Ranking the NFL's Top 50 Active Running Backs

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Ranking the NFL's Top 50 Active Running Backs
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Running back is my least favorite position in professional sports. It’s ironic I say that as a Philadelphia Eagles fan because Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy have been two of the most exciting players to watch over the last decade. Despite those two players, I don’t like running backs.

It’s not that I am a pass-happy guru or that I picked Chris Johnson or Jamaal Charles in fantasy football and got screwed over. I say that about running backs because I think for the majority of teams, a great running back is unnecessary, overrated, inconsistent and too injury-prone. Is there another job in all of sports that ends a career as quickly as being an NFL running back?

Ronnie Brown was the second overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, and he’s completely and totally washed up. That was just six years ago. Joseph Addai was picked five years ago, and he’s working his way out of Indianapolis. Rashard Mendenhall was picked just three years ago and at the rate Mike Tomlin uses his backs, he will be done by 2013.

Look at the Pro Bowl running backs from the 2008 season: Thomas Jones, Chris Johnson, Ronnie Brown, Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner and Clinton Portis. Portis is out of football. Jones and Brown are on their NFL deathbeds. Johnson is washed up or maybe just weighed down from that $53 million wallet.

AP’s injury may permanently cripple his NFL career. Lynch has revitalized his career in Seattle, although the Seahawks would be absolutely downright foolish to extend him. Turner is the only guy who is still a great back, and that’s probably because he was essentially a first-year starter in 2008.

The way football is designed these days, you really just need a great quarterback. The running game is overrated. The three hottest teams in the NFL (Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints) have just one player in the top 30 of my rankings. The Packers have no one else in the top 50. They didn’t have a great running game last year when they won the Super Bowl, and they still don’t have a great running game.

Even when you have a great running back, he can be rendered ineffective in the blink of an eye. The Houston Texans thought they had a steal with Steve Slaton, and then he was done, just like that, so enter Arian Foster. The Steelers ran Willie Parker until the wheels came off, they’re doing it again with Mendenhall and they’ll do it with the next guy.

The Kansas City Chiefs went right from Priest Holmes to Larry Johnson without missing a beat. Same with the Eagles from Westbrook to McCoy or the Bills with Willis McGahee to Lynch to Fred Jackson and then likely to C.J. Spiller.

Anyway, my top-50 list factors in all the essential components: running, receiving skills, the ability to block, staying injury-free, but most importantly, being consistently effective. I don’t want someone who averages 5.4 yards per carry one year, then 3.2, then back up to 5.8. I have no idea what I’m going to get from him. I like a guy who can be counted on year after year to produce (well, as much as that really works for running backs).

Enough ranting—here is my list. Feel free to disagree.

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