Chris Johnson vs. Adrian Peterson: Who's the Best Running Back in Football?

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Chris Johnson vs. Adrian Peterson: Who's the Best Running Back in Football?
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Last year, Adrian Peterson became everyone's unanimous pick as the best running back in the NFL.  However, this year, the argument has become more muddled with the emergence of Chris Johnson. 

In his rookie season, Johnson went for more than 1,000 yards rushing as the Dash in Tennesee's "Smash and Dash" running attack. But, he had not shown the ability to be an every-down back. 

Suffice it to say that that question has been answered. 

As the NFL's leading rusher, Johnson has already eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season. People already knew about his blazing 4.24 speed, but Johnson also leads the league in yards after contact. 

Despite being a bit undersized at 5'11", 200 pounds, Johnson has shown great strength and tackle-breaking ability. This has helped him evolve into a workhorse for the Tennessee Titans averaging a blistering pace of more than six yards per carry. His production has outstripped all other NFL running backs, including the great Mr. Peterson.

This of course, brings us to the subject of the article. We know Chris Johnson has caught up; has he surpassed Adrian Peterson? With all due respect to Maurice Jones-Drew, this is a two-man argument right now. 

While Johnson's production has been better this year, his team has relied on him more than Peterson's, which has the benefit of Brett Favre at quarterback. Production is tough to use as the sole metric, because Peterson's offensive line is superior to Johnson's. So let's break down each facet of each back's game. 

 

Breakaway Speed

Both Johnson and Peterson are elite in this category. Defensive backs are simply not going to catch up to these two if they get past the second level. 

Johnson is arguably the fastest player in the NFL. One can attribute his lofty draft pick at least in part to his blazing 4.24 40-yard dash time. 

However, Peterson is not far behind, with 4.4 speed. Neither has a problem running away from NFL defenses. 

However, a slight edge here goes to Johnson. 

 

Size/Bulk/Strength

The gap here is bigger. 

Adrian Peterson has prototypical running back size ad 6'0", 225 lbs. Johnson is smaller, built like Brian Westbrook at 5'11", 200 pounds. However, Johnson has shown the ability to break tackles and leads the league in yards after contact. 

However, he seems to gain yards after contact more by taking a hit and refusing to go down rather than inflicting damage on the player attempting to tackle him, which is what Peterson does. 

So, I give the edge here all day to Adrian Peterson, who is a nightmare to bring down in the open field. 

 

Juking ability

This is probably the most remarkable aspect of each player's game. They can each cut on a dime, making players miss with ease. They can go around you or through you. 

This one is a push.

 

Receiving ability

Johnson is a favorite target of Vince Young. He has good hands and is a dynamic player that has to be accounted for on third down. 

However, the same can be said for Peterson, and his size makes him almost like an H-back coming out of the backfield. Defensive backs do not like seeing this guy in the open field. 

Still, Johnson's explosiveness makes up for this. 

One again, I call this a push.

 

Blocking ability

Both are actually pretty willing blockers, especially for younger players. Both players stay in the game on passing downs, and even get downfield to throw blocks for quarterbacks when the play breaks down. 

However, due to his size, I'll give this one to Peterson. 

 

Ball security

This one is not even close. If Peterson has a weakness, it's fumbling. It has been a nagging concern for him, and although he doesn't fumble frequently, it does happen more than he'd like. 

In contrast, Johnson has lost just one fumble this year. 

 

Overall

Chris Johnson is the most exciting player in football. He can score from anywhere in the field, he makes defenders look silly, and he can also carry the ball 30 times a game. He is intelligent about taking hits to his smaller frame, and is a tenacious runner. He has a bright future in this league.

But, this is Adrian Peterson we're talking about. He has everything you want in a running back. An unmatched combination of size, strength, speed, shiftiness, and hands. He is the prototypical running back. He will take care of the ball better.

So, as you could hopefully tell from the picture, I'll call Adrian Peterson No. 1, and Chris Johnson 1-A. It really is splitting hairs though, as you can't go wrong with either one.

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