The fact that the Seattle Seahawks have a run game feels like breaking news. It’s been almost nonexistent since Marshawn Lynch left town, but Chris Carson is showing major promise at the midpoint of the 2018 season.
A season after Russell Wilson accounted for 23 percent of the team’s carries, 36 percent of its rushing yards and 75 percent of its rushing touchdowns, the sudden emergence of Carson has alleviated much of the burden on the quarterback. In 2018, Wilson accounts for no more than nine percent in those categories. Carson is the reason for the dramatic — but necessary — turnaround.
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Carson, who averages a team-high 18.5 touches per game, is a major reason why the Seahawks (4-3) currently occupy the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture. He is in the midst of a breakout season in Year 2 — 103 carries for 457 yards and two touchdowns in six games — and he’s just getting started. I’m buying in right now.
Carson impressed early as a rookie but a fractured leg ended his 2017 season in Week 4. Now healthy, he’s proving he can handle being a three-down back for Seattle and solidify his spot as a mainstay starter. Coming off a big performance against the Lions, Carson became the third Seahawks running back with at least three 100-yard rushing games in a season since 2014. The Seahawks have run the ball on 52.2 percent of their offensive plays this season. It’s the most balanced the unit has been since their Super Bowl run in 2013, when the team ran the ball 52.3 percent of the time.
With Carson getting more opportunities to make an impact in Seattle, here are four other young backs who are poised to break out in the second half of the season:
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers: Jones had a season-high 12 carries for 86 yards (7.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown against the Rams on Sunday. A season-high 12 carries?! He’s averaging 6.2 yards per carry for the season and he’s getting less than nine rushing attempts per game? Come on, Mike McCarthy. I’m not sure why Jones has been splitting carries with Jamaal Williams, who averages 3.7 yards per rush. Well, no more! This is the week McCarthy realizes what we’ve all been talking about for weeks now: This kid is lightning in a bottle. The Packers are 3-3-1 — an unacceptable record when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback — but Jones will be a game-changer for Green Bay in the second half of the season. The sky’s the limit for him. He just needs opportunities.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions: Every year, we’re crying out for Detroit to find its ground game. It took a while, but Johnson has filled the void. He’s had two 100-yard rushing games so far this season, and it’s no coincidence that the Lions (3-4) have won the games in which Johnson’s recorded his three largest outputs. The Lions drafted Johnson, who is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, to be their bell cow and he’s answered the call. He got more involved as a receiver against the Seahawks in Week 8 (six catches for 69 yards), showing he can also be an asset as a pass-catcher for Matthew Stafford. Expect to see more of everything from Johnson in the coming weeks.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts: Mack is heating up. After not topping 100 scrimmage yards once in his first 16 career games, he’s done that in each of the last two games. Since Week 7, he has totaled 258 rushing yards and 308 scrimmage yards — both most in the league over that span. The Colts’ three wins have come on games in which Mack is active (he’s played in four games this season). Every part of Indy’s offense is improving by the week, including an offensive line that has struggled for some time. Opening the pass game for Andrew Luck, Mack takes this offense to the next level. In a division where three of the four teams are below .500, Indy looks to have the best ground game at the midpoint.
Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns: Chubb had some huge plays in a part-time role early in the season. With former backfield mate Carlos Hyde now in Jacksonville, the starting role in Cleveland is Chubb’s to lose. The second-round draft pick has seen a huge increase in workload in the two games since Hyde’s departure, as 38 of his 54 touches (70 percent) this season have come in those contests. His powerful running style has helped him lead all backs (minimum 50 carries) in yards after contact per rush with 5.2, per Pro Football Focus. With Chubb likely to get around 20 touches per game (at a minimum), he’s poised to break out down the stretch. Not to mention, the Browns’ offense is sure to lean on Chubb, who’s averaging 6.1 yards per carry, and the run game following this week’s staff changes.
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2018 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 9.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
Previous rank: No. 1
Solid outing by Gurley against a stingy Packers defense. Stopping before the pylon to secure the win shows what kind of player he is because he could’ve easily had another TD on that play. This week, he will have to go through a Saints unit that has allowed the fewest rush yards per game (74.1) and yards per carry (3.2) in the league this season. If anyone’s up to the task, though, it’s this guy.
2018 stats: 8 games | 169 att | 800 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 11 rush TDs | 31 rec | 351 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 2
How about Hunt’s unbelievable, hurdle-filled touchdown run last week? Wow! Only Gurley has more rush yards and scrimmage yards than Hunt since 2017. The second-year running back is poised to add to his totals against a Browns defense that has struggled tackling on rushes this season.
2018 stats: 8 games | 134 att | 592 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 20 rec | 262 rec yds | 5 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 3
Kamara and Gurley have been in a league of the their own the last two seasons, as one or the other leads all running backs in every major statistical category. In a battle of elite running backs, I’m curious to see how it all plays out Sunday.
2018 stats: 7 games | 92 att | 408 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 47 rec | 393 rec yds | 2 rec TD
Previous rank: No. 2
Gordon didn’t make the trip to London for the Chargers’ last game (they were on bye in Week 8), and L.A. put up a season-low 47 rushing yards. That right there shows Gordon’s value to the offense.
2018 stats: 6 games | 91 att | 466 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 30 rec | 279 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 6
Peterson was so good — 149 rushing yards — against the Giants with the icing on the cake coming on a 64-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Redskins are 5-0 when Peterson has had at least 15 touches in a game this season and are 0-2 when he has 14 or fewer touches. Give him the ball.
2018 stats: 7 games | 127 att | 587 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 9 rec | 151 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Previous rank: No. 8
Since Week 5, Conner leads the league with 122.3 rushing yards per game. More impressive, he has been more efficient through his first seven games this season than Le’Veon Bell was through his first seven games in 2017. Conner has logged six attempts per game fewer than Bell but outgains him in scrimmage yards per game, yards per touch and scrimmage touchdowns.
2018 stats: 7 games | 127 att | 599 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 31 rec | 323 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 7
I fully expect Zeke to be in prime form against the Titans coming off a bye. Sitting behind Gurley in rushing yards, Zeke’s got his work cut out for him if he wants to reclaim the league rushing title.
2018 stats: 7 games | 132 att | 619 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 25 rec | 175 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Previous rank: No. 5
He’s been one of the only bright spots for the Giants in 2018. Just halfway through the season, Barkley has the most receiving yards by a running back in his first eight career games since the 1970 merger.
2018 stats: 8 games | 111 att | 519 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 58 rec | 497 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 9
Cohen leads the Bears in scrimmage yards (622) and receiving yards (398) this season, as he and New England’s James White are the only running backs who lead their teams in receiving yards. Cohen is not only racking up yards but has four TDs in the last four games.
2018 stats: 7 games | 43 att | 224 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 1 rush TD | 30 rec | 398 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 10
McCaffrey totaled a season-low 56 scrimmage yards against the Ravens but his two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) made it a successful outing for the second-year back.
2018 stats: 7 games | 92 att | 423 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 1 rush TD | 44 rec | 300 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 13
Mixon had himself a day against the Bucs: a career-high 123 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. He also had the longest rush of his career (43 yards).
2018 stats: 6 games | 105 att | 509 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 19 rec | 115 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Previous rank: No. 11
The Bills did a good job keeping the Patriots’ offense uncomfortable, but White’s second-half touchdown displayed the unit’s determination to get into the end zone.
2018 stats: 8 games | 48 att | 204 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 55 rec | 459 rec yds | 6 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 14
Lindsay had himself another big day with more than 100 scrimmage yards and a rushing touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to stay with the Chiefs’ high-powered offense. This week, he’ll be challenged against a Houston defense that ranks seventh against the run.
2018 stats: 8 games | 93 att | 531 rush yds | 5.7 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 18 rec | 136 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Previous rank: No. 15
Murray is giving Minnesota a balanced offense of late. After not doing much early in the year, Murray’s output has increased dramatically to 98 scrimmage yards per game over the last four weeks.
2018 stats: 8 games | 82 att | 386 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 17 rec | 116 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Previous rank: No. 12
Johnson slides down the list after the run game couldn’t get going last week. The Lions can’t afford poor performances on the ground.
2018 stats: 7 games | 77 att | 466 rush yds | 6.1 ypc | 1 rush TDs | 21 rec | 158 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
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