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L.T., the truth hurts: Peterson clearly is the best running back in the NFL

Sorry, LaDainian Tomlinson, but you've got it wrong.

Adrian Peterson is, in fact, the best running back in the NFL. You're not.

At one time, you held that distinction. At one time, the comparisons between you and Jim Brown, the all-time gold standard for the position, were legitimate. At one time, you carried both the football and the fortunes of the San Diego Chargers.

Not any longer.

You're 30. You're slowing down. Your body is breaking down. So despite recently telling the Los Angeles Times that you can do more than Peterson and priding yourself on "not having any weaknesses" is what makes you the league's "best back," I'd like to provide a little reality check.

You're good. Good enough to be an effective complement to your speedier and more dynamic backfield mate, Darren Sproles. Good enough to provide solid support for the man whose performance does have the greatest influence on the Chargers' fortunes, quarterback Philip Rivers.

But Peterson is great. Great enough to do far more to put the Minnesota Vikings into serious playoff contention than his new and more heavily hyped teammate, Brett Favre. Great enough to win a second consecutive NFL rushing crown and be a preseason favorite for MVP honors.

You are a tremendously accomplished receiver, LaDainian, and there is no arguing that you have been much more productive in that area than Peterson.

But this is a discussion about who sits atop the NFL when it comes to running with the football. Right now, it begins and ends with Peterson, who is entering his third year in the league.

Beyond the obvious statistical comparison (Peterson's 3,101 rushing yards in his first two pro seasons being 520 yards more than your total in the same period), there are other factors that make Peterson's superiority indisputable. He is younger, larger, stronger and more explosive. He is a constant threat to go the distance on any handoff, as he demonstrated with his 75-yard touchdown run on the first play in Monday night's preseason victory over the Houston Texans.

Yes, LaDainian, you once routinely struck that sort of fear in opponents. But not anymore.

"As far as scaring you to death, absolutely Peterson's the guy," said one longtime NFL talent evaluator who has closely tracked Peterson and Tomlinson since their college days. "He's extremely strong, he's fast, he's got great instincts and cutting ability. Even though he's fast and elusive, he's powerful. He delivers blows. He puts a hurtin' on you.

"And the production speaks for itself."

For that matter, there are other backs -- such as Atlanta's Michael Turner (your former teammate), Carolina's DeAngelo Williams, Washington's Clinton Portis and several impressive 2008 rookies -- who could very well be viewed as having more elite talent than you, LaDainian.

That doesn't mean that we can't appreciate what you've done and what you still are capable of doing.

The mere fact that you've taken exception to the lofty praise that Brown heaped upon Peterson in a piece in Sporting News last month, calling the Viking the best runner he'd seen in many years, is a sign of your overwhelming competitive spirit. There's no doubt it was precise reaction the Chargers' brass was hoping to get by making sure you saw that issue of the magazine, with Peterson and Brown posing together on the cover, the unmistakable link between past and present greatness.

A lot of people around the league love the fact that you spoke up the way you did.

"You've got to love it (when he says) '(Peterson's) not the best, I'm the best,'" the league talent evaluator said. "Maybe he's got a point to prove. How many backs have had the sort of longevity that Tomlinson has had? You look at what Thurman Thomas did, and that was remarkable, especially for a guy who played on a bum leg his whole career. You look at what Walter Payton did, which was also remarkable."

Still, when a running back reaches a certain point of his career, there is a limit to his effectiveness. That point is usually around 30, if he's fortunate enough to have been able to stick around that long.

"When backs start to go, they go fast," the talent evaluator said. "It's not like there's a gradual decline. In most cases with backs, when there's a decline, it's a noticeable decline. Part of the decline comes from injury problems, and (Tomlinson's) had injury problems. The beating you take starts to take its toll. You start missing games and your production starts going down."

Someday we'll be saying that about Peterson. Given his high-collision running style, there's a chance we could end up saying it sooner than we said it about you, LaDainian.

Like it or not, however, you're going to have to accept the fact that right now Peterson is the king of all NFL running backs.

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