Running To Daylight: The Top 10 NFL Halfbacks

Matt ShervingtonCorrespondent IIJuly 17, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - DECEMBER 28:  Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball in for a touchdown as James Butler #37 of the New York Giants defends on December 28, 2008 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)


Adrian "All Day" Peterson is the only halfback to ever be placed in the top five, actually top three, of a position by myself after only one good year at the position. Why, may you ask? Well, it wasn't because of his decimation of the Cowboys and Bears. It wasn't because of his record setting day against the Chargers.


It was because he had a collegiate running style that had not ever been actually brought into the NFL; A style where juking, spinning, jumping and twisting were the norm as opposed to last ditch efforts. I hadn't watched much of him in college, but if this is how he ran then, perhaps that's why he was often injured. Last year Peterson backed up my gamble of placing him high, but winning the rushing title.


2. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins


Clinton Portis, for as long as he has been a Washington Redskin has been underrated. I mean, let's think about this. Clinton Portis has reached 1,700 Yards from scrimmage every year in his career except for two. Of those two, he only played in nine games due to injury in one of them, and in the other he still went for 1,550.


He's experienced double-digit touchdowns every year of his career except for three. Heck, let's look at last year in which Portis carried the Redskins team to its victories and how they proceeded to fall apart as soon as he and Chris Samuels went down with injury. In only seven short seasons in the NFL, Portis has produced an outstanding 11,108 Yards from scrimmage and 76 touchdowns from scrimmage, and he’s only 27. Portis' averages per season are better than some halfback's best years ever.



3. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers


Tomlinson is, in fact, approaching that magical number for halfbacks—30. It's been evident based on the fact that he hasn't been able to finish the last two seasons as the starting halfback for the Chargers due to injuries as they went into the postseason.


Many will point to Tomlinson's 3.8 yards per carry as evidence of his decline. However, to this I merely retort that Tomlinson put up 1,500 Total Yards from scrimmage, which is respectable, though no longer top five. However, when one considers the 12 touchdowns From scrimmage he placed, one is fast primed to believe that Tomlinson is still an elite halfback and until he cannot produce 1,500 and 12, he is still a top back.


So it’s pretty intriguing that reports show that Tomlinson has returned to camp at about 90 percent health and should be 100 percent before the start of the season.


4. Frank Gore, San Fransisco 49ers


Frank Gore is incredibly underrated. Outside of Football's Future, most NFL forums barely have him making the top 10, and rarely do they give him respect because of a lack of touchdown totals. People just don't seem to get that the 49ers offense in 2007 was one of the worst to ever take an NFL field and he produced almost all their numbers.


Last year they were better, but he still produced most of their numbers. Many will point to three years ago and say that's the only year Gore has done it. While that season was ridiculous, people need to realize that even since then Gore has averaged 124 Yards from scrimmage per start.


It's not like he's not getting it done, it's just that the 49ers don't have any great offensive linemen, and they haven't had any great skill position players until the arrival of Michael Crabtree, and that's still a huge maybe.


5. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams


Steven Jackson, like Frank Gore constantly gets that "he hasn't done it since three years ago" argument, but like Frank Gore people fail to realize that Steven Jackson, when healthy enough to play, averages well over 100 yards from scrimmage per game, which is what you look for in an NFL halfback.


Not to mention he averages nearly nine touchdowns per season over his career. But what makes Jackson so good is an amazing blend of power and speed, combined with a deadly stiff arm, that allows him to keep making plays even though the Rams offensive line has been in shambles his entire career. Want proof of him making plays without help from the line? Just look at the Atlanta game.


6. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles


Ahh...Highway 36. I have like 90 nicknames for this guy because he's just that good. NFL teams have like 90 nicknames for BWest36 as well. My favorite one? 22 eyes on 36. It means that both eyes of all 11 defenders should be looking at Westbrook at various points throughout the play, and definitely pre-snap.


Westbrook is the ultimate matchup problem as he can run well, catch from flanker, split end or slot position, and can block well too. What Westbrook will do on any given play will determine what your defense can do. There are only about four or five linebackers that have coordinators who trust them enough to cover him for the majority of a game. That's how good he is.



7. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers


The reason Williams is graded so low after receiving my First Team All-Pro bid last year is because he's only done it for one year. This is a "Top 10 At Your Position" list, not a "Top 10 At Your Position of 2008" list. If one could be taken off the list at the end of the 2009 season, were they truly ever top 10 at their position to begin with?


Anyway, Williams only touched the ball 295 times, which is ridiculously low, and despite that produced over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns from Scrimmage. He single-handedly willed the Panthers into the game against the then 9-3 Buccaneers to take first place in the division and then did it again in Week 16 with homefield advantage on the line. One should note, however, that Williams has to split carries though, also effecting his ranking.



8. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons


Michael Turner suffers from the same thing Williams suffers from. Only one year of production. However, it was a hell of a year, in which he, not Matt Ryan, carried the Falcons' into a postseason birth.


Want the proof it was him and not Ryan? Check the asininely high 376 rushing attempts. Turner went off for 1,700 Yards and 17 touchdowns last season, which are both amazing totals that had him also making my First Team All-Pro and I also had him as my runner up for Offensive Player of the Year to DeAngelo Williams. With Gonzalez joining the team, his touch and touchdown numbers could dissipate with his yards per carry rising.



9. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars


Some people are having conniptions because Jones-Drew has ended up on numerous top 10 halfback lists, both real life and fantasy this offseason because he has yet to carry a load by himself. But, Maurice Jones-Drew has carried the ball, whether it be as a runner, receiver, or return man an average of 255 times a season over his three year career in the NFL.


Let's examine this further. The fact is only 11 halfbacks had more carries than Jones-Drew had touches. In 2006 that number was 12. In 2005 that number was a high 16. So Jones-Drew has been pretty darn close, and despite only playing for three years and having little wear on his body, he's produced 4,000 yards from scrimmage, 40 touchdowns, and is an excellent all-around back.


10. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears


Of the impressive rookie class of halfbacks last season, Matt Forte was the only one that stuck out as a guy who could, almost without a doubt, repeat his success. Why is that you say? Well, because Slaton was the fifth option on the Texans and Johnson will be keyed on next year.


Meanwhile, Forte was an all-purpose dream, finishing third in yards from scrimmage, despite being the Bears' only legitimate rushing threat and receiving threat. That's right, he was the team's best wide receiver.


While I don't think Cutler's addition will back people off as much as those in Chicago think, it should allow his ypc to breach 4.0 and the ability to catch and block isn't something you just lose. The ability to put up high rushing totals is, however.


Honorable Mentions:


Steve Slaton, Houston Texans

—Needs to become more than the fourth option in Houston's offense

—Needs to repeat his success


Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans

—Needs to avoid the speedy halfback tradition.

—Needs to repeat his success


Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins

—Needs to put it all together for more than a few games.


Thomas Jones, New York Jets

—Needs to learn to take a game or two over a season.