Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Legacy of Terrell Owens

Yesterday's news of Terrell Owens' surgery to repair a torn ACL brings about questions of whether or not Owens has much left in the tank.

It was revealed earlier today that the surgery had actually taken place back in April and that he is already a couple of months in to recovery. Also today, his agent Drew Rosenhaus stated "the retirement talk is nonsense. There's been no discussion about that, and this injury is not a big deal" according to an Associated Press report.

Well, I highly doubt that knee surgery for a 37-year old NFL wide receiver can easily be considered "no dig deal." Especially when it comes to game-action.
But, nevertheless, Rosenhaus continues to talk Owens up and say he "will be playing at the start of the season." Two of Owen's former Bengal teammates have also said he plans to return, according to this same AP report from earlier this afternoon.

I am not claiming that I don't believe Owens will return for 2011, because if anything I am about 95 percent sure he will suit up in '11. What I am claiming, however, is that it would be a smart move for Owens to retire now, while he's ahead.

With the labor negotiations in full swing, and the 2011 season still up in the air, why not call it quits now? His best chance at a ring was with the Eagles, and there aren't too many teams left that would be willing to give T.O. a shot, let alone a contender.

Owens has always been all about individual accomplishments, and aside from winning a Super Bowl, he has already done his part in reaching the ultimate individual goal in the National Football League: The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Owens' legacy will always be known as self-centered and spoiled, but there's no doubt that 1,000+ receptions, 15,000+ yards and 153 touchdowns later T.O. has put himself among legends.
Five years after retirement from the game--no matter when that happens to be--Owens will be placed alongside names such as Jerry Rice, Steve Largent, Lance Alworth etc. in Canton, OH.

Terrell Owens' career was full of ups and downs, whether it be his feuds with former quarterbacks Jeff Garcia, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, or his numerous flamboyant touchdown celebrations. You can call him the ultimate scumbag of the NFL, but no matter what you think of his character on-and-off the field, he came out of the tunnel every Sunday afternoon and produced.

The fact that he never won a ring is obviously not all his fault--football is the ultimate team game. No one player can make that great a difference, whether it be positive or negative.

What I would like to think about when I think of Terrell Owens, is how gifted he was. Not that he never won it all, or that he demanded attention from his peers and fans, or that he caused a ruckus in the locker room.

Only the extraordinarily gifted professional football players get inducted in to Canton. And that is exactly what Terrell Owens was. An extraordinarily gifted wide receiver.

Photo credit
1) Andy Lyons/Getty Images
2) gacksports.com

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Video Tribute to Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers

Video highlighting the Green Bay Packers' 2010-11 Super Bowl-winning season.


Video courtesy of youtube.com.

New Unis in Buffalo: Bills bring back old school look

The Buffalo Bills introduced its new line of uniforms for 2011 at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Friday.

Now, instead of occasionally repping the old school white helmet, Buffalo is back to permanently sporting the look for the first time since 1983. The new jerseys now say 'Buffalo' just below the v-neck on the front of the jersey, and the charging buffalo logo will appear on the back of the jersey just above the (player's) nameplate.

Reebok, the maker of the new jerseys, made them 30-40 percent lighter and they feature two white and red stripes on the sleeves.

I, for one, am a huge fan of the new look for the Bills. A lot of teams, when choosing new uniforms, have gone with a brand new look and got away from tradition. But Buffalo incorporated both old and new to combine for a great-looking uniform for the new decade.

Great job.

Photo credit: AP Photo

Thursday, June 23, 2011

NFL History: Best Return Men the League has ever seen

In the world of the National Football League, fans focus so much on explosive offenses and stingy defenses that it seems as though a versatile special teams unit gets overlooked.

Field position is a very important aspect in the game of football, and what better way to win ball games with a little help from a flashy return man who can score without the offense's help?

We have seen some very talented athletes make a name for themselves as a dangerous return man over the last decade or so. Just to name a few: Darren Sproles, Dante Hall, Brian Mitchell, Leon Washington, Allen Rossum, Devin Hester, Deion Sanders, Josh Cribbs, etc. etc. etc.

But who's the best of the best?

That's what I'm here to tell you. Here is a list of my top 10 kick/punt returners in the long history of the league. Well, technically I will mainly be listing guys who played during the Super Bowl era. In no particular order, here are 10 players who I would have loved to have returning balls for my team in their prime.

Dante Hall, Kansas City/St. Louis

Career numbers: 6 kick return TDs, 6 punt return TDs, two Pro Bowls and one First-team All Pro selection in nine seasons with Chiefs and Rams

In the early 2000s, Dante "X-factor" Hall was the talk of the town in Kansas City. Not only was his athletic ability incredible, but he knew how to make guys miss and then could simple turn on the jets to make his way across the goal line.

The former Chief and Ram has been out of the league since 2008, but from 2002-2007 there was no one better at returning kicks than this two-time Pro Bowler out of Texas A&M. Finishing his career with six kick returns and six punt returns for touchdowns, Hall was the most dangerous returner during his tenure, and was a pleasure to watch.
Deion Sanders, Atlanta/San Francisco/Dallas/Washington/Baltimore

Career numbers: 3 kick return TDs, 6 punt return TDs, eight Pro Bowls, six First-team All Pro selections in 13 seasons with five different teams

Sanders made his mark as a defensive back, recording nearly 500 tackles and picking off 53 passes in his career. So not only was he an effective return man, but he also ran interceptions back for touchdowns (nine in his career). The fact he had a knack for the end zone may have been what helped him get on this list.

Sanders was a natural athlete and return man, because he knew how to make guys miss and, of course, he was one of the fastest guys in the league at the time. Sanders spent 13 seasons in the league, so his nine return touchdowns (six punt, three kick; plus nine additional INT TDs) may not seem quite as impressive over a longer period of time. But either way Sanders was a threat every time he got his hands on the ball, and could make defenders look silly trying to bring him to the ground.

Gale Sayers, Chicago

Career numbers: 6 kick return TDs, 2 punt return TDs, four Pro Bowls, five First-team All Pro selections in seven seasons with Chicago

In just seven career professional seasons, Sayers was said to be one of the most dangerous players when he had the ball in his hands. An injury-shortened career shattered any hope of Sayers earning the Return King title, but his six kick returns for touchdowns puts him at No. 3 on the all-time list (tied with four others).

Sayers put up an astonishing stat of 30.6 yards per kick return throughout his career (highest in league history) and was a threat as a punt returner as well, racking up a 14.5 yds/return and two touchdowns with Chicago. Had he played a full career, there's no doubt Sayers could have ended with more return touchdowns than anyone else.
Brian Mitchell, Washington/Philadelphia/New York

Career numbers: 4 kick return TDs, 9 punt return TDs, 4,999 career punt return yards (most all-time), one Pro Bowl, one First-team All Pro selection in 14 seasons with three teams

Mitchell was primarily a threat as a punt returner, returning nine career punts for touchdowns. He is third all-time on that list (Hester and Eric Metcalf both have 10). The one-time Pro Bowler was around for well over a decade (14 years), so it isn't much of a surprise to see him sit comfortably atop the career list for punt return yards (4,999).

Mitchell led the league in punt return TDs on three separate occasions (1991, '94, '95) and, before Hester came around, was known as one of the best to play the position. The little guy had heart.

Devin Hester, Chicago

Career numbers: 4 kick return TDs, 10 punt return TDs and three Pro Bowls, three First-team All Pro selections in five seasons with Chicago

Ok, so it's possible that Sayers may not have racked up more return touchdowns than this guy if he had played a longer career. But that's only because the 28-year old Hester is a freak of nature.

One thing you want in a return man is intimidation factor, which would eventually force opposing teams to kick out of bounds to avoid said player, therefore potentially giving your offense great field position.

Well, that's exactly what the Bears have gotten from Hester throughout his five-year career. Not to mention the 10 punt return touchdowns, four kick return touchdowns and countless broken ankles for opposing defenders. In five seasons, Hester has done more than most return men will ever do in their careers. By far the best in the game today, if not in the history of the league.

Josh Cribbs, Cleveland

Career numbers: 8 kick return TDs (most all-time), 2 punt return TDs, two Pro Bowls, one First-team All Pro selection with Cleveland

This past season was Cribbs' sixth professional season with the Browns, and it marked the only season he did not return a single punt or kick for a touchdown. In his previous five season Cribbs racked up eight career kick return TDs and two punt return TDs.

To be ranked No. 1 on the career kick return touchdowns list at age 28 is pretty miraculous. Cribbs' body build (6'1''/192 lbs.) allows him to not only put a finesse move on the opposition, but he also has the ability to run through defenders on his way to the end zone.

Cribbs isn't quite as flashy and electrifying as Chicago's Hester, but his style gets the job done just as well. If he can keep up his pace, Cribbs could go down as a top three returner by career's end.
Leon Washington, New York/Seattle

Career numbers: 7 kick return TDs, 4,447 KR yards, one Pro Bowl, one First-team All Pro selection in five seasons with Jets and Seahawks

As a reserve running back, Washington didn't see much of the field in his stint with the New York Jets. That is, until he made his mark as a returner for the Jets in his second season (2007) in the league. That year he led the league with three kickoffs returned for touchdowns. He finished his four-year tenure in New York with a total of four, and went on to add three more this past season with the Seattle Seahawks.

Behind only Hester, Washington's seven KO TDs is good enough for second-most all-time. Washington, despite playing one less season than Cleveland's Cribbs, is just one KO TD shy of tying him for most all-time.

Eric Metcalf, Cleveland/Atlanta/San Diego/Arizona/Carolina/Washington/Green Bay

Career numbers: 2 kick return TDs, 10 punt return TDs, three Pro Bowls and two First-team All Pro selections in 13 seasons with seven different teams

One thing I have noticed in a couple of the previously listed returners is that they have played for several different teams throughout their careers. With the exception of Hall, Hester and Sayers, these players have played for at least two different teams with Sanders and Metcalf playing for at least five teams.

Returners are seemingly disposable in the game of football, but there are only so many great ones. Metcalf, though he played for seven teams, was one of those great ones, returning a league-best 10 punts for touchdowns. As most of the great return specialists go, Metcalf never quite made the cut as a halfback, so he was thrown around the league each year as a coveted return man.

Dave Meggett, New York (Giants)/New England/New York (Jets)

Career numbers: 1 kick return TD, 3,708 punt return yards, 7 punt return TDs, 2 Pro Bowls in 10 seasons with three different teams

Most return-men are streaky when it comes to producing touchdowns, but Meggett? He put up consistent numbers throughout his 10 seasons. Coming in to the league as a rookie for the Giants in 1989, Meggett earned a Pro Bowl trip after leading the league in punt return yards (582) and touchdowns with one.

He never ran back any more than two punts for touchdowns in any one season, but returned eight total from 1989 to 1996. His second of two Pro Bowls came in the '96 season, his second of three seasons with New England.
Desmond Howard, Washington/Jacksonville/Green Bay/Oakland/Detroit

Career numbers: 7,959 kick return yards, 1 kick return TD, 8 punt return TDs, 1 Pro Bowl, Super Bowl MVP in 11 seasons with five different teams

Another long-time journeyman, so to speak, Howard made this list solely based on his outlandish 1996 season with the Packers, in which he won a Super Bowl ring.

Yes, Howard was a productive punt returner outside of that season, returning six punts for TDs while leading the league (with two) in 1998. But it was '96 that he broke out on to the scene as a returner. After four mediocre seasons as both a wideout and returner, Howard joined Green Bay and made an immediate impact.

Leading the league with 58 returns in the punt game, Howard returned three punts for touchdowns (league-high) over 875 yards (league-high), including a 92-yard return--also, a league-high. In the Super Bowl, Howard returned a 99-yard kickoff for a touchdown, earning the game's MVP award.

Also drawing consideration:

Jermaine Lewis
Mel Gray

Who's next??

Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders
Brad Smith, New York Jets
DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles
Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers
Stefan Logan, Pittsburgh Steelers/Detroit Lions
Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints

Photo credit
Dante Hall: usatoday.com
Brian Mitchell: otrsportsonline.com
Leon Washington: sportsillustrated.cnn.com
Desmond Howard: detroitmansroom.com

Sunday, June 19, 2011

With Migraines in Rear-view Mirror, Harvin set to take game to the next level

According to a story I read on NFL.com recently, Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver and returner Percy Harvin has told The Virginian-Pilot that he 'feels great' and believes the migraines he suffered last season are in the past.

He goes even further in saying that he hasn't suffered an episode in about five or six months and hasn't felt this great since 'probably kindergarten.'

This lockout has given Harvin a chance to take a new approach to the game and I have no reason to not believe he will come back this year and set career-highs.
At 23, the speedy 5'11'' star will enter his third season in the league after being selected by Minnesota with the 22nd overall pick in the 2009 draft.

Harvin exploded in to the league during his rookie campaign, catching 60 passes for 790 yards and six touchdowns in the passing game, and two kick-offs returned for touchdowns on his way to a Pro Bowl appearance. He put up similar numbers the following year (71 catches, 868 yards, 5 TD; 1 KO return for TD) but you can likely blame the struggles and inconsistent play at the quarterback position for Harvin's numbers. Had Brett Favre carried his own weight and limit mistakes, we could have seen an 90-catch, 1,000 yard season in Harvin's second year.

Expect a 2011 statline of about 90 receptions, 1,200 yards, 8 TDs with at least one kickoff returned for a touchdown. Harvin is well on his way to breaking out as a game-changing receiver similar to Philadelphia's young deep threat DeSean Jackson.

Photo credit

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Should Philadelphia Pursue Plaxico Burress??

Former Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was recently released from prison after serving approximately two years of jail time for a gun charge.

Personally, I hate how much attention this story has gotten, and by writing this article I am only adding more fuel to the fire and helping to continue my frustration in the overly talked about Burress. But, the truth of the matter is that the 33-year old Super Bowl champion could be the difference between a borderline playoff team and a Super Bowl contender.

There are teams out there that are a few moves away from being in serious contention for a title. The first team that comes to mind is the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland has a very young offense, but if they get what they are expecting from their potential franchise quarterback (Colt McCoy) and can get targets such as Burress to add to McCoy's arsenal, who knows what will happen in Cleveland.
Although Cleveland seems to be a long-shot for Burress in 2011.

Footage of Burress being released last Monday (and being attacked by agent Drew Rosenhaus) shows Plaxico sporting a Philadelphia Phillies hat. Could this be a hint towards him wanting to join the Eagles? I certainly believe it could factor in.

Plus Eagles star quarterback Michael Vick has already shown interest in the 6'5'' wideout. Vick could help in mentoring Plax and aid in his rebound from the jail sentence. I mean, come on, Vick has already done a very good job in repairing his image, for the most part.

With former Indianapolis Colts' head coach, and Super Bowl champion, Tony Dungy mentoring Plax, it looks like he is already well on his way to recovering from his mistake and moving on with his life.

The Eagles sure could use another player such as Burress to complement play-making youngster DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. All Burress really needs to do is run routes and catch the ball, so I really don't think the idea of him being 'out of shape' would prevent the Eagles from pursuing Burress.

I say Philadelphia pulls the trigger and adds Burress once the lockout is lifted.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Monday, June 13, 2011

Player Spotlight (Edition 2): Junior Seau, Chargers/Dolphins/Patriots

It's been nearly a month since the start of my new feature "Player Spotlight," so I figured I would try to keep my word and continue with the series. Edition No. 2 focuses on the defensive side of the ball.

Edition 1 featured former Denver Broncos' wideout Rod Smith, who put up Hall of Fame-caliber numbers, but likely wont get a call from Canton anytime soon. Very under-appreciated player throughout his career, though.

At the linebacking position, I chose to write about the former San Diego Chargers/Miami Dolphins/New England Patriots leader Junior Seau....also known as "say-ow," for his hard hits over the middle of the field.

Seau, recently retired from the game after four sub-par seasons in New England, played his college ball at USC. After his junior season, Seau entered the NFL draft and was selected by the Chargers with the fifth overall pick.
His mark was left on San Diego almost immediately, recording 85 solo tackles and a sack in 15 games during his rookie season. He made the Pro Bowl his second year (129 solo tackles, 7 sacks as inside linebacker), and went on to appear in 11 more Pro Bowls in 20 professional seasons.

Going in to college, Seau was not seen as one of the sharpest pencils in the pack, but at the pro level he gained the reputation as a smart football player, and was always working hard.

Seau made it to the Super Bowl with San Diego in 1994, though they lost to Steve Young's 49ers (who, by the way, tore up San Diego's defense with a Super Bowl record six touchdown passes). Seau never did capture the coveted Lombardi trophy, but his 1,288 tackles, 47 sacks and 15 INT in 13 seasons with the Chargers has made him a legend in San Diego.

Junior never did make it back the Pro Bowl once he had left San Diego (three seasons with Miami, four with New England), but his hard-hitting rep remained with him throughout the rest of his career.

I am not, in any way, a Chargers fan. But boy did I love seeing Seau run from sideline-to-sideline every Sunday. He knew how to play the game, and did it well. One of the best linebackers in the '90s, for sure.

Photo credit

New Orleans Saints: Does the Drafting of Mark Ingram Fix the Backfield Issue?

In 2010 the New Orleans Saints finished the season at 11-5, capturing a wild card berth and the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs.

Quarterback Drew Brees threw for 404 yards and two touchdowns on 60 pass attempts against the underdog Seattle Seahawks in the opening round of the playoffs. Saints running back Julius Jones scored on the ground twice, but was the team's leading rusher with just 59 yards.

Seattle's Marshawn Lynch took the game over with 131 yards and one of the greatest touchdown runs in NFL playoff history to seal the game.

As it was all season long, New Orleans' rushing attack cost the team the game, as they averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on 22 attempts.
Injuries devastated New Orleans' running backs early and often throughout the 2010 season. One of the NFL's biggest disappointments, Reggie Bush, missed eight games due to a broken leg he suffered while returning a punt. He ran for just 150 yards on 36 carries in six starts this past season, and his lone touchdown came through the air against the 49ers in Week 2's matchup.

Bush, 26, was replaced by Pierre Thomas, who also suffered an injury. Thomas, also 26, injured his ankle against the 49ers in Week 3, and didn't make a return until December. In total, Thomas ran for 269 yards and two touchdowns on 83 attempts. His average of 3.2 yards a carry proved very ineffective, as he was the biggest threat coming out of the backfield and catching passes from Brees.

Combined, Bush and Thomas started just nine games in 2010.

The Saints were forced to rely on the 22-year old rookie Chris Ivory.The 6'0''/222 pound running back impressed early and often, stepping up as the third-string running back. The team's only two 100-yard performances came from Ivory (158 against Tampa Bay and 117 against Cincinnati). He also had 99 rushing yards against Seattle in Week 10.

Ivory finished the season as New Orleans' leading rusher, with 716 yards and five touchdowns on 137 carries. With an average of 5.2 YCP, this would likely have translated in to a 1,000 yard season had he played in more than 12 games (only started four of those games).

As a team, the Saints collected 1,519 yards (28th in league) and nine TD (26th in league) on the ground, averaging out to just 94.9 rushing yards per game. Only Indianapolis, Washington, Seattle and Arizona had a worse rushing attack in 2010.

First of all, I think you could blame all of that on the fact that they were decimated by injuries. But more importantly, I think the lack of production comes from not having a true No. 1 go-to guy on the ground.

Once Ivory took over, New Orleans got much more production on the ground. In fact, they were 4-0 in games that he either broke 100 yards or scored.
The running back draft class was very shallow this year, which is why I think the Saints jumped all over Mark Ingram when he was still on the board at No. 28 overall, acquiring the pick from the New England Patriots for their second round pick and first round pick of 2012. Being the only running back taken in the first round, Ingram seems ready to get 2011 underway.

While most people seem to be pointing towards the quarterbacks for potential rookie of the year winners, I think Ingram will be an immediate success with the Saints, taking pressure off Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees (threw career-high 22 interceptions last year).

Bush's days already seem numbered with the Saints, as he has been a huge disappointment, so I would expect to see Ingram getting the starts with Ivory and Thomas getting limited carries on third downs and goal line situations.

Bush will remain as returner, but I don't see him in the backfield much unless he's lining up wide in certain situations.

There's no doubt that New Orleans' backfield will be rather crowded again in 2011, but at least they have a true No. 1 running back with the drafting of workhorse and Heisman winner Mark Ingram.

Photo credit
Reggie Bush: newsoholics.com
Mark Ingram: gridironfans.com

Time to focus on football...

The prolonged NBA Finals are officially over with after Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki and his Mavericks finished off Miami's "Big 3" with three consecutive victories.

The MJ/LeBron comparisons will likely continue until James wins at least one, unfortunately, because fans and ESPN analysts love to continuously beat the dead horse.

I understand that this is a football-oriented blog, but I would just like to point out that I, Ben Heck, am one of the very few people out there that does not hate LeBron, and would actually like to see him win a couple of rings in his career.

What I would like to see happen (there's about a 98.8% chance it will never actually happen) is for people to stop comparing James to Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Let LeBron be LeBron, please. Oh, and congrats to the Mavericks. Owner Mark Cuban and veterans Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki finally got the ring they have been trying to get for years.
Now that that's over with, can we please get on with the NFL?

The NHL Stanley Cup Finals will be over in a few days, meaning on baseball is in the way of 24/7 football coverage--unless you tune in to NFL Network on a daily basis.

Luckily for football fanatics, rumor has it that a new CBA deal could be reached as early as two weeks. I was listening to the 24/7 NFL radio channel on SiriusXM on Saturday, and there's a strong chance it could be done no later than mid-to end of July. Cross your fingers, though.

This is usually the time of year where us fans start to take a look at the off-season moves that were/are being made, and attempt to project how each team will fare in the upcoming season. Unfortunately for us, the lockout is preventing any potential moves to happen.

Rather, we are stuck watching the NFL Network's Top 100 players for 2011 and debating where each player should be like it's our job.
For several days now I have been getting online only to waste a lot of time looking up highlight videos on youtube and watching NFL shows on Hulu (if you miss football as much as I do, I advise you to do this too, it really helps fight the addiction).

The good news here? The owners and players alike are starting to get antsy. This could only mean one thing for the NFL: a deal will be made soon in order to start the season on time.

Photo credit
Dirk Nowitzki: cbslocal.com
Top 100 Players: NFL.com

Friday, June 10, 2011

Adrian Peterson could finish career as a top five running back in League history

Some could call this a long-shot at this point, but I think it's safe to say that in his first four NFL seasons, Minnesota Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson has drawn comparisons to the likes of Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith.

In my opinion, despite the rushing yard king being Smith, it is in fact Detroit's former star Barry Sanders who holds the title as the NFL's best running back of all-time.

In 15 professional seasons, Smith put up 11 1,000 yard seasons, all in consecutive years (1991-2001) and ran for the most touchdowns in league history, with 164. There's no doubt he was a touchdown machine, and he surpassed the great Walter Payton for most rushing yards in a career (finished with 18,355).

But I personally believe that Smith's resume takes a hit when you look at his sub-par numbers at the end of his career--in his final three seasons he fails to reach 1,000 yards or double-digit touchdown totals. Consistency is key when looking at career numbers.
As for Sanders? He had a short-lived, 10-year career which was spent entirely with one team. And a losing team at that. He ran for 1,100 or more yards in all 10 of those seasons, and posted six double-digit touchdown seasons with 10 Pro Bowl appearances before he mysteriously walked away from the game unharmed.

While the exact reason he retired so early remained a mystery for several years, Sanders finally came out and admitted that it was the Lions' losing reputation that got the best of him. Sanders did, however, get a slight taste of playoff football, rushing for 386 yards and a touchdown in six career postseason games (Detroit's record in those games was 1-5).

The NFL Network named Sanders in the top 20 players of all-time in its The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players series at No. 17, with Smith following him at No. 28. The top-ranked back on the list was Jim Brown (fullback) as the second best player in history. But, because of different playing eras and primary positions I found it a little too difficult to compare Brown to either of the other three backs (Sanders, Smith, Peterson). Walter Payton was added to the mix as well, but he's so close to Smith and Sanders that Peterson may have a hard time beating them out for a spot, but he can surely try.

Because of this, the title may need a little fixing..."Top five running backs in the modern era" may fit the bill a little more smoothly, but I couldn't bring myself to making the amend.

Brown, Sanders, Payton and Smith are so tightly knit in terms of "best running back in history" that almost any of the four could sit atop the rest.

Then, in steps Peterson.
Tough to judge after the first four seasons of the 26-year old's career, but if he keeps up his pace we could easily find Adrian "All Day"/"AP" Peterson amongst the four by the time Canton calls his name.

Sanders is easily the most electrifying and exciting running back to watch play, and his highlight reels, which can be found on youtube, will keep you entertained for hours. But Peterson's nine-minute-long highlight reel (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=k-8FUIxIkvo) can be compared to that of Sanders' elongated highlights.

Peterson, who is virtually a larger version of Sanders (6'2''/217 pounds), has the elusiveness and 'turn-on-a-dime' juke moves as a cheetah, speed and gracefulness of a gazelle and power of a lion.

Sanders has the shifty moves, Smith has the jolt and explosiveness (especially for a little guy), Payton has the gracefulness, and Brown had the brute strength. But Peterson? He has the combination of all of the above, and his great size makes him surprisingly powerful.

If you watched the link I provided above, you would see with your own eyes that sometimes it takes the entire opposing defense to bring this man down.

What has held Peterson back from his full potential throughout his career? His knack for fumbling the ball. Now, one could argue against the fumbling, because Sanders, Smith, Brown and Payton all fumbled more through their first four seasons than Peterson has. But in my case, I think it's just the timing of the fumbling. He seems to cough up the ball when his team needs him to come through the most. This can be fixed, of course, and when he does fix it, Peterson's potentially and production will only rise.

Minnesota finally looks to have drafted a franchise quarterback in Florida State's Christian Ponder this year, meaning defenses may not be able to key in on just Peterson. They will have to stop work on stopping both the run and pass.

Even with defenses keying in on the run, Peterson put up just shy of 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. For his career, Peterson has averaged close to 5.0 yards per carry (4.8, to be exact), which is not far from Sanders' (5.0) and Brown's (5.2) averaged in their careers.

Smith and Payton racked up the yardage, but at the same time had low YPC averages--4.2 and 4.4 respectively. Fans like to argue that "stats don't tell the whole story" but that previous bit of information should tell you a whole lot. It's not hard for a guy to rack up 1,200 yards with 300+ carries year-in and year-out.

As a rookie Peterson put up over 1,300 on only 238 carries. Production, production, production.

That's what AP is all about when he hits the field, just ask his 25 100-yard games and four Pro Bowl appearances. They'll tell you just how much potential this guy has, without hesitation. A joy to watch each and every week.

All I am hoping for now, is a way to make the 2011 season happen.

Photo credit
Barry Sanders: borrowed from kevinantcliff.com
Adrian Peterson: borrowed from worldwidetweets.com

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Eight Running Backs on the Verge of Stardom

Whether or not there's a season, there are several running backs looking to either have a breakout season or add on to his breakout performance from 2010. The 2011 rookie running back class was rather shallow, with just one first rounder (Mark Ingram selected 28th by New Orleans), so Rookie of the Year likely won't be awarded to a running back.
But that doesn't take away from the position itself. Here are six guys poised for a monster season for his respective team in 2011 and are on the verge of taking his game to the next level.
Arian Foster, Houston Texans
Foster caught the eye of fans from the moment he stepped on to the field against the Colts in Week One's matchup, a game in which he ran for a franchise-record 231 yards and three touchdowns in just his second career start.
It actually all started with the preseason injury to rookie Ben Tate. His season-ending injury opened the door for the undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, who went on to lead the league with 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns.
I know it's only one season, but Foster is already seen—in the eyes of a majority of fantasy owners, at least—as one of the league's top running back, right next to superstars Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.
Foster, 24, is set to become the franchise's feature running back in 2011, and he will receive a little aid from second-year back Ben Tate when he is finally able to hit the field. He may take a few carries away from Foster, but that will only help his effectiveness on the field.
Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
It took him four seasons, but it looks as though the 25-year-old Bradshaw has finally hit starter status in New York. With the decline of now-short yardage back Brandon Jacobs, Bradshaw started 11 games in 2010 (played in all 16 regular season games) and set career-highs in attempts, yards and touchdowns.
The speedy Bradshaw jumped from 163 carries in 2009 to 276 this past season (10th-most in league) and ran for his first 1,000 yard season—1,235 to be exact. His eight touchdown runs trumped his 2009 total by one.
The only downside of Bradshaw's 2010 campaign was his yards per carry average was the lowest in his four seasons with the Giants, but it remains at 4.8 for his career. Eli Manning threw a career and league-high 25 interceptions, so I would expect the Giants to come in to the season with a heavy dosage of Bradshaw.
More career-highs coming your way, Ahmad.
LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We already learned that Blount is a freak of nature after seeing him hurdle a would-be tackler on two different occasions in his 2010 rookie campaign.
At 6'0", 247 pounds, Blount is an unusual size for a running back, but his speed is what baffles most defenders. I never really knew it was possible for a man of his size to move so fast; he's by far one of the most bruising backs in the league. And he's only 24.
If it wasn't for Sam Bradford's playoff push in St. Louis, Blount would have easily taken home the NFL Rookie of the Year award thanks to his 1,006 yards and six touchdowns on 201 attempts (5.0 YPC).
With an emerging star at the quarterback position in addition to Blount, I think we could be seeing a new era down in Tampa Bay starting in 2011.
Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
Charles has now recorded two consecutive 1,000 yard seasons in his three years with Kansas City. After a 1,467 yard season in 2010 (second-most in NFL), you would think Charles, 24, has already broken out as a star.
Not so fast.
Despite his obvious talent, highlighted by lightning-fast speed and agility, Charles has yet to be compared to the likes of Peterson, Johnson and a Ladainian Tomlinson-in-his-prime type of guy, although I really think he should be.
The one thing holding Charles back from the newspaper headlines and making ESPN daily because of his long runs is his red zone capability. The top running backs in the league are hitting double digits in touchdowns each year. But Charles? He has just 12 in his three career seasons in this league. He wasn't even close to hitting the top 10 in TD runs this past season.
Jamaal has the speed and the long runs for me to consider him a premier back, but I don't think other fans and so-called experts would totally agree with me because of his lack of touchdown production. With 2010 being his first full season as an every-down back, I think he will be able to come out in 2011 a lot more comfortable and hit the double digit range in touchdowns.
Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns
Madden curse? What Madden curse?
Yes, Hillis, after his 1,177 yard, 11-touchdown breakout performance this past season, will grace the coveted Madden cover this coming season. And yes, I know there is supposedly a so-called "Madden curse" in which the cover athlete either gets hurt and misses a chunk of the season or has an off-year.
But personally, I don't believe in it, and I just think the already highly-motivated Hillis now has something else to fuel the beast in him.
The result? Peyton Hillis will come out of the gate and make another huge impact on the game in 2011. I'm think closer to the tune of 1,200 yards and 13 TDs, an improvement on his remarkable 2010 performance with the lowly Cleveland Browns. Hillis and quarterback Colt McCoy (then a rookie) gave Browns' fans hope last season, and it will carry over to this season.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England Patriots
Green-Ellis, leading the way for New England's ninth-ranked rushing offense, showed Belichick's Pats his potential with his first 1,000 yard season (1,008 on 229 carries), but what I think impressed everyone most was his 13 touchdowns.
Green-Ellis was a touchdown machine in 2010, making countless fantasy owners very happy campers, at least. But over the next couple of seasons I believe that we will see more and more of Green-Ellis as Tom Brady ages. Now, obviously I think we are still several years away from seeing a consistent decline in Brady's game; in fact, he is still the best quarterback in the league in my eyes.
But I would expect the Pats to make Green-Ellis their go-to guy in certain circumstances, particularly on third downs and goal-to-go situations. BenJarvus has seemingly looked like the type of player who is more effective in lower dosages, so I believe he will continue to be the Kevin Faulk-type player for the Pats and rack up double digits touchdowns in 2011.
Jahvid Best, Detroit Lions
Best has the disadvantage of being on a team in rebuilding mode for the time being, but as a rookie in 2010, he showed flashes of brilliance at the running back position, almost reminding me of a Reggie Bush in a way.
I know that sounds like a negative comparison, because Bush has been somewhat of a disappointment to the NFL early in his career. But I actually mean in a sense that Best is a threat in several different ways. He can breakout for a long run in between the tackles, catching a pass out of the backfield and even in the return game (though he hasn't returned kicks as a professional yet).
Adding his yards from scrimmage together, Best has 1,042 and six touchdowns as a rookie, but he battled injury for a little while and only started nine games. Ineffective at times, Best wasn't a consistent producer for the Detroit offense, but I expect that to change with a healthy 2011 campaign. Luckily for the Detroit offense, Matthew Stafford should be 100 percent ready for the start of the season, giving the Lions an everyday franchise quarterback again.
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Also a rookie in 2010, Mathews was a guy who was supposed to be in the running for the Rookie of the Year award as he stepped in to the locker room with an already great offense led by Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers.
Instead, Mathews was an inconsistent producer for a team that was pass-heavy, as he struggled the first half of the season. In his first eight games, Mathews had just two rushing touchdowns and no 100-yard games.
Mathews missed nearly a month of play, and when he returned, he lit up defenses for 296 yards and five touchdowns in the last four games he played in that season.
Mike Tolbert, primarily San Diego's third-down back, helped Mathews out quite a bit in 2010, rushing for a career-high 735 yards and 11 touchdowns. So Tolbert will likely take some of the pressure off Mathews in 2011, allowing Mathews to at least come close to breaking 1,000 yards in his sophomore season with the Chargers.
Others of Note:
These four guys could also see a rise in either playing time or production, or both, in some players' cases:
*Darren McFadden, OAK: 223 ATT, 1,157 yards, seven TDs in 2010 (all career-highs)
*Felix Jones, DAL: 185 ATT, 800 yards, one TD in 2010 (Att and yds both career-highs)
*Knowshon Moreno, DEN: 182 ATT, 779 yards, five TD in 2010 (second season in league)
*Shonn Greene, NYJ: 185 ATT, 766 yards, two TD in 2010 (YPC avg dropped from 5.0 in 2009 to 4.1 last year)
Photo credit
Arian Foster: thebiglead.com
LeGarrette Blount: spokesman.com
Peyton Hillis: dawgpounddaily.com
Jahvid Best: Getty Images