When it comes to the best running back in the game today, how do you compare a speedster who can take it to the house at any moment with a reliable back who can constantly keep the chains moving? We asked our analysts to pick their top running back.
Vic Carucci: Constant threat to go the distance
This might be the most difficult category to choose one player over the rest, because there are at least a half-dozen running backs that any team would feel fortunate to have. And they all possess distinctive qualities that allow them to be dynamic forces within their respective offenses, making comparisons that much harder. The chore is to pick one, though, and I'm going with the Titans' Chris Johnson because his most distinctive quality creates the greatest separation from the rest: World-class speed. All of the other elite backs share the quality of being able to go the distance on every carry, but with Johnson, that threat seems even greater because he can find those extra gears in the open field that the others can't. Even when defenses know he is the focus of the Titans' offense, they often are at a loss to stop him.
Charles Davis: Two-horse debate
Despite the emergence of Arian Foster last season (and what a season it was), it's still a two-person debate for me between the Titans' Chris Johnson and Vikings' Adrian Peterson. All teams that prepare to play either runner gear their defensive game plan toward limiting them. What tilts things in Peterson's favor for me is his power inside the 5-yard line and in short yardage situations. And, yes, he can still break off the 70-yard sprint, just like CJ2K.
Pat Kirwan: Numbers don't lie
My No. 1 running back is Adrian Peterson, who over the past four years has scored 54 touchdowns in 61 games. Maurice Jones-Drew has 46 touchdowns in the same number of games. Peterson has touched the ball 1,317 times for 6,952 yards. Steven Jackson has touched the ball just two more times than Peterson in the last four years, but has 286 fewer yards and 30 fewer touchdowns. Chris Johnson is on a hot pace in his first three seasons and could have been my choice with the pace he is on, but he averages one fewer touchdown a season than Peterson. A year from now we could be talking about one of these rising stars: Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy, as they all start to average more than 300 touches a season and continue to put up big numbers.
Jason La Canfora: He's a beast
I love the track guys like Jamaal Charles and Chris Johnson, but Adrian Peterson is a beast. He is built for the long haul. Sure, he absorbs a lot of abuse, but he is country strong. He can take it. Nose for the end zone. Can get one tough yard or take it to the house from 60 yards out. He can do it all.
Steve Wyche: Try tackling him
Houston's Arian Foster led the NFL in rushing, and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles had a breakout season, but Minnesota's Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the league. He rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and scored 12 touchdowns for a dysfunctional team in which he became its only true offensive threat. Even more could be asked of him this season as the Vikings transition quarterbacks and schemes. Defenders will tell you he is one of the most difficult players to tackle because of his toughness, ability to change direction with power and, more than anything, his will. Oh, and that little fumbling issue that haunted him in 2009? All Day fumbled just once in 283 carries last season.