1. LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers
For the third consecutive season, Tomlinson is the top running back headed into the regular season. His 1,474 yards were a decline from his 1,815 yards in 2006, and his 15 touchdowns were a decline from his 28 touchdowns in 2006. However, when you have the skill level that Tomlinson possesses, you can afford a drop off, as long as it is not an annual occurrence. Throughout his career, Tomlinson has rushed for more the 1,400 yards in five of his seven seasons in the NFL. He has scored ten or more touchdowns in every season of his career. At the age of 29, there is no reason to believe that Tomlinson is approaching a regression in performance. He is still the NFL’s top running back.
2007 stats- 1,474 yards, and 15 TD
2008 projected stats- 1,609 years, and 21 TD
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings
At the age of 23, and with LaDainian Tomlinson pushing 30, Adrian Peterson may be next in line to be anointed as the NFL’s paramount running back. Peterson was stellar in his rookie season as he rushed for 1,341 yards in only 238 carries. Peterson quickly became the cornerstone in the Minnesota Vikings offense. He is only going to improve as he develops. Any fantasy football player who has Peterson in their dynasty leagues, count your blessings. The six teams that passed on Peterson in the 2007 NFL draft must be kicking themselves right about now.
2007 stats- 1,341 yards, and 12 TD
2008 projected stats- 1,587 yards, 19 TD
3. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles
Some may disagree with this choice, as Brian Westbrook may not score double-digit touchdowns every season. However, Westbrook is one of the more versatile running backs in the NFL, as he is an excellent receiver in addition to running the ball. In each of the last two seasons, when it comes to all-purpose yards, Westbrook either came near, or surpassed the 2,000-yard mark. Once again, he will be a key component in the Philadelphia Eagles offense, and should improve upon last year’s career season.
2007 stats- 1,333 yards, and 7 TD
projected 2008 stats- 1,412 yards, and 9 TD
4. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts
The 25-year old proved that there is life after Edgerrin James in the Indianapolis Colts backfield. In each of his first two seasons, Joseph Addai has rushed for more than 1,000 yards. As a rookie, he shared the backfield with Dominic Rhodes, but last year, Addai became the featured back. Other than a nagging injury that kept him out of one game, it was a solid sophomore season for Addai. He is a young running back on a phenomenal offensive unit, and his numbers are only going to increase, that is if he can remain healthy.
2007 stats- 1,072 yards, and 12 TD
2008 projected stats- 1,244 yards, and 14 TD
5. Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams
Nagging injuries and a weak St. Louis Rams offensive line marred what was supposed to be a phenomenal season for Steven Jackson. Nevertheless, despite missing four games, Jackson still produced stout overall numbers. Prior to last season, Jackson improved upon his individual statistics in each of his first three seasons in the NFL. A healthy Jackson could mean another breakout season similar to the one he enjoyed in 2006.
2007 stats- 1,002 yards, and 5 TD
2008 projected stats- 1,211 yards, and 10 TD
Other notable running backs include Frank Gore, Marion Barber, Willie Parker, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee
Running backs on the verge of a breakout year could include Ryan Grant, Marshawn Lynch, Darren McFadden, Earnest Graham, LenDale White, and Ronnie Brown
Running backs on the tail end of their careers include Edgerrin James, Shaun Alexander, Fred Taylor, and Ricky Williams