In the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports’ Pro Football preview, we called on Ourlads Scouting Services to rank the NFL’s best at every position on the field. When it comes to determining who is the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, etc., who better to make that determination than a company that’s been in the gridiron talent evaluation business for nearly three decades?
Even though the NFL has become more of a pass-happy league in recent seasons, there’s still plenty of talent at running back. Adrian Peterson, whose career average of 98.2 yards rushing per game ranks third all-time behind only Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, won’t turn 30 until March and checks in at No. 1. LeSean McCoy, the reigning rushing champion, is next followed by Jamaal Charles, whose 5.6 yards per carry average is tops (min. 1,000 rushing attempts). One other thing worth noting, the lifespan of an elite running back isn’t as long as other positions, as evidenced by the fact that 31-year-old Frank Gore (no. 5) is the only one in the top 10 who is older than 29.
And not to be left out, Ourlads showed some love to the fullbacks as well. Usually called on to block more than to tote the rock, a valuable fullback’s contributions can’t be overlooked. Of the top five identified by Ourlads, three (Anthony Sherman, John Kuhn and Bruce Miller) led the way for 1,000-yard rushers last season.
Rankings courtesy of Ourlads Scouting Services
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Running Backs
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
Rushed for 1,266 yards despite being banged up in 2013. Powerful, strong and punishing are his descriptors. Classic downhill runner who gets yards after initial contact.
2. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia
Is one of the league’s elite runners and is the feature back in Chip Kelly’s run-oriented high-performance offense. Excellent vision, cutting ability and running skills. Dangerous in space.
3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
Is a slashing downhill runner who can catch the ball out of the backfield. He produced 1,287 yards as the Chiefs’ leading ball-carrier and snatched 70 passes as the leading receiver.
4. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle
His physical running style is catching up to him despite being only 28. Runs between the tackles with battering-ram power. Is blessed with exceptional contact balance and breakaway speed.
5. Frank Gore, San Francisco
He is the perfect back for this offense as both the featured runner and pass-protector. The ageless warrior is a competitive runner with great vision and balance. Runs through arm tackles. Has top-level run skills and instincts.
6. Matt Forté, Chicago
Was as productive and versatile as any back in the league last year with 1,339 rushing yards and 594 receiving yards. Quick feet in the hole. Finishes his runs with strength.
7. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo
A shifty and speedy back who teams up with Fred Jackson to give the Bills a solid one-two punch. A cutback runner with good vision and rare quickness. Quick-twitch enough to get yards out of a poorly blocked play.
8. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay
Was voted the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,178 yards. Ran with a low pad level and gored tacklers at times like he was back in the SEC. A thick and powerful runner who excels tackle to tackle.
9. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh
Is an ascending talent who was drafted in the second round in 2013. He started off slowly with some nagging injuries, but by season’s end was the hammer the Steelers selected.
10. Ryan Mathews, San Diego
Had a breakout season in 2013, rushing for 1,255 yards. He was a completely different back playing healthy for the first time in his career. Presses the hole and runs behind his pads.
11. DeMarco Murray, Dallas
12. Darren Sproles, Philadelphia
13. Reggie Bush, Detroit
14. Ray Rice, Baltimore
15. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay
16. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati
17. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans
18. Knowshon Moreno, Miami
19. Fred Jackson, Buffalo
20. Arian Foster, Houston
21. Alfred Morris, Washington
22. Zac Stacy, St. Louis
23. Chris Johnson, NY Jets
24. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina
25. Danny Woodhead, San Diego
26. Joique Bell, Detroit
27. Andre Ellington, Arizona
28. LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh
29. Rashad Jennings, NY Giants
30. Trent Richardson, Indianapolis
2014 NFL Player Rankings: Fullbacks
1. Anthony Sherman, Kansas City
A willing blocker who has some “pop” in his kickout blocks. Good vision, feet and strength to lead on isolation blocks. Has the courage to create off-tackle running lanes by driving his legs on contact.
2. Mike Tolbert, Carolina
A versatile role player who is tough as a third-down runner and receiver out of the backfield. Has had a positive impact on kickoff and punt coverage units. An explosive blocker with a low pad level.
3. John Kuhn, Green Bay
Is an explosive and effective lead-blocker. Solid in pass-protection. A collision player who can put a linebacker or safety on his back. Also productive as a core special teams contributor.
4. John Conner, NY Giants
A consistent lead-blocker who takes pride in his blocking. A classic short-necked fullback who is physical kicking out or sealing an off-tackle defender. A major special teams coverage talent.
5. Bruce Miller, San Francisco
Is a high-motor, great-effort finisher who sells out every play. A productive lead blocker who is key to the Niners’ physical running game.