Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Vikings’

I recently published an article which ranked all 32 NFL teams according to their starting quarterbacks.

The job was tedious, but it entertained me, so I decided to give it a try for running backs as well.

In this list, I am ranking teams according to the overall talent of the running backs who will receive the majority of carries in the 2009 season.

Teams on which one runner receives the bulk of the carries (e.g. Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings) will be ranked according to that player.

Teams which split carries (e.g. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers) will have any significant back listed and taken into account.

Please remember that a list of this nature is quite subjective. There are teams that could easily be moved higher or lower, depending on how that team’s talent is evaluated by the author.

Because of this I look forward to the comments suggesting which teams should be moved around.

Here are the team-by-team rankings of NFL Running Backs.

32. Cincinnati Bengals – Cedric Benson / Kenny Watson
The Cincinnati Bengals finished 29th in the NFL in rushing yards in 2008. No significant additions were made, and the starting job seems to remain in former Chicago Bears bust Cedric Benson’s hands. In 2008, Benson played 12 games, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry and finding the endzone just twice. Don’t expect greater dividends in 2009, as the only thing that may return to prominence is Carson Palmer and the Bengals passing game.

31. Cleveland Browns – Jamal Lewis
Jamal Lewis is a rarity in the modern NFL. He is a goal line back built for red zone carries that somehow landed a first-string gig. Led by the fleet-footed Lewis, the Browns rushing attack averaged only 3.9 yards per carry in 2008. Lewis topped 1,000 yards for the seventh time in his career, but did so running for just 3.6 yards per attempt. Unless backup RB Jerome Harrison is given more touches, the Browns running game won’t be any more productive than 2008.

30. Seattle Seahawks – Julius Jones / T.J. Duckett
Part of me dies inside every time I write about the Seattle Seahawks running game. Despite being a Seahawks fan, I can still admit that the ‘Hawks seriously lack rushing talent. Julius Jones was the team’s leading rusher in 2008, with a paltry 698 yards. The highlight of the Seahawks running game is when T.J. Duckett comes in to fall over the goal line from two yards out. If the Seahawks plan to win in 2009, it will have to come via the air attack.

29. Detroit Lions – Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith grew into a serviceable back throughout his rookie year, finishing with 238 rushes for 976 yards. Anyone would consider being benched for Rudi Johnson a career low, and after recovering the starting gig Smith averaged 97 rushing yards and one touchdown per game over his last three starts. Despite some promise, Smith still plays for the Lions. Detroit has no talent on the offensive line, and will most likely face uncertainty from the quarterback position. Smith will probably rush for 1,000 yards, but it won’t be pretty and will often be in a losing effort.

28. Arizona Cardinals – Tim Hightower / Chris Wells
The Arizona Cardinals’ 2008 rushing campaign was notably unnecessary. Arizona finished dead last in rush attempts and total rushing yards, while finishing as one of only seven teams to average less than 4.0 yards per carry. Don’t expect much more in 2009. Despite the addition of rookie Beanie Wells, the Cardinals will probably air it out just as much as 2008.

27. New England Patriots – Laurence Maroney / Fred Taylor
With the return of Jesus, the New England Patriots will probably not resemble their 2008 team which finished 6th in the league in rushing. Laurence Maroney returns in 2009, after missing most of the 2008 season for a plethora of reasons. His talent, combined with the veteran presence of Fred Taylor, will give the Patriots a consistent rushing attack. Fortunately for the Patriots, they won’t need it to very much, as Tom Brady will be throwing the ball early and often.

26. Denver Broncos – Knowshon Moreno / Correll Buckhalter
With two new running backs in town, history says that the Denver Broncos will do what they always do: produce 1,000 yard rushers. The question is whether or not the 1,000 yard rushers will come from the opening day roster and if their productivity will help the team win. Moreno is a future star and Buckhalter was excellent when called upon as a backup in Philadelphia. These two should fight through the growing pains as each is adjusting to a new role in Denver, but with Mike Shanahan out of the picture in Denver don’t expect their annual rushing parade to march again in 2009.

25. Baltimore Ravens – Willis McGahee / Le’Ron McClain / Ray Rice
The Baltimore Ravens team rushing statistics last season are deceptive. Baltimore finished fourth in the NFL in rushing, but did so while averaging only 4.0 yards per carry on a staggering 37 rushing attempts per game. Total rushing yards: Good. Rushing efficiency: Not So Good. Willis McGahee is falling apart, Le’Ron McClain is more of a fullback than anything else, and Ray Rice is still developing. With all three facing difficulties, the Ravens rushing in 2009 won’t be anything of note.

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Derrick Ward / Earnest Graham
The wild card here will be former Tampa Bay star Cadillac Williams. If the Caddy is ready to ride he could steal carries from Derrick Ward, which could inhibit either back from finding a groove throughout the season. Earnest Graham’s won’t compete for the job, as he is too valuable as a fullback to ever start at running back, but this efficiency won’t stop him from thieving goal line touches.

23. New Orleans Saints – Reggie Bush / Pierre Thomas
Unfortunately for Reggie Bush, godliness in video games does not equate to real life success. Unlike the 98-speed Reggie Bush who dominates video games, Reggie Bush is often tackled for a loss against real life opponents. Pierre Thomas ran well last year when called upon to start, tallying six rushing touchdowns (and three receiving) in six starts to close out the season. While this rushing attack won’t blow anyone away, it should be enough to let the Drew Brees show pick apart opposing secondaries.

22. Kansas City Chiefs – Larry Johnson / Jamaal Charles / Kolby Smith
In an ideal world, Larry Johnson would receive the vast majority of carries in 2009 and the rest of the Chiefs running backs wouldn’t need to be listed here. In reality, however, L.J. might throw a temper tantrum and get traded, leaving Charles and Smith to divvy up what’s left of the Chiefs rushing attack. If this was L.J. circa 2005 the Chiefs would be top five on this list. As is, the world will be surprised if they can piece together a top twenty attack.

21. Green Bay Packers – Ryan Grant
Ryan Grant was a statistical anomaly in 2008, rushing over 300 times for 1,200 yards but finding pay dirt only four times. He cemented his place as the Packers starting running back with a stellar 2007 postseason, and remains at the top of the depth chart entering 2009. He is a good-but-not-great runner, who can complement Aaron Rodgers and provide a solid Packers rushing attack.

20. Oakland Raiders – Justin Fargas / Darren McFadden
The Oakland Raiders have the most potential of any backfield combination in first round draft picks RB Darren McFadden and QB JaMarcus Russell. Unfortunately, neither of these players can consistently find playing time. RB Justin Fargas, who was a 1,000 yard rusher the year before Darren McFadden was drafted, joins McFadden at running back to provide stability in the ground game. If it weren’t for the Oakland Raiders offensive line, this duo could rush for more, but as it stands the 2009 Raiders rushing attack will be in the middle of the pack.

19. New York Jets – Thomas Jones / Leon Washington
Thomas Jones had an outstanding 2008 campaign, finishing with 290 rush attempts for over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. Jones has put together four straight 1,000 yard seasons, but he is aging in running back years, as he will be 31 at the start of the 2009 season. Backup RB Leon Washington is an X-Factor in any game, as he returns kicks and punts as well as contributing rushing and receiving yards. The 2009 Jets rushing attack will be productive, but don’t expect a repeat of last year’s production from an aging Thomas Jones and a maturing Leon Washington.

18. Indianapolis Colts – Joseph Addai / Donald Brown
It is unclear how much Donald Brown will factor into the Indianapolis Colts playbook this year, but Joseph Addai has regularly split carries throughout his career and still been productive. Peyton Manning fuels the Colts offense, and because of this their offensive line is geared towards pass blocking. One of the greatest downfalls for the 2008 Colts was the inability to run the ball. Indianapolis finished dead last in the NFL in yards per carry, averaging only 3.4 per touch. If Donald Brown plays effectively in 2009, the Colts rushing attack could improve greatly. Even with improvement, the ceiling for Indianapolis’ rushing game seems to be the middle of the pack.

17. Buffalo Bills – Marshawn Lynch / Fred Jackson
This platoon favors the starter the more than most on this list. Marshawn Lynch receives the clear majority of carries, but Fred Jackson’s contributions are significant, especially in the passing game. Lynch has two straight 1,000 yard seasons to start his career, and if Terrell Owens can provide a spark to the Buffalo Bills passing game then he will have more room to run in 2009. In the AFC East there isn’t any margin for error, so if Lynch improves the Bills could still falter.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers – Willie Parker / Rashard Mendenhall
It’s difficult to place a team who focuses on smashmouth running this low on the list, but health problems have factored heavily into both Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall’s recent seasons. A healthy attack could finish top ten, but if injuries arise, look for the Steelers ground game to finish in the middle of the pack. This won’t bother the Steelers, however, as they have a knack for old school football and low scoring games.

15. San Francisco 49ers – Frank Gore
Despite the San Francisco 49ers unsuccessful search for a new franchise quarterback, Frank Gore has been consistently productive in the Niners’ backfield. Gore is an all-purpose back whose impact cannot be measured by rushing alone, but that does not mean his rushing numbers should be discounted. Shaun Hill and Alex Smith are unlikely to relieve any pressure from Gore in 2009, but he will get his statistics regardless.

14. St. Louis Rams – Steven Jackson
Similar to Frank Gore, Steven Jackson is a young, talented running back who is constantly hampered by inconsistency at the quarterback position. S-Jax, otherwise known as the only guy in St. Louis who plays football, is a beacon of light on a dark Rams depth chart. It is yet to be seen if Jackson can hearken back to his 350 carry, 1,500 yard season in 2006, but the potential is there.

13. Houston Texans – Steve Slaton
Slaton sits immediately ahead of a number of talented backs on this list who he should outproduce in 2009. He had a phenomenal rookie campaign, making Houston fans completely forget the team’s 2006 snub of projected-star-but-now-not-a-star RB Reggie Bush. If he continues to progress, he could easily lead the Texans rushing attack to new heights in 2009.

12. Jacksonville Jaguars – Maurice Jones-Drew
Fantasy managers worldwide celebrated the departure of RB Fred Taylor, making Maurice Jones-Drew the full-time back in Jacksonville. In three seasons in the NFL, MJD has never topped 200 carries, but has produced excellent yards per carry while functioning as a touchdown machine (34TD in three seasons). If his full-time work is half as good as his previous years, he will be a force in 2009.

11. Washington Redskins – Clinton Portis
Clinton Portis is a rarity in the NFL. He is a hard-nosed runner who averaged 4.3 yards per carry in 2008 and seemed to get just that every time he touched the ball. He isn’t flashy, and he might not be a home run threat, but it’s not unusual for him to top 100 yards without a single rush longer than 15. Despite a lack of highlight reel rushes, Portis is a workhorse year in and year out. Newly acquired G Derrick Dockery will bolster the Redskins offensive line, and with an improved Redskins defense Portis could be given more carries to grind the clock with a lead.

10. Chicago Bears – Matt Forte
The surprise team in this top ten is Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears. Forte had an outstanding rookie season, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 8 touchdowns. The arrival of Jay Cutler will raise the Bears offense to unprecedented heights, as he is the first star-caliber quarterback to suit up in Chicago in years. If Cutler expands the passing game, Forte will have more lanes to run through, which could lead to a rushing explosion in Chicago.

9. Dallas Cowboys – Marion Barber / Felix Jones
Tashard Choice played well when called upon in 2008, but with Felix Jones healthy Choice won’t factor into the 2009 playbook. Marion Barber and Felix Jones are the ideal combination of power and speed, respectively, and have the combined talent to lead a fierce Cowboys rushing attack. Regardless of eventual success, these two combine for more talent than most teams dream of having.

8. Miami Dolphins – Ronnie Brown / Ricky Williams / Pat White
Yes, I’m guilty of jumping the gun on this, but if/when Miami puts Pat White in the Wildcat formation it is going to be a giant boom or a massive bust. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams were dangerous as a running tandem in 2008, especially out of the Wildcat. However, defenses soon figured out how to play the Wildcat: stick all eleven defenders on the line of scrimmage with single coverage on any route-runners. If White can execute the Wildcat it will force the defense into more than single coverage deep, which will open up the line of scrimmage, which will do God knows what to the Miami Dolphins rushing attack. The Dolphins have rushing talent even without Pat White, but if he contributes this attack could be lethal.

7. New York Giants – Brandon Jacobs / Ahmad Bradshaw
Earth, Wind, and Eli? It doesn’t have the same ring to it, but with Derrick “Fire” Ward gone to Tampa Bay it will have to do in 2009. Even with Ward gone, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw are a legitimate rushing threat. Brandon Jacobs is a MAN (ask LaRon Landry), and Ahmad Bradshaw has shown moments of brilliance during his tenure in New York.

6. San Diego Chargers – LaDainian Tomlinson / Darren Sproles
Remember the days when LaDainian Tomlinson ruled the world? Me neither… Entering 2009, Tomlinson is loaded with question marks, but scat-back Darren Sproles seems primed for a breakout year. These two combined could lead a dangerous rushing attack in 2009. Philip Rivers has evolved into a top-tier quarterback, which should take significant pressure off of the San Diego running game in 2009. Even if the statistics don’t play in San Diego’s favor, the Chargers undoubtedly have one of the most talented backfields in the NFL.

5. Philadelphia Eagles – Brian Westbrook / LeSean McCoy
I debated leaving LeSean McCoy out of the title, but given the health of Brian Westbrook it seems that McCoy could have an impact in his rookie year. Health issues aside, Westbrook might be most dangerous all-around running back in the NFL. It is important to note that he affects more than the Eagles’ rushing attack. If this were a list of leaders in yards from scrimmage he would be on top. As is, he makes the Eagles a top-tier rushing threat in 2009.

4. Atlanta Falcons – Michael Turner
The most important part of the Atlanta Falcons success last season was the production of RB Michael Turner. Matt Ryan was excellent under center, but Turner regularly strapped the team on his back and carried them. How much? He led the NFL in rushing attempts, with a staggering 376 carries, while finishing second behind Adrian Peterson in rushing yards. As Ryan matures in 2009, Turner could be even more productive.

3. Tennessee Titans – Chris Johnson / LenDale White
If it weren’t for LenDale White’s portly nature, it could be said that Tennessee features the best one-two punch in the NFL (see below for which team actually does). Chris Johnson is Al Davis’ wet dream; a slashing runner with 4.3 (or better) speed. LenDale White loves all-you-can-eat-buffets as much as he loves the endzone, and few runners are equally efficient in the red zone. As a tandem, this duo is difficult to beat.

2. Carolina Panthers – DeAngelo Williams / Jonathan Stewart
The Carolina Panthers easily have the most rushing talent of any team in the NFL. DeAngelo Williams’ league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns were a surprise in 2008, a year when most experts predicted he would lose his job to newcomer Jonathan Stewart. Williams and Stewart complemented each other perfectly last season, rushing for over 2,300 yards on 357 carries to lead the Panthers to an NFL-best 30 rushing touchdowns. Look for repeat success in 2009.

1. Minnesota Vikings – Adrian Peterson
The top of this list belongs to, in my opinion, the most talented running back in the NFL. Peterson was a workhorse in 2008, leading the NFL with 1760 rushing yards on 363 rushes. The Vikings quarterback situation is still in turmoil, which isn’t good news for Peterson, who is getting used to seeing eleven defenders in the box. Regardless of how many defenders meet him at the line of scrimmage, Peterson will contend for the rushing title again in 2009.

That does it for my team-by-team running back rankings.

Please comment below with what you think I got right, what you think I got wrong, and what you would write if given this task.


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Dear Front Office,

Hey guys, it’s Adrian. The offseason has been great, but everyday physical therapy gets repetitive. Apparently I did some damage to my back this season while trying to carry over 50 players for 17 weeks a in a row… I’m writing to ask for some offensive help.

I didn’t complain when you started Tarvaris Jackson as the “Quarterback of the Future.” Yes, the Tarvaris Jackson. The same guy who couldn’t beat out Matt “Heisman” Jones for the quarterback job at Arkansas. To be clear, this is the same Matt Jones who is now a wide receiver in the NFL (at least technically) and currently awaiting a drug charge sentence.  Yeah, Tarvaris couldn’t beat that guy. Instead, he became an NCAA D-II all-star, a 2nd round draft pick, and my welcoming gift to the Minnesota Vikings. You guys said “Welcome to Minnesota! Good luck carrying the team! Here to help you is some guy who played at Alabama State!”

Tarvaris Jackson on a Self-Described QB Scramble

Tarvaris Jackson as a Playmaker

I also didn’t complain last offseason when you neglected to sign a spite-filled Brett Favre (who probably wouldn’t have minded playing the Pack twice a year). Sure, Brett Favre played in a lot of Pro Bowls, but Tarvaris Jackson must have played in some sort of high school all-star game, right? That’s almost the same thing… Instead of signing a top-caliber quarterback, you guys decided to add ANOTHER All-Pro on the defensive line. I am aware that Jared Allen is a stud. I’m also aware that he made our defensive line unstoppable. However, just because Pat Williams ate the last defensive end doesn’t mean we had to replace him with a multi-million dollar player! I know what you’re going to say, and yes I appreciate you drafting a quarterback that offseason. I’ll tell you what I don’t appreciate though… you drafting some guy named Booty out of some school with a potential quarterback curse. I’m sure you were as surprised as the rest of the world when Gus Frerotte didn’t solve our quarterback problem, but just a hint: John David Booty probably isn’t the answer either…

Lets cut to the chase: this team is one quarterback away from being a real contender. Yes, I said real contender, not just that team that won the NFC North and got pasted in the divisional round of the playoffs. It gets a little old watching Tarvaris throw a fly route as if it was a tribute to John Moxon tagging the mascot in Varsity Blues (the sad thing is that Tarvaris might actually be trying… poor kid). You want to know how bad this is getting? At one point last year I literally saw eleven defenders in the box… eleven! Tarvaris didn’t even audible to a pass. Instead, he audibled to an option, broke it outside, and Reggie-Bushed it for a short loss.

I know you’re probably happy with T-Jack, but if not I’ve heard of a few available quarterbacks who could provide some help. Here’s my two cents…

Matt Cassel – I’ll be blunt: can we please avoid this guy? Yeah, he had a great season and all, but is he really going to put up those numbers without Randy Moss, Wes Welker, the best O-Line in football, and the perennial top-5 New England defense? Not to mention that he received coaching from one of the best quarterbacks (that Brady guy) and best coaches (that Bilichek guy) of all time. Plus, if he joins Minnesota he won’t have access to the New England film vault (I’ve heard it’s quite impressive). I mean, I heard Matt was good in high school, so I guess him and Tarvaris could share a beer and talk about the varsity days. Unfortunately, Matt’s best game was probably against the South California School for the Blind or something like that. Here in Minnesota he won’t see competition like that… then again  we do play Detroit every year… twice.

Adrian Peterson Running Through All Eleven Defenders

Adrian Peterson Running Through All Eleven Defenders

Mark Sanchez – I heard there’s talk of us trading up in the draft for this guy. Don’t do it! It’s not that Pete Carroll didn’t give him the stamp of approval, it’s just that things haven’t gone well for USC quarterbacks lately. Don’t think of Matt Cassel. Sure he played great this year, but he hadn’t played since high school and was plugged into a system that creates legends. Instead, think of guys like Carson Palmer. He used to be good, but he still hasn’t come back from knee surgery. I mean, his knee looks like Kimo von Oelhoffen is still sitting on it. Additionally, don’t get me started on former USC stud Matt Leinart. If you ever thought about signing Leinart, keep in mind that I probably have a stronger throwing arm. Look at how he’s played so far. I think I’ve seriously taken more snaps than he has, and other than one sub-par season, he’s just been hanging out on the bench. Now that I think of it, Mark Sanchez looks way too much like Matt Leinart for me to be comfortable drafting him. Are we completely sure that Matt Leinart didn’t go back to USC under the alias “Mark Sanchez” just to up his draft stock (and get the hell out of Arizona). It’s not like he had anything else to do… other than playing catch with Paris Hilton (wink wink) and throwing high school hot tub parties… I guess it wouldn’t be horrible drafting Leinart, I mean Sanchez, he could join another USC great (John David Booty) on the bench behind Gus Frerotte.

Jeff Garcia – Cassel is terrible, Sanchez is possible, but if you want my opinion… go get me Jeff Garcia. He’s no spring chicken, but you can’t argue with his results. Remember back in 2006 when he took the lifeless Eagles to the playoffs? Not to mention that he did it while throwing to some guy named Hank! If he can take Hank & Friends to the playoffs, imagine what he could do with Bernard Berrian. Speaking of Bernard, he called me the other day to talk about quarterbacks. Bernard said he is tired of going deep, tired of catching 1.7 passes per game, and tired of run-blocking against the defensive tackles that most team play outside to try and stop me… Think about Jeff Garcia. The guy just wins. Hes isn’t spectacular, but he gets the job done. Just plug him in for a few years and draft a young quarterback to play the Aaron Rodgers / Brett Favre game (hopefully not for seven years like Green Bay did). Garcia won’t cost much, as the demand for a 39 year-old quarterback isn’t great, so if he doesn’t work out just cut him loose. Hell, if he doesn’t work out we can just start the T-Jack experience all over again (I actually threw up a little while writing that).

Listen, I don’t mean to sound pushy, but running backs can only give you so many productive years in this league. If I don’t get help soon, I’ll probably end up at a rehab clinic with Ladainian Tomlinson in a couple of years. Starting the season with Tarvaris at the helm would be a worse decision than The Dark Knight not being nominated for “Best Picture” at the Oscars (who seriously thought that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was better than The Dark Knight?).

I don’t ask for much, I don’t cause drama, I don’t run over parking attendants, and I don’t throw “boat parties.” All I do is try to win. I hope you guys can help me do just that.

Thanks so much for all you’ve done, but I hope that your two year run as a crew of Matt Millen impersonators has come to an end. Now can we find a real quarterback?



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