Last season, five players defined what it means to be a franchise running back in the NFL. Even though the quarterbacks continued to garner most of the attention, with three 5,000-yard passers in one season (after there were only two in NFL history), Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones Drew, LeSean “Shady” McCoy, and Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch showed the fans, coaches, and teammates that running backs still matter in the NFL. These five backs continue to make it difficult for defensive coordinators around the league week in and week out.
LeSean McCoy re-energized the Eagles’ offense after the departure of Brian Westbrook a few seasons ago. “Shady” McCoy took the limelight off Michael Vick in crunch time as he scored a league leading 17 rushing touchdowns in 2011. Surpassing the 1300- yard mark last season, McCoy was the leading rusher in Philly, making him a Top 100 player heading into 2012.
Adrian Peterson has created his own category when it comes to being a complete running back. Ever since he arrived in 2007, after being selected seventh overall by Minnesota, “AD” (short for “All Day”) has proved that he has all the tools of becoming one of the best to ever play his position. Consistently, Peterson has rushed for more than 1200-yards in his first four seasons before suffering an ACL/MCL tear in his knee in Week 16 last year. During the offseason, Peterson has had stellar workouts, making him almost certain to return Week 1 of the 2012 season. With a high motor, power, speed, elusiveness, and strength, Peterson sits at the top because of his unique ability to break away when the opportunity awaits itself.
Carrying over to the power aspect of the running game, “Beast Mode” has seen his profile rise significantly as one of the top backs in the league. Lynch displays the power and speed you need to excel at the highest level possible, especially in the loudest stadium in the NFL – Seattle’s Qwest Field. Last season, Lynch had career highs in rushing yards and touchdowns for the Seahawks, making him a Top 100 player heading into the 2012 season. Lynch’s career has been revived in Seattle after falling into a slow period in Buffalo for a few years. Now those years are forgotten as he marches his way up the charts as one of top running backs in his era.
Ray Rice and Maurice Jones Drew have similar DNA when it comes to small running backs that pack a lot of power when hitting the holes and gaps in opposing defenses. Rice and Jones Drew both have unique styles when it comes down to their overall play but there are similarities as well, including size, quickness, catching and blocking ability, and speed.
Rice became the centerpiece in the Baltimore offense last season and he can get to the outside of the numbers as quick as any running back in the NFL. Jones Drew led all of the running backs in rushing yards last season totaling 1,606 yards, with eight touchdowns on the ground.
Each of these players possesses the work ethic to perform at the top level every week, against defenses and players specifically schemed to stop them. Expect to see all five of these franchise backs on the highlight reels every weekend this fall.
By Jameel Shareef