As the catalyst to an offense, the running back can easily prove how important he is to a squad.
And when it comes to discussing the top backs in this league, there is typically a list of the “usual suspects." These players have continually produced, are very popular and are heavily relied on to lead their teams.
Yet, a lot of their success comes from the strength of schedule (SOS) for each team.
An elite back will most likely have his way with just about anyone, but having a favorable SOS plays a huge part in the preparation and plan of attack.
Let’s take a look at the league’s top 10 running backs, ranking them based on their strength of schedule.
First things first though, let me rank the top 10 RBs without taking SOS into consideration.
This is important to understand, because it gives clarity as to how crucial the SOS can be for a team.
After ranking the backs, I will use these 10 players to configure the list based on SOS:
1. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
4. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
5. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
6. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
7. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
8. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
9. Stephen Jackson, St. Louis Rams
10. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
Please remember, this list is going off the remaining SOS and it does not reflect overall numbers and rankings. While I have identified my top 10 backs overall with the above list, the SOS can shake things up substantially.
When Sam Bradford went down with an injury, the extensive load Steven Jackson already had immediately doubled.
He is the heart and soul of that St. Louis offense and has been nothing short of miraculous in his running.
The Rams had one of the tougher SOS' heading into the season and the injuries to key players don't help much either.
From here on out it looks to be tough for Jackson, but judging by his performances of late, he could just as easily dispel any of these notions.
Baltimore has a feature back in Ray Rice and he is coming off a three-touchdown day against the Arizona Cardinals.
Problem is, the Ravens have been horribly inconsistent on offense and Rice is not eating up a lot of yards.
But he remains an absolute monster in the red zone and should continue to be as long as Joe Flacco can get them there.
With tough games against the Steelers, Bengals and 49ers in a span of four weeks, Rice will have to be at his best if he wants to continue to find the end zone.
A resurgent Buffalo Bills team has given life to 30-year-old Jackson, and he has turned in some impressive performances this season.
But with the Cowboys, Jets and Patriots still on their schedule, Jackson will need to stay sharp the rest of the way.
Hopefully Jackson can carry on for the full season and bring Buffalo back to a place they haven’t been to in a long time: the playoffs.
As a Bears fan, I am eagerly anticipating the clash between LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte next Monday night.
Philly has the best running game in the league and McCoy is the reason why.
With 107 yards per game and eight touchdowns so far this season, the numbers speak for themselves. It is going to be a battle of underpaid and underappreciated running backs on Monday.
But the Bears defense is starting to wake up and huge games against the Patriots, Giants and Jets will determine whether or not McCoy can last.
Under coach Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco has developed a whole new attitude.
The mild-mannered Gore has found his game explode under his new coach and is playing the caliber of football we expected to see out of the former Miami Hurricane.
He recently became the franchise’s second all-time leading rusher and has run 100 yards or more in four straight games.
The 49ers need to stay focused even if they have their division in a stranglehold, because the Giants, Ravens and Steelers are all ahead on the schedule.
As we get further down the list, the ranking gets a little more difficult. Some running backs are on teams with harder schedules but still have the ability to carry the team.
Darren McFadden falls into that category.
It took a while for the Arkansas grad to get going in the NFL, but he has made an outstanding impact and brought life back to Raider Nation. He is a powerful runner in the Jim Brown mold and will be critical the rest of the season.
Luckily, McFadden is coming into his own and is ranked as my top back so far. However, a pesky foot injury and upcoming games against Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and Kansas City drop him to this position.
Even though the Bears started off extremely slow, the play of Forte was never the blame.
He is one of the best receiving backs in the league, and Forte is accountable for a ridiculous amount of touches in the Bears’ offense.
The Bears are not out of the NFC North and Forte is the focal point leading up to huge divisional games towards the end of the season.
Even though the Vikings are having a terrible season, AP is still running rampant. Go figure.
He continues to dazzle every Sunday, carrying the Vikings even though they can never keep it together.
Peterson is selfless, but he can take no blame for the Minnesota's season. He's just that good. No matter who they play, he is most likely going to play well.
Even with games against Green Bay, Detroit, Washington and the Bears, All Day still has a favorable SOS and will without a doubt continue to flex his muscles.
Arian Foster has rapidly established himself as one of the best all-around backs in this league and is a joy to watch every time he takes the field.
He made such a big fuss about being the top pick in fantasy drafts, so it was a shame Foster missed a few games at the beginning of the season. He is making up for his absence now, though.
The remaining schedule for the Texans is extremely lenient. The Cincinnati Bengals are the best defensive team Foster will face the remainder of the schedule.
The premier running of Foster has kept the Texans afloat, even in the absence of star receiver Andre Johnson. With the mediocre opposition ahead of him, expect him to rack up huge numbers.
After a slow start, the Falcons have to keep it going if they want to take the NFC South.
A steady performer over his career, Michael Turner is so important to his team for the remainder of the year.
The Falcons are 24-1 when he carries the ball more than 20 times, and it should be no surprise that he will be asked to shoulder the load for the Falcons.
With the added pressure on Turner and one of the easiest SOS' the rest of the season, I expect the former NIU Huskie to greatly impact the Atlanta's playoff hopes.