NFL Power Rankings: Running Backs

Christopher JohnsonContributor IIINovember 26, 2011

NFL Power Rankings: Running Backs

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    Today's NFL is a passing league. A strong running game is no longer a necessity. Look at the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who won a Super Bowl with a running back by committee system.

    The 30-carry-a-game half is a dying breed. But there are a select few who can still carry the load. Because teams continue to move toward two- and three-back systems, it's important to take inventory of the league's best backs.

    Here are my top 10.

10. DeMarco Murray

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    Murray has been a great find for the Cowboys this year, averaging 126.8 rushing yards per game since taking over as starter Week 7.

    Tony Romo and Jason Witten are still the focal points of Dallas' offense, but Murray is emerging as a lethal weapon for Jason Garrett.

    For the first time in recent memory, the Cowboys appear to have a legitimate go-to back.

9. Frank Gore

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    San Francisco is 9-2 largely because of its ferocious front seven and its running game. 

    Gore has been spelled at times by rookie Kendall Hunter, but he's still the main back in this run-heavy offense.

    Alex Smith is clearly not an elite quarterback, which will force the 49ers to rely on Gore down the stretch.

8. Darren McFadden

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    Like San Francisco, Oakland is a team that relies heavily on the run. The Raiders gave Cincinnati a first-round and conditional first-round pick for Carson Palmer, but Oakland lacks the weapons at receiver.

    The Raiders will remain a run-heavy offense. Michael Bush has proven efficient filling in for McFadden, but the former Arkansas Razorback is one of the league's best when healthy.

7. Steven Jackson

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    Sam Bradford was expected to make huge strides in his second season under center. It hasn't happened.

    Jackson remains one of the only bright spots on an otherwise woeful team. He won't be seeing the postseason any time soon, but he is still Josh McDaniels' best option on offense.

6. Arian Foster

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    With quarterback Matt Schaub lost for the rest of the season, Houston will have to go to its running game more often. 

    Ben Tate has shown flashes, but Foster remains the main back in one of the league's best rushing attacks.

    What's more, Foster is one of the league's best pass-catching backs, compiling 445 receiving yards in eight games this season.

5. Ray Rice

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    Despite all the talk about offensive coordinator Cam Cameron opening up the playbook for fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco this season, Baltimore remains a running team.

    Ray Rice is the Ravens' biggest offensive weapon. His ability to run between the tackles is second to none.

    Like Foster, Rice is a weapon as a pass-catcher. The Ravens will rely on Rice in the playoffs, where Flacco has a tendency to underperform.

4. Maurice Jones-Drew

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    Jones-Drew plays for one of the league's worst teams, which makes his production over the last three seasons even more impressive.

    Jacksonville's star tailback is on pace for his third straight season with over 1,300 yards.

    In his debut season, Blaine Gabbert looks mediocre at best. It's not all his fault—the Jags have nothing at receiver.

    This bodes well for Jones-Drew's production, which will continue to increase as Gabbert struggles.

3. LeSean McCoy

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    The Eagles gave Michael Vick $40 million in guaranteed money this offseason, but LeSean McCoy may be Philadelphia's most explosive offensive player. 

    He's nicknamed "Shady" because you simply can't lay a hand on him. McCoy possesses Barry Sanders-like agility and breakaway speed.

    If the Eagles want to keep their playoff hopes alive, it would behoove them to use McCoy more frequently.

2. Matt Forte

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    Chicago's star tailback is making just $600,000 this year.

    But he leads the NFL with 1,391 yards from scrimmage. Forte is the key to Chicago's offense, even more so now that Caleb Hanie will be starting at quarterback for the foreseeable future.

    Forte is going to get paid this offseason. And with the year he's having, he could get Chris Johnson-like money.

1. Adrian Peterson

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    Peterson likely won't be playing this week, but when healthy, he's the best player at his position.

    Peterson's running style borders on ferocious, with his ability to bulldoze opposing defenders. He also has superb quickness and agility.

    Despite playing behind a weak offensive line, Peterson is on pace for his fifth straight season with over 1,200 rushing yards.

    Now that the Vikings seem to have their quarterback of the future, Peterson may soon find himself in the postseason once again.

Honorable Mention

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    LeGarrette Blount

    Tampa Bay's undrafted star has done nothing but exceed expectations since breaking into the league last season.


    Michael Turner

    Turner would have made this list in the past, but the ex-Charger has slowed down over the past two seasons.

    Rashard Mendenhall

    Although Mendenhall has only compiled just over 500 rushing yards thus far this season, the Illinois alum was one of the league's best last season with 1,273 yards.