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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Who's best running back now, Brown, Portis, Peterson or Turner?

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ESPN.com

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Ronnie Brown and Clinton Portis
Miami's Ronnie Brown (left) is having an incredible season about a year after reconstructive knee surgery. Washington's Clinton Portis is a punishing runner who brings that same attitude to blocking.

LT would be an automatic in this conversation most seasons, but not so far in 2008. No one's counting him out in Weeks 7-17, but Tomlinson has been bothered by injuries and has rather ordinary numbers (405 rushing yards, 3.7 ypg.). The best running back right now? Tomlinson's former teammate, Michael Turner, belongs front and center in that discussion. Ditto for league-leading rusher Clinton Portis, Adrian Peterson and a rejuvenated Ronnie Brown. Let's debate.

Miami's Ronnie Brown: Remarkable recovery and start to '08

No running back is having a more impressive season than Ronnie Brown. The Miami Dolphins multitasker leads the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns. He also has thrown a touchdown pass as triggerman of the enthralling Wildcat offense.

The most remarkable aspect of Brown's hot start, however, is that he's playing on a surgically repaired right knee. He logged his first 100-yard game less than 11 months after his anterior cruciate ligament was sewn back together.

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When he suffered the injury in Week 7 of last season, he was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage. Many predicted the No. 2 draft pick from 2005 wouldn't regain his explosive stride until well into this season, that Ricky Williams would need to carry much of the load in the interim.

Brown has been a tad light in the yardage department, partially because he carried only 17 times in the first two games while the Dolphins figured out who they were. He has 336 rushing yards and 443 total. But over the past three games, he has 348 yards from scrimmage and six rushing TDs.

He already has established a personal best in touchdowns. The last Dolphin to rush for more than seven TDs in a full season was Williams in 2003.

Brown is second only to Reggie Bush in non-kicker scoring, and three of Bush's touchdowns were scored on punt returns.

No other running back with at least 50 carries has a higher percentage of first-down runs than Brown.

He's the most dangerous runner in the NFL.

-- Tim Graham, AFC East blogger

Washington's Clinton Portis: Another skill sets him apart

The stats say Clinton Portis. He leads the NFL in rushing with 643 yards. He has five runs of 20 yards or longer, tied for most in the league. He ranks second in rushing touchdowns with six. He hasn't fumbled. His team is winning.

Those are the obvious reasons Portis stands apart as the best running back in the game right now.

Portis is also effective -- and fun to watch -- when the ball isn't in his hands. A violent pass protector, the Washington Redskins star attacks the game with the ferocity of a linebacker and the mean streak of a guard.

A sequence during a Week 3 game against the Arizona Cardinals stands out. The Cardinals' Darnell Dockett had grabbed Portis around the neck and twisted the running back's head unnecessarily while making a tackle. Portis retaliated within the rules on the next play. Dockett was pass rushing against an offensive lineman when Portis launched himself into Dockett as violently as any running back could.

The collision was memorable, and an example of what makes Portis even better than his league-leading stats.

-- Mike Sando, NFC West blogger

Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner
Every defense knows that the Minnesota Vikings are one-dimensional these days, yet it's still hard to stop Adrian Peterson (left). In his first season as an Atlanta Falcon, former Charger Michael Turner is proving to be a great free-agent signing.

Minnesota's Adrian Peterson: Virtually unstoppable

Adrian Peterson has become the best running back in the NFL. Clinton Portis has been brilliant this season, and LaDainian Tomlinson is in the mix when his toe is feeling right. But Peterson has been nearly unstoppable in an offense that doesn't pass the ball very well.

Yes, that's a pretty good offensive line, but the Minnesota Vikings have been a one-dimensional offense. Peterson has averaged 105.9 yards per start since entering the league in 2007, and that's a ridiculous number. By comparison, Tomlinson has averaged 94.5 yards per start as a pro, Walter Payton averaged 90.7 and the great Barry Sanders posted an even 100.

Yes, Tomlinson does more in the passing game, but that's a product of the Chargers' offense. Peterson actually has great hands, but he doesn't get a ton of balls. In 14 games last season, Peterson averaged about 17 carries a game. Only three backs in the history of the league have averaged as many as 15 carries a game and managed more than Peterson's 5.63 yards per carry.

This season, Peterson has averaged nearly 22 carries a game, which is an improvement. His yards-per-carry average is a more modest 4.4. But he'll be even more productive when the Vikings balance him with a decent passing attack.

Peterson has better change-of-direction than Portis and similar power, and he has tremendous vision. He is by far the league's most explosive back. What's really great about Peterson is that he rarely takes a loss.

Peterson is the most dynamic back in the league -- and that will be the case for the next seven or eight years. There were questions about his durability, but he has shown that he can carry the load. In less than two seasons in the league, he has been more durable than Tomlinson and Portis.

-- Matt Mosley, NFC East blogger

Atlanta's Michael Turner: Finally out of LT's shadow

Part of the reason Michael Turner signed with the Atlanta Falcons as a free agent was his desire to get out of the shadow of San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson. That has worked out very well as Turner, so far, has outproduced Tomlinson and just about every other running back in the NFL.

His 597 rushing yards are second only to Washington's Clinton Portis (643 yards). More importantly, Turner has been the centerpiece of Atlanta's offense, and his presence has taken pressure off rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

Turner ran for 220 yards in his Atlanta debut, and that has made him the focal point for opposing defenses. Even though he has seen a steady diet of eight-man fronts, Turner still has produced consistently.

He's averaging 4.7 yards a carry and has run for six touchdowns. Turner, who's averaging 21.3 carries a game, has given the Falcons a perfect combination of speed (five runs of more than 20 yards) and power (32 of his runs have gone for first downs). That's a big part of why the 4-2 Falcons are one of the league's most surprising teams.

-- Pat Yasinksas, NFC South blogger