Skip to main content

Instant Debate

It's a two-man race for best RB in NFL distinction

With Jamaal Charles (33) and Steven Jackson (38) recently revealed in NFL Network's "Top 100 Players of 2011" countdown, how should the remaining running backs be ranked? This is based on the assumption that the remaining backs are the big four: Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Adrian Peterson.

  • !
  • Steve Wyche
  • AP is 1A to CJ2K's 1B

1. Peterson. With Sidney Rice down last season and Brett Favre playing poorly, nobody feared the Vikings' passing game so opponents stacked the box with at least eight defenders. Peterson still delivered. He also overcame the fumbles that plagued him in 2009.  
  <table align="right" width="315px"> 
      <content:static src="/widgets/custom/packages/latest_debates.html"></content:static></td> 

2. Johnson. CJ2K is more like back 1B. Everyone knows he is getting the ball but he's still able to get positive yards in big chunks. While it's his speed that makes him so dangerous, his vision and burst through tight seams are why he's so great.

  1. Jones-Drew. He is so productive and is one of the most difficult players in the league to tackle. His balance is off the charts and MJD does everything well.
  1. Foster. Excellent player but he's only done it for one year in a scheme, that if executed properly, keeps opponents in nickel defenses that leave a lot of room to roam when he gets to the second level.
  • !
  • Vic Carucci
  • CJ2K races past the field

1. Johnson. There isn't a running back who matches his ability to take the ball and be gone in a blink. That threat, along with his sheer athleticism and instincts, allows him to overcome whatever he might lack as a receiver (which isn't much) and makes him the best and most dangerous running back in the game.  
  1. Peterson. His considerable power and explosiveness are defining qualities that separate him from other elite backs. He also does a magnificent job of catching the ball. Peterson's biggest drawback, and a reason he doesn't appear at the top of my list, is his tendency to fumble.
  1. Jones-Drew. An extremely versatile running back, MJD consistently performs at a high level while literally carrying the bulk of the load of the Jaguars' offense. Although opponents' general lack of fear of the Jaguars' passing game allows them to stack up against the run, Jones-Drew still manages to be a difference-making force.
  1. Foster. He is enormously talented and one of the greatest undrafted-free-agent success stories in the NFL. Foster also gets high marks for his versatility. The only reason he doesn't rank higher on this list is because he benefits greatly from being part of such a prolific passing game that generally forces defenses, through personnel groupings and strategy, to be focused on coverage rather than stopping the run.
  • !
  • Bucky Brooks
  • Big-play capability puts Johnson ahead of rest

1. Johnson. He rates as the best running back in the game due to his speed, burst and acceleration. He is a threat to take it the distance whenever he touches the ball, something that sets him apart from the others. on the list.  
  1. Peterson. He ranks right behind CJ2K, but he has fewer explosive runs (carries over 20 yards) and more fumbles, which pushes the comparison in Johnson's favor.
  1. Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew has been a terrific workhorse for the Jaguars over the past two seasons. He has posted back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons and amassed 12 100-yard games during that span. Although he hasn't produced a significant number of explosive runs, his steady production and impact gives him the nod over Foster.
  1. Foster. Not that Foster isn't a terrific player, but he has only done it for one year and you would like to see him duplicate his production before tabbing him as one of the best in the league.
  • !
  • Jason La Canfora NFL Network
  • 'Automatic' AP is game's best back

1. Peterson. I have to put AP first because he's durable and consistent. Peterson's worst, I'd say, ends up more productive than CJ2K's. AP might be a little more "automatic." He's a freak-of-nature specimen.  
  1. Jones-Drew. I love MJD, and I'd put him behind only AP of these four. He does it year in and year out, and put a team on his back at times last season despite injuries.
  1. Johnson. While on his best day he is better than anyone, he's a home-run hitter who tends to be more feast or famine with so much of his success predicated on speed.
  1. Foster. He had a huge, breakthrough season. But we've seen other backs do similar things in that zone scheme and I'm not ready to crown him as a top-four back just yet after one season. Ben Tate should be healthy this year, and just a few years ago Steve Slaton was putting up gaudy numbers in Houston and now he's an afterthought. I don't think that will end up being close to the case with Foster, but I'm also not ready to anoint him to the lofty status shared by backs who enter every year as a threat to flirt with 2,000 yards.
  • !
  • Pat Kirwan
  • Peterson is the pick

Ranking the four remaining backs is an easy task because no order is going to be wrong.

  1. Peterson. My preference is AP here because I do believe he's the best back in the NFL and is growing as a receiver as well.
  1. Foster. Usually, I would put Johnson here, but it's hard to deny what Foster did in 2010. Foster was first in rushing yards and second in runs over 10 yards, so the pick is Foster.
  1. Johnson. It's close between Johnson and MJD, but CJ2K was fourth in rushing and is a tremendous matchup problem in the passing game so he gets the nod. Johnson's 12 total touchdowns last year were five better than Jones-Drew.
  1. Jones-Drew. MJD was fifth in rushing and only played in 14 games. MJD plays with great heart and is a better receiver than some would think with his stocky build.
  • !
  • Elliot Harrison
  • AP is complete, consistent

1. Peterson. He's done his best to become a complete player, as noted by his getting over the fumble woes of 2009. He's also consistent. But my favorite thing about him is how hard he runs ... he just doesn't take many plays off.  
  1. CJ. No back had to struggle more than he did last year. When Tennessee played in Houston with Rusty Smith at quarterback, Johnson faced at least eight defenders in the box every play. With the Titans' quarterback situation so in flux, the man who suffered was No. 28. Yet, he still gained more than 1,300 yards with every team solely concerned with stopping him. He's also the biggest home-run hitter from the tailback spot.
  1. MJD. Jones-Drew has been somewhat underappreciated in his career. When he came into the league, he shared carries with a very good player in Fred Taylor. Some people might not realize what a very good lead back he is now. What he has that Foster doesn't (yet) is a body of work. His last two seasons: 1,391 yards, 4.5 yards-per-carry average in 2009 ... 1,324 yards and a 4.4 yards-per-carry average in 2010. That's consistency.
  1. Foster. He was so explosive last year, and followed the one-cut running methodology ... see the crease, make one cut and explode. What's interesting about Foster is that his own division rival, Jones-Drew, saw his breakout year coming, predicting he would be a huge fantasy stud in 2010. That said, I can't rank Foster higher because he's only had one big season. And let's be honest, the Houston passing attack opens up the ground game considerably. None of the players above have that tremendous advantage.
This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content