5 Backup Running Backs Who Could Be NFL Starters in 2014

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5 Backup Running Backs Who Could Be NFL Starters In 2014

Bryce Brown
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons had a problem in 2013. When Steven Jackson went down in Week 2 with a hip injury, in came 5-foot-6 reserve Jacquizz Rodgers to serve as his replacement. He brought 3.6 YPC and a propensity to rarely make it past the first tackler with him.

15 weeks later, Atlanta had limped their way to a 4-12 mark behind the league's worst rushing attack. Rodgers' ineffectiveness in the ground game had in turn limited Matt Ryan and rendered the entire Falcons' offense useless.

The Falcons' situation at the position this year is a prime example of what can happen if a team fails to secure a decent backup. With running backs' bodies taking the amount of damage that they do, having a capable reserve has become increasingly crucial in today's NFL.

But what about the backups who have the potential to do more than their name implies? Whether it's due to a non-conducive depth chart situation, an ill-fitting offensive coordinator or anything else, there are several backs with the potential to consistently produce in the NFL that simply get lost in the shuffle.

While teams scour free agency and the draft for new running back talent, some forget that the answer may already be on their roster. With that being said, here are five backs who didn't start in 2013 that have a chance to make a serious impact next season.

Writers' note: This list is composed strictly of backups; players such as Andre Ellington and Giovani Bernard who find themselves in a timeshare will be excluded.

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5. Bernard Pierce -- Baltimore Ravens

Bernard Pierce
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

With seemingly only a few grains of sand left in Ray Rice's NFL hourglass, the Baltimore Ravens will need to begin considering their post-Rice plans sooner than later. Their first look should be to current backup, Bernard Pierce.

Pierce, in his second year out of Temple, registered over 500 yards and 4.9 YPC in his rookie season as Rice's reserve. Though he took a step back in 2013, averaging only 2.9 YPC, the potential is undoubtedly there for the 23-year-old. If he gets a crack at the starting job in 2014, Rice may never get it back.

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4. LeGarrette Blount -- New England Patriots

LeGarrette Blount
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

LeGarette Blount has come a long way from being "that guy who punched that other guy" since leaving Oregon four years ago. He's quietly been extremely effective in the league, even with his only year as a starter coming in 2010, his rookie season.

At 6-foot, 250 pounds, the dude is a brute and likely one of the most difficult runners for opposing defenders to bring down. He averaged 5.0 YPC and logged seven touchdowns in 2013 as essentially the New England Patriots' third-string back. Blount is a starting-caliber back; now it's just a question of whether he'll ever get a backfield entirely to himself. As an impending free agent, it may be now or never for him.

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3. Bryce Brown -- Philadelphia Eagles

Bryce Brown
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Brown may be one of the biggest enigmas in the NFL right now. Firmly plopped into the two spot behind the league's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy, Brown probably won't have the opportunity to start for the Philadelphia Eagles any time soon. But Philadelphia would be wise to gauge his trade value as Brown has shown the ability to possibly be a Pro Bowl-quality back.

His only shot thus far came late in 2012 when McCoy missed time with a concussion. Brown ran like a seasoned vet, not an unproven rookie, as he registered more than 165 yards rushing in two of the three games he started. Sure, he's had some issues holding onto the rock, but when this former No. 1 prospect puts it all together there's no telling how high his ceiling is.

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2. Joique Bell -- Detroit Lions

Joique Bell
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

If you'd never heard of Joique Bell prior to 2013, you're not alone. The undrafted back out of Wayne State has spent much of his four-year NFL career bouncing from practice squad to practice squad without much of a chance to compete for a starting role.

Well, Bell finally got his chance this year for the Detroit Lions and the kid looked fantastic. With an imposing combination of speed and power, opposing defenses had a tough time figuring Bell out this season -- he posted 1,197 total yards as Reggie Bush's insurance plan. Whether it's via a Bush injury or an opportunity elsewhere, look for Bell to make even a bigger splash in 2014.

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1. Ben Tate -- Houston Texans

Ben Tate
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Anticipate for Ben Tate to be the only name on this list to start 2014's Week 1. Tate has become a marquee name in this year's free agency pool and with good reason. Though he's never been a starter, he passes the eye test with flying colors as he possesses tremendous vision, explodes through the tackles and makes extremely quick cuts in the open field.

Tate has averaged 4.7 YPC in his short NFL career and has proven a capable pass catcher out of the backfield. His ceiling may not be as high as somebody like Brown's, but he's certainly more of a sure thing than any backup out there. Expect him to make an immediate impact wherever he ends up in 2014.