We covered the NFL’s top 5 QB’s last week, and here is Part II in our best-by-position preview for the 2010 NFL season – The 5 best running backs in the National Football League.
Number 5 – Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
After a quiet rookie season in which he was mostly used behind McGahee and McClain or kick returns, 2009 was a real breakout season for the former Rutgers star. He rushed for 1339 yards, averaging 5.3 yards a carry, second only to Chris Johnson among rushers with over 200 attempts. He also scored his first career touchdown, finishing with 8 (7 rushing TD’s). He also led all RB’s in receiving, finishing with 702 and finishing second in the NFL, behind CJ, in yards from scrimmage, with 2041. He got his first trip to Hawaii and the Pro-Bowl while helping the Ravens finish 9-7. In the 33-14 wild card win over the Patriots, Rice scored a 83 yard TD, the second longest rushing TD in postseason history. Now the Anquan Boldin has joined the Ravens, Rice should have another fantastic all-purpose year with less focus from D’s on him.
Number 4- Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Finally becoming the Jaguars feature back in 2009, Jones-Drew had a fantastic year, rushing for a career best 1391 yards (4th in the NFL), scoring 15 Touchdowns, second only to Adrian Peterson. Like Rice, he made his first Pro-Bowl appearance earlier this year. He became one of only three players (Barry Sanders and Frank Gore being the others) to score two or more 75+ yards rushing touchdowns in a single game, after his 177 yards in only 8 carries performance against the Titans. Drew, like the Jags, needs to avoid the last month slump if they want to make it out of the very tough AFC South – Jacksonville lost five of their last six games in 2009, with Drew rushing for over 100 yards only once in the last seven games. One of the more versatile if not the most backs in the league, Drew needs to show some more stability. And Del Rio needs to draw up some more running plays.
Number 3 – Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
Why is the guy who broke the NFL’s yards from scrimmage record last year only third? Because he was the most used back in the league last season, making 358 rushing attempts. Usually, when running backs get used that much, they tend to follow with less productive years. But still, Johnson has a combination of speed, power and arrogance which is a rarity to be seen – He became the sixth running back in NFL history to finish with over 2000 rushing yards, finishing with 2006, the best since Jamal Lewis’ 2066 in 2003. Johnson led the league in touches with 408 and scored 14 rushing touchdowns. Johnson set a few other records, beside his 2,509 All-Scrimmage yards one (breaking Marshall Faulk’s mark) – In week 2 he scored three touchdowns, two on the ground and one as a receiver, becoming the first player to score a 50+, 60+ and 90+ TD’s, all in the same game. He rushed for 800 yards in the month of November, a new NFL record, and had 3 85+ yards touchdowns for the season, the first player to reach that mark. I’m pretty sure he won’t have a monster year like in ’09, but Johnson is excellent, and if his ego and injuries don’t set him back, he’s here to dazzle for a long time.
Number 2 – Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
If only he was on another team… Maybe the best back in the NFL, Jackson ran for over 1000 yards for the fifth straight season in 2009, rushing for 1416 yards but scoring only 4 TD’s. It sucks not having a decent quarterback or a normal O-line. Still, Jackson can get it done, pretty much by himself, and although there’s finally seems to be some wind of hope blowing in the Rams organization after the draft, Jackson will need to get it done, again, by himself. If he stays healthy, this just might be another productive year. And maybe his last in St. Louis. He deserved to be on a team the loses in single digits. And there are quite a few teams who could use a guy with his strength. Despite the Rams awful 2009, Jackson made his second Pro-Bow and second 2nd All-Pro NFL team. 2010 Might also see him return to his 2006 numbers, when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, if the Rams actually get a passing game going.
Number 1 – Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
As far as we know, Favre won’t be running the plays next season. And even if it means more focus on AP, I’m pretty sure he can handle it. He had another 1800+ yards from scrimmage season, rushing a bit less (49 less carries than in 2008) and catching a whole lot more (43 receptions, 436 receiving yards). It’ll probably shift back towards running this season, and Peterson probably does that better than anyone else. He also has one of the better O-line’s in the league to count on. He led the NFL in TD’s last year with 18, making his second First Team All-Pro selection and third Pro-Bowl in as many years he has been in the league. Even with Tavaris Jackson as his quarterback, Peterson will shine in 2010, more than anyone else. I’m not too sure about the Vikings doing the same, living in a “Post-Favre” World.