Ranking the RBs in the NFC West: Who is at the top?

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Not too many years ago, the NFC West had several very good, workhorse running backs with David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Marshawn Lynch and Carlos Hyde.

Chris Carson was the clear top running back for a bit in the division.

Now it isn’t so clear. Injuries and a shared workload make it tough to rank them.

Below are this year’s rankings for the running backs in the NFC West, where not a single back rushed for 1,000 in 2021.

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No. 1: Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers

Mitchell was a revelation last season as a sixth-round rookie. The 49ers drafted Trey Sermon in the third round and appeared to be the first real workhorse back Kyle Shanahan would lean on.

That didn’t happen.

Mitchell got a lot of work with Jeff Wilson’s injury and actually led the division in rushing with 963 yards and five touchdowns. He did that in 11 games.

No. 2: Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

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Penny’s career in Seattle has been frustrated by injuries and the fact that Chris Carson was so good, but Penny put on a show the second half of last season.

In 10 games, he led the NFL with 6.3 yards per attempt and had 749 yards and six touchdowns. He had at least 135 rushing yards in five of the final six games of the season.

If he can keep that pace, he will be the clear No. 1 this year, but the fact that he has yet to put together a full season keeps me from giving him the top spot.

No. 3: James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

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Conner made the Pro Bowl with an 18-touchdown season in a shared role with Chase Edmonds. He rushed for 752 yards and 15 touchdowns and added 37 receptions for 375 yards and three more scores.

He carried the Arizona offense in the second half after DeAndre Hopkins got hurt and earned a three-year contract.

No. 4: Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams

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Akers only played in one game last season after coming back from a torn Achilles. He showed promise late in 2020 as a rookie.

He might be more talented than Conner but I’m holding him back right now because of the uncertainty of his play following his injury.

No. 5: Darrel Williams, Arizona Cardinals

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Williams isn’t the most dynamic back, but he can be counted on to do anything. He had more than 1,000 total yards last season for the Chiefs. He can move the chains, catch passes and block. He is steady.

No. 6: Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams

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Henderson has had two straight 600-yard seasons. He also has dealt with the injury bug.

No. 7: Jeff Wilson, San Francisco 49ers

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An odd foot injury limited Wilson to only four games last season but he is yet another unheralded back to be productive in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands and can catch the ball, too. He himself has been the reason for two Niners wins over the Cardinals in 2019 and 2020.

No. 8: Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

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Before last season, Carson was one of the best backs in the league. However, he missed four games in 2020 and 13 in 2021 with a neck injury. Seattle hopes he can get back on the field, but this is why he falls so far down in the rankings.

No. 9: Eno Benjamin, Arizona Cardinals

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Benjamin hasn’t done anything in the NFL except other than “end” Dre Kirkpatrick’s NFL career when he ran over him for a touchdown last season. However, he is the talk of the offseason for the Cardinals.

No. 10: Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers

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Sermon looked like he would be the perfect workhorse back for the Niners. He had the pedigree and the size.  They drafted him early. But then Shanahan wouldn’t play him.

He got 41 carries last season.

The rookies: Ken Walker (Seahawks), Kyren Williams (Rams)

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We don’t know much about Walker, but some believe he could make a decent contribution, especially with Carson’s status and Penny’s injury history.

Williams got hurt in OTAs but should be ready for training camp.

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