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Ranking NFC South running backs: Where do the Bucs stack up?

Locked On Bucs co-host David Harrison gives his thoughts on the 2021 class of NFC South running backs.
Credit: AP
FILE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette sprints to the end zone to score on a 27-yard touchdown run during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Tampa, Fla., in this Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, file photo. The Jaguars declined Fournette’s fifth-year option and then released him. He hooked up with the Bucs and helped Tampa Bay win the Super Bowl last February. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

TAMPA, Fla. — Yesterday we came to the conclusion Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans was the next top player at his position within the NFC South after the departure of Julio Jones.

In a lot of ways, he’d already surpassed Jones and if 2020 didn’t prove it, the fact the former Atlanta Falcons star is on his way to join the Tennessee Titans surely places Evans atop all others who would stake a claim to the throne.

But like every story of kings, queens, and those who fight for the crowns, there are others to be had. Today, we’re diving into the NFC South king of running backs, along with a look at who could reasonably ascend to the throne in the coming years.

Who is the best running back in the NFC South? Again, we’ll start from the bottom.

Unfortunately for you, if you’re an Atlanta Falcons fan reading this, the fourth-best running back in the NFC South resides in the same state as the fourth-best wide receiver.

Mike Davis was the second-best running back on another team in this division just last year, so he can’t possibly overcome them without having stepped on the field as a feature back for his new team. And we don’t honestly even know if he’ll dominate the touches there either.

Third place goes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ duo of runners. The twin rulers of the Bucs’ running back room, but there’s a third interloper who will be looking to grab some power as Giovanni Bernard joins the committee style backfield.

Given the way Leonard Fournette finished 2020 we could make an argument he might surpass the second place back on this list, but until we know who the real starting running back is for Tampa Bay it’s hard to really push that assertion.

Speaking of second place, it’s Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers who is honestly my favorite back remaining in this discussion (we both hail from Castle Rock, Colorado). If I told you McCaffrey has been a Pro Bowler just once, you might be surprised, but it’s true.

In fact, in his rookie season, he barely eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for total offense. A feat many young backs would love to achieve, but not something you’d expect to hear when talking about a player with McCaffrey’s level of popularity.

He has all the looks and potential of a top running back in many divisions, but the NFC South kingdom of ball-carriers is ruled by King Kamar, aka, Alvin Kamara.

The New Orleans Saints struck gold in 2017 when they selected Kamara in the third round of the NFL Draft. In his rookie season he amassed over 1,500-yards of offense and accounted for 13 touchdowns.

His worst season came in 2019 when he had “just” 1,330-yards and six touchdowns. He responded by scoring the same amount in Week 16 alone, much to the chagrin of the Minnesota Vikings defense.

Yes, Buccaneers fans can hate the Saints all they want, but there’s no denying Kamara is the top dog when it comes to NFC South running backs.

And he may be for the long haul as well. Kamara and McCaffrey figure to duke it out - assuming the latter can come back from his injury which cost him 13 games in 2020.

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The Falcons will likely look to the NFL Draft next year to add their young protégé to the mix, and the Buccaneers’ best chance at the crown seems to be either Jones if he can become a three-down back or Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

In the meantime, Fournette will probably be content to be the third guy on the list with his Super Bowl ring.

Of course, lists like these are always evolving, so who knows what it’ll look like next year. For now, though, we know who the top guy is, and everyone else is looking to make up ground.

For more on this story and for more on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, check out the Locked On Bucs Podcast.

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