The Top 10 Running Back Performances of 2014

Marshawn Lynch and Le'Veon Bell were two of the best all year, but did they make the top of this list?

Le'Veon Bell finished the year as the best running back of 2014 -- few will question that right now. DeMarco Murray was in pursuit of the all-time single season rushing record but proved to be mortal in Week 9 and again in Week 13. Marshawn Lynch turned on "Beast Mode" at the right time for the Seahawks, pushing them from in danger of missing the playoffs to home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

But today we're not as concerned about how a running back performed throughout the season. Instead, we will be looking at the best individual games at the position according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) data. NEP indicates how far above or below a player performed compared to expectation -- or what a league-average player would have done with the same touches. Using both Rushing and Target NEP, we can measure how good -- or bad -- a running back did in a given game.

Rushing NEP will take into account how a back running the ball, although that is generally less efficient than catching the ball. To gauge a back's contributions in the passing game, Target NEP is being used, which evaluates how a player did on all targets, not just receptions. This means we have to unfortunately leave out Mark Ingram's 8.65 Rushing NEP performance against the Buccaneers in Week 8, but more on that below.

The total number yards and touchdowns gained from scrimmage for each back will be noted, but for this exercise, we are judging the best performances on a combination of Rushing and Target NEP. So enjoy the 10 best single-game running back performances of 2014 below.

10. Eddie Lacy, Week 5
Rushing NEP: 7.90
Target NEP: 1.36
Total Yards: 132
Total Touchdowns: 2

In a game that was over before it started, Eddie Lacy finally had his breakout game of the year against the division rival Minnesota Vikings. By playing 7.90 points above expectation with his rushing alone, this was Lacy's best ground game of the year, as well. Lacy racked up more than 100 yards rushing on just 13 carries, including a 10-yard carry for his second touchdown right before he was pulled from the game.

But if Ingram, as mentioned above, had a higher Rushing NEP in Week 8 than Lacy from Week 5, how does Lacy make this list and Ingram doesn't? Both performed well toting the rock for their respective teams, but while Lacy added additional value in the passing game, Ingram had a negative contribution in the passing game for the Saints (-0.84 Target NEP), thus dropping his overall impact.

9. Justin Forsett, Week 12
Rushing NEP: 8.62
Target NEP: -0.20
Total Yards: 190
Total Touchdowns: 2

Week 12 for Justin Forsett was his second-straight game over 100 yards rushing and easily his best rushing performance of the year, according to our Rushing NEP. That was just enough for Forsett to make this list despite a slightly negative contribution in Target NEP, but that was a recurring theme for Forsett all year, as he had only two games with a positive contribution in Target NEP.

In this game, Forsett had his way with the Saints' lowly defense, putting up 0.39 Rushing NEP per rush. Two of Forsett's biggest plays came on his touchdown runs -- a 13-yard carry in the second quarter and a 20-yard rumble in the fourth to put the game away for the Ravens.

8. LeGarrette Blount, Week 3
Rushing NEP: 8.58
Target NEP: 0.00
Total Yards: 118
Total Touchdowns: 1

Before he landed back with the Patriots (he was with the team in 2013 as well), LeGarrette Blount had one of the best games of 2014 -- and of his five-year career.

In Week 3, he and the Steelers ran all over a Panthers defense, combining with Le'Veon Bell for 265 yards rushing on the day. Blount gained all of his yards -- and 8.58 Rushing NEP -- on just 10 carries for the day, including a 50-yard scamper midway through the fourth quarter. The big run set up his eight-yard plunge for a touchdown two plays later.

7. Matt Asiata, Week 4
Rushing NEP: 8.53
Target NEP: 0.83
Total Yards: 100
Total Touchdowns: 3

Matt Asiata was half of the solution of filling Adrian Peterson's shoes once Peterson was suspended and, as a result, had an inconsistent season. Week 4 was his second (of three) career three-touchdown games. With the three touchdowns, Asiata stole the spotlight from rookie Jerick McKinnon, who had 135 yards rushing himself.

Asiata scored his first and second touchdowns in the first quarter, breaking a tie each time to give the Vikings a brief lead. With the help of a two-point conversion by the Vikings, Asiata's third touchdown allowed the Vikings to regain the lead again in the fourth quarter and hang on for the victory over the Falcons.

6. Jeremy Hill, Week 15
Rushing NEP: 9.90
Target NEP: -0.87
Total Yards: 152
Total Touchdowns: 2

Jeremy Hill enters the list despite his below-expectation Target NEP -- just like Forsett did. Hill's only catch was for four yards, but he ended up fumbling out of bounds on the play. It didn't result in a turnover as the Bengals still scored on a field goal with the next play, but it was still a slight hiccup during an otherwise strong performance.

Hill, the only rookie to crack the top 10, had his first of three games of 100 or more yards to end the season and tallied 0.40 Rushing NEP per rush. Hill rumbled for two touchdowns on the day, with the second touchdown coming on a drive on which Hill gained all 36 yards for the Bengals.

5. Arian Foster, Week 8
Rushing NEP: 8.59
Target NEP: 2.21
Total Yards: 173
Total Touchdowns: 3

It often feels like Arian Foster had to keep the 24th-ranked Texans offense relevant all by himself at times, and Week 8 was another one of those games against the Titans. Foster used a 34-yard touchdown run and a 43-yard run to set up his second touchdown to gain his 151 rushing yards on the day. Foster's Rushing NEP is a tad lower than some others on the list, but he earned top-10 honors because of a solid performance catching the ball.

While DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson caught only half of their targets from Ryan Fitzpatrick, Foster nabbed four of his six targets on the day, including a five-yard touchdown pass at the start of the third quarter to put the game away for good. Foster had his best game of the year and showed once again he should be considered as one of the best running backs in the league.

4. Le'Veon Bell, Week 14
Rushing NEP: 8.48
Target NEP: 5.43
Total Yards: 235
Total Touchdowns: 3

Le'Veon Bell had an impressive run of games in Weeks 11, 13, and 14 this year with performances of 222, 254, and 235 yards from scrimmage in each game, respectively. Bell also scored 6 touchdowns to go with 18.79 Rushing NEP and 12.88 Target NEP over the same three games. His best performance, though, came in Week 14 against the Bengals.

Bell's Rushing NEP was the best of Week 14, and his Target NEP was second-best, trailing Marcel Reece by just 0.54 points. Bell not only racked up the yardage and NEP but also did so efficiently, notching 0.33 Rushing NEP per rush and 0.87 Reception NEP per target.

3. Latavius Murray, Week 12
Rushing NEP: 11.08
Target NEP: 0.00
Total Yards: 112
Total Touchdowns: 2

Latavius Murray could have had an even bigger day for the Raiders in Week 12 if it wasn't for a concussion he suffered midway through the second quarter. Murray carried the ball only four times in his limited action, but he made each of those carries count. In the first quarter, Murray helped to cap a 60-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run for his first score of the game -- and his first touchdown of the season.

Murray's second touchdown of the game came on a 90-yard scamper where he found the perfect seem and was off to the races. Even though Murray left the game, the Raiders pulled off their first win of the season in Week 12. If Murray succeeds in the NFL, we'll be able to look back at this game as his breakout performance.

2. Marshawn Lynch, Week 10
Rushing NEP: 11.84
Target NEP: 1.25
Total Yards: 163
Total Touchdowns: 4

Lynch is one of the biggest reasons the Seahawks racked up a six-game winning streak to end the year and capture the division title, and his impact was most felt in Week 12 with the best performance of his season -- and possibly his career. Never before did Lynch score four touchdowns. He didn't break off 40- and 50-yard runs to get his yardage and touchdown totals. He was just slow and methodical.

Lynch ran all over the Giants' defense and did so efficiently; on a per-rush basis, Lynch added 0.56 Rushing NEP per play. Lynch's 11.84 Rushing NEP accounted for 43% of his Rushing NEP for the season, and of the 150 running backs that received at least one carry this season, only nine other running backs had a higher overall Rushing NEP by season's end than what Lynch contributed in Week 10, which not only shows how good he was but also how hard running the ball efficiently can be.

1. Jonas Gray, Week 11
Rushing NEP: 17.33
Target NEP: 0.00
Total Yards: 201
Total Touchdowns: 4

Week 11 saw the only two 200-plus rushing yard performances of the season, and Le'Veon Bell's spotlight was stolen by Jonas Gray and his 4 touchdown runs that came with his 200 yards. Gray was a relative unknown (and still is) who burst onto the scene thanks to Bill Belichick's almost random use of running backs every year.

Gray became just the ninth back since 1960 to score four touchdowns and rush for over 200 yards. Gray's Rushing NEP was given a boost by his four touchdowns, but he was still super efficient for a running back, adding 0.47 Rushing NEP per rush. Even elite quarterbacks are lucky to add that many points per play in a given game. Gray may be a flash in the pan thanks to Belichick's limited use of him, but this performance won't be forgotten.