman has elite speed, catches exceptionally well, and is an underrated runner who is a threat to break a huge gain every time he totes the ball. Add in the promising Ito Smith, a rookie with (at least) a bright future as a third down back, and you’ve got one of the NFL’s 2-3 best groups.
The other legitimate contender, of course, would be the Saints. They’re dented this year by Mark Ingram’s four game suspension, which removes the team’s big back from the equation. But Ingram is coming off a stellar season and is a very good back, so once he’s back in action, New Orleans will be in great shape. Heck, they’re in great shape even with him out, because Alvin Kamara looked like one of the league’s most lethal options in his rookie season. If he can play at that level again, the Saints will unfortunately be right there in the discussion with Atlanta.
There’s a dropoff following that. Tampa Bay has an interesting rookie in Ronald Jones, the USC product who has the speed, pass-catching ability and general explosiveness to be extremely dangerous, but who figures to top out at 12-15 touches per game in his rookie year. His backfield running mate is Peyton Barber, a perfectly pleasant rotational piece who can carry the load if needed and give you a league average sort of production, and Jacquizz Rodgers, who can still catch and make the occasional big play as your third back. That’s a group that isn’t doing anything special without Jones, should it come to that, but can be above average with him.
Then there’s the Panthers. Once upon a time, the Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams was arguably the league’s best, but those days are long gone. The Panthers will be working with Christian McCaffrey, who showed well as a receiving option but still has some work to do as a runner, and former Broncos back C.J. Anderson, plus longtime reserve Cameron Artis-Payne. There’s enough talent here to make some noise—Anderson is underrated and McCaffrey is legitimately dynamic—but I’m not expecting them to seriously challenge Atlanta’s tandems in 2018.
Like many other positions on offense, in summary, running back is stacked in this division. With Mark Ingram, Tevin Coleman and C.J. Anderson set to become free agents in 2019, though, the calculus could be changing sooner than later. We’ll hope the Falcons are able to maintain one of the most talented stable of running backs in the NFL next season and beyond,
Who do you think has the most talented group of running backs in the division?