This is a question I have been thinking about since he made that comment on Monday Night Football during the 1st Pre-Season game. For those of you that don't know, not only did he claim DeAngelo Williams as one of the best RB's in the league, but he also gave him the title of the best RB in the NFL, period.
Of course, the other two commentators laughed at this. One of them made a comment if he had ever heard of Adrian Peterson. But I sat down at my couch, thinking about this for a moment. Whom is truly the best back in the NFL? You can't just take one look at a player and think to yourself, "This is the better guy." There are so many factors you have to consider about a back before you make your decision. Let's take a look at a few of them, just off the top of my head.
The Offensive line is the most important tool of a good running attack. Without one, running backs are victim to penetration and can't often achieve the greatness they truly desire. One good hit in the backfield is often enough to stop a good drive dead in its tracks, especially if your QB is only average or sub par. In order for a running back to be truly great, they have to be able to depend on the guys blocking in front of them.
Williams: In 2008 our entire offense had almost a complete revamp. This could be mostly seen on the offensive line. We got rid of Pro-Bowl LG Mike Wahle for Travelle Wharton, and C Justin Hartwig for Ryan Kalil. We picked up Kedrick Vincent and started him at RG while Jeremy Bridges became a backup, and Jeff Otah started at RT as a rookie so that Jordan Gross could move back to LT and have a Pro-Bowl year. They formed a line stronger than anything Carolina has ever had before, keeping Jake Delhomme safe with only 20 sacks for the season, the cleanest jersey he has ever had in his career.
Peterson: In 2008, the Vikings maintained the same line they had the year before, but had the star running back working behind it to give them the production they need to make the offense work. Steve Hutchinson is an absolute beast of a guard, once again having another Pro-Bowl year even though he's beginning to get up there in years. However, while the Vikings O-Line are great at run blocking, they have a hard time protecting the QB. Jackson and Gus both combined for 43 sacks during the regular season.
Conclusion: While both teams have some of the best run blockers in the NFL, the Panthers are the more complete O-Line. As for the running game, they're on par with each other. Both have a Pro-Bowler and both give their RB the best chance to make a play.
Strength of Schedule
Of course, this one should be pretty self explanatory. If you face teams like the Lions every other game, of course it will be easier for your RB to run the football. The linemen will get better blocks against weaker quality D-Linement, the linebackers aren't as quick to plug up the seams, and the safeties and corners are more prone to fall on their face in an vain attempt to tackle you.
Adrian Peterson: In terms of wins and losses, the Vikings had the 5th strongest schedule in the NFL. However, they have the Lions in their division who has an epically bad defense, maybe the worst in the history of the NFL. Regardless, they had a much tougher schedule than the Panthers, and Peterson had 100 yard games against such strong defensive teams teams as the Bears, Giants, and the Packers.
Deangelo Williams: The Panthers had by far the easier schedule. But Williams also had great games against strong defensive teams tough against the run such as the Giants, Raiders, and Tampa Bay.
Conclusion: Though there is a large difference in the schedule, both RB's proved that they can have great games against strong and capable run defenses. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers and Vikings react when the roles switch during the regular season. The Vikings will have the easier schedule, while the Panthers will have the 2nd toughest in the NFL AND be without Jonathan Stewart. ((If the feeling in my gut doesn't lie.))
Number of Carries/Yards Per Carry
This one is fairly simple. In order to be a great running back and to be recognized by all, you have to have the ball in your hands. What fans really want to see is a strong dose of smash mouth football on Sunday. Due to the wear and tear on star RB's over the years, and the desire for a versatility of skills wanted at the position, you're seeing more and more RB committee's beginning to pop up here and there throughout the league in order to keep fresh guys on the field from year to year. I believe that this was an important facet in Carolina's running game, where Double Trouble eclipsed Smash and Dash to run for almost 2500 yards for the season. It is also an important factor to consider when you judge the quality of a good running back.
Williams: Williams had 273 carries for a total of 1515 yards ((5.5 per attempt)). That's enough to place him 3rd on the list for yards gained for the season. The only two people ahead of him are Adrian Peterson and Michael Turner. Below him on the list are several other 'cowbell' backs such as Matt Forte, Clinton Portis, and Thomas Jones who receive the ball 25-30 times a game and have more of a chance to add yards to their total then Williams does in Carolina.
Peterson: Adrian Peterson ran the ball 363 times for 1,760 yards ((4.8 per attempt)) to lead the NFL in rushing yards. He falls under the category of 'cowbell' back because he does not have anyone after him in the lineup to challenge him for carries.
Conclusion: There are two conclusions you can draw from this, two arguments which make good points on either sides. The first conclusion you can make is that Deangelo Williams is the better back, because he did not get the ball the same number of times that Adrian Peterson did, and therefore did not have a chance to show off his superior ability. If you do the math, give Williams 90 more carries running at 5.5 per attempt and he runs for over 2000 yards for the season. But then you have to consider that you don't have an extra guy to keep Williams fresh as a cowbell back, so that number will probably drop.
Argument 2: On the flip side of the coin, you can make the argument that the only reason his yards per attempt was so high was because of the committee in the first place. And it's true, committee's usually have a back with an extraordinary YPA. Take Giant's Derrick Ward for example. Behind big man Brandon Jacobs, he ran the ball 182 times for 1,082 yards ((5.6)). Or take Darren Sproles from San Diego ((5.4)). Either argument you go with, it's a chin scratcher for sure.
Feel free to add onto this discussion as you see fit. I will not let you guys know my personal opinion on this. I made this article to open debate between the two, as normal arguments usually go 'Haha! Peterson is better!" and then get left at that. The main number you want to circle is 273 and 363, which are Williams and Peterson's carries respectively. If Deangelo Williams was given those extra 90 carries, would he have led the NFL in rushing yards? Would he have passed Peterson as the #1 running back in the NFL and all fantasy drafts?
These are all things you have to consider.