NFC East Position Rankings: Running Backs

Martin LongCorrespondent IAugust 12, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 11: Derrick Ward #34 of the New York Giants runs against Darren Howard #90 of the Philadelphia Eagles during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on January 11, 2009 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The running back position in the NFC East is without a doubt the most talented in the league.

With the likes of Brian Westbrook, Clinton Portis, Brandon Jacobs and Marion Barber, all these backs except Jacobs have been invited to a Pro Bowl at least once. This is not a knock to Jacobs however, as he rushed for over 1000 yards last season and was only outdone by the likes of Clinton Portis, Michael Turner, and Adrian Peterson.

Since it would almost be impossible to rank these four backs on just their running abilities, the rotation of all the running backs on each roster, their ability to catch the ball, and to pass block have been taken into account.


4. Washington Redskins

The Redskins are somewhat old fashioned in their approach to the running game. Instead of trying to employ an effective rotation with a one-two punch, they instead have a single feature back.

That back being none other than Clinton Portis.

Clinton Portis is a top tier running back with great vision and the ability to take it between the tackles, but he can also bounce it outside when necessary.

Portis’ instincts have also aided him in the blocking game, assisting him with his judgement of when to cut block or keep his feet.

Last season Portis played only a minor role in the passing game of Jim Zorn’s offense, pulling in 28 receptions for 218 yards and zero touchdowns.

Last season was the first year Portis managed to play all 16 games for the second consecutive year. This is a nice accomplishment for Portis, but in no way should encourage the Redskins front office to continue through this season without a second string running back that can step up when called upon.

Portis may have started all 16 games, but that is not to say that he performed well in all 16.

Portis came out firing at the start of the NFL season averaging 118 yards for the first eight weeks and crashing in for six, seven times. Unfortunately after the first eight weeks, Portis ran out of gas and averaged only 68 yards per game for the final eight weeks and only had two more scores.

Portis ended the season with 1,487 yards rushing and was invited to the Pro Bowl.

A stellar season at first glance, but after further investigation, an underachieving season to say the least.

Ladell Betts grabbed his big contract in 2006 and has thus been a huge disappointment, not even remotely living up to the expectations that were placed on him. 

Anthony Aldridge has been picked up after he was waived by the Broncos and is known for his elusive skills and great speed, such a skill set would complement Portis very well and if Aldridge can find his form and produce, the running game for the Redskins will be instantly upgraded.

Without an efficient rotation, Portis will run out of gas very quickly and since there is no heir apparent in Washington, there would be huge problems if Portis went down.


3. Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles run a west coast offense. In this offense, the running back is spit out wide on many occasions and is utilized almost more in the passing game than in the running game.

Brian Westbrook fills the mould of such a running back perfectly. He’s got great speed, great hands, and can run great routes. He is however a smaller back at only 5’10”, 203 pounds and pushing 30 years of age.  He is a very talented running back and has rushed for over 1000 yards twice in his career.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like Westbrook will be producing another 1000 yard season in his career. He always had the problem of disappearing behind his offensive lineman and being taken down for a loss. With his speed, however, he usually manages to bounce it to the outside and pull out some nice gains.

Now at the age of 29, soon to be 30, Westbrook is starting to slow down a little and having never played a full season in his career, the signs are not looking good.

Westbrook is what I would call a fearless pass blocker. It doesn’t matter if it is a linebacker or a 300 pound defensive tackle, Westbrook will get lower and find a way to fend them off so his quarterback can step up and get a pass off.

Being a part of the west coast offense, Westbrook has a lot passes coming his way and played a fairly big role, managing to pull in 54 receptions for 402 yards and five touchdowns.

Westbrook ended up missing two games due to injury last year. He still however managed to rush for 936 yards and take it to the house nine times. 

Westbrook finished with 1,338 yards from scrimmages. Solid numbers for a running back that was never meant to be more than a part-time player.

The Eagles had one of the games better backups in Correll Buckhalter. He was always able to come in and spell Westbrook for a play or two, and when Westbrook went down with an injury, Buckhalter stepped up and played just as well and even contributed nicely in the passing game.

At the end of last season, Buckhalter hit free agency and signed almost immediately with the Denver Broncos. This left the running back position very thin, that is until the Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy out of Pitt who looks just like a Westbrook junior, with great hands and great speed.

With the backup position settled, the Eagles have two backs that can contribute greatly on offense and take the pressure off one another as the season grinds on.


2. New York Giants

The Giants led the league in rushing yards last season and averaged five yards per carry. Some fans and supporters would argue that this would immediately put the Giants at No. 1 in the running back position. Wrong, the Giants lost the lightning to their thunder in Derrick Ward who slipped away to Tampa Bay in free agency.

This leaves Brandon Jacobs, a huge 6’4”, 264 figure to thunder around the field on his own.

The New York Giants are going to look to Ahmad Bradshaw to fill the void left by Derrick Ward.

Ahmad Bradshaw is a running back that could fill the void, but not to the point that the Giants’ will be boasting two more 1000 yard rushers in a season.

Brandon Jacobs set the tone last season with his ferocious running style that wore down defences from start to finish. He is very agile for a man of his height and weight, and once he has broken the line of scrimmage, the only way he is going to be stopped is if a defensive back trips him up.

With the momentum he puts forward, he is almost impossible to stuff at the line. This assisted in many goal line situations resulting in 15 touchdowns for Jacobs.

Jacobs was able to set his rhythm in almost every game and ended up with 1,089 yards rushing at the end of the season.

Jacobs is built like an old full back. He’s tall, he’s well built, and he can definitely block. He is a great pass blocker, one of the leagues elite. He can pick up anyone and push them out of the pocket.

Although he is a great pass blocker, he is not a very good pass receiver and demonstrated that last season by pulling in only six receptions for 36 yards and zero touchdowns.

Jacobs has never started all 16 games in his career and last season was no different. He missed three games due to injury. Jacobs is not a liability when it comes to injuries, he has never had anything more than a strained or tweaked something. But with the way that he runs, it is not surprising that he misses a few games now and again.

Jacobs had a great season last year, a Pro Bowl snub in my opinion and really showed any doubters that were still out there that he isn’t just a short yardage guy

Jacobs is unstoppable when he has a complimentary back that can come in and change the pace of the game. Derrick Ward was just that, and if the Giants want to stay atop as one of the leagues best rushing teams then Ahmad Bradshaw is going to have to step up and prove he can be that change up guy.


1.  1. Dallas Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys boast the most depth and talent at the running back position.

Last season all three running backs were either underutilized or injured. That is saying a lot because all three of these running backs are talented and can definitely compete in the NFL when given touches and are healthy.

Marion Barber started the season off well, but caught the injury bug and never fully recovered. Felix Jones showed why he was the Cowboys’ first round draft pick and played electrifying football until being injured in week six and ultimately placed on injured reserve. Tashard Choice, a fourth round draft pick from Georgia Tech, picked up the slack and made sure the Cowboys still had a running game they could rely on.

Marion Barber is a thumper and always puts his body on the line. He is more suited for goal line situations and closing games out, but he can play well at almost any time in a game.

Barber had a fairly pedestrian season last year only managing to gain 885 yards on the ground and a 3.7 yard a per carry average. He did manage however to barge in for six on seven occasions.

Barber is a very aggressive type of blocker and can certainly pick up linebackers when asked to and does not shy away from defensive lineman either.

He is an above average receiver for a running back and played a large role in the passing game last season pulling in 52 receptions for 417 yards and two touchdowns.

Barber is usually a very reliable and durable back. Last year was the first year that Barber had a lingering injury that affected his game throughout a majority of the season, but yet again like Jacobs, with the running style they both use it is not a surprise that they may miss a few games.

Barber is not a full time back and never will be and that is why it is very important that Felix Jones is available to come in and change the game with his speed.

Felix Jones is the perfect backup to Barber, he runs with a lot more elusiveness and finesse than Barber making him almost the complete opposite and a surprising change for defences.

Tashard Choice is a balanced back. He can run inside, he can run outside, he can block and he can catch the football. He is the perfect backup for Barber and Jones, if either of them goes down, Choice can step in and not miss a beat.

This season, the three running backs on the Dallas Cowboys’ roster will be able to complement each other nicely. There is always the chance of injury and if that is the case they still have the depth to mount a good rushing attack.




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