We all know that a good running game is important to any team’s success. A good running game can help shorten the game when you’re winning and help relieve pressure from a young quarterback. When you look around the NFL today, there are so many good young running backs—who are the Top 5 RBs that you’d build your team around?
First, let’s start of with the criteria. When I say “young” running back, that means you should be taking their age into consideration. LaDanian Tomlinson is a Hall of Fame guy who still has some productive years before he retires—but would you really take him over Adrian Peterson? That’s what I’m talking about.
Another quick note before we get started: you will find NO Denver Broncos on this list. I don’t care how good Knowshon Moreno could/will be, if a team has 43 running backs on their roster, then they DON’T have any of the best in the league. If Moreno proves himself as an elite runner and the Broncos cut about 40 running backs, then I’ll give him a little more thought.
Without further adieu, here is our Top 5.
5. Chris Johnson (Tennessee Titans): This was really a tough call… but he has a combination of power and speed that you just don’t see very often. As a rookie, he had almost 1500 yards from scrimmage while splitting some of his time with LenDale White. Just as impressive was his 10 touchdowns considering White was Jeff Fisher’s short-yardage back. Anytime you can find a guy that can average almost 5 yards per carry as a rookie, you have to give him consideration. Give him as many carries as Michael Turner and there wouldn’t even bee a debate.
4. Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons): Even though Turner has been in the league for 5 seasons (and RBs have an EXTREMELY short shelf life), he really doesn’t have that many miles on his body. Remember, for the first 4 seasons of his career, he was a 3rd down guy and back-up extraordinaire. Charger fans always knew that he was the best back-up in the league—but not even the biggest Lightning Bolt homer saw last year coming. He gained just a hair under 1700 yards on the ground with 17 TDs in his first year with the Falcons. Only 2 things held him back from being higher on the list: 376 carries per season will quickly take its toll and he’s absolutely NO threat to catch the ball out of the backfield. But if you ask me tomorrow if I want him, I’d say yes and run away before you could change your mind.
3. Matt Forte (Chicago Bears): As a rookie last season, Forte announced his arrival in the very 1st game of the year against the Indianapolis Colts on national TV. The do-everything back ended the season with over 1700 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. Not too bad considering defenses were focused on stopping him by his 2nd or 3rd game in the NFL. Just imagine what he’ll be able to do with Jay Cutler in the backfield with him? For any of the doubters that thought last year wasn’t his breakout season—this year will be.
2. DeAngelo Williams (Carolina Panthers): He had shown signs in his rookie year that he was just itching to break through into the upper echelon of game breakers. Last year, he averaged 5 yards per carry—but he saw less than 10 carries per game. About half way through 2008, he absolutely exploded onto the scene and eliminated any question-marks between him and his running mate Jonathan Stewart. Fantasy football geeks all over the country were rewarded for drafting him—and punished severely if they dropped him midseason. In 2008, he had over 1500 yards, 18 TDs, while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. I doubt anyone is going to make that mistake this year.
1. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings): The guy is simply the best running back in the league. Period. It’s 3rd and 4 and you desperately need a 1st Down to finish the game, I’ll take AD. It’s the 1st quarter and I want a guy that can break free and take it to the house from 60 yards out, I’ll take AD. Just think, even with everything that he’s been able to accomplish in 2 seasons, he’s never had a legitimate starting quarterback to help open up the field. If there was even a THREAT of a pass, just imagine of the statistics he’d be capable of producing.
There were a few other guys that we could argue are in the Top 5 right now—but because of either age, injury problems or miles on their body, we just couldn’t include them. Of course LT is still an elite running back. Clinton Portis would warrant serious consideration, as would guys like Brian Westbrook or Frank Gore. But in 3 years, would you really want any of those guys on your team over someone like Matt Forte?
Then there are guys that have the potential to be in the Top 5, but just need to show us a little more over an extended period of time. We all know Darren McFadden has all the physical tools to be one of the best game breakers in the NFL, but we never saw it on a consistent basis. Steve Slaton was really close to making this list—but I have a hard time building a team around a guy that was the starter for only half a season. It was an impressive half-season, but still—do it for 16 games next year and we’ll happily revisit it.
Alright, so there you go. Defend your team. You think Maurice Jones-Drew or Steven Jackson should be on the list—tell me why. I’m open to suggestions…