Every Thursday until the season begins, I’ll be going through each position group in the NFC South, ranking them by team from fourth to first. I know everyone is waiting for wide receiver rankings, but we’ll wait to see what happens with Julio Jones first. Instead we’ll turn to running backs, where two teams in the division have a star ball carrier, while the other two rely on a committee approach to steer their run game.

Running Backs

4. Atlanta Falcons

Mike Davis
Qadree Ollison
Tony Brooks-James
Javian Hawkins
Caleb Huntley
Keith Smith
John Raine

Falcons RB Mike Davis

Falcons RB Mike Davis – Photo by: USA Today

At 28 years old, Davis will be entering an NFL season as a team’s feature back for the first time in his career. We’ll see if Atlanta adds anyone before the season, but right now Davis leads a backfield with very little experience or success at the pro level. That’s not to say Davis is a slouch, as the veteran filled in admirably for Christian McCaffrey last season in Carolina. Davis finished the year with career highs in snaps, carries (165), yards (642), touchdowns (six) catches (59), receiving yards (373) and receiving touchdowns (two). Not bad for a guy who has bounced around the league for six seasons.

Ollison and Brooks-James have combined for 33 career carries, and Hawkins and Huntley are rookies. Fullback Keith Smith has 12 career rushing attempts, but will mostly just contribute as a blocker. Considering that new head coach Arthur Smith hails from Tennessee, where he had Derrick Henry

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Leonard Fournette
Ronald Jones II
Giovani Bernard
Ke’Shawn Vaughn
C.J. Prosise
Troymaine Pope

Tampa Bay’s top four running backs are as locked in as any team’s, but finding a real role for Vaughn when the season begins remains a mystery. Can he be a regular special teamer? Vaughn played just 39 special teams snaps last season. The Bucs would love to get him a hat on game days, but right now it feels unlikely to happen on a weekly basis. It’s a big offseason for the former third-round pick, and Vaughn should get plenty of opportunity to prove himself in the preseason.

Bruce Arians has already said that Fournette and Jones will battle it out for the starting job in camp, but both will play a lot when the season begins. Bernard is easily the most reliable back on the roster thanks to his sure hands and pass protection skills, which should be a huge boost to the Bucs in passing situations. Tampa Bay may not have a star in their room, but they’ve been the smartest team in the South for allocating less resources to the least valuable position on the field.

2. New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara
Latavius Murray
Ty Montgomery
Dwayne Washington
Alex Armah
Tony Jones
Stevie Scott

Saints RB Alvin Kamara

Saints RB Alvin Kamara – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

The Saints not only have a premier running back in Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara, they also have one of the deepest running back rooms in the league. Murray is capable of carrying the load for a game or two, and has even made strides at receiver during his time in New Orleans. Montgomery has ideal traits for a Sean Payton offense, while Washington has flashed a few times in his career, and is a key special teamer. Armah comes over from Carolina to be the next Payton fullback and add to New Orleans’ outstanding special teams.

But Kamara is the prize of the group. The fifth-year back is a very good, not elite pure runner, but an outstanding pass-catcher. What Kamara gives the Saints as a receiver is very difficult to replace. It’s not far-fetched to think the best two receiving backs in the league reside in the NFC South.

1. Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey
Chuba Hubbard
Trenton Cannon
Reggie Bonnafon
Spencer Brown
Rodney Smith
Mikey Daniel
Darius Clark
Mason Stokke

This is it. The Panthers’ crown jewel. Carolina claims the top spot in the division at running back, provided Christian McCaffrey stays healthy this season. What sets McCaffrey apart isn’t that he’s a great runner, although he certainly is. Instead it’s his pass-catching skills, where he consistently creates separation as a route runner, even from a receiver alignment. McCaffrey only played three games last season, and his loss was felt more acutely in the pass game than the run game.

Davis impressed as McCaffrey’s backup last year, but now there is limited depth in Carolina. They’ll hope Trenton Cannon, Rodney Smith, Reggie Bonnafon and Chuba Hubbard are able to step up. Smith had 41 carries and nine catches last season, but didn’t really stand out. The Panthers hope Hubbard, a fourth-round pick, can become their eventual replacement for Davis.

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About the Author: Jon Ledyard

Jon Ledyard is PewterReport.com's newest Bucs beat writer and has experience covering the Pittsburgh Steelers as a beat writer and analyzing the NFL Draft for several draft websites, including The Draft Network. Follow Ledyard on Twitter at @LedyardNFLDraft
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15 days ago

Pretty fair rankings. I would take our 3rd guy (Gio) and likely 2nd guy (Fournette or Rojo) over any other teams backups. It is the quality of the starter that pushes the Bucs ranks down compared to CMC and Kamara. That won’t change. I’m higher on Rojo than most but much will depend on what version of Fournette the Bucs get. To go from barely average regular season play to elite in the playoffs was one of the weirdest things I’ve seen in my time watching football. The guy was a totally different player. He looked way more confident and… Read more »

Last edited 15 days ago by Barnz1
15 days ago

I might give you the Saints as having a better deeper RB room but not the Panthers. AS you noted, McCafferty was injured most of last season and I believe his imjuries were attributable to overuse. 50 percent of the Panthers offensive plays went through him the prior season and when a player starts getting injuries from overuse, they generally don’ stop or go away. As far as the Bucs are concerned I expect RoJo tp come back year more improved just as he has every year. He would have easily been a 1000 yard back if not for Co… Read more »

Reply to  drdneast
15 days ago

You’re seeing our RB’s the same way I do Dr.D. Folks get hung up on statistics and focus more than they should on the pass catching aspect. Those people should review Fournette’s passing stats with the Jags. Not saying it shouldn’t be factored in, but both Karama and McCaffrey are valued more for their pass receiving prowess than their still good running accomplishments. Shouldn’t both be equally important? If folks watch the game, they’d see that RoJo has some real skills running the ball inside and out with power, cutting and balance. Fournette had an attitude change after his chat… Read more »

Reply to  scubog
14 days ago

Great minds think alike.

Reply to  drdneast
14 days ago

Agree. And you nailed it, RoJo comes back every year improved. Love they guy’s commitment and work ethic. It’s taken him a couple seasons, but he’s our best pure runner. The competition with Fournette should produce a formidable tandem and best in our division.
Have to say the addition of Bernard was a surprise and a significant upgrade over McCoy. And I still really like Vaughn. He has speed and power, just needs to keep working to find his role.

15 days ago

I never like these RB unit rankings because are we weighting the guys in the unit differently? Are we talking the entire unit as a whole and comparing the sum of their parts? Like, in terms of entire unit, I can’t in good faith grade the Panthers #1. They have CMC and then a bunch of question marks. Hubbard was a solid mid round choice and could prove to be a capable #2…but he’s just that right now: an unproven mid-round rookie…basically their version of KeShawn Vaughn last season. In terms of the entire units right now, I take the… Read more »

Last edited 15 days ago by DT25
14 days ago

Accurate ranking. The 2 rookies to keep am eye on are Javian Hawkins-Atlanta and Chuba Hubbard-Carolina.

13 days ago

Disagree. We are looking at overall depth right not starters? Panthers are per thin.

13 days ago

You must be crazy

13 days ago

Saints then Panthers, because of the depth.