NFL Positional Power Ranking: The Top 5 Running Backs After the 2010 Season
2010 was a season with plenty of breakout performances by running backs. This makes it very difficult to select just the top five.
This problem is compounded further by the differing styles of the players. Some, like Jamaal Charles, are out-and-out speed guys. Some, like Michael Turner, are power runners who grind out yards inside.
Some are like LeSean McCoy and use their shiftiness and agility to beat players. Finally, there are some like Adrian Peterson that are a combination of different styles.
I will be grading the ball carriers on their stats, running effectiveness and my gut feeling on how good they are.
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5. Peyton Hillis: Cleveland Browns
After not being used correctly in Josh McDaniels' offense, Hillis became an overnight sensation with the Browns as the only really dominant Caucasian running back in the league. However, the hype is certainly warranted.
It can be argued that a lot of Hillis' success came from his offensive line. It is true that the posse of Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Alex Mack is one of the best in the league. However, Hillis is also the only playmaker in the offense, so teams would game-plan specifically against him.
Hillis is one of the most powerful running backs in the league and brushes past arm tackles with ease. He also has surprising athleticism for a former fullback, which is memorably shown in his "hurdles." He has a true nose for the end zone as well.
Although his top-end speed is only passable, he has great burst and patience, which allows him to be a dangerous runner both inside and outside the tackles. He is also a competent receiver who operates as a safety blanket for the quarterback and is a pass protector, stemming from his time as a fullback. He is one of the most complete backs in football.
2010 stats: 1,177 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 11 TDs, eight fumbles, 447 rec yards, 61 receptions, two TDs
4. Chris Johnson: Tennessee Titans
Johnson once again had a very good season for a running back, but somehow it all got lost in the mix somewhere. I think this is because as good as it was, Johnson was a step or two below where he was last year.
Johnson was still the fastest player in the NFL but suffered from defenses being better prepared for him and worse downfield blocking from his teammates. He is a very patient runner who waits for a gap and then flashes through it with his acceleration. Once in the open field, he follows his blocks and just churns out big runs.
Johnson has also shown an ability to convert short runs at the goal line. He used his vision to hit the gaps and surprising power to slip past tackles.
Johnson is also one of the most dangerous screen and sweep receivers in the league because of his speed and skill at following his blockers. He has safe hands too.
Johnson is lower down this list because while he can run inside, he cannot be a power runner. This is an ability that the guys above him do have.
2010 stats: 1,364 yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 11 TDs, two fumbles, 245 rec yards, 44 receptions, one TD
3. Darren McFadden: Oakland Raiders
Run DMC has finally lived up to the promise he showed when drafted fourth overall in the 2008 NFL draft. After two seasons marred by injury and inconsistency, he finally put it all together.
Although McFadden missed three games through injury this season, he also put up monster rushing numbers that placed him fourth in the league in yards per game.
DMC was a threat to take it to the house each time he touched the ball, which is reflected by his 14 plays of more than 20 yards in the season.
He combines his 4.33 speed with size and a powerful running style. This allows him to run the ball inside or outside. He can run through arm tackles and make tacklers miss both in tight corners and in the open field. He can cut very quickly with little speed loss.
Although suspect as a blitz protector, when he sees the pressure he does a good job dealing with blitzers. He is also one of the best receiving running backs in the league, one who can pluck the ball out of the air and then quickly turn north-south to gain yards.
Darren McFadden looks to be a star for the Raiders for some time now and will be a dominant performer next season.
2010 stats: 1,157 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, seven TDs, three fumbles, 507 rec yards, 47 receptions, three TDs
2. Arian Foster: Houston Texans
Foster is one of the feel-good stories of the NFL this season, going from an undrafted free agent to the leading rusher in just three seasons.
Foster runs in the same style as Emmitt Smith or Terrell Davis. He is not fast, nor especially powerful, but seems to glide through gaps and brush past tacklers. This shows his great vision, patience and burst (all undervalued traits in running backs). He is also a perfect fit for the zone blocking system that Houston runs.
Foster is a complete back who is solid in pass protection and a top receiver out of the backfield. This is proved by his 600-plus receiving yards this season alone.
The next challenge for this rising star is to continue his hot streak into next season and help the Texans to their first playoff berth.
2010 stats: 1,616 yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 16 TDs, three fumbles, 604 rec yards, 66 receptions, two TDs
1. Adrian Peterson: Minnesota Vikings
Is there a more complete running back in living memory? AP truly does have it all. He is fast, he has superb burst through the line and he has great running vision and cutback ability.
Once he gets into the second level, he can run past would-be tacklers, skip around them or just bowl right on over them. He sometimes gets impatient waiting for holes to appear in the line, but his physical skills allow him to get away with it.
In the other facets of his game, Peterson has made large strides of improvement. He has dealt with his fumbling issues and is a far better backfield receiver and pass protector than he was a few years ago. He is also far better at hitting pay dirt in short yardage situations.
Although Foster had a better season in 2010, Peterson has been performing at an extremely high level since 2007, which gives him the nod. He is also a more talented ball carrier and may have had similar success to Foster if he had a younger offensive line blocking for him.
2010 stats: 1,298 yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 12 TDs, one fumble, 341 rec yards, 36 receptions, one TD
The Best of the Rest
The Pocket Hercules had another great season as the sole offensive spark for the Jacksonville Jaguars, as he ran for 1,300 yards. He is a good receiver and a willing blocker, but a bad supporting cast and the surge of new stars has pushed him off my list.
Turner is one of the best power backs in the league and had another strong showing after a disappointing 2009 campaign. He can run through tackler after tackler, and his performance really determines the fate of the Falcons offense. He misses out because he is a one-trick pony these days and is not as versatile as Hillis or McFadden.
He is one of the most electric runners in the league and averaged an insane 6.4 yards per carry this season. He is a dangerous backfield receiver and is the best open-field runner bar none. However, he can only be used as a scat back as part of a thunder and lightning rushing attack. This makes him less valuable to an NFL franchise and places him out of the top five.
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