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ATL writers weigh in on NFL running back debate

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Around The League's Dan Hanzus unveiled his list of the top 30 running backs in football on Monday. His ATL colleagues had their own opinions. The following was taken from an actual email exchange.

From: Wesseling, Chris
Sent: Tuesday, May 06, 2013 3:38 PM
To: Rosenthal, Gregg; Hanzus, Dan
Subject: ORGANIC EMAIL CHAIN 3

So what's the premise here? How good the player is? Or how his stats will look in 2013. I ask essentially because the Ray Rice ranking is throwing me for a loop. There's a strong argument that he should be No. 2 behind only Peterson.

Other backs that are too low based on 2012 game tape: C.J. Spiller (should be two tiers higher), Trent Richardson (darkhorse to lead NFL in rushing after proving his toughness with 1,300+ yards and a dozen TDs despite playing injured. He's a better back than Alfred Morris), Maurice Jones-Drew (track record simply deserves much more benefit of the doubt), Darren McFadden (a top-five talent with the usual caveats applying), Steven Jackson (still plenty of life left in his legs, playing on the best offense -- by far -- of his career; he should be three tiers higher).

Take that shot across your bow, Hanzus.

DH: I knew I was going to take some fire from the comment section and Twitter, but my own ship?!? This is "Under Siege" come to life. First, the premise: On May 6, 2013, who are my top 30 running backs. Factor in everything: age, team, past success, future potential. Rice dipped for me because of how high I am on Bernard Pierce -- I think he's the future in B-more. That's not to say I wouldn't love Rice on my team.

The case can be made for Spiller, but Richardson ahead of Morris? Wess, you've been to too many Redskins name-change demonstrations.

Now to practice some super slow karate moves, a la Seagal.

GR: There are a few things to address here, but I'll start with the notion this is a "sneaky golden age of running backs." While the position is deeper than a few years ago, I'm not sure we can call it a golden age when C.J. Spiller makes the Pro Bowl team. Spiller is a very good player, but it's not like incredible backs are getting left out of the Pro Bowl. Morris is a system-boosted back. There's a huge drop-off after Peterson and the next group of backs seem typical enough.

As recently as 2010, 10 backs went over 1,200 rushing yards. (Same as last season.) As recently as 2007, five backs went over 1,500 rushing yards - more than last season. Travis Henry and Chester Taylor were over 1,200 that year and among the top 10 backs. There was no talk about a golden age then.

DH: Here I was starting to beat myself up about Spiller not being higher on the list. On an exceedingly mediocre Bills team with a shaky QB situation, Spiller averaged six yards per carry last season. I think he can be a top 5 guy if Doug Marrone is smart enough to give him more touches.

CW: Sneaky or no, we're not in any golden age for running backs. Statistics, usage patterns and the draft tell us as much. If this was a golden age, Peterson wouldn't be at the top of the mountain by himself.

Gregg is also correct about Morris as a system-boosted back. Trent Richardson for Alf Morris? Who turns down that trade, Lombardi or Shanahan? Once he stops belly laughing, it's Lombardi with the veto.

DH: I'm going to be the subject of an after-school special about bullying by the end of this. Let me send it in another direction, one that doesn't hurt me personally: What running back will make jump to bona fide star status by this time next year?

P.S. Sessler can't be here today, but this would be the spot where he'd attempt to will Richardson to greatness.

CW: Spiller jumped off the tape as much as any back, including Peterson last season. He's never going to be a workhorse like Peterson, and he's still not comfortable between the tackles, but he looked like 08-09 Chris Johnson last year.

GR: David Wilson and Richardson are probably the best candidates for star-to-be status. Wilson is just so much fun to watch; it's rare to see any player make the rest of the league look so slow. He could be like a Chris Johnson that actually deserved to be listed in the top-15 of this list.

(Also: I never would have guessed two years ago that ranking Chris Johnson No. 11 among all running backs in 2013 could seem so wildly generous.) Matt Forte is hurt personally just being in Johnson's tier.

DH: Let's wrap it here. Words hurt, guys.

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