NFL Network airs the final episode of "The Top 100 Players of 2014" at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday. One thing we already know is that the top 10 will include three running backs (listed alphabetically):
» Jamaal Charles: The 27-year-old led the Kansas City Chiefs in rushing and receiving yards in 2013, establishing himself as a legitimate MVP candidate.
» LeSean McCoy: Turning 26 this week, "Shady" is the NFL's reigning rushing king and the engine of the Philadelphia Eagles' high-octane offense under Chip Kelly.
» Adrian Peterson: "All Day," the Minnesota Vikings' 29-year-old freak of nature who says age doesn't apply to him, joined the 10,000-yard club last fall.
Let's say you're starting a team from scratch today and have the opportunity to lock up one of these backs for the rest of his career. Taking everything into account (production, age, injury history, etc.), who would you select: Charles, McCoy or Peterson?
'All Day' is one of the all-time greatsI realize LeSean McCoy has attempted to manufacture a debate this offseason, but Adrian Peterson is head and shoulders above the crowd at running back -- and, for that matter, Jamaal Charles was more valuable than McCoy in 2013. McCoy certainly has a considerable age edge on Peterson, but running backs are like starting pitchers in baseball: You have to live in the present, because the chance of injury is too great in the nebulous future.
Peterson is a generational talent, and generational talents generally enjoy a longer sustained peak than most. Considering Peterson's legendary workout habits, I think he can stay successful through his early 30s. Give me Peterson. He's the best talent at the position since the turn of the century.
McCoy has youth and boundless promiseAdrian Peterson still reigns as the NFL's supreme back, but he's eight months away from turning 30. Based on age alone, I'm rolling with LeSean McCoy.
Yes, Shady's league-leading numbers last season were inflated by Chip Kelly's ground-heavy offense, but the back's 5.1-yards-per-carry mark was no mirage. He topped Peterson and Charles in that category and displayed outstanding explosiveness in space. I wasn't in love with the Eagles workhorse boasting that he's already the NFL's best runner -- he's not -- but he has the talent to fulfill that role in time.
McCoy is entering the prime of his career and looms as the ideal candidate to anchor the ground game (on my fictional team) for the next half decade.
It's a no-brainer: Go with the back who's got it allThis is easy. I pick Adrian Peterson. I can run any system and know that Peterson will dominate. He's the ultimate back: physical, speedy, tough, clutch.
Consider that he carried Minnesota to the playoffs in 2012 -- with Christian Ponder as his quarterback. Looking ahead to 2014, Peterson should be even more of a factor catching passes in new Vikings coordinator Norv Turner's offense. Peterson wrecks defensive game plans. He's the best.
McCoy edges out Charles in the long viewIf I were picking a running back for one game or even a season or two, I would select Adrian Peterson. He can run inside and outside, and he can handle any kind of weather. I like his combination of size, strength, speed and determination. But if I were picking a back for two to four years, I would take LeSean McCoy.
The Eagles speedster has big-play ability -- he posted nine runs and eight catches of 20 yards or more in 2013. McCoy also has learned to run inside. That said, it's a close call between McCoy and Jamaal Charles. Ultimately, I'll go with McCoy because I've seen more of him and had him rated higher coming out of college, which I've found to still be a good evaluation tool at the NFL level.
Let's not overreact to one season's offeringsThe temptation here is to overlook Adrian Peterson as the greatest running back on the planet. He is, after all, coming off a season in which he was outgained by more than 700 total yards by LeSean McCoy. But I refuse to use one season in a vacuum as proof that Peterson is no longer the best in the business. He is a top-five all-time player at his position and should have at least one more prime season in the tank at 29.
Bet against AD if you wish ... but remember what they say about those who forget the past.