Pro Football Weekly’s player rankings are compiled with the help of NFL evaluators and coaches, with input from the entire PFW staff. Players are ranked based on their performances at positions they’ve played and are not projected at new positions to which they may move. Rookies are not included in the rankings. NFL personnel participated on condition of anonymity. PFW editors Arthur Arkush, Dan Arkush, Eric Edholm, Kevin Fishbain, Eli Kaberon, Dan Parr and Neil Warner contributed to this story.
4.0 to 5.0 (Blue chip)
- Pro Bowl-quality player who consistently makes big plays.
3.0 to 3.99 (Red chip)
- Impact player who produces like a starter but falls short in at least one area.
2.4 to 2.99 (Purple)
- Starter who often gets the job done, or a still-developing player who has the potential to get it done.
Criteria for ratings: Performance in 2012, potential, value to team, and overall career performance.
1. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
– Grade: 4.75
The NFL’s 2012 MVP and Comeback Player of the Year vaulted himself into the conversation about the greatest running backs ever by putting an entire team on his back just eight months after reconstructive knee surgery and carrying it to the playoffs. The only question about A.P. is whether he can withstand his own violent style of play, and he seems to have given us the answer.
2. Arian Foster, Houston Texans
– Grade: 4.45
While A.P. is the game’s greatest runner, Foster’s 29 TDs and 3,482 combined yards rushing and receiving over the past two seasons make him the NFL’s most productive running back. At 6-1, 229 pounds, Foster is much bigger than today’s average NFL back and is blessed with a rare combination of power and quickness to the outside.
3. Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens
– Grade: 4.30
Like Foster the trick with Rice is trying to figure out whether to take him out of the running game or the passing game first. Rice is generously listed at 5-foot-8 but spreads every ounce of 212 pounds over that short frame, and stopping him has been described as akin to tackling a bowling ball. In five seasons in Baltimore Rice has averaged 62 receptions per year, 8.7 yards per catch and 4.5 yards per rush.
4. Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs
– Grade: 4.20
Charles authored a much quieter return from ACL surgery in 2012 than A.P., but he was almost as impressive with 285-1,509 (5.3 ypc) on the ground and 35 catches for 236 yards, a 6.7-yard average. Heading into his sixth season, Charles won’t turn 27 until two days after Christmas, and with a new coach, new QB and the NFL’s top rookie blocking for him, he could be headed for a huge season.
5. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks
– Grade: 4.20
After he was traded from Buffalo in 2010 and then earned a huge contract in Seattle, some worried Lynch might be content going into 2012. Instead, he exploded to earn All-Pro honors with 1,590 yards, a 5.0 average and 11 TDs. When Lynch shifts gears into “Beast” mode, there’s no back more difficult to bring down.
6. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
– Grade: 4.15
Morris exploded onto the NFL scene in 2012 as a sixth-round draft choice out of tiny Florida Atlantic, the 173rd player chosen, and finished second in the league in rushing behind only Adrian Peterson, recording 1,613 yards and 13 TDs. Morris stands just 5-foot-9 but weighs 218 pounds. In light of how much Mike Shanahan loves his running game, Morris’ future appears limitless.
7. LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia Eagles
– Grade: 4.15
There is no more deceptive runner or dangerous receiver at the RB position than “Shady” McCoy. His numbers slipped last year as he struggled with a concussion. Yet, he still managed 200-840 (4.2 ypc) rushing and 54-373 (6.9-yard average) receiving following a 2011 season in which he notched 20 TDs and 1,624 combined rushing and receiving yards.
8. Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers
– Grade: 3.95
Gore had a stellar career at the University of Miami (Fla.) that was marred by multiple knee injuries. Yet, after being drafted by the Niners in the third round in 2005, he has played in at least 14 games every season since, except for 2010 when he was limited to 11. Gore is remarkably consistent, with 1,211 yards rushing in 2011 and 1,214 in 2012, while remaining a consistent pass-catching threat, as well.
9. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans
– Grade: 3.85
The question about C.J. is: Has money gone to his head, or has the Titans’ significant turnover of personnel on offense and a change in blocking schemes limited his production? Johnson got paid after his breakout 2,006-yard (5.6 ypc) second season in 2009. Although he has surpassed 1,000 yards each year since, his average per carry has dipped to 4.3, 4.0 and 4.5, and the explosion that he showed four seasons ago has been limited. Still, he’s as gifted as any back in the league.
10. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
– Grade: 3.80
Mr. Fantasy Football, Jones-Drew loves to play fantasy as well as produce for teams that own him. He missed 10 games last year due to a foot injury after missing just three games in his first six years in the league. At 5-7, 210, MJD is another of the league’s smallish backs who are equally adept at catching the ball out of the backfield and running with it. Jones-Drew has had contract squabbles in recent years. But now in the final year of his deal, he could be especially motivated in 2013.
11. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
– Grade: 3.80
Forte is big for an NFL back by today’s standards at 6-2, 220, and he has averaged 252 carries (4.2 ypc) and 53 receptions (8.7 yards per catch) per season over his five years in the league. The question on Forte is: Has he been hampered by the offensive lines he’s played with or overachieved because of the lack of other weapons in Chicago?
12. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
– Grade: 3.70
With 319-1,454, 4.6 ypc and 11 TDs rushing and 49-472 (9.6 average) and one TD receiving in 2012, Martin would have been the Rookie of the Year in any other season that didn’t feature RG3 and Alfred Morris. The only concern here is that Martin did tail off a bit in four of the last six weeks of the season after a huge start.
13. C.J. Spiller, Buffalo Bills
– Grade: 3.65
Spiller struggled to find his footing in his first two years in the league and struggled to wrest the Bills’ RB job from Fred Jackson until Jackson was injured in 2012. Spiller then exploded to average 6.0 yards on 207 carries from scrimmage and 10.7 yards on 43 receptions. By the end of 2012 Spiller was the most explosive back in the league.
14. Trent Richardson, Cleveland browns
– Grade: 3.55
Richardson was limited by knee surgery between the draft and his rookie season in 2012 but bounced back to score 11 TDs and come up just 50 yards short of 1,000 rushing while adding another 367 yards on 51 receptions. At 5-9, 230 pounds, he’s a straight-ahead slasher who will be feared if he can stay healthy.
15. Deangelo Williams, Carolina Panthers
– Grade: 3.45
Williams battled injuries in 2010 and has struggled the past two seasons to reclaim the featured-back role, getting just 155 and 173 carries in 2011 and 2012, respectively. He still possesses great explosion but may continue to see diminished production in the Panthers’ overcrowded backfield.
16. David Wilson, New York Giants
– Grade: 3.50
17. Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons
– Grade: 3.40
18. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
– Grade: 3.35
19. Stevan Ridley, New England Patriots
– Grade: 3.30
20. Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
– Grade: 3.25
21. Darren Sproles, New Orleans saints
– Grade: 3.25
22. Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Cincinnati Bengals
– Grade: 3.20
23. Mikel LeShoure, Detroit Lions
– Grade: 3.20
24. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers
– Grade: 3.20
25. Ahmad Bradshaw, Free agent
– Grade: 3.15
BEST OF THE REST
DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys
Willis McGahee, Free Agent
Mark Ingram, New Orelans Saints
Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams
Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals
Ryan Mathews, San Diego Chargers
Vick Ballard, Indianapolis Colts