On Monday, we began our look at who stacks up the best when we compile grades over the past three years. We started with those glory boy quarterbacks, and are now turning our attention to the hard hitting running backs.
As we did with the quarterbacks, a minimum snap count was determined to identify the eligible group (50% of the average number the top five snap-getters got – a bit lower than last time to account for backs that are used in different roles). 1,188 snaps ends up as that magical figure, and 35 guys are found suitable.
Additionally, a little bit of weighting has been given to each graded area of performance. No doubt running the ball is the most vital skill a running back has, so with that in mind, all other elements of our grading have been set to three quarters their worth.
1. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
It may seem weird to have Charles here given that he’s only really shown what he can do over the past year and a half, but in that time, he’s been nothing short of breathtaking. He’s picked up 2,668 yards (including the post season) at an almost unbelievable 6.2 yards per carry. Throw in that he’s a capable blocker, and it’s only really his work as a receiver that lets him down, but not so much that it stands out.
2. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
Even after a down year by his standards, MJD still features prominently. He’s not the pure rusher that others are, but he has earned the tag of most complete back in the league. That goes down to his exceptional blitz pick up, and how dangerous he is as a receiver out of the backfield – an area many of his peers struggle with. As dependable a performer as you’ll see at the running back spot with few flaws in his game.
3. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
So just how does Peterson finish third? Well it’s not due to his running, that kept him within striking distance of the top spot, and he was clearly ahead of MJD in that department. No, Peterson finishes in third because there is more to being a running back than just running. He has consistently picked up negative grades for his receiving and pass protection, and it continues to puzzle that the Vikings leave him in to do things he’s not built to do. This serve to highlight just how good of a runner he is; to pick up the yardage he has behind that offensive line is near miraculous.
4. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
Turner may never have the kind of year that matches his breakout in 2008, but he’s a back that consistently picks up yardage with his patient but hard hitting style of running. If there’s a disappointing thing it’s that he’s woeful as a receiver, catching 24 balls in three years (and dropping six). Amazing that in the modern day a running back can get away with such terrible figures, but credit Atlanta for at least pulling him out of obvious passing situations.
5. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
A bit low for some after his amazing ’09 season, Johnson was just behind Peterson in the running back rankings, but like Peterson, Johnson lets himself down with his receiving and blocking. The Titans really should have found a way to get him out of pass blocking situations by now, he really doesn’t do a good job holding up blitzers. He is a threat every time he touches the ball, but doesn’t need to be in on every play.
6. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
The top back in free agency, Williams has struggled to replicate his remarkable end to 2008 where there wasn’t a better back in the league. Not a great asset in the passing game, but so hard to bring down and so likely to punish you in the running game you can look past that. Has played a lot of snaps since his college days and the last two years have seen him miss time, and, more worryingly, he looked pretty ordinary in 2010.
7. Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills
It was a peculiar year for Fred Jackson. We’d come to expect him to be a threat with the ball in hand, but a liability in pass protection. Only this year he dropped a lot of passes, was less impressive than years gone by running the ball, but finally seemed to pick up nuances of pass protection. Still, over the past three years, Jackson has been one of the most dangerous backs in the league, particularly in open space.
8. Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
The worrying thing about Portis is that he hasn’t really shined as a pure runner since a great 2008. Throw in some injuries and you’ll understand the question marks that surround him. That said, the very least you’re getting from Clinton Portis is a tremendous asset in pass protection, capable of hammering blitzers who dare cross his path. He’ll always be that.
9. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
Rice owes this ranking to a tremendous all around 2009 where he topped our running back rankings. But considering his his rookie year and his 2010? Well he’s lucky to make this list. He wasn’t terrible as a ball carrier last year (and was exceptional as a receiver), but he regressed with his pure rushing and was an utter liability in pass protection. It may be a case of just a tad too many carries.
10. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Somewhat overshadowed by his own fumbling problems, Bradshaw emerged as one of the better, well-rounded running backs in the league, and a fearsome pass blocker. He may never be a feature back, but he excelled with the Giants as one punch in a running back by committee approach. Could prove an excellent value pick up for someone.