After taking a couple weeks off of work and interwebbing for a much needed vacation abroad, I'm happy...
Let me try that again. I'm content...
Nope, still not right. Let me try one more time: I'm reservedly optimistic about being home and getting back to the daily grind. There we go, I think that hit it on the nose...
Regardless of my feelings on the matter, the point is that I'm back, and not a moment too soon! Why do I feel that my return is so well timed, you ask? Because Pro Football Focus has conveniently seen fit to compile a list of the ten best running backs in the NFL over the past five years according to their unique metrics, of course!
And why exactly does this list excite me, you ask? (Man, you guys are full of great questions today. It is like this whole conversation is perfectly scripted to lead me to some grand point which I am building up to, so thanks for the assist, fellas! And without further ado...) I am so excited because posting any article about the Carolina Panthers' running backs means we get to rehash debates #117 and #129 from the CSR "Ad Nauseam Manifesto" in the comments section, namely: "Who is the better running back: DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart?" and "Why are we investing so much money in our backfield?!?!" 1... 2... 3... FIGHT!!! Whoa, I was just kidding! You have to finish the article first, duh...
|Running Grades for Running Backs|
|1||Adrian Peterson||Minnesota Vikings||71.1|
|2||Jamaal Charles||Kansas City Chiefs||42.8|
|3||Pierre Thomas||New Orleans Saints||31.0|
|4||Arian Foster||Houston Texans||26.4|
|5||Marshawn Lynch||Buffalo Bills / Seattle Seahawks||25.8|
|6||C.J. Spiller||Buffalo Bills||25.7|
|7||DeAngelo Williams||Carolina Panthers||20.8|
|8||Jonathan Stewart||Carolina Panthers||20.6|
|9||Maurice Jones-Drew||Jacksonville Jaguars||19.3|
|10||Lesean McCoy||Philadelphia Eagles||18.2|
Wait, Pierre Thomas is number what? Ray Rice and Chris Johnson are where, exactly? D-Will and Stewie both made the cut despite being completely overlooked by the national media and having only three career thousand-yard seasons between them? Are the guys at PFF taking crazy pills???
Ahhhh, the author explained it in the text. See, that is why you should link over and read the article in full. For anyone who follows PFF as many of us here do, you know they track the quality of plays versus a player's raw production. Whether it be due to the running-back-by-committee approach keeping their legs fresh or the fact that both of our guys were completely deserving of their first-round draft status even though they have not been leaned on as is typical for their pedigree, the results don't lie. D-Will and J-Stew rank seventh and eighth, respectively on PFF's list.
D-Will has a career average of 4.9 yards-per-attempt, which puts him in elite company. Among active running backs only Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles have higher averages. Jonathan Stewart doesn't lag far behind with an average of 4.7 yards-per-attempt throughout his career. Furthermore, Williams and Stewart rank behind only Adrian Peterson in average yards-after-contact over the past five years, which seems to lend credence to the "fresh-legs" theory. Should we be paying as much as we do for our backfield? It's debatable. Have the guys done everything that has been asked of them with the opportunities they've been given? In my opinion: absolutely.
It is also noteworthy that Mike Tolbert ranked as the ninth best receiving back over the past five seasons. Of course, last season he seemed to be a forgotten cog in Chudzinski's machine of madness, but if Mike Shula can figure out how to use him the way I'm sure he was meant to be used when we brought him over from San Diego, then he obviously has the talent to be a formidable weapon for the Panthers.
Once you throw the most prolific running quarterback ever through the first two seasons of his career into the mix, our backfield has to be (on paper) one of the deepest and most talented backfields in the history of the game. Of course, much hinges on the health of Jonathan Stewart, who is still recovering from offseason surgery. However in the event Stewie isn't ready for the start of the season we have some promising youngsters waiting in the wings, not least of whom is Kenjon Barner, our 2013 sixth-round speedster out of Oregon. The bottom line is, no matter which side of the Stewart vs. Williams debate you fall on or whether or not you believe we are spending too much on the position, you should be very excited about what the Panthers running game as a whole CAN be this year. Now it is just a matter of translating that potential to the field...
So what do you think, will the Panthers' rushing attack live up to its potential in 2013? Sound off in the comments!