Is Chris Johnson the NFL's best running back?
The Titans’ Chris Johnson is quite possibly the most exciting player in the NFL. And after another 100-yard performance on Monday night against the Texans, I believe it is time to raise the stakes when it comes to the NFL’s leading rusher.
That is why I am posing the question to you this morning: Is Johnson the best running back in the National Football League?
Now, before we get into this discussion—or argument—I am well aware of Adrian Peterson up in Minnesota. If we would take both A.P. and Johnson and put them back at the NFL Combine together, most of us would draft Peterson on his measurables. He looks like an NFL running back, and up on that stage at the Combine—where players are on display like livestock—A.P. will turn heads. He is 6-1, 217 pounds and runs with the power of a fullback and with the speed of a wide receiver. Once Peterson gets to the second level, he has a variety of tools at his disposal that can fend of tacklers and make even the toughest of safeties in the league look weak—and small.
The question with A.P. has always been his reliability out of the backfield in the passing game. Last season, Peterson only caught 21 passes from the running back position, but with the addition of Brett Favre—who has vaulted this Vikings offense to another level—Peterson has become more of a complete back, catching 25 passes already this season for an average of 8.8 yards a grab.
In ‘09, A.P. has 999 yards on the ground, with an average of 4.9 yards per carry to go along with 11 TDs. That’s good for third in the league behind Steven Jackson of the Rams (1,031 yards) and Johnson, who has posted a big number through ten games—1,242 yards and 6 TDs, to go along with an eye-opening average of 6.2 yards per carry.
But those are just numbers, right? Sure, and at times it is hard to compare numbers, especially since the Vikings have started to throw the ball with much more production under Favre than last season. They are a more complete offense that doesn’t have to rely on Peterson to produce the big play week in and week out.
And Tennessee, even with the return of Vince Young, is still a team that counts on Johnson to give them that big play either out of the backfield as a receiver or running, pressing the edge and turning the ball up the field with more speed than anyone I have ever seen in a set of pads.
That is why numbers and stats in this league can sometimes lead us down the wrong path when considering one player over another. But maybe the one big number that stands out is reliability at the position. In just over a year-and-a-half, Johnson has fumbled twice, while Peterson, in two-and-a-half-plus seasons, has put the ball on the ground 17 times—a pretty substantial number when it comes to the running back position.
So, there has to be an answer here, right?
Both backs can break games wide open, and every time they touch the ball we expect to see big things happen. Whether it be A.P. running through the second level of the defense and hardly breaking stride or Johnson turning the corner, making one move and then running down the field like he is taking part in an offseason conditioning drill on his way to another TD. They both bring excitement to the pro game that we haven’t seen in a while, and they both have us wanting more every time we see them play—because they are just that good.
But, it is hard not to notice Johnson’s overall impact at the position for the Titans. He is a game-planning nightmare because he can run routes out of the backfield that always provide the Titans with the advantage when it comes to matchups. There isn’t a linebacker in this league that can match Johnson’s lateral quickness in the flat or if he is working over a safety in the middle of the field on an option route. Seventy-three receptions in his career so far proves that, and watching him block in the open field and in pass protection is something I would not have expected when he came out of the draft.
And, that is why I am starting to lean his way whenever the running back discussion is brought up. And as we have seen, he is becoming more powerful at the point of contact and does have the natural ability to break tackles and use his quickness in the open field that leave defenders standing still.
Yes, Peterson is a running back that each and every team in the entire league would take over its current starter—except in Nashville.
And I have to agree, because Chris Johnson is not only the best running back in the NFL, he is also the best true football player at the position.
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For a look at five AFC players knocking on the door of their first Pro Bowl, check out this piece from Bleacher Report.