Now that the NFL has become dominated by the passing game, running backs don't seem to get the attention they deserve. Instead, quarterbacks and receivers, such as Drew Brees and Andre Johnson, take the spotlight and fill up the highlight reel week after week.
However, no offense can survive in the NFL without a solid runner in the backfield. In this slideshow, we count down the league's five best running backs. The list, which is based solely on the 2011 season, ranks each back based on his explosiveness, reliability and versatility.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
McFadden narrowly missed out on the number five spot on the countdown, based almost solely on the fact that he was injured yet again last week in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs. McFadden, a cross between Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, possesses a rare combo of speed, size and strength that has allowed him to rush for over 600 yards so far this year. Although he is one of the NFL's most complete backs, McFadden loses major points for the constant injuries that have plagued him throughough his career.
LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy is one of the most explosive backs in the NFL; he has already rushed for 569 yards and six touchdowns. A threat as a runner and receiver, McCoy's speed is matched by only a handful of players in the NFL. When McCoy gets outside of the defense, it is nearly impossible for opponents to stop him. McCoy's main drawback is that, while he is extremely dangerous near the sidelines, he is not consistently successful between the tackles, and he isn't the kind of back that can be relied on for the tough yards.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Foster is just beginning to hit his stride this year, and it is this slow start that has kept him off this list. Last year's rushing king, Foster is 16th this year in yards, mainly because he missed two games due to injury. Foster has had at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his last four games, though, so expect more from him as the season progresses. Foster is one of the league's most potent dual-threat backs, and his 2010 season doesn't look like a fluke.
The Bills are one of the most surprising and dangerous teams in the NFL this year. While Ryan Fitzpatrick gets most of the credit for being the leader of the Buffalo offense, Fred Jackson has provided the run game with some much needed stability and explosiveness.
Although he is 30 years old, an age usually considered too old for a feature back, Jackson is playing the best football of his career. He is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and has already rushed for 601 yards and six touchdowns (his highest ever for a single season).
Jackson is also a potent threat in the receiving game. This year he has caught 24 balls for 279 yards, and he is a strong player who can consistently pick up blitzes and defend Fitzpatrick in the pocket.
Jackson is on pace for 1,500-plus rushing yards and double-digit touchdowns, and he has made Bills fans forget all about C.J. Spiller's disappointing first year.
Fred Jackson can run over and past defenders, can block and catch out of the backfield, and runs like he's 25 instead of 30. As long as Jackson continues his extremely impressive pace, the Bills will continue to win.
Ray Rice has never scored double digit touchdowns in his career. In four years, he has only found the end zone 18 times. Such numbers make him seem like an average runner who isn't fit to start on most NFL teams.
Rice doesn't have much of a nose for the end zone, but his value is as one of the league's best receiving backs and one of the best at moving the chains.
Though he stands at a mere 5'8", Rice is able to stand up to some of the league's most powerful defenders. Why? Because Rice can accelerate faster than almost any other running back in the NFL.
Rice may not have blazing speed, but he can accelerate to full speed in the blink of an eye and can turn on a dime. His powerful legs allow him to take simple check-down passes from Joe Flacco for 40-yard touchdowns and block pass-rushing defensive ends; his ability to burst through holes in the trenches helps him shed arm tackles and either run over or around defenders.
Rice doesn't seem like the most intimidating back, but he is the key to the Raven's offensive success. He resembles Marshall Faulk in his ability to be a huge factor in the receiving game as well as being able to grind out yards on the ground.
If it weren't for Pocket Hercules, the Jaguars would undoubtedly be a candidate for the first overall draft pick of 2012. They have a rookie quarterback in the pocket, no solid number one receiver, and a defense that is solid but not elite.
However, Maurice Jones-Drew still consistently grinds out yards for the Jags every week, and he has rushed for 677 yards this season on an average of 4.6 yards per carry with two touchdowns.
Jones-Drew's value to the Jaguars is immeasurable; no matter what players suit up around him on offense, he still produces at the same high level. Without a reliable player like him in the backfield, things would be a whole lot worse for the struggling Jaguars.
Jones-Drew resembles a powerful workhorse back like Steven Jackson, but he can also run with the explosiveness of players like Chris Johnson. He is deceptively fast and powerful for his size and can either truck a would-be tackler or blow past him.
Jones-Drew's one drawback this year is that he has already coughed up the ball six times. Still, he is one of the most valuable players in the league to his team and his consistency, reliability and explosiveness have landed him among the top three backs in the NFL.
Surprised? The injury to Jamaal Charles and disappointing start by Chris Johnson have made room for new faces to appear on the countdown. Matt Forte, who probably has a sizeable fan base in London now, already has over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and a total of three touchdowns.
Forte has had over 100 yards from scrimmage in every game except one this season, and the Bears' offense would collapse without him in the backfield. He is the Bears' leading receiver with 38 catches for 419 yards and a touchdown. Forte also has 672 rushing yards and two touchdowns, with an average of 5.4 yards per carry.
Simply put, Forte has been a beast this season. His productivity has been up and down throughout his career, but Forte has finally put it together this year. He could be looking at 1,500-plus rushing yards and 1,000-plus receiving yards at the end of the season, most likely earning him the title of Offensive Player of the Year.
Although he isn't typically thought of as a top five back, Forte is the Bears' most dangerous receiving threat and is a reliable, explosive runner in the ground game. He is durable and has the potential to make huge plays whenever he gets his hands on the football.
Only one player stands above Matt Forte as the best running back in the NFL, and it shouldn't come as a surprise who it is.
Adrian Peterson's place atop this list is not in any way related to his efforts before this season, I assure you. It is because of his complete dominance and once-in-a-generation talent.
Carrying a struggling offense is nothing new to Peterson, whose immense strength and speed are a combo not seen since Bo Jackson. He has had to deal with an ineffective Donovan McNabb and inexperienced Christian Ponder at quarterback, which has led many teams to focus on him during games.
Peterson has already reached the end zone eight times on the ground to accompany 712 rushing yards on an average of 4.9 yards per carry; he is on pace for well over 1,500 rushing yards and possibly 15-plus rushing touchdowns.
He embarrassed the Green Bay defense last week for 175 yards and a touchdown, and he seems to only get better as the season goes on.
Peterson is an absolute monster, and he gets the nod over Forte because he is the most dominant player on the ground in the NFL. He is the center of attention every week, mainly because of the lack of talent around him on offense, and Peterson shreds every defense, no matter how prepared they think they are.