What are my criteria for measuring running backs? No. 1 is the
ability to make the first tackler miss, whether it's with
elusiveness or balance or a feel for where the soft spot is in
the defense. No. 2 is the power to break a tackle, and No. 3 is
downfield speed. But in assessing overall value, you also have to
look at a player's role in the passing game. Larry Centers, for
example, may carry the ball only a handful of times a season, but
his pass-catching makes him a valuable part of the offense. I'd
like to include in my list backs whose primary job is to block,
but I think they belong in a different category.
1 Marshall Faulk Rams
Age: 28 Att.: 253 Yds.: 1,359 Rec.: 81 Yds.: 830 TDs: 26
St. Louis moved him around last year, played him in space, ran
him between the tackles, sent him downfield to catch passes--he
did it all. And he shows no signs of wearing down.
2 Eddie George Titans
Age: 27 Att.: 403 Yds.: 1,509 Rec.: 50 Yds.: 453 TDs: 16
Like Faulk, he carried his team last season. A gathering force
who simply wore down defenses, he figured prominently in the
passing game with a career high in catches.
September 2, 2001
3 Edgerrin James Colts
Age: 23 Att.: 387 Yds.: 1,709 Rec.: 63 Yds.: 594 TDs: 18
He caught heat for skipping voluntary off-season workouts, but
on the field he's been strictly business, leading the NFL in
rushing in each of his first two years.
4 Curtis Martin Jets
Age: 28 Att.: 316 Yds.: 1,204 Rec.: 70 Yds.: 508 TDs: 11
Tireless runner has gained more than 1,100 yards in each of his
six seasons. Responded with a career high in catches last year
when called on to fill a need.
5 Warrick Dunn Buccaneers
Age: 26 Att.: 248 Yds.: 1,133 Rec.: 44 Yds.: 422 TDs: 9
When will Tampa Bay stop hurling his 180-pound body into the
line and start using him the way the Rams employ Faulk? A master
at making people miss.
6 Ricky Watters Seahawks
Age: 32 Att.: 278 Yds.: 1,242 Rec.: 63 Yds.: 613 TDs: 9
He's been underrated throughout his career. Is he starting to
slow down? No signs of it. Coming off his sixth straight
1,000-yard season and hasn't missed a game in seven years.
7 Corey Dillon Bengals
Age: 26 Att.: 315 Yds.: 1,435 Rec.: 18 Yds.: 158 TDs: 7
Everyone figured he'd be snapped up in free-agency wars, but
Cincinnati anted up $32 million to retain this slashing burner
who keeps cranking out 1,000-yard seasons.
8 Fred Taylor Jaguars
Age: 25 Att.: 292 Yds.: 1,399 Rec.: 36 Yds.: 240 TDs: 14
When healthy, adds real punch to Jacksonville's attack with his
power and elusiveness, but he missed nine games over last two
seasons. I'm betting he can stay healthy.
9 Charlie Garner Raiders
Age: 29 Att.: 258 Yds.: 1,142 Rec.: 68 Yds.: 647 TDs: 10
The knock was "not durable enough," but he didn't miss a game
the past two seasons as a 49er. Should stay fresh in Oakland
while sharing the load with Tyrone Wheatley.
10 Stephen Davis Redskins
Age: 27 Att.: 332 Yds.: 1,318 Rec.: 33 Yds.: 313 TDs: 11
A 234-pounder with moves. More of a straight-ahead banger in his
early years, he's learned how to make people miss. Last year's
surge in receptions only a promise of things to come.
11 Ahman Green Packers
Age: 24 Att.: 263 Yds.: 1,175 Rec.: 73 Yds.: 559 TDs: 13
When Dorsey Levens went down, this former Seahawk came on
strong, leading Green Bay in rushing and receptions. Nobody knew
he had this kind of pass-catching ability.
12 Duce Staley Eagles
Age: 26 Att.: 79 Yds.: 334 Rec.: 25 Yds.: 201 TDs: 1
Relentless runner was sidelined in fifth game last season with a
bum right foot, sending Philadelphia's ground game into a
tailspin. But he's young enough to bounce back.
13 Mike Anderson Broncos
Age: 27 Att.: 297 Yds.: 1,487 Rec.: 23 Yds.: 169 TDs: 15
Tailback factory rolled another one off the assembly line last
season with this 235-pound, power-running ex-Marine. If Terrell
Davis and Olandis Gary are healthy, where does he fit?
14 Emmitt Smith Cowboys
Age: 32 Att.: 294 Yds.: 1,203 Rec.: 11 Yds.: 79 TDs: 9
The last time he failed to run for 1,000 yards, the senior Bush
was in the White House. He doesn't have the zip he did at 25, but
he's still a valuable guy to have around.
15 Jamal Lewis Ravens
Age: 22 Att.: 309 Yds.: 1,364 Rec.: 27 Yds.: 296 TDs: 6
Brass caught flak for drafting him over Thomas Jones last year,
but pick paid off. Out for the season with a torn ACL, but can't
leave a young 231-pounder with 4.35 speed off this list.
16 Tiki Barber Giants
Age: 26 Att.: 213 Yds.: 1,006 Rec.: 70 Yds.: 719 TDs: 9
Went into camp as a third-down back, but had dedicated himself
to having a career year in 2000, and that's what he delivered.
Speed and quick cuts are his trademarks.
17 Jerome Bettis Steelers
Age: 29 Att.: 355 Yds.: 1,341 Rec.: 13 Yds.: 97 TDs: 8
Now in his ninth season, the Bus hasn't lost quick first step or
rolling power. What he did lose was All-Pro center Dermontti
Dawson. Only a lack of receptions keeps him out of top 10.
18 Olandis Gary Broncos
Age: 26 Att.: 13 Yds.: 80 Rec.: 3 Yds.: 10 TDs: 0
The savior when Davis tore up knee in 1999, he figured to be
valuable part of offense in 2000. Then he, too, was lost to knee
surgery. I rank him second in Denver's rotation.
19 Lamar Smith Dolphins
Age: 30 Att.: 309 Yds.: 1,139 Rec.: 31 Yds.: 201 TDs: 16
New Orleans cut him, Miami picked him up and, presto, an anemic
running game ended up in the top half of the league. Runs as if
he hasn't forgotten what it's like to get a pink slip.
20 Ricky Williams Saints
Age: 24 Att.: 248 Yds.: 1,000 Rec.: 44 Yds.: 409 TDs: 9
Sidelined for the season in 10th game with a broken left ankle
but still had impressive numbers. Was running with power and
showing outside speed when injury jinx struck again.
21 James Stewart Lions
Age: 29 Att.: 339 Yds.: 1,184 Rec.: 32 Yds.: 287 TDs: 11
No mystery here. A thumper who runs with exceptional desire. At
Jacksonville he was overshadowed by the flashier Taylor, but the
Lions like him just fine.
22 Jamal Anderson Falcons
Age: 28 Att.: 282 Yds.: 1,024 Rec.: 42 Yds.: 382 TDs: 6
A super back during Atlanta's Super run in 1998, he tore up his
right knee in '99, made a comeback of sorts last year, but never
regained the zip he showed in his prime.
23 Tyrone Wheatley Raiders
Age: 29 Att.: 232 Yds.: 1,046 Rec.: 20 Yds.: 156 TDs: 10
Big back who hits the hole with authority, he reached 1,000-yard
plateau last season for first time in six years as a pro. Raiders
usually lifted him on passing downs, though.
24 Terrell Davis Broncos
Age: 28 Att.: 78 Yds.: 282 Rec.: 2 Yds.: 4 TDs: 2
This ranking hurts. I'm saying, in effect, that he won't regain
premier status. His legs have taken a beating. When he played
last year, he was far from effective.
25 Michael Pittman Cardinals
Age: 26 Att.: 184 Yds.: 719 Rec.: 73 Yds.: 579 TDs: 6
One of the few bright spots on an offense that was severely out
of whack last season. Has nice moves and showed worth as a
receiver, leading team in catches.
26 Priest Holmes Chiefs
Age: 27 Att.: 137 Yds.: 588 Rec.: 32 Yds.: 221 TDs: 2
Ravens' third-down specialist in 2000. Valuable receiver and
slashing runner who, with fullback Tony Richardson blocking for
him, could have a breakthrough year with K.C.
27 Tony Richardson Chiefs
Age: 29 Att.: 147 Yds.: 697 Rec.: 58 Yds.: 468 TDs: 6
Most effective blocker was also Kansas City's best runner last
year. Bulk of carries will go to Holmes, but Richardson is team's
outlet receiver. In short, he can do it all.
28 Terrell Fletcher Chargers
Age: 27 Att.: 116 Yds.: 384 Rec.: 48 Yds.: 355 TDs: 4
A little guy (5'8", 196) who burns himself out in hopeless
causes. He'll take a backseat, though, if rookie LaDainian
Tomlinson comes on the way Chargers expect him to.
29 Mike Alstott Buccaneers
Age: 27 Att.: 131 Yds.: 465 Rec.: 13 Yds.: 93 TDs: 5
As the offense lost its identity, his numbers nose-dived. A
sprained left knee late in the year didn't help. New coordinator
Clyde Christensen hopes to get him back in picture.
30 Tim Biakabutuka Panthers
Age: 27 Att.: 173 Yds.: 627 Rec.: 34 Yds.: 341 TDs: 4
In the NFL an injured player becomes a suspect player.
Biakabutuka, who's had dazzling games but has never put together
a complete season, falls into that category.
31 James Allen Bears
Age: 26 Att.: 290 Yds.: 1,120 Rec.: 39 Yds.: 291 TDs: 3
A hardworking runner who stepped into the breach when Curtis
Enis couldn't cut it as a tailback. Last year Allen had the
quietest 1,000-yard season in football.
32 Travis Prentice Browns
Age: 24 Att.: 173 Yds.: 512 Rec.: 37 Yds.: 191 TDs: 8
A sleeper. Remember, you heard it here first. His employers like
rookie James Jackson better, but I'd stick with this second-year
player, an exciting runner with terrific moves.
33 Dorsey Levens Packers
Age: 31 Att.: 77 Yds.: 224 Rec.: 16 Yds.: 146 TDs: 3
Missed 11 games last season, and he isn't getting any younger.
Once was the glue that held Green Bay's offense together, but
it's been awhile.
34 Greg Comella Giants
Age: 26 Att.: 10 Yds.: 45 Rec.: 36 Yds.: 274 TDs: 0
This training partner of Barber's is a smart and tough fullback
who has improved as a blocker. He's also developed into a decent
35 Richie Anderson Jets
Age: 29 Att.: 27 Yds.: 63 Rec.: 88 Yds.: 853 TDs: 2
Listed as a fullback but doesn't have a true fullback's
responsibilities. What he can do, though, is catch passes, often
from the flank. Led club in receiving last year.
36 Shawn Bryson Bills
Age: 25 Att.: 161 Yds.: 591 Rec.: 32 Yds.: 271 TDs: 2
At times last year Buffalo's running game looked ready to take
off, but those moments were fleeting. In the melange of backs,
all in the 230-pound range, he was the most effective.
37 Garrison Hearst 49ers
Age: 30 Att.: 310 Yds.: 1,570 Rec.: 39 Yds.: 535 TDs: 9
Could rise dramatically if he regains his old burst. So far he's
shown only hints of it. No one thought he'd make it back even
this far from his crippling ankle injury (1998 statistics).
38 Ron Dayne Giants
Age: 23 Att.: 228 Yds.: 770 Rec.: 3 Yds.: 11 TDs: 5
Didn't understand the art of hitting the hole last year, but
he's lighter now and has shown some moves. Baby backs often grow
up between seasons and become something special.
39 Larry Centers Bills
Age: 33 Att.: 19 Yds.: 103 Rec.: 81 Yds.: 600 TDs: 3
As Washington's wideout situation deteriorated, more balls found
their way into his hands. No other back has caught as many passes
in his NFL career.
40 Chad Morton Jets
Age: 24 Att.: 36 Yds.: 136 Rec.: 30 Yds.: 213 TDs: 0
The Jets got him as a stop-gap punt returner, but I see him as a
reincarnation of Dave Meggett. Whenever the Saints gave this
little guy (5'8", 186) the ball, something seemed to happen.
STATISTICS FOR 2000 SEASON