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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Running back rankings and how I do them

By Tim Graham

ESPN.com debuted its positional power rankings series last week with wide receivers. The two articles I wrote about my ballot (and my breakdown of the AFC East) sparked lively discussions about my process.

Readers demanded to know my criteria. My explanation seemed to chafe a few. I stated that my ballot simply reflected my personal taste about how they performed last season.

Stats are a part of equation. They must be to an extent. But if I wanted to go purely on stats, then I would post a link to ESPN.com's fantasy leaders.

I steer clear of metrics. You can pick and choose a specific mathematical equation and make it support any case -- even though you might be comparing a slot receiver catching passes from an elite quarterback to a No. 1 receiver who's constantly double covered on a run-oriented offense. Can't do it.

In the end, it comes down to subjective judgment. Feel free to disagree. An exchange of ideas is the whole point. I don't need to agree with you, and you don't need to accept my list as gospel. Agents won't use the AFC East blog in contract negotiations. The Pro Football Hall of Fame won't use my power rankings to determine induction.

In response to a question about underrated Buffalo Bills running back Cookie Gilchrist for the documentary "Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League," legendary runner Jim Brown summed up my sentiments.

"Who gets compared to me and all of that, I couldn't care less about," Brown said. "I don't compare a rose to a petunia. They both have their own kind of beauty. It all depends on what you prefer."

And for those who require statistical reasoning, I share with you a quote another Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer told me a couple months ago for a story about Andre Reed's induction hopes.

"Our game is beginning to resemble baseball in which everyone is looking at numbers," said Paul Warfield, a member of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins team. "Numbers tell the story to a degree, but I like to look at one's full body of work. You're supposed to be able to do a lot of things.

"As a receiver, catching the ball is primary and important. But I don't think it takes very much skill or maneuverability to step a couple yards off the line of scrimmage and someone pops you with a pass several times."

So, as you peruse my ballots the next several Tuesdays, that's where I'm coming from.

This week's position is running back.

My ballot:
  1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
  2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
  3. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
  4. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
  5. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
  6. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
  7. Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons
  8. Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers
  9. Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
  10. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

The most obvious omission was St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson. I thought long and hard about including him, but I couldn't talk myself into it. Jackson scored only six touchdowns and had little impact in the passing game. Of the 17 backs who rushed for 1,000 yards, his 3.8 yards per carry were better than only Cedric Benson's average.

Some might point out that defenses girded up to remove Jackson from the game, but there are other runners on that list who had worse quarterback situations than the Rams did. I think people still see Jackson as the all-around superstar from 2006.

Hillis was another tough call because of his fumbles. But he was Cleveland's entire offense. Opponents still couldn't stop him. He also added 61 receptions for another 477 yards and a couple touchdowns, numbers that get overlooked.

I'll come back later Tuesday with a ranking of AFC East backs.