Top 5 NFL Running Backs

I realize that this topic can be the subject of debate and conversation. In saying that, when I made my list of the top running backs currently in the NFL, career production and the ability to sustain that top production were part of the criteria. Durability and longevity are two criteria that go into making a back great. Having been part of 30 NFL drafts, I know that when a club drafts a running back, they are hoping that they can get four of five good years out of that player. The player getting to a second contract is almost an afterthought. The great ones have a way of staying healthy and being productive for a long period of time. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota In all my years of scouting, I don’t think I have ever seen a running back quite like Peterson. Most backs with his physical style don’t last long as the wear and tear on their bodies breaks them down long before they would want. That hasn’t been the case with Peterson. He has had his fair share of injuries, yet still comes back strong, and his play has not dropped off. He still has the speed and burst he had as a young back and still runs with a very violent style. He is one of the most punishing running backs in football. Having missed most of the 2014 season because of off field issues, Peterson may just be better than ever. The year off has only given him a chance to rest his legs, and he should be in top form right from the get go. It would not surprise me to see him run for over 1500 yards in 2015. Marshawn Lynch – Seattle Like Peterson, Lynch is an extremely violent runner. He may even be more explosive on contact than A.P. It is my feeling that if it weren’t for Lynch, Russell Wilson would not be nearly as productive as he is. Having Lynch in the backfield keeps defenses honest and allows Wilson to do more. This is Marshawn’s ninth year, yet the last four years have been his most productive. Over that time span, Lynch has run for 5357 yards for a 4.53 yards per carry average and 48 touchdowns. Like Peterson, he shows no signs of slowing down. Lynch has also been a very good receiver over that span with 124 receptions and nine touchdowns. What I find amazing about Lynch is that he is not that big. He is listed as being 215, but he looks and plays much bigger. His durability over the last five seasons has been amazing, and he has not missed a game over the last three seasons. LeSean McCoy – Buffalo When McCoy came out of Pittsburgh for the 2009 draft, I had no idea he would be as productive for such a long period of time because of his build. He just isn’t a very big guy. He plays between 204-208 but looks like a 190 pound guy. As small as he is, his durability has been excellent. He has missed only six games in six seasons and has never had a major injury. The worst injury he has had to deal with is a severe ankle sprain. That said, he should be able to play productively for at least another three years. While Peterson and Lynch are power backs, McCoy is an elusive “scatback”. He can move laterally almost as quickly as he moves straight ahead. He has a rare burst, and his instincts are second to none. As far as production, it’s top notch. In six years, he has run for 6792 yards and 44 touchdowns. He has also had 300 receptions for another 2282 yards and another 10 touchdowns. I felt McCoy was a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, but obviously, Kelly didn’t feel the same way. It will be interesting to see how McCoy fares in Buffalo in a new scheme. Buffalo always seems to get production out of their backs. Matt Forte – Chicago This pick may surprise some, but in my opinion, there may not be a better all-around back in the league. Forte is a very good runner and an excellent receiver. He just may be the best receiver out of the backfield in the NFL. There is no back, other than McCoy, who compares with Forte as far as being able to both run and catch. Forte has had a few injury issues, but he has always bounced back and been productive after. This will be Forte’s eighth season, and the former second round draft pick has run for 7,704 yards and 41 touchdowns. In that time, he has also caught 443 passes for another 3727 yards and 16 touchdowns. The 443 receptions is at the top as far as running backs go. Forte has good size at about 6’2 – 218, but he isn’t a power back. He is more of a glider who has very good instincts, and he doesn’t take many big hits. While Lynch and Peterson are collision runners, Forte is the opposite. At 29 years of age, Forte does not have many years left, but being on a John Fox coached team, you know he is going to have a very strong year. Fox has always had a way of making the running back a key part of the offense. Forte’s best year as a rusher was 1349 yards in 2013. He could top that this year. DeMarco Murray – Philadelphia I was a little hesitant at putting Murray in this slot, but after watching tape from last year, I feel that DeMarco is just beginning to come into his own. The beneficiary of that will be the Philadelphia Eagles as Murray should be able to put up some huge numbers in that offense. Granted, he won’t be playing behind the line he had in Dallas, but the Philly line is plenty good. This will be Murray’s fifth year in the NFL. His first two years were average to say the least with him running for a total of 1560 yards in those two seasons. The last two years have been outstanding. In 2013, he ran for 1121 yards and nine touchdowns, while last year, he had 1845 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has also shown that he is a very good receiver out of the backfield with a career total of 171 receptions in four years. 110 of those catches have come in the last two seasons. What I like about Murray is that he is a physical runner similar to both Lynch and Peterson, and he still should be able to improve his game. If he has a weakness, it’s that he fumbles a bit more than most would like. Others that I thought about for this list were Frank Gore and Jamaal Charles. As good as Le’Veon Bell was in 2014, he still hasn’t done it over a period of time. He could be on this list in another year or two. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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