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The Top Five: Best Running Backs in the NFL

The running back position is in the midst of a huge shift.

One guy can no longer carry the entire load of an offense’s running game throughout a 16—game season. Defenses have gotten too big and fast, and the sustained pounding that one guy takes can effectively end his career.

Larry Johnson, for instance, has not been heard from since the season in which he carried the ball over 400 times. The beating that he took during that season still weighs him down, severely limiting his effectiveness.

Still, even with the increasingly popular running back tandems, there are certain guys who stand out from the crowd by doing it better than everyone else.

I’m a master of brilliant segues.


5. Brian Westbrook (Philadelphia Eagles)

78 games started, 5,721 rushing yards, 36 TDs, 4.6 YPC, 401 receptions, 3,609 receiving yards, 9 YPR, 28 TDs, 9,330 scrimmage yards, 64 total TDs, 2-time Pro Bowler and 1-time All-Pro

Westbrook is considered by some as the ultimate weapon.

He can hurt you on the ground, he can hurt you in the passing game, and let’s not forget that he’s one of the best pass-blocking backs in the game. He’s an all-around fantastic running back.

In fact, over the past few years, he’s the only player with 4,000 yards rushing and 3,000 yards receiving.

Yet he has never played in more than 15 games during a season and doesn’t take that much of a beating.

He’s not an up-the-middle kind of runner, and is extremely elusive which allows him to prevent taking the big hit, yet he’s always hurt. It could speak to the guy’s work ethic, but everyone in Philadelphia swears that he’s one of the hardest working guys on the team, so maybe it’s just bad luck.

Either way, the reason that Westbrook is this low is that his vision in between the tackles is below standard. A lot of times you’ll see him run into a pile when there’s a perfect lane just one cut-move to his right or left.

In space, he may be the best back in the league, however he’s less effective when it comes to “moving in a phone booth,” as they say.


4. LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers)

127 games started, 11,760 rushing yards, 126 TDs, 4.4 YPC, 510 receptions, 3,801 yards, 7.5 YPR, 15 TDs, 15,561 scrimmage yards, 141 total touchdowns, 5-time Pro Bowler and 3-time All-Pro

Personally, I don’t understand all of the criticism that L.T. has received over the past several months.

If you look at his body of work, he’s astounding. He’s missed one game, which was back in 2004, and has never rushed for less than 1,000 yards in any year since coming into the league eight years ago. He also completes at least 10 rushing touchdowns in a season, as well as a minimum 300 receiving yards.

Even last year, that everyone says was so terrible, was a decent year for any running back.

1,110 yards rushing, 11 TDs, 52 receptions, 426 yards, and a touchdown. The only bad part about last season was his 3.8 YPC, which admittedly is weak, but it’s also not bad considering he played through the entire season with nagging injuries.

If L.T. can put up those kind of numbers while playing hurt, coming back healthy this season should scare any defense unlucky enough to face him.


3. Michael Turner (Atlanta Falcons)

17 games started, 2,956 rushing yards, 23 TDs, 4.9 YPC, 17 receptions, 112 receiving yards, 6.6 YPR, 3,068 scrimmage yards, 23 total touchdowns, 1-time Pro Bowler and 1-time All-Pro

Michael “The Burner” Turner finally got a chance to emerge from the shadow of the great LaDainian Tomlinson and show the league what he can do.

Apparently, he can do a lot.

In his first season as a starter, Turner was able to rack up almost 1,700 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns, while earning a Pro Bowl nod and being selected to the All-Pro team.

He’s not much of a receiver out of the backfield, which is why the Falcons have Jerious Norwood, but it’s fine because Turner makes up for it on the ground.

Just like Adrian Peterson (expect to see that name again) he can plow a guy over, or run away from a defensive back. His speed is unbelievable for a guy who is closing in on 240 pounds, the size of most fullbacks.

Look for Turner to continue his success and become a mainstay in discussions like these, and in the Pro Bowl/All-Pro clubs.


2. DeAngelo Williams (Carolina Panthers)

18 games started, 2,733 rushing yards, 23 TDs, 5.1 YPC, 78 receptions, 609 receiving yards, 7.8 YPR, 4 TDs, 3,342 scrimmage yards, 27 total touchdowns

If there ever was a Pro Bowl snub, this guy is it.

Coming off a year in which he ran for over 1,500 yards and accounted for 18 touchdowns on the ground, DeAngelo Williams missed the Pro Bowl.

By the way, last season was his first as a full-time starter.

Williams showed the speed, quickness, agility, and vision needed to be a running back in today’s NFL. He could make even the best of corners and safeties look foolish in the open field, while also using his 5’8″ 210—pound frame to barrel over the biggest linebackers.

He and Jonathan Stewart combined for perhaps the best running back tandem in the league, but a lot of Stewart’s success could be attributed to Williams’ intimidation of opponents.

In a few years, expect Williams to draw comparisons to guys like L.T. and Brian Westbrook in their early days, if he isn’t already.


1. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings)

24 games started, 3,101 rushing yards, 22 TDs, 5.2 YPC, 40 receptions, 393 receiving yards, 9.8 YPR, 1 TD, 3,494 scrimmage yards, 23 total touchdowns, 2-time Pro Bowler and 1-time All-Pro

This pick is a no-brainer, and I’m not sure that there’s a journalist out there willing to stake their reputation on not putting this guy as No. 1.

He’s an absolutely unbelievable talent. He can become a power runner if that’s what you need, or he can run away from you in the open field and make the entire defensive secondary look like high school kids.

He’s already drawing comparisons to guys like Earl Campbell and Jim Brown, and merits every one.

He’s a nightmare for defenses and is already setting records in the NFL. For instance, in his rookie season he broke Jamal Lewis’ mark of 295 rushing yards in a single game by rushing for 296 yards against the San Diego Chargers.

Yes, in his rookie season.

This kid will only get better, and while he does have some things to work on, he should have no problem being remembered as one of the greats when his time is up.

Which, unfortunately for the rest of the league, isn’t for quite some time.


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