Thursday, August 30, 2012

Top 15 NFL Running Backs Heading In to 2012

As the NFL season draws nearer and nearer, now a week away, I've decided to help kick off this new blog of mine by doing top player lists for different positions in the NFL. We continue at running back with a top 15.

15. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle - Lynch scored 12 touchdowns in 2011 because he plays like a house and will always be famous for his ridiculous run against the Saints in the 2011 playoffs.  But the fact remains that he is a decidedly average runner in terms of yardage.  He has never had a yards per carry average higher than 4.4 and was only a 4.2 last year.  Lynch gets his numbers because of volume, but he's also shown a penchant for getting hurt and getting suspended.  He just barely makes the list over DeMarco Murray.
14. Fred Jackson, Buffalo - Jackson tore up the League last season to the tune of almost 1,000 yards in 11 weeks before he broke his leg.  His 5.5 yards per carry was excellent and he caught 39 balls for almost 450 yards in those 11 games. Jackson is a complete player who is a threat in both the run and the pass and will be a key to the Bills potentially making the playoffs.  He is only this far down because he is 31 and broken legs are very difficult to fully recover from.
13. Michael Turner, Atlanta - Turner is 30 but may be a young 30 because he spent four seasons as LaDanian Tomlinson's caddie with the Chargers.  But save for his final game of 2011, Turner was pitiful down the stretch last season and in the playoffs, averaging just over three yards per carry save that Tampa game in his last six contests.  He still rushed for 1,340 yards but didn't do a lot per carry (4.2).  Turner can punch scores in from in close very well, as well, but his limits as a pass catcher and his age keep him this high.

12. Ryan Mathews, San Diego - Mathews, like Jackson, is a complete player who is a threat both in the run game and passing game.  Despite missing two games last season and the majority of a third, Mathews had 1,000 rushing yards and his 4.9 average yards per carry led all running backs with more than 220 carries.  His catching prowess was shown by his 50 receptions and Mathews has game breaking speed when he gets in the open field. In order to be top 10, however, he must get in to the end zone more.
11. Frank Gore, San Francisco - Gore is a bull, plowing through blockers and tacklers on his way down the field.  Unfortunately, this means that he can almost never stay healthy, as he's only played one 16-game season since 2006.  Now 29, Gore's YPC has been 4.25 over the last two years, compared to 4.6 the two before that, so he's losing a bit of his explosiveness.  The Niners will continue to limit his workload which will prevent him from putting up big numbers, but he's a steady runner when he can stay healthy.  He just misses the top 10.
10. Steven Jackson, St. Louis - Jackson, despite playing on a Rams team that is often downright terrible, has rushed for 1,000 yards in seven consecutive seasons - while missing games in all but two of those seasons.  He's a workhorse, carrying the ball at least 250 times over that period in all but two seasons and 300 times three times.  His yards per carry is pretty bad, but the absence of St. Louis' passing game allows opponents to stack up against the run. Jackson has a ton of talent and has a few more good years left.
9. Darren McFadden, Oakland - If the man could stay healthy, he could be a top-5 running back.  Unfortunately, however, Run-DMC has had a terrible run of luck in the last two years that have seen him miss three and nine games respectively.  McFadden has excellent speed and explosiveness, averaging 5.3 yards per carry over the last two seasons, and rushing for 1,100 yards in 2010 in just 13 games.  DMC is also an above-average receiver and is the key to the Raiders making it back to the playoffs.
8. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City - Charles, who tore an ACL in week two last season, was on his way to becoming the best or second best young running back in football at the time of his injury.  Small for a back but very fast and elusive, Charles has a career yards per carry of just over six yards and had an excellent mark of 6.4 in his last full season.  Nearly a full year removed from his surgery, Charles as looked excellent in preseason and though he needs to score more inside the 20s to be considered elite, he is a beast from scrimmage, both via the run and pass.
7. Matt Forte, Chicago - Forte is another back whose season was dampened by injuries in 2011 but has elite skills.  Finally blossoming to his full potential last season, he had almost 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 997 rushing yards in just 12 games before getting hurt.  Forte can give you everything - goal line, ball movement, receiving from the backfield.  At age 26 and now healthy, the Louisiana native is poised for even further growth and better numbers now that Jay Cutler has a true downfield threat in Brandon Marshall.  He could be top five by seasons end.
6. Chris Johnson, Tennessee - Talk about a buzz kill.  After running for 2,000 yards in 2009, Johnson dropped to 1,346 in 2010 and just over 1,000 last season. His yards per carry dropped from 5.6 to 4.3 to a putrid 4.0.  And yet, the man has never rushed for fewer than 1,000 yards in his four NFL season and is still the fastest man in football.  Last season was a disaster because he skipped training camp, but CJ is in camp with his contract and is fueled.  He's top five on talent easily, but needs to produce again at the level he can to get there on this list.
5. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota - Coming off major knee surgery, Peterson is still one of the best in the business.  With four consecutive seasons of at least 1,298 yards to open his career, Peterson had 970 in just 12 games last year.  The man they call "all day" has explosive speed, runs powerfully, and is the backbone of the Vikings' offense and has never scored fewer than 10 touchdowns in any season, ever.  An average receiver, the 27 year old Peterson is still a stud.
4. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville - Currently holding out, MJD is still a prime talent and premier runner in the NFL.  Leading the league in rushing yards last year, the tiny Jones-Drew is powerful and fast, and his low center of gravity makes him very difficult to bring down.  With three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons since taking over the starting role full time from Fred Taylor, the man is consistent in all facets of the game - including receiving.  He's never caught fewer than 34 passes in a season.
3. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia - "Shady" led the NFL in touchdowns by a running back last season, scoring 17 times on the ground and three in the air for an Eagles team that sorely disappointed.  McCoy, who is only 24, has tremendous speed and agility that enabled him to run for 1,309 yards and a 4.8 yards per carry last season, both excellent figures for a player getting the ball behind what was then a poor offensive line.  As mentioned, the Pittsburgh product can catch and run and is a big threat on screen and dump off plays.  He is very close to the #2 and #1 spots.
2. Arian Foster, Houston - An undrafted vegan, Foster exploded on the scene in 2010 with a 200 yard game against the Colts during his third pro season and has never looked back.  Except for some hamstring woes at the start of last season, Foster has glided his way to consecutive excellent campaigns - 1,616 yards in '10 and 1,224 yards in '11 (while playing in only 13 games).  Foster can move the ball well between the 20s and is deadly near the goal line with his 230 pound frame - he's scored 16 and 10 touchdowns respectively in his first two seasons as a starter.  Topping 60 catches in each of his first two seasons, the man is also a superb receiver and is the heartbeat of Houston's dominant offense.
1. Ray Rice, Baltimore - Rice led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year with 2,068 and has recorded three consecutive seasons of 1,200 yards on the ground and 550 in the air.  Rice has good speed between the tackles and in the open field, and his size and weight (5'8", 212) makes him very difficlut to bring down when he gets going.  Simply put, Rice's age (25), superior receiving and running skills, and ability to score from in close make him the most well-rounded and complete back in football right now.  He could be in line for an even bigger season this year.

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