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25 Best Running Backs Heading into the 2011 NFL Season

Andrew KulhaSenior Analyst IIIMay 11, 2011

25 Best Running Backs Heading into the 2011 NFL Season

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    2011 NFL Rankings: Top 25 Running Backs Going Into the 2011 Season

    In today’s NFL the running back position is arguably more important than it ever has been. Most teams are starting to adapt a two running back system, where their depth chart literally has two running backs that they consider to be starters.

    If that doesn’t show you the importance of a running back right there than I don’t know what will.

    Still, the league is populated with its fair share of stars in the backfield, and no matter how many guys you put behind them there could be no replacing these certain upper tier backs.

    With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 25 running backs heading into the 2011 NFL season:

25. Marshawn Lynch

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Team: Seattle Seahawks

    2010 Stats

    Games: 12

    Att: 165

    Yds: 573

    Avg: 3.5

    TD: 6

    After coming over to the Seahawks, Lynch proved to be a huge spark plug for the young and inexperienced team. I believe he is going to come back even more determined to make a difference in Seattle, and I can all but guarantee you that Pete Carroll plans to use him effectively.

24. Fred Jackson

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Team: Buffalo Bills

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 222

    Yds: 927

    Avg: 4.2

    TD: 5

    Rec TD: 2

    Fred Jackson is a big piece of the puzzle in Buffalo. The team is young and has obviously had their problems, but Jackson is the picture of consistency in the backfield. He’s got another good year in him.

23. Benjarvus Green-Ellis

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Team: New England Patriots

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 229

    Yds: 1,008

    TD: 13

    Running backs in the New England system tend to be very productive, and even though Green-Ellis was sharing time with Danny Woodhead, he still put up some great numbers. I think another year in the system is going to make him even more dangerous, and we will see some good things out of him.

22. Rashard Mendenhall

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 324

    Yds: 1,273

    Avg: 3.9

    TD: 13

    The running game is always an integral part of Pittsburgh’s offense, and Mendenhall has shown that he can be the guy for the Steelers. He is a tough down-hill runner that can really do some damage once he gets rolling. I think he is going to have another stellar year.

21. LaDainian Tomlinson

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Team: New York Jets

    2010 Stats

    Games: 15

    Att: 219

    Yds: 914

    Avg: 4.2

    TD: 6

    Considering that most people thought that LaDainian Tomlinson was going to fall off the map as soon as he left San Diego, I’d say he had a pretty good year in 2010. He was also sharing time in the Jets backfield. I think LT has been rejuvenated.

20. Ahmad Bradshaw

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Team: New York Giants

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 276

    Yds: 1,235

    Avg: 4.5

    TD: 8

    Bradshaw is another guy that has been sharing time in the backfield, but I think that’s what makes him so good. Being the “lightning” for somebody else’s thunder seems to work very well for Bradshaw. He is a home run hitter, and I think he is going to have to have another good year for the Giants.

19. Ryan Mathews

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Team: San Diego Chargers

    2010 Stats

    Games: 12

    Att: 158

    Yds: 678

    Avg: 4.3

    TD: 7

    Mathews came into San Diego with some very big shoes to fill. I think he may have felt the pressure a little bit in his first year. I think now that he is a bit more acclimated to his role he is going to have a breakout season in 2011.

18. Shonn Greene

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

    Team: New York Jets

    2010 Stats

    Games: 15

    Att: 185

    Yds: 766

    Avg: 4.1

    TD: 2

    I don’t think that there is any question that Greene is going to be the guy moving forward for the Jets. LT is still playing great, though, so the duel backfield is going to have to keep complimenting each other. I think Greene is going to step up and put himself on an equal plain with Tomlinson.

17. DeAngelo Williams

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Team: Carolina Panthers

    2010 Stats

    Games: 6

    Att: 87

    Yds: 361

    Avg: 4.1

    TD: 1

    I think Williams is going to benefit from a full season ahead of him and the addition of Cam Newton to the Panthers. Williams has always been an explosive back, and I think he will compliment Newton very nicely.

16. LeGarrette Blount

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    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    2010 Stats

    Games: 13

    Att: 201

    Yds: 1,007

    Avg: 5.0

    TD: 6

    With only 201 attempts and 13 games as a Buccaneer, Blount racked up some pretty good numbers. I think we are going to watch him bowl over people in 2011 as well. He could very well be the best young back in the NFL.

15. Frank Gore

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Team: San Francisco 49ers

    2010 Stats

    Games: 11

    Att: 203

    Yds: 853

    Avg: 4.2

    TD: 3

    Rec TD: 2

    Gore has suffered some major injuries in the past few years that have really hindered his production for the 49ers. I think this year is going to be a big bounce back year for Gore, especially with new coach Jim Harbaugh calling the plays.

14. Steven Jackson

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Team: St. Louis Rams

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 330

    Yds: 1,241

    Avg: 3.8

    TD: 6

    Jackson is really going to benefit from Sam Bradford getting another year under his belt and all the help that they gave the young QB in the passing game. The Rams are going to be much more explosive through the air, which is going to give Jackson a lot of running room in 2011.

13. Jahvid Best

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Team: Detroit Lions

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 171

    Yds: 555

    Avg: 3.2

    TD: 4

    Rec TD: 2

    Best was severely hindered by turf toe in his rookie season, so I think he is going to bounce back very strong in 2011. He is as explosive as they come out of the backfield, and can be a threat in both the running and the passing game.

12. Matt Forte

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    Larry French/Getty Images

    Team: Chicago Bears

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 237

    Yds: 1,069

    Avg: 4.5

    TD: 6

    Rec TD: 3

    Forte is such an integral part of the Bears offense. He is their main threat on the ground, but is also just as likely to make a big play catching the ball. The Bears need him to be consistent in 2011 and I think he is going to come up really big for them.

11. Peyton Hillis

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Team: Cleveland Browns

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 270

    Yds: 1,177

    Avg: 4.4

    TD: 11

    Rec TD: 2

    Hillis is known for absolutely demolishing defenders on his way to the end zone. Along with being one of the most entertaining runners to watch, he is easily one of the better all-around backs in the NFL. Will the Madden curse affect this monster though?

10. James Starks

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Team: Green Bay Packers

    2010 Stats

    Games: 3

    Att: 29

    Yds: 101

    Avg: 3.5

    James Starks came on at the end of the year in a big way for the Green Bay Packers. He played huge in the playoffs, if only because he gave the Packers a constant running threat. Starks has a knack for always falling forward and getting the extra yards. He can also make a move or two in the open field. I’m excited to see what he can do during the course of a full season.

9. Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

    2010 Stats

    Games: 14

    Att: 299

    Yds: 1,324

    Avg: 4.4

    TD: 5

    Rec TD: 2

    Jones-Drew has been one of the most consistent running backs in the NFL for years, but he has been on an almost irrelevant team down in Jacksonville. That being said, I think we will see another big year out of MJD.

8. Ray Rice

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Team: Baltimore Ravens

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 307

    Yds: 1,220

    Avg: 4.0

    TD: 5

    Rec TD: 1

    I think that Baltimore is going to be the class of the AFC this year, and Rice is going to have to play a huge part again. The Ravens went out and got some good pieces to supplement the offense in the draft; now all Rice has to do is make plays.

7. Michael Turner

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Team: Atlanta Falcons

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 334

    Yds: 1,371

    Avg: 4.1

    TD: 12

    Turner was one of the best backups in the league for years when he was in San Diego. Now, he’s one of the best backs in the league. When this guy starts rolling, you better get out of his way. I expect a huge year out of him on this dangerous Falcons offense.

6. Arian Foster

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Team: Houston Texans

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 327

    Yds: 1,616

    Avg: 4.9

    TD: 16

    Rec TD: 2

    Foster had a breakout year last season with the Texans. I think 2011 is going to be even more important for the speedy back, and he will have to step up even more for Houston. His team can't afford to miss the playoffs.

5. Jamaal Charles

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    Tim Umphrey/Getty Images

    Team: Kansas City Chiefs

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 230

    Yds: 1,467

    Avg: 6.4

    TD: 5

    Rec TD: 3

    Charles is one of the most explosive backs in the league. He can beat you in a split second on the ground or in the passing game. If you see the back of his jersey you know it’s too late to catch him. I’m expecting him to be one of the best this season.

4. Adrian Peterson

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Team: Minnesota Vikings

    2010 Stats

    Games: 15

    Att: 283

    Yds: 1,298

    Avg: 4.6

    TD: 12

    Rec TD: 1

    Peterson had somewhat of an off year last year, and when you look at his stats that really says a lot because they are still pretty good. With a new quarterback, the Vikings are really going to look to AP.

3. Darren McFadden

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Team: Oakland Raiders

    2010 Stats

    Games: 13

    Att: 233

    Yds: 1,157

    Avg: 5.2

    TD: 7

    Rec TD: 3

    The Raiders are surprisingly one of the better up and coming teams in the league. McFadden was a huge part of the team last year, and I think his stats and contribution are only going to improve.

2. Chris Johnson

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Team: Tennessee Titans

    2010 Stats

    Games: 16

    Att: 316

    Yds: 1,364

    Avg: 4.3

    TD: 11

    Rec TD: 1

    Johnson is one of the only established weapons that the Titans have right now, so they are going to go to him early and often. I expect his production is going to be huge in 2011.

1. LeSean McCoy

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Team: Philadelphia Eagles

    2010 Stats

    Games: 15

    Att: 207

    Yds: 1,080                             

    Avg: 5.2

    TD: 7

    Rec TD: 2

    The Eagles are just a step or two away from being dominant. I think that, in order to do so, they will have to rely very heavily on McCoy and the running game in 2011.

    Follow Andrew on Twitter: @AKonSports

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