As previewed in the “Quarterback Edition” of the Pro Bowl dark horse prospects, here is the second installment – the dark horse running backs. Running backs are the ”working men” in the NFL, so to speak. They fight for every inch of every yard they gain. No matter how agile a player is outside of the tackle box, there are going to be times when he has to expose that power and balance right up the middle for the tough gain.
These are breakout running backs that have the opportunity to backdoor some elite backs and make a name for themselves this season before Pro Bowl selections are made in a few months.
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (NFC)
The Carolina Panthers rely on Cam Newton’s strong arm to lead them through the roughest pastures, but as Week 1′s loss showed, they need to establish a running game beside him to win games.
The sophomore outing for any second-year player could be the slump that his franchise wants to avoid. To help Newton continue to be as lethal as he was last season, Jonathan Stewart has to get healthy and back onto the field. After injuring his ankle in the Panthers third preseason game on August 26 against the New York Jets, he was absent for the Panthers meeting against the Buccaneers.
If he can come back in time for the Week 2 meeting against the New Orleans Saints, Stewart has a real chance to take advantage of the Saints poor rushing defense. A nice outing against the Saints could be the start of a very productive season for Stewart to steal a spot in the 2013 Pro Bowl.
Kevin Smith, Detroit Lions (NFC)
The Detroit Lions are without Jahvid Best because of his lack of clearance from a concussion that sidelined him last season.
Kevin Smith is in the perfect position to fill that void and make the Lions much more lethal on the ground than they have been over the last few seasons. Smith did not have the best showing in Week 1 against the St. Louis Rams, but a last ditch effort pass for a touchdown to win a very close game is enough to convince me.
A lot of times what goes into being a good running back is not only the ability to ground and pound, but to also be able to catch out of the backfield. Smith, without his drops, had an imprint on the Lions victory and another notch on their long list of comebacks from last season. Accumulating 62 yards per game is not going to cut it, but Smith will become a much bigger part of the Lions attack throughout the season.
Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins (AFC)
Reggie Bush had a breakout season last year. It’s kind of funny to refer to anything he does nowadays to being breakout or unforeseen after six seasons in the league. However, Bush has this erratic way of putting himself in the spotlight only to yank himself back out with mediocre performances.
A 1,086-rushing performance last season was not enough to convince anyone to put him in the Pro Bowl over more elite rushers like Arian Foster, Ryan Matthews and Willis McGahee. Everyone is just waiting for Bush to make his mark on the league. It has been a long time coming but if he can prove himself a legitimate threat on the ground, consistently, he could find himself in the 2013 Pro Bowl.