NFC South: running backs
I can’t argue with that. In fact, Turner was the only NFC South running back I included on my top 10 ballot. He’s also the only NFC South back who got any votes from our panel.
Turner came in at No. 6, although I ranked him No. 4. Just for background, I don’t use some big scientific system when doing these rankings, but I was probably closer to being scientific on running backs than I will be on any other position. That’s because running backs are different. They have very short shelf lives.
As I filled out my ballot, I looked mostly at rushing totals in two time increments. One was for the past two years and the other was for the past three years. If we had opened it up to the last eight years, then you’d have to rank guys like LaDainian Tomlinson very high and that wouldn’t be right because he no longer is an elite back.
Turner has been a 1,000-yard rusher in two of the past three seasons and it easily would have been three if inuries had not sidelined him for part of 2009 and that makes him a very solid choice on any list of top running backs.
What about Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart? First off, they’ve split carries much of the past few seasons and that holds down their numbers. Williams is an enormously talented all-around back. If I were building a team, I wouldn’t mind having him as my main running back. Problem is, he’s not even a true feature back when he and Stewart are together. Injuries also have limited Williams’ numbers.
Stewart’s a guy who, on any given day, can look as good as any back in the league. The downside with Stewart is his injury history. He came into the league with a chronic foot problem and it’s kind of a tribute to Carolina’s medical staff that he has been able to accomplish as much as he has.
Tampa Bay’s LeGarrette Blount? Well, I left him off for now. But I’ve got a feeling he’ll be on this list next year. Just need to see him go out and do what he did last year over the course of an entire season. Oh, and by the way, Blount might want to cut out the leaping acts. They make for some good highlights, but he’s going to get hurt if he keeps that up on a regular basis. As a general rule, one of the first things running backs are taught is not to leave their feet.
Finally, we’ll touch briefly on the New Orleans running backs -- Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory. None of them are top-10 material. There are several reasons for that. They’re used as a combination and that prevents anyone from putting up huge numbers. There also are durability issues with Thomas and Bush. I think Thomas is New Orleans’ best all-around running back, but that doesn’t put him near the top 10.
We'll continue our NFC South positional rankings today with running backs.
Here is my top 10:
1. Michael Turner, Atlanta. Falcons just have to be careful not to overuse him this year. Give him 325 carries and he'll give you 1,500 yards.
2. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina. He's still something of a secret to a lot of people. But that's not going to last much longer.
3. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina. His power is perfect complement to Williams' speed.
4. Derrick Ward, Tampa Bay. I'm projecting a bit here because we don't truly know Ward's role. But I think he's going to be the primary ball carrier in an offense that runs often.
5. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans. A lot of people like to make it sound as if the Saints didn't have a featured back last year. They did. It was Thomas and he's solid.
6. Earnest Graham, Tampa Bay. He's still going to get plenty of carries in a ball-control offense and could even get some time at fullback.
7. Reggie Bush, New Orleans. No, he's not a true running back. But he still can hurt you out of the backfield, at times, as much as any running back in the league.
8. Jerious Norwood, Atlanta. Has shown flashes in a limited role, but you get the feeling the Falcons are going to watch Turner's carries closely this year and that could mean more for Norwood.
10. Brad Hoover, Carolina. Hoover's not quite as dominant a blocker as Mughelli, but he's been very solid and dependable for a long time.