The latest issue of Sports Illustrated -- on iPad Wednesday, Nov. 21 and newsstands Thursday, Nov. 22 -- features a package on the return of the running back. Below, Chris Burke breaks down the 10 best runs of the 2012 season through Week 11.
Partially because some of them are buried on bad teams, it is easy to overlook just how many elite running backs there are in the NFL right now. More than half the league, though, has a guy you could consider a legitimate No. 1 back -- up to and including players like C.J. Spiller, splitting carries in Buffalo, or Darren McFadden, in and out of the lineup in Oakland.
Each of those guys have provided some incredible highlights, and as we take a look at the most electrifying run plays of the 2012 season so far, both made the cut into our top 10.
The star power in the following top 10 runs of 2012 is eye-popping -- as is the athleticism and pure ability needed to pull off these plays.
There surely will be more game-changing run plays to come before 2012 is out, but here are the best of the best so far, along with how they happened.
10. Chris Johnson, Week 7 vs. Buffalo ([si_launchNFLPopup video='f39bdd2acf634c8ead4740b49032d182']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
It may have taken Chris Johnson seven weeks to find the end zone this season, but the run on which he broke his scoreless drought was a doozy. For whatever reasons, Johnson has struggled with his ability to find cutback lanes since the start of 2011. He had no such issue here.
From the Buffalo 16-yard-line, Johnson took a handoff heading left, then jump-cut to his right, where a massive chasm in the Bills defense had emerged. With Craig Stevens (red X) pushing Chris Kelsay upfield, Johnson only had to beat George Wilson to get outside. A nifty juke accomplished the task.
The greatest run you'll ever see? Hardly. But for a guy who had yet to find the end zone -- and who later in this game added an 83-yard TD -- it was impressive. Oh, and bonus points for a Superman flight into the end zone.
9. Darren McFadden, Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh ([si_launchNFLPopup video='452adbdd14e84822843dc7da8a332866']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
Unlike several of the other plays on this list, the blocking for Darren McFadden's 64-yard TD run against the Steelers was sensational. Despite seven Pittsburgh defenders crashing the line of scrimmage, Oakland's offensive line managed to seal off a clear running lane for its talented back.
Once he burst through that hole, McFadden's gallop to the end zone was a two-step process. Step one: Beat Ryan Mundy, Pittsburgh's safety who had McFadden lined up from his safety spot.
McFadden took care of that with a video game-like double-juke that set him free.
Step two: Outrun the defense. Done and done. Touchdown, Raiders.
8. Robert Griffin III, Week 6 vs. Minnesota ([si_launchNFLPopup video='c42a369e58a54b3c9ee43b0dbbfa405a']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
You want to take about a brilliant play call? Here ya go ...
With the Redskins clinging to a five-point lead on Minnesota and facing a 3rd-and-6 late in the fourth quarter, Washington offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan put the ball in the RGIII's hands. Shanahan's called QB draw worked to perfection -- the Vikings fired upfield, allowing Griffin to shoot up the gut.
Minnesota's only free defender at that point was safety Jamarca Sanford. Griffin headed right at him, then bounced outside around a great block from receiver Josh Morgan.
A mere 76 yards later, Griffin was in the end zone for a victory-clinching touchdown.
7. C.J. Spiller, Week 1 vs. New York Jets ([si_launchNFLPopup video='2bda8278319b49da854e8c2f11199724']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
Spiller has had a couple of dazzling outbursts this year. His 56-yard touchdown run against the Jets on the season's opening weekend was his best.
Not only did he break a tackle at the line of scrimmage, ensuring that the play would result in at least some positive gain, he somehow managed to turn this situation ...
... into six points. How? By running between the simultaneous tackle attempts of Bart Scott and LaRon Landry, giving him three broken tackles on one play. It was a combination of speed, balance and strength that few NFL backs would have turned into a huge gainer.
6. Doug Martin, Week 9 vs. Oakland ([si_launchNFLPopup video='e3a40e6626f5451c8743d5b2655eecda']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
Take your pick of Martin's touchdowns in Oakland -- he had four of them, after all, every single one coming in the second half. The vote here is for his first score that day.
Martin found a slim hole in the line, provided by some solid blocking, and found himself downfield with Tyvon Branch and Matt Giordano awaiting him. The Bucs' back then turned a solid gain into a highlight-reel play, cutting on a dime to the sideline, where he kicked it into overdrive and raced past the Raiders' helpless safeties.
5. Reggie Bush, Week 9 at Indianapolis ([si_launchNFLPopup video='613c79d79a7740e28636fbf7679a82f3']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
There are some athletes in this world capable of doing things that normal humans cannot comprehend. To wit: Reggie Bush.
Bush has been wowing us with his natural ability since his days at USC -- and he continues to come up with at least a few showstoppers every season in the NFL. He had one in a Week 2 win over Oakland, but I'll take his Week 9 work in Indianapolis.
Bush narrowly made his way around the end of his offensive line, jumped to a stop at the Indianapolis 15 as several Colts defenders approached. He planted, skipped to his right in a heartbeat, shook another tackle and headed into the end zone.
Don't try that at home -- you'll probably blow out a knee.
4. Adrian Peterson, Week 9 at Seattle ([si_launchNFLPopup video='595d7d1e2d9c42c4b6df538605236c65']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
We've reached the point of the countdown where any of the remaining runs could be No. 1 on our list. And we start with Adrian Peterson's 74-yard rumble against the Seahawks, one of two non-TDs in the top 10.
Peterson's remarkable return from a serious knee injury has been well-documented, but a run like this one just proves how quickly he's recovered. After taking a handoff from Christian Ponder, Peterson tried to follow his blockers right. Only, the blocking completely backfired on this play -- Alan Branch, Leroy Hill and Richard Sherman all sat in position to bring Peterson down.
None did. Peterson got around the corner for a short game, then cut back sharply between two Seahawks defenders -- a mix of incredible instincts on Peterson's part and poor tackling. From there, it was a race to the end zone.
Peterson wound up being tackled at the one, only to score seconds later.
The second of our non-TDs ...
In the third quarter of Dallas' Week 1 win over the Giants, DeMarco Murray took a pitch and ran right into the chest of Mathias Kiwanuka. Rather than hit the deck, though, Murray plowed Kiwanuka over, then turned back to his left.
Waiting there: Justin Tuck, who wrapped both arms around Murray's legs. He spun out of that tackle attempt, too, and retraced his steps right.
After springing loose from Tuck, Murray suddenly found himself with loads of green in front of him. With a blocker in front of him, Murray picked up 48 yards before the Giants finally tracked him down.
2. Chris Ivory, Week 10 vs. Atlanta ([si_launchNFLPopup video='dc9a16ca1b2c4a3eade18cd5c1d1f654']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
For a lot of NFL fans, this was an introduction to Saints running back Chris Ivory. The Saints trailed the then-unbeaten Falcons 10-0 midway through the first quarter when Ivory got the call. Atlanta DE John Abraham appeared to have him hemmed in for no gain, until Ivory sped past him.
He did the same Asante Samuel, then turned a good play into a great one by mimicking Peterson's sideline sidestep, squeezing between Samuel and Thomas Decoud.
Then, the pièce de résistance: A filthy stiff-arm on Dunta Robinson, which gave Ivory clear passage to the goal line.
1. Jamaal Charles, Week 4 vs. San Diego ([si_launchNFLPopup video='8fbc72bc6f974f8686079d2fb7b08d77']Watch[/si_launchNFLPopup])
Back in Week 1, Jamaal Charles unleashed a 91-yard TD run to help his Chiefs rally past the Saints for their lone win of the season thus far. Seven days later, Charles was at it again, this time against the Chargers.
What started as an innocuous 1st-and-10 pitch -- one in which the Chiefs' blocking seemed totally overmatched at first -- turned into a brilliant 37-yard score. Charles had nothing as he headed right so, just as five Chargers defenders were about to box him in and take him down, he hopped backwards and reversed field.
The Chargers, now out of position, still had a shot to corral Charles for next to nothing. That is, until Matt Cassel came down and threw a block on Jarrett Johnson, just nudging Johnson out of his tackling lane and setting Charles free into the secondary.