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Since entering the league back in 2007, Adrian Peterson has been regarded as one of, if not the best running back, in the NFL. But considering how much he has been used by the Minnesota Vikings as the focal point of their offense through the first seven years of his career, Peterson is nearing a point where most running backs have historically hit a wall. We all know that AP is no ordinary back, and will undoubtedly finish his career as one of the all-time greats, but is it definitive to say that he is still the best in the league at his position?
Let’s first take a look at Peterson, and then examine some of the players vying for the title he has held for several years: best RB in the NFL.
Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings): In the second to last game of the 2011-12 season, Adrian Peterson tore his ACL. But he missed zero regular season time, as he started the first game of the 2012-13 season. He went on to finish just eight yards shy of the NFL record for most rushing yards in a single season, and he helped lead the Minnesota Vikings to 10 wins and an improbable playoff appearance. Last season, AP had an “off” season, in which he ran for over 1,200 yards. Just take that into consideration: 1,200+ yards is considered an off season for Peterson. 1,200+ yards would be a career year for most backs, but after rushing for over 2,000 yards in the previous season, an 800 yard drop can be considered an off season for the great Peterson.
Thus far in his career, Peterson has rushed for over 10,000 yards and 86 touchdowns. He has finished shy of 1,000 yards only once, and during that season, he appeared in just 12 games. This man is all but a shoo-in for a 1,000+ yards season in and season out.
LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles): Versatile is just one way to describe LeSean McCoy. The man appropriately nicknamed “Shady” can also be described as elusive, explosive and elite. McCoy showed just how great he is last season when he had the best season of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles.
During the 2013-14 season, McCoy led the league in rushing, as he went on to win the first rushing title of his career. He ran for over 1,600 yards and nine touchdowns. As impressive as that was, McCoy also managed to remain as one of the top dual threat running backs in the NFL, as he caught 52 passes for 539 yards. If you’re keeping up with your math, then you know that he had over 2,100 total yards from scrimmage, which was the most in the league.
McCoy is entering his sixth season, and he is coming off of the best year of his career. Although he will probably lose some touches this season because of the acquisition of Darren Sproles, McCoy will be no less explosive, and he could easily have another 2,000+ total yard season once again.
Jamaal Charles (Kansas City Chiefs): Nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns is a pretty nice year. But last season wasn’t anything new for Jamaal Charles in terms of production. In 2010 he ran for nearly 1,500 yards, and in 2012 he ran for over 1,500 yards. So for years, Charles has been one of the most productive backs in the league, but he didn’t get widespread national attention until last season when the Kansas City Chiefs emerged as legitimate threats in the AFC. Charles helped lead the Chiefs to a 9-0 record to start off the season, and the team’s first playoff appearance since 2010.
Like McCoy, Charles is also a big part of his team’s passing game, as he caught 70 balls for nearly 700 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s another dual threat guy, who finished third in the league in all-purpose yards.
Charles is one of the most consistent running backs in the league. And he plays in an offense that will feed him the ball, giving him the chance to show off his many talents.
Other names to consider:
Matt Forte (Chicago Bears): Finished last season second in the league in rushing yards, and fourth in total yards. In six seasons, he has rushed for over 1,000 yards four times. The two times he didn’t, he finished the season with 929 yards and 997 yards respectively.
Alfred Morris (Washington Redskins): Has rushed for 1,000+ yards in each of his first two seasons. He finished second in the league in rushing during his rookie season (1,600+ yards), and in a down year for the team last season, still managed to finish fourth in the league in rushing despite the read-option no longer being the threat it was during his first season in the league due to Robert Griffin III recovering from a torn ACL.
Marshawn Lynch (Seattle Seahawks): Marshawn Lynch is known as “Beast Mode” across the league. His stats show why. Each of the last three seasons he has rushed for 1,200+ yards, and he was the vocal point of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks offense. Even though he is turning 29 this season (which is considered old in running back years), he is still one of the toughest guys in the league to bring down. He isn’t flashy, but he is really, really effective.
Each man listed has a case to make for the title of best back in the league, but ultimately, there can only be one. Obviously there isn’t an easy answer, but for the sake of argument, and this article, a decision has to be made.
You really can’t go wrong with anybody on this list. But taking all things into consideration, LeSean McCoy earns the distinction of best running back in the NFL. Not only did he prove last season that he could be the top rusher in the league, but he still managed to show off his abilities as a pass catcher. McCoy is entering the prime of his career, and he happens to play with an offensive mastermind in Chip Kelly. Kelly showed his brilliance last season in his first year as an NFL head coach. And while the league will probably catch up to certain aspects of the Eagle’s offense, there is one thing that will be very hard to catch up on, and that is Shady McCoy.