Where does 2010's rushing champ rank on our list?

The Top Five: Running Backs in the NFL Heading into 2011

Continuing in our “Top Five” segment, we take a look at the top five running backs in the NFL heading into the 2011 season, if such a thing is to exist.

Last week we counted down the top five quarterbacks, and next week will likely be wide receivers.

So without further adieu, here are the top five running backs in the NFL, according to me, in reverse order.

5. Michael Turner – Atlanta Falcons

After a down year in 2009, Turner rebounded in 2010 with almost 1,400 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. The only knock on Turner in 2010 was his yards per carry, which was the lowest it’s been (4.1) since he came to Atlanta in 2008.

But Turner has an incredible ability to finish in the red zone, and it could in fact be the number of red zone carries he saw that knocked his yards per carry down so far. I will take a one-yard carry if it’s a stroll into the endzone.

Turner must become a better receiving option out of the backfield, but the guy is a bruiser with the ball in his hands and not someone even linebackers look forward to tackling.

4. Jamal Charles – Kansas City Chiefs

I want to put Charles higher, but I need to see him duplicate his 2010 season, or at least come close to it. In only 230 carries, Charles racked up over 1,400 rushing yards — good for second in the league — and averaged an incredible 6.4 yards per carry. Charles only had five touchdowns, but that was likely due to Thomas Jones getting the carries in the red zone.

Charles’ ability to hit the seam and break away, along with his abilities as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, could move him up this list very quickly. I will probably regret putting him at No. 4 after next season, but he has to show he can do it again with teams game-planning to stop him as the main ball-carrier.

3. Arian Foster – Houston Texans

It’s the same thing with Foster — I just need to see it again. The reason he’s higher is because, as impressive as Charles’ season was, Foster’s was even better. An undrafted rookie is not supposed to rush for over 1,600 yards and lead the league in only his second season.

Foster averaged just under five yards per carry and scored 16 rushing touchdowns. Not only that, but he was a much bigger home run threat than people think. As much as Charles is talked about as a break-away type of guy, Foster finished with two more runs of over 20 yards (12 compared to 10) and had just as many runs of over 40 yards (3).

He might have benefited from teams worrying too much about stopping Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, but what Foster was able to do behind a mediocre offensive line is nothing short of incredible. Once he can show he’s capable of replicating this past season, he could move up the list.

2. Chris Johnson – Tennessee Titans

Well, it wasn’t the 2,500 yards CJ2K predicted before the season began, but 1,364 yards with 11 touchdowns and 4.3 yards per carry isn’t a shabby season — especially on a team that was forced to deal with a ton of quarterback issues throughout the year. Not to mention the fact that when teams play the Titans now, their key focus is not Kenny Britt and it wasn’t Vince Young, it is Johnson.

Johnson finished second in the league in runs of over 20 yards (tied at 13 with Ahmad Bradshaw) and runs of over 40 yards (4, just behind Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy who had 5). Johnson also added 44 receptions and a touchdown through the air.

If the Titans can get a passing game going next year and take some of the heat of Johnson, he will probably come a bit closer to his 2,500-yard goal in 2011.

1. Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings

At just under 1,300 yards Peterson was only sixth in the league; but when we consider how pass-happy Brad Childress was at the beginning of the year, then having to adjust to the gameplan of a new head coach behind a shaky offensive line with a quarterback who clearly played one year too long, his season becomes much more impressive.

Peterson cut down on the fumbling significantly and lost only one all season. Peterson also found the endzone 12 times and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

Once the Vikings figure out the solution to their offensive line and quarterback woes, Peterson’s numbers will get back to where they should be. The Vikings will also have to use him more, as 283 carries is an unacceptable number for the best running back in football.

Tags: Adrian Peterson AFC AFC South AFC West Arian Foster Atlanta Falcons Chris Johnson Football Houston Texans Jamal Charles Kansas City Chiefs Michael Turner Minnesota Vikings NFC NFC North NFC South NFL Tennessee Titans

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