On Monday, I took a look at the quarterback landscape in the NFC South, and boy is this division chock full of good quarterbacks. Here, I'll venture on to the running backs, and I'll handle things differently.
With the quarterbacks, I took a team approach. With these running backs, I'm looking at them individually.
I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that I have Falcons running back Michael Turner as the No. 1 back in the division. However, if I were basing this on teams, Carolina and New Orleans would both be ahead of Atlanta—in what order, I'm not sure.
So, without further ado, here are the top 10 running backs in the NFC South.
1. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
If you think Michael Turner has slowed down later in his career—well, you'd be right. However, if you think he's not still incredibly dangerous, you're out of your mind.
Turner led the NFC with 1,340 rushing yards last year and finished third in the NFL behind Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew. He found the end zone 11 times and passed the 300-carry plateau for the third time in four years.
When you look at the 2011 season, you'll notice that Turner notched twice as many (four) 100-yard games in the first half of the season than in the second half (2). He also played with a groin injury for the better part of the second half of the season.
He's likely to be banged up as each year progresses for the rest of his career. But Turner is still explosive and can still carry the Falcons to victory.
2. Darren Sproles, New Orleans Saints
Darren Sproles might be the most versatile back in the division. He rushed for 603 yards last year and scored two rushing touchdowns. He also caught 86 passes and caught seven touchdown passes.
There isn't a back around that I'd rather have on the field on third down, and remember, Sproles was a free-agent acquisition by New Orleans to replace Reggie Bush. That might have been the smartest move the Saints made last season.
3. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
It might look weird that I have the Panthers' secondary back ranked ahead of their primary ball-carrier, but I think all things being equal, Jonathan Stewart is the better back.
Both Stewart and DeAngelo Williams averaged 5.4 yards per carry for Carolina last year, and both were within 75 yards of each other.
The two main differences are touchdowns (Stewart scored four while Williams had seven) and catching the ball out of the backfield. The area in which I feel Stewart earns his extra notch in value over Williams is his pass-catching ability. Stewart caught 47 passes last year. Williams, at 16, wasn't even close.
4. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
DeAngelo Williams led the Panthers last season with 836 rushing yards, but rarely touched the ball inside the red zone. When Carolina rushed the ball inside the 20, it went to Stewart or quarterback Cam Newton.
This is only a huge problem to fantasy football GMs. Williams is a workhorse and a valued commodity to the Panthers.
5. Mike Tolbert, Carolina Panthers
Mike Tolbert ran for eight touchdowns last year and caught 52 passes. But that was in San Diego.
Tolbert is now with the Panthers and is expected to act as the team's fullback. I expect less production from Tolbert in 2012, but the talent is there.
Can the Panthers fins a way to utilize three running backs and let Cam Newton get his?
6. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Pierre Thomas said his ankle has fully healed, and his head was clear from what he called a "freak accident" in the 2011 playoff loss to San Francisco. Thomas will need all his faculties in 2012, because the Saints are a much better team when he's healthy.
With a full stable of running backs, New Orleans is able to keep Thomas fresh, and that's good news.
7. LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
LeGarrette Blount led the Buccaneers with 781 yards rushing and scored five touchdowns. His placement atop the leaderboard is more a result of a thin running back corps in Tampa Bay than Blount's success.
In fact, Blount average per carry dropped significantly in 2011, and he fumbled more frequently. Blount said he didn't want Tampa Bay to draft Trent Richardson, but maybe what Blount needs is to be pushed every day by another back.
8. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram still isn't completely healthy after the season-ending surgery last year on his toe. When healthy—and that toe bothered him a lot last year—Ingram is a fantastic addition to the Saints backfield. He scored five times last season and should see a few more touches this year.
9. Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons
Once Jacquizz Rodgers learned about the strength and power of the NFL game and started grasping the Falcons playbook, Rodgers began emerging.
Atlanta head coach Mike Smith absolutely gushes over Rodgers. He feels the second-year player out of Oregon State can turn into an every-down back. He'll get more touches in 2012 with Michael Turner's touches being reduced.
10. Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints
Chris Ivory is the power option among the four running backs in New Orleans, but he's still stuck at fourth on the depth chart. If everything stays as is, he'll find it difficult to repeat last year's 374 yards rushing because there just won't be enough carries to go around.
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