Every year, the NFL's elite running backs treat us to electrifying displays of speed, athleticism, or run-you-over power.
Along the way, it leads to debate: Who is the best at their craft?
Is Frank Gore better than Cedric Benson?
Adrian Peterson versus Chris Johnson, who've ya got?
There are plenty of very talented running backs, even in the Goodell era of the passing attack with teams like New Orleans and Indy relying heavily on the air game.
The age of 1,000 yard rushers being called elite may have passed, but running backs continue to set the bar high for the next group.
Shaun Alexander set touchdown records. Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards with the Ravens in 2003, and doing so, set a modern standard for excellence while joining a very elite club of 2,000+ yard rushers.
Then, in 2009, Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans did the same, totaling 2,006 rushing yards, to go with 500 yards receiving.
Who's the best at what they do? To find out, check for where your favorites land on the running backs edition of "10 For 2010: The NFL's Best."
If not for injury, Frank Gore could be a top six or seven running back option.
Aside from his massive 2006 season of 1,600+ yards and seven touchdowns, he's been inconsistent and injured since, and can only hope to regain that form again.
Last year was two steps forward, one step back, in Gore's progression.
He upped his touchdowns total to 10 on the season for the first time in his career, but he managed to miss two games due to injury which cut down on his potential season last year.
The San Francisco 49ers are really starting to figure things out, rallying behind Patrick Willis on defense, Alex Smith and Vernon Davis on offense, and finally— perhaps most importantly—coach Mike Singletary.
Frank Gore would love to be mentioned among these names as the leaders of the 'Niners, but until he can prove his physical health for 16 games again, and can produce at a high level, he'll be where he is now, as a "nice" player.
He's "nice" enough to crack the top 10, but with the 'Niners offense starting to open up the field finally, he can make more of a case for himself as a premier back with a strong redemption season, leading San Fran into the playoffs this upcoming season.
Will he finally break that injury wall and become a true No. 1?
Michael Turner stormed onto the scene like a man on a mission in 2008, with his 1,699 yard, 17 touchdown season, but fell a bit flat in 2009 with just 870 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Still, in 2009, the emergence of Matt Ryan was a key in his down production. Ryan was given more opportunities with new plaything Tony Gonzalez, and his growing comfort with the playbook.
This cut a few carries from Turner, and this all along with the fact he only appeared in 11 games. Give him another full season, and Turner will likely impress again, if he's fully healthy.
This former Texas Longhorn must make Mack Brown, his college coach, very, very proud.
Jamaal Charles has a great combination of speed and vision, making him deadly in open space, or with one defender to beat to the end zone.
In limited carries last season, Charles racked up 1,120 yards on just 179 carries, good enough for a 5.9 yards/rush average. That's nearly two whole yards more per carry than the NFL average!
Just for statistical hypothetical purposes, if you were to take his average of 5.9 a carry, and give him a 300 carry workload, he'd come out ahead with 1770 yards. Pretty great, for a player who is the show in KC.
Sure, Dwayne Bowe is nice, but he's not nearly as physically gifted as Jamaal Charles.
Charles will be making lists lists like this one, with one significant difference—he'll be much higher for the rest of his career. His long term potential is huge. Charles should do some pretty special things in KC this fall.
Put a check mark next to Cedric Benson's "Runs through people" running back skill set check list.
Benson is an interesting case, for sure. He has improved while in Cincinnati, but at the same time, he makes you ask the question "where were you in Chicago?!" because he could have done so much more in his career so far if he had been a quality back earlier in his career.
Benson, a No. 4 overall pick in the 2006 draft, has been a mixed bag in the pros. With the Bears, he was very forgettable, averaging just 3.8 YPC, and totaling just 1,593 yards and 10 touchdowns in his time in the windy city.
It's like a tale of two Bensons, though.
In Cincinnati, Benson has become the primary back, and hasn't showed any reasons to resign himself from the role. He (in two seasons) has more yards (1998) than he did in three seasons with Chicago (1593). Maybe the change of scenery was a good thing for Benson.
His physical-first style of running will cut his career shorter than a Chris Johnson or other speedsters simply through wear and tear, but Benson's style of running is just how he operates, grinding out the grunt yards and playing the bruiser role for the Bengals. He's a throwback style runner, to a day when running over people was preferred more than running for the sidelines.
Will season three be the third times' charm for Benson in Cincy?
When Ahman Green was signed by the Packers last season, it was a clear move: Green was coming back to help the current stable of RB's do what he did best—mow people over, and be a force in the running game because of physical play.
Not "how fast can I take my five yards and get to the out of bounds?" type running.
Ryan Grant and Brandon Jackson both improved as runners, both seeming more determined to run leading into tackles, rather than falling down on first contact. Well played Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson—consider "Operation Ryan Grant, A Physical Runner" a success.
He gained 1,253 yards rushing, and 11 touchdowns, all while playing in an aerial assault of an offense led by Aaron Rodgers.
Grant improved his 2008 marks by .5 more YPC, seven more touchdowns, and had zero (0) fumbles, compared to his four in '08.
I credit this to not only Green's presence in the locker room and during practices, but also to Grant's seat in GB getting a bit hot.
There were rumblings that Grant wasn't a long term guy, that the Packers could do better, etc, etc. But after getting locked into a long term deal, Grant impressed with his overall game.
Grant should continue his success with Rodgers and a newly-improved offensive line, giving him more holes to run free through.
Maurice Jones-Drew took on the starting role alone in 2009, and like a handoff from the quarterback, he ran...and ran...and ran, until he amassed 312 carries, 1391 yards and 15 touchdowns.
What's Maurice Jones-Drew's best attribute?
His love for the game, and refusal to let his height be a weakness.
Every play, every game, he's out there running hard, fast, and determined no matter the task.
Just ask Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman how the best things come in small packages...
Standing (advertised) at 5'8", he's a power packing speedster who is deadly in space, but can power through the smallest holes in a d-line.
He's widely known for being so tricky to track in the backfield, because he compacts so low to the ground when he takes a hand-off or makes his first cut to switch directions.
Jones-Drew's 2009 season was his official coming out party as an elite level running back, but he's been on the guest list for a few years now. Finally with the departure of longtime Jaguar, Fred Taylor, he can take the full load of the Jags' rushing attack, and his numbers bear well.
At 4.5 YPC, he finds himself in the mid to upper level of RB's in the league, and his 19 carries a game should increase next season giving him more opportunity to put up gaudy numbers.
Ray Rice, much like Maurice Jones-Drew, doesn't let his smaller size hold him back.
Rice, a former Rutgers standout, has made his mark following a tough couple of acts (Jamal Lewis and Willis McGahee).
He didn't do much his rookie year in a limited role, at just 107 carries for 457 yards and zero touchdowns.
However, he impressed in his sophomore campaign, totaling 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns on just 259 carries for the Ravens.
Rice's motivation is something that comes from his past, something that gives him a pretty big chip on his shoulder.
His father was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting when he was only one years old, and his uncle (who stepped in to help raise him with his mother) died in a car accident in 1998.
Rice, knowing nothing is promised in life but death and taxes has fought every step of the way to get where he is today, and that shines through on the field in every game.
Without a doubt, Rice and his increasing role in Baltimore makes him an easy selection in the top five.
A fan can only look at his career and feel a little sad.
He has played on pretty bad Rams teams for years now, (publicly voicing his unhappiness at some points) but his production has been consistent and top notch.
Look no further than his breakout 2006 season, when he totaled 1,528 yards along with 15 touchdowns.
Playing with Marc Bulger at the time, its easy to see why more faith was put in his legs than Bulger's abilities.
Jackson runs hard, dropping a shoulder into each defender who comes his way, reminding them that he hits hard too.
One can only wonder though, if Jackson had been picked one pick later (he was taken 24th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft, the Packers drafted Ahmad Carroll with the 25th pick) what a combination he would have made for he and Brett Favre in Green Bay.
But, one can only hope the Rams can capture some lightning in a bottle with the No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Sam Bradford, before Jackson leaves STL, or calls it a career in a handful of years.
Well, it should be no surprise who the top two on the list are now, since Chris Johnson and AP haven't graced the list up until this point.
I'm not one to throw gasoline on open flames, but the Chris Johnson-Adrian Peterson debate really intrigues me. It's like two guys in a food co-op who sell fruit. One sells oranges, the other, apples.
Of course, the guy who sells apples says to the other guy how much he thinks that apples are a ton better than oranges, and the oranges guy says the same in favor of oranges.
Sound like anything you've read on here if you substitute "orange" for AP, and "apple" for Chris Johnson?
The debate is a hot topic in the NFL's analyst circles, and with good reason.
What is more important when evaluating two running backs?
Yards? Touchdowns? Team wins? Yards/Carry average?
There are so many variables, just begging to be plugged into debate.
I can hear it now "CJ gets more yards! That extends the drives for the Titans and sets up scoring chances!"
"But AP scores more! He actually gets in the endzone."
"CJ scores too, he isn't a goal line back with power like AP though, He's fast..And he doesn't fumble like AP."
All these comments, and no one can decide with any certainty or with any real definite reasoning, who is better. So, like any good debate, emotion, fan loyalty, and player hatred should fuel this debate just fine.
So, I leave it to you, NFL fans on B/R.
Who is the best running back in the NFL?