August 20, 2012

Best Running Backs in the NFL Entering 2012: The Top 15

#32 Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars


The 2012 Preseason is on going, meaning the regular season is fast approaching. I've decided to rank the top 15 running backs entering the 2012 NFL based on a combination of factors such as production, talent, and overall skill set. This was just as hard as ranking the quarterbacks, as there are five backs who could all be considered the best at the position, while there are several other talented backs close to being elite.

Top 15 Entering the 2012 Season: Quarterbacks / Running Backs / Wide Receivers / Tight Ends / Defensive Ends / Defensive Tackles / Outside Linebackers



1. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Height: 5-7 | Weight: 208 lbs.
Age: 27 | Experience: 7 Years


2011 Season Stats:
343 Attempts, 1,606 Rushing Yards (4.7 YPC), 8 TD, 3 Fumbles; 43 Receptions, 374 Receiving Yards (8.7 YPC), 3 TD

Career Stats:
1,484 Attempts, 6,854 Rushing Yards (4.6 YPC), 62 TD, 13 Fumbles; 278 Receptions, 2,473 Receiving Yards (8.9 YPC), 10 TD

Playoff Stats:
14 Attempts, 48 Rushing Yards (3.4 YPC), TD; 7 Receptions, 92 Receiving Yards (13.0 YPC), TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
3-Time Pro Bowl Selection
3-Time All-Pro Selection
2011 NFL Rushing Leader












Analysis: When asked who is the best running back in the NFL, people usually overlook Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. This should not be the case.Jones-Drew is definitely one of the top 5 running backs in football, but there can be a case made for him being the best back.

The three-time Pro Bowl running back led the league in rushing last season, with a career high 1,606 rushing yards, and another career high with 4.7 yards per carry. Over the past three years, he has been the most productive back in league.

Even though he is small in stature, MJD is a complete back with a great combination of speed and strength. He is very effective in pass protection and near the goal line.





2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 217 lbs.
Age: 27 | Experience: 6 Years


2011 Season Stats:
208 Attempts, 970 Rushing Yards (4.7 YPC), 12 TD, 1 Fumble; 18 Receptions, 139 Receiving Yards (7.7 YPC), TD

Career Stats:
1,406 Attempts, 6,752 Rushing Yards (4.8 YPC), 64 TD, 21 Fumbles; 137 Receptions, 1,309 Receiving Yards (9.6 YPC), 3 TD

Playoff Stats:
71 Attempts, 268 Rushing Yards (3.8 YPC), 5 TD; 3 Receptions, 33 Receiving Yards (11.0 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
4-Time Pro Bowl Selection
4-Time All-Pro Selection
1-Time Pro Bowl MVP
1-Time FedEx Ground Player of the Year
2008 NFL Rushing Title
2007 NFC Rushing Leader








Analysis: Ask anyone who the best running back in the league, and you are bound to get different answers. Although, the consensus answer is usually Adrian Peterson.

Before an ACL injury ended his 2011 season, Peterson was on his way to another Pro Bowl year. He has been arguably the best running back in the NFL since his rookie season, that's how great of a back he is.

Compared to other backs on this list, Peterson isn't as productive in the passing game, though he is a pretty good receiver. He has also cut down on the fumbles, and he'll be back at the top of the list if he can rebound from injury.





3. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 229 lbs.
Age: 25 | Experience: 4 Years


2011 Season Stats:
278 Attempts, 1,224 Rushing Yards (4.4 YPC), 10 TD, 4 Fumbles; 53 Receptions, 617 Receiving Yards (11.6 YPC), 2 TD

Career Stats:
659 Attempts, 3,097 Rushing Yards (4.7 YPC), 29 TD, 7 Fumbles; 127 Receptions, 1,314 Receiving Yards (10.3 YPC), 4 TD

Playoff Stats:
51 Attempts, 285 Rushing Yards (5.6 YPC), 3 TD; 8 Receptions, 51 Receiving Yards (6.4 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
2-Time All-Pro Selection
2010 NFL Rushing Leader












Analysis: A former undrafted free agent from The University of Tennessee, Arian Foster had a breakout season in 2010 when he led the entire NFL in rushing. He followed up with another productive season despite missing three games.

Foster is a complete back who can carry the load. He has a great combination of size, speed, vision, and quickness that makes him an elite back. He was awesome in the Texans' two playoff games this past season, which is a good sign.

One thing Foster needs to fix is his fumbles. He has put the ball on the ground seven times in the last two seasons. Also, many people knock foster because he may be the beneficiary of a running back friendly zone-blocking scheme.

This does not take away from Arian Foster's talent, as it takes a special back to succeed in that scheme. If you told me Arian Foster was the best back in the NFL, I would not disagree.





4. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 208 lbs.
Age: 24 | Experience: 4 Years


2011 Season Stats:
273 Attempts, 1,309 Rushing Yards (4.8 YPC), 17 TD, 1 Fumble; 48 Receptions, 315 Receiving Yards (6.6 YPC), 3 TD

Career Stats:
635 Attempts, 3,026 Rushing Yards (4.8 YPC), 28 TD, 4 Fumbles; 166 Receptions, 1,215 Receiving Yards (7.3 YPC), 5 TD

Playoff Stats:
17 Attempts, 70 Rushing Yards (4.1 YPC); 5 Receptions, 45 Receiving Yards (9.0 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time All-Pro Selection
1-Time FedEx Ground Player of the Year












Analysis: LeSean McCoy was arguably the best back in football last season, and was the best running back in the NFC. After this season, McCoy could be recognized as the best back in all of football.

He has a rare and elite skill set at the position, and he actually led the league in broken tackles last year. He is an elusive back who is very effective in the passing game.

McCoy led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns, and was on the receiving end of three more. 2011 was his best season by far, and if he can duplicate that success in 2012, he could emerge as the league's best running back.





5. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Height: 5-8 | Weight: 212 lbs.
Age: 25 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
291 Attempts, 1,364 Rushing Yards (4.7 YPC), 12 TD, 2 Fumbles; 76 Receptions, 704 Receiving Yards (9.3 YPC), 3 TD

Career Stats:
959 Attempts, 4,377 Rushing Yards (4.6 YPC), 24 TD, 5 Fumbles; 250 Receptions, 2,235 Receiving Yards (8.9 YPC), 5 TD

Playoff Stats:
107 Attempts, 444 Rushing Yards (4.2 YPC), 3 TD; 29 Receptions, 208 Receiving Yards (7.2 YPC), TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
2-Time All-Pro Selection













Analysis: Another small-stature running back, Ray Rice usually gets overlooked when talking about the best backs in the NFL. However, there is no doubt that he is one of the top 5 at his position.

Rice has been very productive over the last three seasons, rushing for 3,923 yards, and 24 touchdowns. He is probably the best receiver of the bunch as well, as he led the Ravens last season.

He may not have great size or an elite skill set, but Rice's consistent production and reliability make him one of the league's best.





6. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 191 lbs.
Age: 26 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
262 Attempts, 1,047 Rushing Yards (4.0 YPC), 4 TD, 3 Fumbles; 57 Receptions, 418 Receiving Yards (7.3 YPC)

Career Stats:
1,187 Attempts, 5,645 Rushing Yards (4.8 YPC), 38 TD, 9 Fumbles; 194 Receptions, 1,426 Receiving Yards (7.4 YPC), 4 TD

Playoff Stats:
11 Attempts, 72 Rushing Yards (6.6 YPC), TD; 1 Reception, 28 Receiving Yards (28.0 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
3-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time First Team All-Pro Selection
1-Time NFL Offensive Player of the Year
1-Time FedEx Ground Player of the Year
2009 NFL Rushing Title










Analysis: After arguably the best season for a running back in NFL history when he amassed 2,006 yards rushing, Chris Johnson has seen a drop of production over the last two years.

Johnson's drop in production could be the result of his hold out, as well as a lack of focus. He did run for over 2,400 yards and 15 touchdowns (4.2 YPC) the last two seasons, but that isn't great compared to his 3,200+ rushing yards and 23 touchdowns (5.3 YPC).

Still, Johnson seems to be returning to form, and is still one of the scariest running backs in terms of breaking the long one. Not to mention the fact that he has only missed one game in four seasons.

Expect "CJ2K" to bounce back this season, while returning to the top of the league in terms of production in the process.





7. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 240 lbs.
Age: 29 | Experience: 9 Years


2011 Season Stats:
260 Attempts, 1,145 Rushing Yards (4.4 YPC), 5 TD, 1 Fumble; 42 Receptions, 333 Receiving Yards (7.9 YPC), TD

Career Stats:
2,138 Attempts, 9,093 Rushing Yards (4.3 YPC), 52 TD, 18 Fumbles; 369 Receptions, 3,003 Receiving Yards (8.1 YPC), 8 TD

Playoff Stats:
19 Attempts, 68 Rushing Yards (3.6 YPC); 3 Receptions, 3 Receiving Yards (1.0 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
3-Time Pro Bowl Selection
2-Time All-Pro Selection
3-Time Rams MVP
2009 NFC Rushing Champion
Rams All-Time Rushing Leader










Analysis: When he is on the field, Steven Jackson is arguably the best back in football. He has only played a full season twice in his career, so durability has been a concern.

However, the most games Jackson has missed in a season is 4, in both 2007 and 2008. Still, Jackson is one of the most consistent and productive running backs in the game, and takes good care of the football.

He doesn't score as many touchdowns as you would like, and he may be wearing down, but he is still a guy I would want to give the ball to 25 times a game.





8. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 199 lbs.
Age: 25 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
12 Attempts, 83 Rushing Yards (6.9 YPC), 1 Fumble; 5 Receptions, 9 Receiving Yards (1.8 YPC), TD

Career Stats:
499 Attempts, 3,027 Rushing Yards (6.1 YPC), 12 TD, 6 Fumbles; 117 Receptions, 1,046 Receiving Yards (8.9 YPC), 6 TD

Playoff Stats:
9 Attempts, 82 Rushing Yards (9.1 YPC), TD; 1 Reception, 15 Receiving Yards (15.0 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time All-Pro Selection
1-Time FedEx Ground Player of the Year












Analysis: Jamaal Charles is one of the most underrated players in football. Unfortunately for him, the Chiefs don't seem to think of him as a feature back, but is has the talent to be one.

Charles is a fast, elusive running back who is always a threat to take it the distance. In 2009, he rushed for over 1,100 yards on less than 200 carries, averaging almost 6 yards a pop. He was even better in 2011, rushing for almost 1,500 yards on just 230 carries.

Charles went down early last season, but was expected to have a big season for the Chiefs. If he can rebound from his ACL injury, he could be viewed as one of the 5 or 6 backs in the league going forward.





9. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
Height: 5-9 | Weight: 217 lbs.
Age: 29 | Experience: 8 Years


2011 Season Stats:
282 Attempts, 1,211 Rushing Yards (4.3 YPC), 8 TD, 2 Fumbles; 17 Receptions, 114 Receiving Yards (6.7 YPC)

Career Stats:
1,653 Attempts, 7,625 Rushing Yards (4.6 YPC), 43 TD, 24 Fumbles; 287 Receptions, 2,397 Receiving Yards (8.4 YPC), 9 TD

Playoff Stats:
29 Attempts, 163 Rushing Yards (5.6 YPC); 13 Receptions, 83 Receiving Yards (6.4 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
3-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time Second Team All-Pro Selection
2006 NFC Rushing Champion
2006 Most Improved Player of the Year











Analysis: Frank Gore seems to fly under the radar every season, despite the fact that he is one of the most consistent running backs in the game.

Gore had his best season in 2006 when he rushed for almost 1,700 yards and 8 touchdowns while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He hasn't really come close to those numbers the past five seasons, but has still been very productive.

At almost 30 years old, Gore can still be relied on to carry the load, but could see a drop in production with Brandon Jacobs, Kendall Hunter, and LaMichael James all expected to steal carries from him.





10. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 218 lbs.
Age: 26 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
203 Attempts, 997 Rushing Yards (4.9 YPC), 3 TD, 1 Fumble; 52 Receptions, 490 Receiving Yards (9.4 YPC), TD

Career Stats:
1,014 Attempts, 4,233 Rushing Yards (4.2 YPC), 21 TD, 7 Fumbles; 223 Receptions, 1,985 Receiving Yards (8.9 YPC), 8 TD

Playoff Stats:
42 Attempts, 150 Rushing Yards (3.6 YPC); 13 Receptions, 144 Receiving Yards (11.1 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection
1-Time NFL Rookie of the Week
1-Time NFC Offensive Player of the Week












Analysis: Matt Forte is the most important player for the Bears not named Jay Cutler. He accounts for a high percentage of their offense, and needs to produce in order for the Bears to be a playoff team.

Before going down with a knee injury, Forte was on pace to have a career year. In terms of production, Forte isn't an elite back. In fact, he is almost unreliable near the goal line.

However, he is a good all-around back who could emerge as a top 5 back with a productive 2012 season.





11. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 218 lbs.
Age: 24 | Experience: 5 Years


2011 Season Stats:
113 Attempts, 614 Rushing Yards (5.4 YPC), 4 TD, 1 Fumble; 19 Receptions, 154 Receiving Yards (8.1 YPC), TD

Career Stats:
553 Attempts, 2,627 Rushing Yards (4.8 YPC), 16 TD, 11 Fumbles; 116 Receptions, 1,191 Receiving Yards (10.3 YPC), 4 TD

Playoff Stats:
N/A

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
N/A














Analysis: In terms of talent, there might not be a running back better than Darren McFadden. This was obvious during the first seven games of the 2011 season, where McFadden rushed for 614 yards on 113 carries.

Unfortunately, McFadden has yet to play a full season in the NFL, and is finally seen as the primary running back in Oakland.

If McFadden can stay healthy, which is a big if, he should have a big 2012 season, and should be viewed as a top 5 back very soon.





12. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
Height: 5-10 | Weight: 247 lbs.
Age: 30 | Experience: 9 Years


2011 Season Stats:
301 Attempts, 1,340 Rushing Yards (4.5 YPC), 11 TD, 3 Fumbles; 17 Receptions, 168 Receiving Yards (9.9 YPC)

Career Stats:
1,417 Attempts, 6,538 Rushing Yards (4.6 YPC), 56 TD, 13 Fumbles; 51 Receptions, 400 Receiving Yards (7.8 YPC)

Playoff Stats:
89 Attempts, 310 Rushing Yards (3.5 YPC), 3 TD; 3 Receptions, 17 Receiving Yards (5.7 YPC)

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection
2-Time All-Pro Selection
2-Time NFC Rushing Leader












Analysis: Since signing with the Falcons in 2008 after backing up Ladainian Tomlinson in San Diego, Michael Turner has been one of the most productive and reliable backs in the NFL.

Averaging 4.5 yards per carry, Turner rushed for almost 1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. Even though he has seen a decrease in carries the last two years, he has still racked up over 2,700 yards and 23 touchdowns.

One thing keeping Turner from being higher on this list is the fact that he is pretty much a non-factor in the passing game. He also seems to be wearing down, and at 30 years old, may only have a few good years left.





13. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 215 lbs.
Age: 31 | Experience: 6 Years


2011 Season Stats:
170 Attempts, 934 Rushing Yards (5.5 YPC), 6 TD, 2 Fumbles; 39 Receptions, 442 Receiving Yards (11.3 YPC)

Career Stats:
817 Attempts, 3,794 Rushing Yards (4.6 YPC), 16 TD, 9 Fumbles; 175 Receptions, 1,535 Receiving Yards (8.8 YPC), 4 TD

Playoff Stats:
N/A

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time NFL Ground Player of the Week














Analysis: Fred Jackson is another underrated back who was actually leading the league in rushing through the first nine games of the 2011 season. Like several other backs on this list, he went down with an injury, causing him to miss the remainder of the season.

Jackson is a complete back, who can be relied upon every down. He rushed for 1,000+ yards in 2009, and almost 930 yards in 2010 with less carries. The fact that he had 934 rushing yards on 170 carries in 10 games is a testament to how far he has come along.

In terms of production, Jackson may not be viewed as elite, but he has a very impressive skill set. Look for him to bounce back as one of the top rushers in the AFC in 2012.





14. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Height: 5-11 | Weight: 215 lbs.
Age: 26 | Experience: 6 Years


2011 Season Stats:
285 Attempts, 1,204 Rushing Yards (4.2 YPC), 12 TD, 3 Fumbles; 28 Receptions, 212 Receiving Yards (7.6 YPC), TD

Career Stats:
1,137 Attempts, 4,542 Rushing Yards (4.0 YPC), 35 TD, 11 Fumbles; 143 Receptions, 1,020 Receiving Yards (7.1 YPC), 2 TD

Playoff Stats:
23 Attempts, 133 Rushing Yards (5.8 YPC), TD

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
2-Time Pro Bowl Selection














Analysis: Marshawn Lynch has "revived his career" in Seattle so to speak. After rushing for over 2,100 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two seasons in Buffalo, Lynch's role and production began to decrease.

In his first year in Seattle, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, and rushed for only 573 yards. However, it was his unbelievable touchdown run against the Saints in the postseason that sparked his best season in 2011.

Speaking of the 2011 season, Lynch ran the ball 285 times for 1,204 yards, and 12 touchdowns. All career highs. He got into some trouble recently, but he seems to be focused and ready to expand on his career year.





15. Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Height: 6-0 | Weight: 218 lbs.
Age: 24 | Experience: 3 Years


2011 Season Stats:
222 Attempts, 1,091 Rushing Yards (4.9 YPC), 6 TD, 5 Fumbles; 50 Receptions, 455 Receiving Yards (9.1 YPC)

Career Stats:
380 Attempts, 1,769 Rushing Yards (4.7 YPC), 13 TD, 10 Fumbles; 72 Receptions, 600 Receiving Yards (8.3 YPC)

Playoff Stats:
N/A

Super Bowl Stats:
N/A

Career Accomplishments:
1-Time Pro Bowl Selection














Analysis: Ryan Mathews is certainly a guy to watch this upcoming season. He could move up this list in the next year or two.

Unfortunately, a broken clavicle will sideline him for the first 2-4 weeks of the season, but Mathews should still put up pretty good numbers as the main focal point of San Diego's offense.

He certainly has the talent, and has a Pro Bowl 2011 season, where he rushed for almost 1,100 yards. You would like to see him work on the fumbles, but no question about it, Mathews is one his way to being no worse than a top 10 running back in the NFL.