Who's the game's top back?

Entering last season, Adrian Peterson was generally considered the top running back in the game. This year, he has stiff competition from Chris Johnson, but at least one personnel man still likes Peterson better.

The big debate heading into the 2010 season is who the game's top running back is. A year ago at this time, there was little debate – it was Adrian Peterson. For fantasy football players, there was some divided opinion whether it was A.D. or Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars.

With Tennessee's Chris Johnson coming off a 2009 season in which he joined the elite 2,000-yard rushing club, the current debate as to who is the game's top running back has come down to Peterson and Johnson.

In an evaluation done for The Sporting News by an unnamed NFL team director of player personnel, the top NFL running backs were ranked – based on size, power, speed, durability and versatility. According to the study, A.D. is still the man.

Peterson was ranked No. 1 with the analysis stating he has the edge on Johnson because of his physical power style combined with the ability to take runs the distance with his speed. The only downside was that he needs to do much more to cure his fumbling problems.

While Johnson finished second in the personnel director's ranking, it wasn't due to any downside on his part. In fact, the only downside that was noted with Johnson was that he is a little lighter and shorter than the prototype NFL running back, which is something beyond Johnson's control. It sure didn't seem to have any ill-effects on his ability to knock out 11 straight 100-yard games last year.

For the record, the remaining runners ranked in the top 10 were Steven Jackson, Ronnie Brown, Michael Turner, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore, Maurice Jones-Drew, Brandon Jacobs and Felix Jones. That is a diverse group that includes players that have consistently had injury issues (Brown and Jacobs) and one player (Jones) who has never had the opportunity to be a full-time back.

While such lists are always the subject of debate – given what he did last year, how did Ray Rice not finish in the top 10? (he was 16th) and do the Cowboys actually have two of the top 12 running backs in the league? (Jones was an unproven 10th and Marion Barber was ranked 12th). Because of that curiously high ranking, it could lend some to believe that the front-office man who did the analysis did so with a considerable knowledge of both Jones and Barber – and has a high opinion of them.

While the individual rankings will likely be debated for many different reasons – versatility, the potential to be a three-down back, ability as a runner and receiver, etc. – it's clear that when other teams look at the Vikings, they worry at least as much about the impact Peterson can make as they do Brett Favre. Favre is a unanimous first-ballot Hall of Fame choice when he eventually retires and becomes eligible. But, when Peterson lines up behind him, it would seem defenses will be more concerned about what No. 28 can do to them than No. 4 – a pretty good dilemma to have.


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  • With both Martz and former Vikings head coach Mike Tice joining his staff, Lovie Smith may have to come up with a policy concerning replay challenges. Tice and Martz both had highly dubious success rates in challenging calls and both had a maddening penchant of burning their challenges early, leaving the team without a challenge that potentially could change a tight game late. If both of them are on the sidelines at the same time, Smith could be getting suspect information from multiple angles.

  • With NFL training camps beginning in as soon as six days, not one of the league's 32 first-round draft picks has been signed. While it's not unusual to have several first-rounders unsigned in the hours leading up to training camp, it's been awhile since there have been no first-rounders signed this close to camp openings. A lot of picks stay unsigned intentionally in order to gauge the market. For example, if the eighth overall pick is unsigned, his contract is essentially determined by what the players at picks seven and nine get paid. When the signings start, a domino effect takes place, but somebody has to start the dominoes falling and, to date, no first-rounder has.

  • A rare sight was seen this weekend on the NFL's official website – Randy Moss with an ear-to-ear grin. Moss was visiting Sea World in Orlando and was photographed posing with a walrus and holding a penguin.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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