The NFL's Top 50 Running Backs
(Note: Jamaal Charles is not included in this list because it is restricted to backs who have played in at least 3 games this season. Charles is a heck of a player and he certainly would have made the top 10 at least. I hope he comes back next year 100%.)
1 Adrian Peterson - Vikings - There is only one thing that still bugs me about the man who holds the NFL's all-time single game rushing record (for those who have forgetten he got that record as a rookie!): AP is still not a good running back out of the backfield. This season he only has 11 catches for a meager 49 yards. And he still has trouble at times picking up the blitz. Other than that he's basically the perfect running back, especially since he's fixed his fumbling problem (only he's only lost 1 fumble in his last 22 games).
2 Matt Forte - Bears - Just about every time I watch Forte play, he amazes me. He runs behind the worst offensive line in the NFL and somehow he is still averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Oh and he's tied for 8th in receptions in the entire NFL with 38 this season. And he's about as good as anyone picking up the blitz in the backfield. If anyone's earned a new contract this season it's Forte.
3 Ray Rice - Ravens - Rice is so good he's forced the Ravens to tweak their powerful and talented offensive line, to be more of a moving and less of a mauling O-Line. Rice has the talent ram it inside when need be, but he's at his best when he can cut back one way and turn it up field. Rice is one of the NFL's few every down backs, and his 133 catches over the last 2 seasons sure prove it (and on 26 catches this seasons he's averaging 13 yards per reception).
4 LeSean McCoy - Eagles - Teams usually have trouble replacing long tenured aging players. The Eagles had no trouble replacing longtime Eagle RB Brian Westbrook. They found a steal in 'Shady' McCoy in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft. LeSean is literally Westbrook 2.0.
5 Darren McFadden - Raiders - Run DMC's only stumbling block in the NFL have been injuries (he's missed 8 games in his first three seasons and injuries are big part of the reasons he did not start in 13 of his first 25 games). McFadden gained over 1,500 yards on the ground and in the air last seasons, even though he missed 3 games, due to injury. It should be to no one's surprise that he was leading the NFL in rushing through the first six games this season.
6 Chris Johnson - Titans - CJ2K hasn't not lived up to that nickname since he earned it rushing for 2,000 yards two seasons ago. Up until this season it has not been Johnson's fault. A deteriorating offensive line, and a lack of a passing game have hindered Johnson. This off-season quarterback Matt Hasselbeck signed with the Titans and has provided stability at the position. And while the interior O-Line is still a major problem, Johnson is not in game shape right now and he's playing like it. Talent wise CJ1.364k (1,364 was his rushing total from last season) is one of the if not the best back in football. But talent alone doesn't get it done.
7 Frank Gore - 49ers - Gore had his streak of four straight 1,000 yard seasons snapped last season, due to a broken hip he suffered in Week 12 of 2010. He would have gone for five straight 1,000 yards seasons on the ground as he had 853 before that injury. Gore is now 28, but looks as good as ever, averaging 5 yards a carry this season to go with three straight 100 yard games from Week 3 to 6.
8 DeAngelo Williams - Panthers - DeAngelo has averaged 5 yards a carry 3 out of his 5 seasons (and is averaging 5 per this season in his 6th). At 217 pounds, he can break tackles, turn on the jets, pick up the blitz and catch out of the backfield. Only problem is he has had trouble getting into any consistent rhythm and putting up the monster numbers he's capable of, ever since the Panthers drafted RB Jonathan Stewart in the 1st round in of the 2008 Draft (in fact Williams has never gotten 300 carries in a season, and yet he's still produced 18 rushing TDS in a season [20 total TDS in '08 to be exact]). And he has yet to crack 13 carries in a game this season.
9 Maruice Jones-Drew - Jaguars - Coming out of the 2006 Draft it was though that 2nd rounder and UCLA Bruin MJD would be just a 3rd down back with return ability and 2nd overall pick and USC Trojan Reggie Bush would be a Pro Bowler who would be an every down back. Whoops!
10 Steven Jackson - Rams - The Rams certainly knew what they were doing when they drafted Jackson late in the 1st round in 2004 to be Marshall Faulk's air apparent. Coming into this year Jackson is going on 6 straight 1,000 yards rushing seasons. And at 28 years of age Jackson is still going strong.
11 Fred Jackson - Bills - Jackson is 30 years old, but is 6th in the NFL in rushing and is averaging an astounding 5.7 yards per carry. The reason why Jackson is producing like this at 30, is that he doesn't have a lot of tred on his tires. He didn't enter the fast paced world of the NFL until he was 25 (he played in the UIFL and NFL Europe before hand); and he didn't reach the 100 touches mark until his 3rd season in the NFL.
12 Jonathan Stewart - Panthers - Stewart played through a chronic left foot injury early in his career. Not to mention he was drafted into a timeshare. Stewart has only totaled 200+carries once in his young career and went over 1,100 rushing yards and scored 11 total TDs that season. Stewart has amazing talent, he just hasn't had a stage to fully showcase those talents in the NFL.
13 Arian Foster - Texans - Ever since Foster earned the starting running back job in Houston he's been putting up great numbers. The thing is of late so has just about any Texans running back. In fact Steve Slaton (who is now the 4th string running back for the Dolphins) gained over 1,600 total yards in his rookie season with the Texans. And this season Foster's backup Ben Tate has 44 more rushing yards than Foster does on 10 less carries (Tate is averaging 5.1 yards per carry which is a full yard better than Foster is [Foster has never averaged 5 yards a carry for a season in the NFL]). I equate Foster to former Colts running back Edgerrin James ('Edge' put up 16,000+ total yards in his career, but never averaged 5+ yards a carry either and is not worthy of the Hall Of Fame), he's a very good player in a great system.
14 Beanie Wells - Cardinals - Talent wise Wells is as good a runner as your going to find. And in his 3rd season Wells is finally proving that. Now if he could just figure out how to catch the football and pick up the blitz, he can at long last be a complete every down running back.
15 Rashard Mendenhall - Steelers - Some people (not Steeler fans) have forgotten that Mendenhall was taken one spot ahead of Chris Johnson in the 2008 Draft. Mendenhall like CJ, is having a rough 4th season. He's only averaging 3.7 yards per tote and putrid 4.3 yards per catch. After two straight 1,110 yards+ rushing seasons Mendenhall has regressed a bit.
16 Ryan Matthews - Chargers - Matthews was surprisingly taken 12th overall by San Diego last year and had a disappointing rookie season. His second season has been different so far. He's become one of the better receiving backs in the NFL (in half the games he played in 2010 he has 2 more catches this season than he did the last). The next step for Matthews is pushing teammate Mike Tolbert out of the picture.
17 Peyton Hillis - Browns - Don't tell Hillis there isn't a Maddern curse. The Madden 12 cover boy lost his starting left guard in the Eric Steinbach (who's one of the Browns best run blockers) before the season even started. Then going into Week 3 he got strep throat, and missed that week's game and loss 15 pounds because of the sickness. He injured his hamstring 6 carries (which he only gained 14 yards on anyway) into Week's 6 game in Oakland and missed the rest of that contest and the follow one. To top that all off Hillis has less yards rushing this season than 29-year-old Cadillac Williams who is the Rams backup running back. Youch.
18 LeGarrette Blount - Buccaneers - With Earnest Graham now out for the season (and sadly maybe his career) Blount can grab a strangle hold as THE running back of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I would hope Blount is using the Bucs Week 8 bye to rehab his injured knee and work on the jugs machine to improve his questionable pass catching.
19 Michael Turner - Falcons - In 2010 Turner had the worst season of his career averaging a career worst 4.1 yards per carry (which is .4 yards less then his previous career low). He's now 29 years old and there have been plenty of whispers for some time, that have said he's getting too old and most importantly he's wearing down because of the heavy workload he's gotten in Atlanta. Those whispers may be ringing true this season. Turner is 4th in rushing yards but in 4 of his 7 games this season he's faced teams giving up at least 4.8 yards per carry to their opponents. Turner rushed for 5.6 per carry in those games. Turner has only rushed for 2.6 yards per carry when he's faced a team giving up less than 4.8 yards per rush attempt. Things will only get tougher for him as time goes on.
20 Mark Ingram - Saints - Ingram has the talent to be one of the better all-around backs in the NFL. Ingram however was drafted into a team that has a stable of talented running backs. So it could be a while before Ingram is given a fair shot to prove he can be an elite running back.
21 Jahvid Best - Lions - Best has a leathal amount of talent but it may not last very long if he doesn't stop getting concussions.
22 Michael Bush - Raiders - Bush had a bad leg injury at the end of his college career that turned him from a sure 1st round pick to a eventual 4th round pick (and missed all of the 2007 season because of that leg injury). But in the 2008 Draft the Raiders drafted Darren McFadden with the 4th pick. Bush has five 100 yard rushing games (and two 130+ yard games) in his career, even though he's only had 10 starts and five games where he's carried the ball at least 20 times. Bush is already 27 years old, so the time to shine is running out for one of football's most underrated players.
23 Marshawn Lynch - Seahawks - Lynch has been running behind bad offensive lines his entire NFL career. He hasn't helped himself as he's constantly gotten in trouble of the field for the majority of his career. Bad luck and bad decisions have plauged Lynch since he got drafted by Buffalo. Going into this season it looked like Seattle had made some moves in free agency and the Draft that would significantly upgrade their O-Line, but youthful inexperience and injury problems have derailed that plan. Lynch has stayed out of trouble since he got traded to Seattle but the two time 1,000 yard back is once again running behind one of the worst O-Lines in the NFL.
24 Darren Sproles - Saints - Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers was publically upset that the Chargers lost Sproles in Free Agency this off-season. Sproles isn't making Rivers feel any better because Sproles is having a career year this season. He's 2nd in the League in receptions, plus he's averaging a ridiculous 7.4 yards a carry, not to mention he has 5 total touchdowns including one off a punt return. Sproles is certainly a great replacement and improvement over Reggie Bush as the Saints new 3rd down back and punt returner (to add on to that he's also the Saints kick returner something Bush wasn't for New Orleans).
25 Ahmad Bradshaw - Giants - Bradshaw's yards per carry average has gone down each season of his career (he averaged an insane 8.3 per carry his rookie year and now 4 seasons later he's down to 4 per carry). This is because Bradshaw at his best when he's in more of a limited role and can provide his team with a change of pace. He had a career year in 2010 in terms of rushing and receiving but also lost 6 fumbles. He's started every game this season for the Giants and has only cracked 4.1+ per carry once (he only had 15 carries in that game). Bradshaw isn't a bad #1 back he's far from a special one.
26 Mike Tolbert - Chargers - Tolbert has come out of no where to become one most versatile players in the NFL. He went undrafted out of Costal Carolina, and is now a valuable inside runner, good out of the backfield in the passing game and he is a skillful special teamer for San Diego.
27 CJ Spiller - Bills - Talent wise Spiller was a legit top 10 pick in last year's Draft. Logistically he just wasn't a good choice for the Bills at the time. Going into last season the Bills had current starter Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch already on the roster. As a rookie Spiller was predictably inconsistent and struggled as a runner, while he played his best football as the Bills kick returner. This season his playing time remains limited and inconsistent; but thanks to Spiller being more an assertive runner and improved offensive line play he's played very well. Spiller for the time being will continue to be an unnecessary luxury for Buffalo.
28 Pierre Thomas - Saints - Thomas is very capable of putting of some pretty good numbers. Thomas just isn't capable of staying healthy for long periods of time or being an every down back in the NFL.
29 Joseph Addai - Colts - Like 'Edge' before him Addai is a perfect fit for the Colts system. That being said that system has been built in Peyton Manning's image. The Colts decimated offensive line hasn't helped Addai this year either. But even with all that this season Addai has proved he can produce on his own merit (he's put up his 2nd best yards per carry average of his career). The two biggest problems for Addai in 2011 has been staying healthy (and in seasons past) and a lack of touches (in the 2 games this season when Addai has had 14+ carries he's averaged 4.8 yards per carry).
30 Stevan Ridley - Patriots - I have to admit during the pre-season I fell in love with Ridley's game. I can't remember the last time I saw a 3rd round rookie be such a complete back right out of the box. Ridley is the most talented running back New England has. The trouble for Ridley is they have three other talented running backs and the listed starter (BenJarvus Green-Ellis) is a veteran and a favorite of Bill Belichick. And even though Green-Ellis is a free agent this season, Shane Vareen is a rookie who as fast as lightning and 3rd down back Danny Woodhead just got a new contract during last season. I hope Ridley likes sharing.
31 Ben Tate - Texans - Tate has bounced back from a fractured ankle that he suffered during last year's pre-season (Tate missed his entire rookie season because of it). The 2010 2nd round pick is averaging over 5 yards a carry and three 100 yards games in six games played this season. Tate has proven he is able to carry the heavy load as a runner for the Texans but still has a ways to go as a 3rd down back (he only has 5 catches on the year). The no nonsense runner from Auburn University looks like he has a bright future ahead of him.
32 Kendall Hunter - 49ers - Hunter is one of the most slippery running backs I've ever seen. The crazy thing is he's barley 200 pounds soaking wet and he still has some ability to run in between the tackles. He's been a steal for San Francisco as a 4th round pick; and he's having a nice rookie season as Pro Bowler Frank Gore's backup. Hunter may end up being the 49ers starting running back of the future.
33 Willis McGahee - Broncos
34 Knoshown Moreno - Broncos
35 Shonn Greene - Jets
36 James Starks - Packers
37 Ryan Grant - Packers
38 DeMarco Murray - Cowboys
39 Cedric Benson - Bengals
40 BenJarvus Green-Ellis - Patriots
41 Toby Gerhart - Vikings
42 Felix Jones - Cowboys
43 Mike Goodson - Panthers
44 Brandon Jacobs - Giants
45 Javon Ringer - Titans
46 Isaac Redman - Steelers
47 Anthony Dixon - 49ers
48 Danny Woodhead - Patriots
49 Dexter McCluster - Chiefs
50 LaDainian Tomlinson - Jets