Ranking the NFC West Running Back Groups

How do the 49ers stack up?
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During the next two weeks, I will publish a series of articles in which I rank the 49ers position-by-position against the other three teams in the NFC West. Which team has the best quarterbacks? Which one has the best cornerbacks? And so on.

Today, we rank the NFC West teams based on their running backs, from the worst to the best.

4. The Rams

A couple of years ago, they would have been No. 1 on this list. But then Todd Gurley’s degenerative knee degenerated, and now the Rams starting running back is Malcolm Brown, who averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season. His backup, Darrell Henderson, gained 3.8 yards per carry. Those are the Rams’ top-two options.

They spent a second-round pick this year on running back Cam Akers, but he’s only 20 -- he’ll turn 21 in July. And he won’t have OTAs or minicamp to learn the Rams offense. Seems unlikely he’ll make a significant impact as a rookie. Could be another tough season for the Rams’ run game.

3. The Seahawks

Chris Carson has been the Seahawks’ bell cow the past two seasons -- he has carried the ball 525 times since 2018.

Carson is better than any running back the Rams have. He’s big and strong like Marshawn Lynch, but not as quick or elusive as Lynch in his prime. Meaning Carson takes lots of punishment. He endures dozens of high-speed collisions every game, and he wore down last season -- averaged 4.4 yards per carry, down from 4.7 yards per carry in 2018.

During the 2019 regular season finale against the 49ers, Carson fractured his hip. The Seahawks expect he’ll be ready for the regular season, but his body seems to be breaking down. His backup, Rashaad Penny, averaged a whopping 5.7 yards per carry in 2019 but tore his ACL and will start next season on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

When Penny eventually returns, the Seahawks will have a talented-yet-injury-prone tandem in the backfield.

2. The Cardinals

You might not think much of Arizona starting running back Kenyan Drake, but know this:

He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in eight games with the Cardinals last season.

He was stuck on a bad Dolphins team for three and a half seasons, but still averaged 4.6 yards per carry as their change-of-pace back.

He has 4.4 speed and is a perfect fit for the Cardinals’ spread offense. He’s not built to run between the tackles against compact eight-man boxes, but won’t ever have to on the Cardinals.

Drake should rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2020.

1. The 49ers

As well as Drake played last season, Mostert played even better.

Mostert never started a game, but the 49ers gave him 137 carries and he averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. Then they increased his workload for the playoffs. Gave him 53 carries in three postseason games, and he got better. Averaged 6.3 yards per attempt and scored five touchdowns.

We still don’t know how good Mostert can be. He keeps improving. If he stays healthy, he should be the 49ers’ starting running back next season, and they should give him roughly 15 carries per game. Meaning he could lead the entire league in rushing next season.

The 49ers also have Tevin Coleman and Jeff Wilson Jr. if Mostert needs a blow.

The 49ers have a never-ending supply of good running backs.