NFL Rankings and Projections: Top 10 Running Backs of 2012
This season has been filled with surprises. From good players coming out of nowhere to great players breaking records, everything has been elevated to a whole new level this past season.
Sometimes, through all of the players, they need to be ranked, and that's just what I love to do. So please, welcome to my rankings and predictions for the NFL's best of the best.
Please enjoy the article and comment your opinions on it in the comments section. Now, continue on to the honorable mentions!
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The case with many of these guys is that the best players around really goes very deep. It's a matter of opinion who does and doesn't belong, but I will try to justify the reasons why these ones didn't make it.
Marshawn Lynch: He can't really catch very well, and he lacks consistency. It seemed like half of his games this year were for 130-140 yards, and the others were 50 or so.
Darren McFadden: Injuries are ruining his career. When he's healthy, he is arguably one of the top three or four backs in the NFL, but I just can't trust his health, thus why he isn't on the main list.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart: If they didn't have to share the ball with each other, they'd both have 1,000-yard seasons. However, they do need to share, so neither one gets to be leading man.
Reggie Bush: He had a very good season, but just like others, one healthy season isn't everything. I believe that if he gets another full season and performs as well as he did this year, he will be arguable for the top 10.
Ryan Mathews: Had a very good and very underrated year. So far, he's starting to prove that first-round draft pick was worth it.
Beanie Wells: Same goes for Wells. He actually had a rather dominant year, but playing for the atrocious Cardinals held him back from getting attention. But just like Bush and McFadden, he hasn't been consistently healthy. One more season and he will be arguable.
Shonn Greene: Had a good season, but he just missed the cut.
Willis McGahee: Same thing here. Had a very good, redeeming sort of season. However, I just feel that the other backs that wound up being listed were better.
Rashard Mendenhall: Had a down year after two good ones and missed 1.75 games due to injuries, preventing him from having his third consecutive 1,000-yard season with 10 touchdowns. He should improve with time, as he probably has the best footwork, quickness and acceleration of any running back his size in the NFL.
Steven Jackson: This is the one that will bug people the most. The problem is he has battled injuries for a while now, and the Rams are starting to throw it more. He's also not getting any younger and the sheer volume of carries he undertook during his younger days is starting to catch up with him.
No. 10: Michael Turner
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Michael "The Burner" Turner has been slashing up defenses since he came into the NFL eight years ago. He showed he can play well with limited snaps as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup in San Diego. When he came to Atlanta to be the feature back, he exploded onto the scene with nearly 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Since then, he's been, for the most part, a model of consistency, showing his blistering speed to go along with the power his 5'11", 250-lb. frame possesses. Physically, I don't see many other backs in the NFL who can match his capabilities. Skill set-wise, he does have a few issues.
He can't catch, as shown by the fact he's only caught more than 10 balls in a season twice—12 and 17— and he has had a few injury problems over the years that held him back.
Overall, he's a great back and among the best in the NFL.
2011 stats: 1,340 yards, 11 touchdowns, 4.5 yards per carry
2012 projection: 1,354, 12 touchdowns, 4.3 yards per carry
No. 9: Matt Forte
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Earlier in his career, he had large amounts of yards, but it was mostly due to volume touches. He had 1,000 yards in his rookie season, but averaged fewer than four yards per carry.
This and last year, he showed he can be more efficient with the ball, averaging 4.5 yards last year and 4.9 this year.
Through the first 12 games of the season, he had 997 yards and three touchdowns while adding 52 catches for 490 yards.
His versatility is great, and he has the speed to take it to the house on any play.
2011 stats: 997 yards, 3 touchdowns, 4.9 YPC / 52 catches for 490 yards, 1 touchdown
2012 projection: 1,248 yards, 6 touchdowns, 4.6 YPC / 67 catches for 677 yards, 2 touchdowns
No. 8: Fred Jackson
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Fred Jackson has been underrated his entire career. I remember a few years ago when people were calling to have him shipped off so C.J. Spiller could start, despite Jackson having some 2,300-plus all-purpose yards at the time. He has had injury problems, but the first half of this year he really broke out and showed what he can do.
Through 10 games this season, he had 934 yards at 5.5 YPC and six touchdowns. The main reason his touchdown numbers weren't mind-boggling is because the Bills love to throw it in the red zone.
Next year, assuming he's healthy, I fully expect him to show he belongs with the elite.
2011 stats: 934 yards, 6 touchdowns, 5.5 YPC / 39 catches, 442 yards, 0 touchdowns
2012 projection: 1,386 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.9 YPC / 56 catches, 538 yards, 2 touchdowns
No. 7: Frank Gore
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Five of the past six seasons, he has run for at least 1,000 yards, and he's never averaged less than 4.2 yards per carry. Until this year, he never started a season without catching at least 40 balls, as well. Few players have been as consistently great as Frank Gore has been.
He runs violently with a combination of speed, quickness and strength that only Michael Turner and Adrian Peterson have.
However, he is much more versatile due to his ability to catch and block very well. I look forward to seeing how he performs in the playoffs and in the future.
2011 stats: 1,2011 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC
2012 projection: 1,274 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC
No. 6: Arian Foster
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Let me first state that I am a fan of Arian Foster. He is a very intelligent and funny man, and one of the nicest players I've met. However, I feel I need to deduct points from him due to having arguably the best run-blocking line in the NFL. I mean, his backup, Ben Tate, almost had 1,000 yards this year. Tate's a good player, but I think that's a bit of a testament to how good that offensive line is.
But I digress. The past two years, if I'm not mistaken, no one has had more yards from scrimmage than Foster. He has 2,840 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns and 151 first downs from just rushing. Receiving, he has 119 catches for 1,221 yards and four touchdowns.
He's very big and strong, but he has arguably the best lateral quickness of anyone starting in the NFL right now. Very impressive for someone who's 6'1" and 230 lbs. He runs well, catches very well and blocks well.
He does it all and the only reason he isn't higher is because he's only been doing it for two years, whereas the others have either done more in the same amount of time or done as much longer.
As an explanation for my prediction, Tate has emerged and I believe he will take a number of extra carries away from Foster next year. Not to mention having Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub back, which would obviously bring about more passing attempts.
2011 stats: 1,224 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4.4 YPC / 53 catches, 617 yards, 2 touchdowns
2012 stats: 1,253 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4.2 YPC / 48 catches, 450 yards, 1 touchdown
No. 5: Ray Rice
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In his four seasons, starting in three, he has: 4,377 rushing yards, 24 rushing touchdowns, a career average of 4.6 YPC, 250 catches, 2,235 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
You can't say he doesn't belong here. He has elite speed—probably the quickest burst of anyone going through holes—and he is insanely versatile.
He does everything well, including pass blocking. He's also the vocal leader of his offense and their offense lives and dies by how he plays.
2011 stats: 1,364 yards, 12 touchdowns, 4.7 YPC / 76 catches, 704 yards, 3 touchdowns
2012 projection: 1,388 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4.5 YPC / 64 catches, 597 yards, 2 touchdowns
No. 4: Maurice Jones-Drew
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In the time since Maurice Jones-Drew supplanted Fred Taylor as the Jaguars' feature back in 2009, he has been consistently one of the best backs you can find anywhere.
He has the body type of a bowling ball, with legs like tree trunks, but he also has speed to outrun almost anyone to get to the end zone.
This past season, he led the league in rushing (and rush attempts) by a wide margin. Setting career highs in both, he had 343 attempts for 1,606 yards and eight touchdowns at 4.7 yards per carry.
All of this while having the worst quarterbacks in the NFL playing behind him, meaning teams will stack the box constantly. Despite that, he was still extremely dominant.
The only reason he didn't get a lot of touchdowns is due to the fact that everyone knows he has to run the ball, so you can just send nine guys on a blitz to stop them on the goal line. I simply can't fault a guy for having a horrible offense around him.
2011 stats: 1,606 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.7 YPC / 43 catches, 374 yards, 3 touchdowns
2012 projection: 1,534, 11 touchdowns, 4.6 YPC / 52 catches, 485 yards, 3 touchdowns
No. 3: Jamaal Charles
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People have seemingly completely forgotten about Jamaal Charles. He was injured and missed almost the entire season, but his numbers from previous years are fantastic.
In 2009 and 2010, he had 1,120 yards with seven touchdowns and 1,467 yards with five touchdowns on rushing stats, respectively. He led the league in yards per carry both seasons as well.
Those two seasons, he also had 85 catches for 665 yards and four touchdowns. In 2009, he was one of the best kick returners as well with 925 yards and a touchdown. The kid is just a machine. He can do it all.
His speed is nearly unmatched, seeing as he is a former track star, and I don't see any defensive back in the NFL catching him in a foot race. Next season, he should receive a big bump in touches, so his stats will only be even better.
The only thing holding him back is his small frame. Jackie Battle will steal goal-line touches from him, thus the lower touchdown numbers.
2011 stats: 83 yards, 0 touchdowns, 6.9 YPC / 5 catches, 9 yards
2012 projection: 1,624 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5.9 YPC / 48 catches, 412 yards, 3 touchdowns
No. 2: Adrian Peterson
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Adrian Peterson is probably the best runner in the NFL. No one has his combination of speed, strength, quickness and vision. He can run through linebackers and outrun corners. He finds every hole in the defense and can take it for big yardage or a touchdown on any given play. No one else presents that threat.
Even though he missed four games this year, he was well on his way to having the best season of his young career. He made it three seasons with at least 12 touchdowns, and he's never had one with fewer than 10. He was on his way to having about 1,400 yards this season as well, but ended up with a career-low 970 yards.
Many people also try to complain about his fumbling, but he only has two fumbles between rushing and receiving the past two years. His fumbling issues are over.
All that being said, he isn't the most versatile running back in the world. He only had 16 catches this season, which may just be a sign he wasn't thrown to much, but it is a fact he doesn't have Jamaal Charles or Arian Foster's hands.
This is the ONLY reason he isn't No. 1 on the list, because as a runner, I'd take him over the vast majority of running backs in the history of the NFL.
2011 stats: 970 yards, 12 touchdowns, 4.7 YPC
2012 projection: 1,475 yards, 16 touchdowns, 4.8 YPC
No. 1: LeSean McCoy
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It's official. LeSean McCoy is the best running back in the NFL. After a solid rookie season, he came on strong with his first 1,000-yard season last year with five yards per carry. This year, however, is where the big difference came in.
He had 1,309 rushing yards (1,624 total yards), led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns (20 total), and was extremely versatile and played well in all situations. McCoy had numerous games with two or more rushing touchdowns, blocked well in passing situations and was a very good receiver.
He can do anything you want him to do on the field. He even led the league in total first downs with more than 100!
Honestly, I see him as becoming the next Barry Sanders. People tried to say that about Chris Johnson, but Johnson lacks power and a drive to play hard no matter how his team is playing. McCoy most definitely can do it, since they have pretty much the same style of running and could both catch.
2011 stats: 1,309 rushing yards, 17 rushing touchdowns, 4.8 YPC / 315 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
2012 projection: 1,463 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, 4.7 YPC / 428 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
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We've just all got to appreciate how good the players of the NFL are, and how far the skills of players has come. I could list 15-20 running backs who can play great. Same goes for the majority of skill position players.
I do hope you enjoyed the slideshow, and please tell me your thoughts on whom I left out, who was overrated, and everything else. Thanks for reading!