Despite plenty of chatter about the diminishing role of running backs, many of the most efficient offenses in the NFL today are still fueled by the touchdown makers at the position. Play callers around the league cleverly craft game plans around the unique skills of their top playmakers, particularly in the red zone.
While most running backs are expected to get the ball into the end zone in goal-to-go situations, the league's most dynamic backs are capable of scoring points as runners or receivers from anywhere inside the 20-yard line. Thus, the top red-zone running backs must exhibit exceptional pass-catching skills to complement their rugged running styles in short-yardage situations.
Given some time to review the All-22 Coaches Film from 2014 and place phone calls to a few coaches and scouting colleagues, I've honed in on the unstoppable forces in this area. Here are the top five red-zone running backs in the NFL:
5) Arian Foster, Houston Texans
It's easy to forget about the crafty runner in Houston, but astute observers fully appreciate Foster's elusiveness, balance and body control between the tackles. The 6-foot-1, 227-pounder shows cat-like quickness and agility maneuvering through traffic, yet he also displays the explosive strength and power to run over defenders in the open field. Foster's unique skill set as a runner/receiver has produced 62 touchdowns in the 66 games he's played since 2010 (when he took over as Houston's primary back). Last season, Foster's rushing TD total was a bit down at eight, but he added a career-high five receiving scores.
4) Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Some might say it's a little premature to anoint Bell as one of the top running backs in the game after one spectacular season, but there is a whole lot to like about the 23-year-old's versatile game. Bell is a rare big back (6-1, 244 pounds) with nimble feet, outstanding balance and lateral quickness. He has a knack for eluding tacklers in the hole, yet also displays the power and explosiveness to run through contact. Bell's diverse skills helped him post 2,000-plus scrimmage yards and 11 touchdowns in 15 games as the Steelers' workhorse back last fall. Given more opportunities to cash in at the end of drives, Bell could become the No. 1 guy on this list and drive Todd Haley's offense to the top of the NFL charts.
3) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
It's uncommon for a small back to have a strong nose for the goal line, but these days, few find the end zone with greater frequency than Charles. Over the past two seasons, the 5-11, 199-pound speedster has notched 33 total touchdowns -- 21 rushing and 12 receiving. Charles' well-rounded game makes him an unstoppable force in the red zone as the focal point of Andy Reid's offense. With the offseason addition of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and continuing development of tight end Travis Kelce, Charles shouldn't have to carry the entire offense on his back, as he's done in previous years. But No. 25 undoubtedly will remain the top red-zone weapon in K.C. (and one of the scariest offensive threats in the entire league).
2) Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
Despite missing 15 games last season due to suspension, Peterson retains a lofty spot on this list because of his explosiveness and nose for the goal line. The six-time Pro Bowler scored at least 10 rushing touchdowns in his first seven seasons, and he's tallied 91 total TDs (86 rushing, five receiving) in 104 games as the Vikings' primary scoring option. Peterson's rugged running style and ferocious intensity make him nearly impossible to bring down in one-on-one situations. Moreover, he is an electric runner with a knack for finding paydirt when handed the ball in critical situations. Given the explosive potential of the Vikings' offense in 2015, Peterson should see plenty of opportunities to put the ball in the paint.
1) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
Lynch's spot at the top of the list could've been etched in stone if the 'Hawks had just put the ball in their top playmaker's hands at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. Lynch is relentless near the goal line, exhibiting exceptional strength, power, balance and body control in tight quarters. He has logged at least 12 touchdowns in each of the past four seasons, including a career-best 17 in 2014. That steady scoring output coincides with four straight seasons of 1,200-plus rushing yards. Considering Lynch's proven receiving skills and playmaking ability in the passing game (four receiving touchdowns last fall), there's no disputing his place at the top of the list.