It was only a matter of time until I officially countered the attack launched by Chiefs fans when I opined that Larry Johnson is not a top-5 NFL running back. He’s not, and it is not because of his poor season last year. It’s because he really isn’t a top-5 back. The list, started by ESPN here isn’t so much controversial because it does list LJ as a top 5. I can see why some, especially wimpy Chiefs fans, agree with the rank. I don’t.
Here are the top 5 running backs in the NFL and a few honorable mentions:
1. Adrian Peterson: Whether he has a great offensive line blocking for him or not, Peterson has moves reminiscent of Barry Sanders. If healthy, he could rush for more than 2000 yards a few times in his career.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson: I expect him to come back strong this season after an injury kept him out of a key playoff game. Tomlinson may even be better than Peterson.
3. Brian Westbrook: As much as it pains me, Westbrook is a great running back, and he catches well too. He’s an all-around player who can take over a game single handedly.
4. Joseph Addai: Addai could explode this year but he already is an upper-tier back. 12 touchdowns last year on only 261 carries. A 4.1 yards per carry was down from his rookie season, but his overall productivity increased.
5. Marion Barber: Marion Barber is unique because naysayers like to point out that he was a back up to Julius Jones and hasn’t really taken a full load in the backfield. That ridiculous. Listen, there isn’t a runner in the game who, when he does hit the field, makes a bigger impact than Barber. He’ll never take a full load because that’s not the direction the Cowboys are in. But Barber is a force that no one has been able to stop consistently. He’ll be a starter this year, and I expect he’ll have similar success as he did when he started against the Giants in the playoffs. He is a top-tier running back and he is red-hot in the end zone.
6. Steven Jackson: I almost put Jackson in the top 5 because he is a great back. His offensive line fell apart last season. He should rebound well and hit the 1500 yard mark with double-digit touchdowns this year.
7. Clinton Portis: He’s not as good as he was for the Broncos, which is kind of scary because he is still good.
8. Larry Johnson: This is about where Larry Johnson fits, in the top 10. He was great in 2005. That was 2005 and nearly 650 carries later. Yikes. The guy is given the ball way too much and although he performs very well, he’s done nothing to help his team succeed. Nothing. The Chiefs are perennial losers, with LJ in the backfield. I put a lot of weight on running backs who help their teams win and succeed.
9. Ronnie Brown: This guy, when healthy, could be a top 5 running back. He’s got great skills and speed and really plays for a horrible team. Yet, those few games he did have I saw flashes of greatness.