NFL Power Rankings: Top 10 Running Backs
Running backs are losing their importance in the NFL. It used to be that football was predicated on finding new and innovative ways to run in between, around and outside the tackles. Heck, Vince Lombardi's most famous play was the "Green Bay Packer's Sweep" in which the running back would go through the alley to daylight.
Rule changes began to favor the passing game in the late '70s and early '80s around the time when the rules for "bump and run" changed. It used to be that defensive backs could touch a receiver until the football left a quarterback's hand. Now, of course, coverage men can only have their hands on a receiver in the first five yards of a route. It was a change that led to more pass interference penalties, which was good for offense.
Other rule changes have helped the offense and passing game as well. Most recently, the "Steelers Rule" was implemented to protect quarterbacks, which in turn favors the passing game even further.
Even with the passing game gaining more emphasis in the NFL, there are still game-changing backs out there. Here are my top 10.
10. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
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Matt Forte burst onto the scene in 2008 with 12 total touchdowns and 1,200 yards. Then he began receiving fewer carries, and after a dip in production in 2009, he had a major uptick yards per carry last season.
Forte is about 220 pounds and going into his fourth season. He can be a bruiser and he's an excellent receiving option out of the back field.
9. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
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Darren McFadden finally lived up to his first-round selection. It took a while, but he had a great season in 2010. His yards-per-carry average increased from 3.4 to 5.2 from 2009 to 2010. He also more than tripled his total yardage from 2009 to 2010.
Let's look at his stats from years one to three.
His increase in production is really impressive and he could be even better this year. If that happens, look for McFadden to climb this list steadily.
8. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
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Mendenhall had a slight drop off between 2009 and 2010, but he's still one of the workhorse backs in the league. He played a huge part in the Steelers getting to the Super Bowl. If not for his fumble via Clay Matthews, they may have won it all last season.
So much for that. Oh well, here are his stats.
He definitely fits the Steelers mold for the running back position. He can score a lot of touchdowns in goal-line situations or rip off big runs while carrying defenders on his back. It's too early to put Mendenhall in the Rocky Bleier, Franco Harris or Jerome Bettis category, but he definitely gets it done.
7. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
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LeSean McCoy is an excellent component to the Eagles offense. He's used well in the passing game and is very productive taking hand offs as well. McCoy is the perfect complement for Michael Vick in the backfield, without a doubt.
He lived up to his pre-2010 hype, as some were calling for him to put up RB1 type numbers in fantasy football leagues. In 2011, I think his stats will be similar to last year.
His dynamic playmaking ability puts McCoy at No. 7 on this list.
6. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
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Ray Rice is a little dynamo. He's a short, compact, tough runner, willing to fight for tough yardage and able to break tackles.
2009 was his coming-out party, and while he's not a touchdown machine, he is extremely complimentary to Joe Flacco's style as well as the smash-mouth style of the Baltimore defense. He did not score an exorbitant number of touchdowns in 2010, but was still able to maintain four yards per carry throughout a 300-carry season.
The addition of Lee Evans to the Ravens offense may leave more room for Rice out of the backfield this season.
5. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
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I'm likely to catch some flack for putting Arian Foster at No. 5. It likely wouldn't bother him—he'd probably just write a Haiku. I just can't go crazy ranking him so high after one good year; two or three, and then we'll talk.
Look, Foster had an incredible season in 2010. It didn't exactly come out of nowhere. On the Sirius-XM radio show, "Runnin' with MJD," Pocket Hercules offered up Foster as a huge sleeper pick last year. Well, he was right. Like MJD, he played the season on a torn meniscus.
Maybe I'm not sold on Foster because I think he's a system back. In fact, he plays in the perfect system for a great running back. He's a solid one-cut runner with the benefit of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and the rest of the Texans' passing attack.
I just do not think he will repeat his 2010 season, sorry. He'll be good, just not as good.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
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This human bowling ball has caught a lot of flack over the offseason because his touchdown totals were down. People have started going back to pointing to his size as a limiting factor and saying he can't be an every down back.
Maurice Jones-Drew is going to have a big year, barring injury.
Up until the Jaguars lost what amounted to the AFC South Championship game in 2010 to the Colts, Jones-Drew was listed anywhere from six to 10 on MVP lists. That is largely because of his incredible midseason, in which he rushed for 100 yards in six straight games.
He's healthy and ready to hit someone. He should be one of the more fun backs to watch this year.
3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
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Jamaal Charles shares time with Thomas Jones. You can look at this one of two ways: Jones takes some of Charles's potential touchdowns away, sure, but it also keeps him fresh. Charles is simply a home run threat from anywhere on the field.
His yards per carry have risen by half a yard per carry each season while increasing his total carries—that is no easy feat. He also catches a lot of balls out of the backfield.
Eight touchdowns is not a low number for a running back, though fantasy football geeks likely want more out of him this year.
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
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I'm not yet convinced that his fumbling problems are over, which is why I do not have Adrian Peterson ranked No. 1 on this list. That being said, he's an amazing, strong runner.
All-Day can take a routine third-and-short play and go all the way. He's strong up the middle and elusive when running stretch plays or off-tackle. His production waned in 2010 when Brett Favre went through his injury bout that coincided with poor quarterback play. In fact, the whole team melted down last season.
Peterson was still very productive, though.
If he has another year without the fumbling issue, then maybe I will bump him up to the top spot.
1. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
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I think Chris Johnson is the most dynamic and best overall running back in the NFL. It is a shame the Titans and Johnson have not yet come to terms on a new contract because their offense will sorely miss him come Week 1.
Johnson does it all. He can turn screens into 90-yard touchdowns. He can make defenders look stupid outside the tackles as well as hit the holes quick enough to keep his average run yardage high.
He needs to get back with his team.