Warrick Dunn has thrived in the zone-blocking Alex Gibbs-style running attack in Atlanta the past 3 seasons. He has achieved great success as the featured running back when a few years ago in Tampa Bay, Dunn was thought of as a 3rd down back at the most. 2007 marks a change with Bobby Petrino new scheme and more power running behind a bigger offensive line. Jerius Norwood also had an outstanding rookie season in 2006 (600+ yards in spot duty) and has blazing speed that has their coordinators salivating that his potential. Dunn is past his prime, but still has great balance, vision and cutback ability. This season will probably see more of a 50/50 mix between the backs as Norwood (and another bigger running back in the future) are groomed for more carries in 2008 and beyond. Dunn will remain productive in 2007 and will be a great mentor along with his tremendous off-the-field contributions to the Atlanta area.
Deshaun Foster has long being thought of as the Panthers’ #1 running back with game-breaking speed and moves, but he enters every season as an injury risk and has yet to play a full season showcasing his talent. Deangelo Williams was drafted in 2006 as an insurance policy, but saw significant action last year as the #2 back. Foster will remain the #1 option, but another injuy-filled season could see Williams proving himself as a featured back and Foster on his way to another team after 2007.
Julius Jones is similar to Deshaun Foster in his great talent coming out of college, but has still yet to put together a season taking advantage of his talent. Marion Barber III has largely created controversy in Dallas because he makes big plays every time he steps on the field. Barber scores touchdowns often and makes the big plays on third downs. Jones is running out of time in Dallas with ony 4.1 yards per rush and 4 TDs in 2006.
Kevin Jones has been a disappointment since arriving from Virginia Tech. The Detroit offense is largely to blame for his lack of success, but the finger is pointed at the running back most of the time anyway. Tatem Bell comes in this year with his blazing speed from Denver and will probably begin the season as the starter. In Detroit, where things can go south in a hurry, that doesn’t matter much as they will probably trade the starting role back and forth most of the season.
Fred Taylor has had his share of NFL injuries, but is very effective when he stays on the field for any length of time. Maurice Jones-Drew was one of the highlight stories of 2006 in the NFL with his big plays on a regular basis despite being a backup. As long as Taylor is healthy, he will be the starter, but Jones-Drew will continue to fit into the offense as he did in 2006. Drew also has the question mark of his size begin too small for a featured back position, but most of the time in the NFL, if you can make plays you will see the field often. Coaches do like to win more than they care about following trends.
New Orleans Saints
Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister were one of the best combinations in the NFL in 2006. Bush has the questions of durability in the NFL as do most fast running backs. 2007 will likely be similar to last year with sharing carries, but McAllister getting a few more over the course of the season. It won’t be too much longer before fans and management cry about getting Bush more touches as the face of the franchise and one of the most explosive runners in recent memory.