Every week in this space, Chris Wesseling will roll out the power rankings for one specific NFL position, attribute or award.
So far, we have covered Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates and defensive front sevens.
Now that Dion Lewis has raced out to fourth in the league in yards from scrimmage (behind only Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Matt Forte), it's the perfect time to analyze the NFL's best "satellite" backs.
That was the term Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells originated in reference to former Giants scatback Dave Meggett, who excelled in open space -- where satellites roam.
These rankings are based on all data at our disposal. Early in the season, that will include NFL Game Pass clips from the past few seasons, preseason film, traditional statistics, advanced metrics, expected role and quotes from teammates and coaches. The premise is which back we would want to utilize for the rest of the 2015 season.
On to the rankings:
1. Giovani Bernard, Bengals Carlos Hyde was unstoppable in Week 1. Matt Jones and Adrian Peterson were impressive in Week 2. No back has put together a better two-game start than Bernard, however. Per Pro Football Focus, Bernard is leading all runners in yards after contact per attempt and is second in "Elusive Rating." That's not even counting his receiving ability, which is his speciality. Andy Dalton has an embarrassment of riches on offense.
2. Darren Sproles, Eagles From the absurd stats department: DeMarco Murray is on pace for 88 rushing yards this season. Sproles generated 126 yards from scrimmage in the season opener. The most consistently productive satellite back of the past half-decade, Sproles remains a mismatch in the passing game and an efficient change-of-pace option as a runner. How many backs win with quickness and power?
3. Ameer Abdullah, Lions A Rookie of the Year favorite, Abdullah is so elusive that he made Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle look foolish on a 21-yard touchdown to open the season. The Senior Bowl MVP is an excellent receiver, a dangerous kick returner and a missed tackle waiting to happen with lightning-quick cutting ability in the open field.
4. C.J. Spiller, Saints Spiller is getting the benefit of the doubt because he would top this list at peak health with a creative play-caller capable of exploiting his difference-making speed and explosive lateral agility. Theoretically, he's the perfect back for Sean Payton, who has shown a deft touch in maximizing the open-field playmaking ability of scatbacks such as Sproles and Reggie Bush.
5. Dion Lewis, Patriots The film shows that Lewis consistently makes the first defender miss as both a runner and a receiver. Pro Football Focus' metrics back that up, as Lewis is leading all NFL running backs with 17 forced missed tackles and an off-the-charts Elusive Rating. It was evident after Lewis' New England debut that he was already an upgrade over Shane Vereen, offering more versatility, lateral agility, explosiveness and power. Bill Belichick paid him the ultimate compliment last week, refusing to yank him despite a second fumble in as many games. Unwanted and out of the league last year, Lewis is simply too valuable to take off the field this season.
6. Danny Woodhead, Chargers A more complete back than credited, Woodhead can chip block, run inside, lose linebackers on wheel routes and even handle goal-line duties. Philip Rivers' offense is at its most dangerous when Woodhead is on the field, riding sidecar in the shotgun.
7. Lance Dunbar, Cowboys For all of the offseason and training-camp speculation about Joseph Randle versus Darren McFadden, Dunbar has been Dallas' most impressive back through two weeks. The Cowboys are using Dunbar much like the Patriots' newfound success with Lewis, splitting him out wide to torch slow-footed linebackers. His 11 receptions are second only to Jason Witten's 15.
8. Shane Vereen, Giants He's capable of lining up out wide, but it's telling that the Patriots are already more comfortable turning to Lewis in that formation than they were in 49 games with Vereen. It's also telling that Lewis has reached 100 yards in back-to-back games, a feat Vereen never accomplished in four years. That's not to say Vereen isn't a quality passing-down back. But he's a luxury on a three-year, $12.35 million contract.
9. Reggie Bush, 49ers Is Bush on the decline at age 30? Before Abdullah even suited up for his first game, Tim Twentyman of the Lions' official website declared that the rookie is "certainly a better receiver already" than Bush was in Detroit. Bush's greatest asset his versatility, which allows play-callers to get creative with personnel packages.
10. David Johnson, Cardinals Arizona's third-round pick has already accomplished a feat never before seen in the NFL: He is the first player to score by way of a run, pass and kickoff return in his first two games. Per Next Gen Stats, Johnson has also recorded the fastest speed among ball carriers this season, reaching 22.05 mph on his first career touchdown. Although Johnson has been a bit player on offense through two weeks, coach Bruce Arians intends to increase the rookie's role throughout the season.
Chris Wesseling | NFL.com | September 22, 2015