NFL Best of the Decade- Part 2 Running Backs
Early on in the decade you saw the speed of Faulk dominate. Then the touchdown mark kept getting shattered with Holmes, Alexander and Tomlinson. Emmitt Smith held the record coming into the decade. He is now 4th. Late in the decade, the league saw a transition with many teams now using 2 backs and the re-emergence of the single-wing aka the “Wildcat.”
So who are the top 20?
Top 20 Running Backs of the Decade
1. LaDainian Tomlinson- Unbelievable speed and balance; predominantly known for his jump cuts. He set the single season rushing touchdown record of 28 in 2004; he wound up with 31 total touchdowns.
2. Edgerrin James- Won NFL rushing titles in his first 2 season in the league in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, he suffered a torn ACL. Finally rebounded in 04 and 05 with back to back 1,500 plus rushing yard seasons. James was an amazing asset for then a young Peyton Manning. Never achieved the same excellence and success he received when he landed in Arizona.
3. Marshall Faulk- The best pass receiver out of the backfield ever. Impossible to stop in the open field and could break anything for a touchdown. MVP in 2000, set a then record 2,429 yards from scrimmage and 26 total touchdowns. Most of his dominance came in the 1990’s, although he was absolutely staggering in the first 3 years of the decade.
4. Clinton Portis- Before the 2004 NFL season, an exchange was made between the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. The Skins got Portis, the Broncos received Champ Bailey, wow! Definitely not the worst trade in NFL history as this benefited both teams. Bailey isn’t too shabby himself. Critics felt that Portis was a product of the Broncos offensive-line scheme. Washington was and still is a power rushing attack. Portis did just fine in Washington, he had 3 career 1,500 plus rushing seasons. Two of them in Washington.
5. Shaun Alexander- Prior to the 2006 NFL season Alexander signed a huge and substantial 8-year $62 million contract, $15 million was gauranteed. Also that offseason, all-pro guard Steve Hutchinson signed with Minnesota. Just two years after the signing, Alexander was cut by the team. Behind one of the best offensive lines of the decade, Alexander excelled and topped the 15 rushing touchdown mark three times, and surpassed 1,500 rushing yards twice. Alexander had 27 rushing touchdowns in 2005.
6. Tiki Barber- Although he retired rather earlier than many expected, Barber still accumulated some extremely impressive statistics. He led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage in back to back seasons in 2004 and 2005. Known for his great vision, cutback ability and pass catching out of the backfield. He was once fumble prone, but then he learned a rather unique way of carrying the football as shown in the picture below.
7. Fred Taylor- It is a shame that Fred Taylor had the joy to celebrate just one All-Pro Team and attend 1 Pro Bowl in his career. Taylor should have been on multiple All-Pro and Pro-Bowl teams. His appearance in the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro team came in 2007.
8. Curtis Martin- Martin will ultimately known for being one of two backs ever to amass for over 1,000 rushing yards in his first ten seasons in the league, most of them in the 00’s. The other back to do the same, some scrub named Barry Sanders. He won the NFL rushing title in 2004 by one yard over Shaun Alexander with 1,697 yards. Another thing, Curtis Martin has a perfect career passer rating of 158.3. He was 2/2 for 36 yards and 2 touchdowns.
9. Brian Westbrook- He was a wide receiver playing running back in Philadelphia’s West Coast Offense. He had 10+ total touchdown seasons four times. Early on in his career, Westbrook was a very dangerous punt returner. In a regular season game in 2003 the Eagles won a pivotal game against the Giants entitled by some as the “Miracle in the Meadowlands 2.” Down 10-7 late in the 4th quarter, Westbrook took an 84 yard punt return for a touchdown. The Eagles escaped with a 14-10 win on a day where the Eagles seemed to be fairly outplayed by New York.
10. Priest Holmes- Similarly to Shaun Alexander, Holmes ran behind a tremendous offensive line. He had back to back 20 touchdown seasons in 2002 and 2003. In 03, Holmes surpassed the single season touchdown mark at the time with 27 trips into the endzone. He was superb during a three-year stretch between 2001-2003. After that, he started going downhill.
11. Jamal Lewis- In 2003, relatively out of nowhere, Lewis broke out with 2006 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the year. That season he also broke a then single game rushing record of 295 yards, surpassing Corey Dillon’s mark of 278 yards. Some critics may say he was effective for basically only one season, but the guy went for over 1,300 rushing yards 3 other occasions in the decade.
12. Eddie George- The epitome of being a power back in the NFL. He was the best power back of the decade, tiring out defenses, picking up 3 plus rushing yards consistently on every carry. Don’t let his career per carry average fool you. It’s fitting that George was drafted as a Houston Oiler before the franchise relocated to Tennessee. Many Oiler fans remember who Earl Campbell was.
13. Adrian Peterson- He has made a huge splash in the NFL in just his first three seasons in the league. He may be the best at finishing off a run as he bulldozes defenders when he’s barreling at maximum speed in the open field. He holds the single game rushing record of 296 yards, achieving the accomplishment in his rookie season.
14. Corey Dillon- He was very workmanlike consistently putting up 1,200 yard rushing seasons in the first 5 years of the decade. He won a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots in 2004, and had statistically his best season amassing 1,600 rushing yards and reaching paydirt 12 times. In 2000, Dillon set a then record 278 rushing yards in one game. The mark has since been surpassed by Jerome Harrison, Jamal Lewis and Adrian Peterson.
15. Ricky Williams- Just imagine if football mattered a bit more to Williams. In 2004, Williams then with the Dolphins, shockingly retired from the game to go study the Indian System of Holistic Medicine. He returned to the NFL a year later, again with the Dolphins, but put up lackluster numbers. Williams was suspended for the 2006 season. In 2007, Williams was again suspended for the season after playing in just 1 game. He never regained his previous form during his first 5 seasons in the NFL. During this interval, Williams went over 1,300 yards and scored over 8 touchdowns three separate occasions. He peaked out during his first season with Miami in 2002 with 1,853 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns.
16. Ahman Green- From 2000-2004, Green had more rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage than any NFL player. In 2003, his best season, Green had 1,883 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns. One of the better multi-dimensional backs of the decade. He is one of two players in history to run for two 90+ yard touchdowns in his career, a feat shared with Bo Jackson
17. Deuce McAllister- Arguably the greatest running back in New Orleans Saints history. He prominently posted most of his rushing totals during a 5 year stretch spanning from 2002-2006. In 2003, McAllister rushed for 1,641 yards and 8 touchdowns. Deuce was brought back as an honorary captain during this past postseason with the Super Bowl winning Saints.
18. Stephen Davis – Made an impact for two separate NFL franchises, Washington and Carolina, most significantly during 2000-2003. In 2003, Davis lead the Carolina Panthers to their first Super Bowl appearance. He had over 1,400 rushing yards and 8 rushing touchdown where he eventually finished in the top 3 in the MVP vote. With Washington, Davis ran for over 1,300 yards in back to back seasons.
19. Larry Johnson- He makes the list because of two seasons where he posted back to back 1,700 yard 15+ touchdown seasons. Like his predecessor Priest Holmes, Johnson was a beneficiary of the Chiefs talented offensive line. Nonetheless, he put up some numbers in a brief stint of time.
20. Chris Johnson- He has played just two seasons, and is revolutionizing the running back position. In a new era predicated on the spread and using speed, Johnson is the fastest player in the NFL. During this past season, Johnson blazed his way to records in total yards, surpassing Marshall Faulk, and galloping for 3 touchdowns of 85+ yards. Johnson became the 6th player in NFL history to exceed the 2,000 yard rushing plateau with 2,006 yards.
Notable Mentions- Willie Parker, Warrick Dunn, Steven Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Travis Henry
Some Names to Throw Out for Next Decade- Ray Rice, Dion Lewis, C.J. Spiller, Knowshown Moreno, DeMarco Murray, Mark Ingram