The position of running back has changed through the years. Once upon a time the running back garnered most of the fame on offense. These backs were “all down” backs. They didn’t get pulled off the field in third down or goal line situations – they carried the load, at all times. Now a days, the running back position is one that is run by a committee of usually two. Some backs are labeled as a “change of pace” back, a “goal-line” back or even “speed” back. It is very rare for a running back today to get 30 carries a game and there are reasons for that. One reason is that the rules have changed so much that it works in the offenses favor to thrown the ball, as opposed to running. Another is that the lifespan of a running back’s career in the NFL is short. Knowing this, teams often implement a two back system to cut down on the wear and tear of their backs. The NFC North is ruled by one running back in particular, while two others have the versatility which gives defensive coordinators fits and the other is entering only his second season as the running back for one of the NFL’s most respected franchises. Here is how they rank:
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
One day the football gods chiseled the total embodiment of an unstoppable force at running back and created Adrian Peterson. Too much? Eh, that’s debatable. He was a five-star recruit when he left high school. He was a Heisman trophy finalist when in college; and when he made it to the NFL – he continued to exceed expectations. Last season he was the reigning MVP and although he had a nice season of 1266 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns it was a far cry from his prior season of 2097 rushing yards. To be fair though, Peterson was going up against 8 man fronts nearly every down because there was absolutely no threat at the quarterback position. Things should be different this season under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. The Vikings have given Turner control of an offense with a very young but very intelligent quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, a healthy Kyle Rudolf and a second year receiver in Cordarrellle Patterson who most feel will “break out” this season. If things work out optimistically for the Vikings, this will leave the NFL’s most unstoppable player at the running back position seeing a lot more wholes or a lot less people to run over that are in front of him. Peterson will still be leaned on heavily because no matter how some may love Teddy Bridgewater’s potential, he is still just a rookie. In all honesty even if Bridgewater was the number one overall pick – it would still make sense to center the offense around Peterson. The Vikings are the only team in the NFL that can confidently say they have the best back in the league – and with that should be the only team in the league not questioned if they center an offense in a league that has become pass-friendly. Peterson will keep adding numbers to a hall of fame career, but the only number that eludes him is “1.” As in one Super Bowl.
2. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
Some may be surprised to see Reggie Bush as the number two ranked back in the NFL, but the truth is – forgetting the USC scandal, forgetting his publicized relationship with Kim Kardashian and forgetting the ridiculous expectations that were set for him coming out of college — he has remained to be one of the most difficult running backs to prepare for in the NFL. It’s hard to believe but Reggie Bush already has 8 seasons in the NFL under his belt. In that time he’s won a Super Bowl with New Orleans, played for the Dolphins and is now entering his second season with the Detroit Lions. While at New Orleans he was a part of one of the more complex offenses in the NFL but in that time he was never given the lion’s share of carries. Pierre Thomas was the stronger, more traditional back while Bush provided that “X-Factor” back which helped propel the Saints offense. When he moved to Miami, he wanted to prove to the nay-sayers that he can be a three down back. In his first season with Miami he ran for 1000 yards for the first time in his career and fell short of the same mark by 14 yards in his second season. Last year Bush found himself in Detroit, where once again he ran for over 1000 yards. 1000 yards rushing in today’s game isn’t the same as it once was but considering that Bush had 223 carries and his back up Joique Bell had 166, there seemed to be a pretty significant amount of carries given to the guy slated as #2 behind Bush. One should expect more of the same with Bush and Bell in this offense this season. Bush has the ability to make the Detroit offense more than the “one-trick-pony” it usually exhibits and if executed correctly, Bush is a match up night mare for any opposing defense. Screen passes, in the slot or even flanking the outside – Bush is the kind of rare athlete who is equally dangerous no matter where he is positioned on the field.
3. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Most might find it ridiculous to position Matt Forte behind Reggie Bush when it comes to the running backs in the NFC North, but there is good reason as to why. They both average 4.3 yards per carry and if you take away Forte’s first season as a rookie who took the league by surprise and his last season being under an offensive wizard like Marc Trestman – Forte’s yearly stats match up pretty evenly in comparison to Reggie Bush’s. Forte has the versatility and pass catching ability that sets him apart from most backs – but he doesn’t do those things better or more fluidly than Bush does. Last season Forte had his best season since 2008 (his rookie campaign) and it was expected. Expected because people remember what Marc Trestman did for running backs in his offensive scheme. Remember how he made Charlie Garner look better than he really was while playing for the Raiders? Remember in 2012 the Bears went out and signed running back Michael Bush who was supposed to take care of short yardage and goal line situations. That didn’t work out as planned but the message was clear – Forte could not do all that was being asked of him. Forte has the advantage that about 80% of the backs in the league don’t have and that’s knowing he’s head and shoulders better than whoever number two is on the depth chart. Under Trestman, Forte should be able to put up similar numbers to last season, much due to the improved offensive line. Let’s also not forget he has two wideouts in Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall who can help clear paths on the outside. Forte is in a very fortunate situation and should continue to find success while in it.
4. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy is the NFL’s reigning offensive rookie of the year. He ran for over 1100 yards with 11 touchdowns and helped keep together a Packers team that was riddled with injuries throughout the season. Having to do without Aaron Rodgers for most of the season, along with injuries to key players Clay Matthews and Randall Cobb – the fate of the Packers was all but sealed. Once Lacy was called upon in early October, he did not look back. Lacy displayed great instincts and agility for a back of his size size (5’11″, 231 pounds) and broke the Green Bay Packers rookie rushing records in yards and touchdowns. The only reason why Lacy is ranked last in this category is because – it was only one season. As football fans and enthusiasts it’s easy to fall in love with a rookie who takes the league by storm, but far too often those rookies hit a wall in their second season called “the sophomore jinx.” Nobody is wishing this on Lacy, but it’s just something to be cautious of. Lacy, who played his college football at Alabama should know about this first hand as he saw the same thing happen to former Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson, last season. If you’re a Packers fan, there is much to be optimistic about though if Lacy pans out. Eddie Lacy can help add balance to an offense that has strictly relied on the arm of Aaron Rodgers and not much else. Sure Rodgers is arguably the best QB in the league, but adding a running attack like the one Lacy portrayed last season would help open door even for an offense that’s already as explosive as Green Bay’s.
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