2011 could be the year of the running back in the NFL. Thanks to the lockout, quarterbacks and wide receivers may need more time to develop chemistry and get on the same page early in the season. Offensive coordinators will turn to their running backs to pick up the slack as passes fall harmlessly to the turf.
The new rules concerning practice time and full pads contact could also lead to a rushing revolution in the NFL. After one regular season game, it is evident that tackling is a skill that needs to be practiced. The Saints-Packers game was marred by many missed tackles.
NFL running backs are licking their chops at the prospect of running against defenses with rusty tackling techniques. As tacklers work to sharpen their skills, the NFL's fastest running backs will enjoy an uptick in their yards per carry and leave defenders grasping at air.
If any one of the players on this list is given the briefest opening to slither through, or finds himself matched up with a linebacker in open space, the result could be a quick trip to the end zone.
Reggie Bush may have found the perfect home in Miami to reignite his career. In New Orleans, Bush had seen his role decline each year as he struggled to duplicate the explosive open field running that made him a star at USC. Now, he is in an offense with fewer weapons and could shine.
Reggie Bush's speed was never in doubt in New Orleans. The Saints just did not really utilize him the right way. As a receiver out of the backfield, most of his catches were glorified pitches. To fully exploit Bush's speed, the Saints should have been getting Bush in space, matched up against a linebacker.
The Dolphins, who obviously need an offensive spark, will be forced to turn to Reggie Bush. In the Wildcat, Bush will bring much more speed than Ronnie Brown did last year. The Wildcat is tailor made for a speedster like Reggie Bush. If he is able to master its nuances, he may finally be able to relive his USC glory days.
This could be Reggie Bush's last chance to prove his doubters wrong. The speed that won him the Heisman is obviously still there. He may finally have found the right offense in which to use it.
New Orleans' replacement for Reggie Bush, Darren Sproles, may be even faster than the former Hesiman Trophy winner. Sproles is listed generously at 5'6" but don't underestimate the impact he can have on a game. The Packers certainly learned as much last night.
Sproles should be a better fit in the Saints offense than Reggie Bush. He is more adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. This was his main role in San Diego before moving East to New Orleans. Against the Packers, he racked up 75 receiving yards, and on one key 36-yard catch he undressed AJ Hawk and got downfield.
The Saints are obviously making Darren Sproles a part of their passing attack, but he should also be given a few carries. The Saints rushing attack stalled badly at times against the Packers solid front seven. They could have used a burner like Sproles to attack the outside instead of continuously trying to pound the rock against the likes of BJ Raji, AJ Hawk and Clay Matthews.
Darren Sproles is a more than capable replacement for Reggie Bush in New Orleans. Given space in open field, he is too quick and agile for linebackers to handle.
Jahvid Best, a former California state champion in the 100-meter, is ready to have a breakout season for the Detroit Lions. At Cal, Best was one of the fastest players in the NCAA. Nothing changed when he came to the NFL.
Best made his mark last season as a receiver, but he will see an increased number of carries in 2011. The Lions are a team on the verge of finally leaving years of losing behind them. They have not had a running back like Best since the days of Barry Sanders.
Jahvid Best is a threat to score any time he has the ball in his hands. He is that fast and that shifty. The knock on Best has always been his durability. The Lions do not need to be pounding Best up the middle. He would be more well utilized running outside or catching passes in space.
DeAngelo Williams is another diminutive NFL running back with explosive speed. Williams barely cracks 5'9" but his speed more than makes up for his lack of size.
With the Panthers breaking in rookie quarterback Cam Newton, they will lean heavily on the explosive Williams. Averaging five yards a carry for his career, the shifty runner has been able to make it to the edge with frequency.
Williams and backfield mate Jonathan Stewart sparked a mini controversy when they began calling themselves "Smash and Dash," a nickname that LenDale White claimed for himself and Chris Johnson in Tennessee. They have since begun referring to themselves as "Double Trouble" and defenses will have plenty of trouble shutting the duo down in 2011.
Williams definitely benefits from his pairing with Stewart. Stewart is able to handle the more punishing inside running, allowing Williams to avoid breakdown. His injured foot last year aside, Williams has been a durable, explosive weapon for the Panthers.
Dubbed "The Cat" thanks to his speed and agility, Felix Jones is ready for a breakout season in Dallas. Marion Barber, who Jones split carries with last year, is gone. Jones will now be the feature back in Dallas.
The Cowboys offense will be explosive this year as Tony Romo returns from injury and Dez Bryant continues to develop. With Bryant and Miles Austin stretching the field, there will be ample room for Jones to probe the middle of the field.
At 5'10" and close to 220 pounds, Jones is more suited to handle the pounding of inside running than the other running backs mentioned so far on this list. He will be ready to handle the rigors of being an every down running back in 2011.
When the Giants deployed a three-headed running back attack a few years ago, Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw were dubbed "Earth, Wind and Fire." With his speed, Bradshaw is certainly worthy of the moniker "Fire."
Bradshaw has seen his carries increase each season in the NFL as it becomes evident that he is one of the best open field runners in the league. His speed allows him to cut through defenders with ease. The Giants receiving corps is not what it used to be. Bradshaw will again be a big part of the offense a year after his first 1,000 yard season.
His speed allowed him to take the role of feature back away from Brandon Jacobs. The only thing keeping this speedster from putting a stranglehold on the every down role is his propensity for fumbles. Bradshaw has the speed to make defenders look silly, as he did to the Chicago Bears in the photo. He just needs to hold onto the ball.
CJ Spiller was a multi-sport athlete at Clemson. He contended for the Heisman during his senior season and achieved All American status on the track, running 10.33 for 100 meters.
Track speed does not necessarily translate to success on the football field, and Spiller still has some learning to do at the NFL level. In college, he was, without a doubt, the fastest player on the field at all times. Spiller needs to learn how to set up his blocks and read holes if he is to take full advantage of his speed in the NFL.
CJ Spiller has been blessed with breathtaking speed. He has had a year to adjust to the NFL. I would not bet against his world class speed allowing him to lead the Buffalo Bills rushing attack out of oblivion.
LeSean McCoy excelled in his first season as the Philadelphia Eagles feature back in 2010. Shady averaged over five yards a carry on his way to a 1,000 yard season.
In Andy Reid's pass happy offense, McCoy will be just as valuable catching the ball out of the backfield. Following in the footsteps of Brian Westbrook, Shady caught nearly 600 yards worth of passes a year ago.
LeSean McCoy may not be able to match Chris Johnson when it comes to pure speed, but his open field moves would hold up well against any challenger in the NFL.
Davis is not always successful when it comes to choosing players on pure speed alone, but he has found success with Run DMC. McFadden ran a blazing 4.33 40 yard dash at the 2008 NFL combine.
That speed alone would make McFadden a brilliant running back, but he also has the size to hand out considerable punishment to would-be tacklers. 2010 was a breakout season for the Arkansas product, who struggled in his first two seasons in the league.
McFadden overcame those struggles to average over five yards a carry in 2010. He also averaged over ten yards per reception. Ten yards per reception is unheard of for a running back, and it shows that defenders cannot handle the speed of Darren McFadden.
Like CJ Spiller, Jamaal Charles achieved great things on the football field and the track in college. His track credentials are actually more impressive than Spiller's, as he ran 10.23 in the 100. His NFL career has been more impressive, as well.
In 2010, Charles averaged an unheard of 6.4 yards per carry. That is a ridiculous figure, and one that shows how fast Charles truly is.
One would expect Charles to see a decline in that average in 2011. The scary thing is that he might actually improve on it in 2011. Charles' rushing average has improved each season in the NFL. As he begins to rely on vision more than speed alone, Charles has put himself into the top echelon of NFL running backs.
There is no more impressive sight to watch in the NFL than Adrian Peterson taking on an entire defense, leaving tacklers in his wake and then galloping off for six. There is no better combination of speed and power in the NFL right now than Adrian Peterson.
Peterson might not possess the raw speed of a Jamaal Charles or Chris Johnson. That is not to say he is not one of the fastest running backs in the NFL. With his rare combination of speed, agility and power, AD has left defenses flailing for four seasons. There is no reason to believe getting him to the turf will be any easier in 2011, his fifth season.
Chris Johnson is the fastest running back in the NFL today. Coming out of East Carolina, he ran the fastest recorded 40-yard dash time in NFL history, clocking a 4.24. Some questioned whether Johnson would ever be anything more than a one trick pony.
Boy, has he proved them wrong.
In his three short years in the NFL, Johnson has emerged as the most explosive running back in recent history. He is a threat to score from any place on the field as evidenced by his epic 2009 season.
In 2009, Johnson became the sixth player to rush for over 2,000 yards. What could be more impressive from that legendary season are his seven touchdowns of 50 yards or more, including three longer than 85 yards.
Johnson and the Titans finally reached an agreement on a contract to make him the highest paid running back in the league. He should not be affected too much by the long holdout.
Chris Johnson is so fast and shifty that if he makes it into the secondary, the defense is better off just turning and walking to the sidelines. There is not a player in the NFL today who can chase down Chris Johnson from behind.