Heading into week 4, it’s time for the first of a four part, quarterly report to chronicle the success of the top 4 running backs who received large contract extensions this past offseason. All four players are superstars for their respective teams, and all four of them have been the focal point of their team’s offensive success in seasons past.
The top 4 running backs who were rewarded this offseason were Adrian Peterson (7 yr/100 million), Chris Johnson (6 yr/56 million), DeAngelo Williams (5 yr/43million) and Frank Gore (3 yr/21 million).
Obviously, Peterson’s contract is the big one that jumps out immediately. Most quarterbacks aren’t even close to making that kind of cash. When you consider that the NFL is unquestionably turning into a quarterback driven league, it doesn’t follow logic to conclude that a running back should earn this kind of paycheck. Out of the four, Frank Gore’s contract is the only one that seems reasonable to me from the standpoint of overall team value for the position.
This is only my opinion, however, and I will test my theory by tracking the success of these players and their teams. So, without further ado, lets see how they are doing up to this point.
Will Adrian Peterson be able to get more touches?
Adrian Peterson is on pace to have another fantastic year. If his current trend holds true, he is due to rush for almost 1,600 yard with 16 touchdowns. He is averaging over 5 yards a carry and looks to be as explosive as always. The trouble for Peterson is that he isn’t being used enough. He is averaging less than 20 rushes per game, and on a team with Donovan McNabb as its quarterback, he should be seeing upwards of 25-30 carries per game. He is among the most durable players at his position, and he should be utilized as often as possible, especially given the fact that they are paying him to be the face of their franchise.
This week the Vikings face the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City. Both teams have struggled this season, and they are fighting for the unenviable position of not being 0-4 at the end of the day. The Chiefs are the 5th worst team in the league at allowing rushing yards. That being said, they have only allowed an average of 3.7 yards per attempt. This statistic is due to the fact that their team has been getting jumped on early, causing their opponent to spend a good portion of the second half in obvious running formations in order to run out the clock.
The Vikings should be able to run the ball against the Chiefs. The question is will they commit to doing so? They are 0-3 so far this season with a different approach. They can’t do any worse by playing to their strength. If you are going to pay a man to be the focus of your offense, then, by all means, let him be the focus.
Will Chris Johnson finally break out?
After 3 games this season, Johnson has struggled to get anything going for his team. He has admitted that at least some of the blame is on his own shoulders when he said,
The first three weeks when I got here, I was getting over a lot of soreness and tightness. So toward the end of practice, I wasn’t able to run the gassers. (On Thursday), I was able to run them. I feel like I’m in football shape.
Due to both the lockout and his contract holdout, Johnson showed up for work far from football shape. As a result, his stats for the year show a sad tale. In three games, he has only rushed 46 times for 98 yards and a 2.1 yard average. This highlights the need for a team to practice together in order to perform at a high level. Now that he is rounding into shape, maybe the unit as a whole will start to gel as well.
Johnson’s team faces the Browns this weekend in Cleveland. The Browns and the Titans both come into the game with a record of 2-1. Given the fact that Kenny Britt is now gone for the season, I would guess that the Titans will be forced to rely on the running game more than they have previously done so. This should be the game for Johnson to break out when you consider that Cleveland’s defense is ranked 29th against the run. This will be an interesting matchup to follow.
Will DeAngelo Williams find his place in the Panthers new offense?
DeAngelo Williams is also struggling. He has only carried the ball 27 times for 61 yards and a paltry average of 2.3 ypc. Jonathan Stewart is having more success so far than Williams. In the passing game, Stewart is also outdoing Williams and seems to be fitting in better with what the Carolina Panthers are doing on offense now that they are being led by all-world rookie quarterback, Cam Newton.
Williams has had tremendous success in years past as part of a bruising rushing attack. They were a team that relied heavily on play action passes off of their run first mentality. Williams is a patient runner who can wear down a defense and burst through once or twice a game for the big gains that make the play action so effective. The Panthers now feature an explosive pass happy offense that will rely on more of a scattered running approach.
DeAngelo needs to adjust to this new way of doing things if he wants to avoid slipping into the back seat and losing his place to an eager Stewart.
Will Frank Gore be able to prove all the haters wrong about being washed up?
Gore is a game time decision on Sunday with an ankle injury, and Kendall Hunter is nipping at his heels. On many of the niners fan blogs, there has already been a chorus of calls for Hunter to take over starting duties since after week one against Seattle. If there is any chance at all for Gore to regain his elite status, my opinion is that he should humble himself and sit this game out. He needs to get his body right before attempting to grind it out on Sunday’s. The team will be in a position to make a playoff push. It’s the NFC (wild, wild) west. Anything can happen.
Gore can still make a huge impact on the course and conclusion of this season. Think Ladanian Tomlinson since joining the New York Jets. Gore still possesses elite pass-catching skills and field vision. In addition to that, he is regarded as the unquestioned leader of the team from the perspective of his peers. Gore will be a factor this season, have no doubt.
It’s still a long season, folks, and there are many things coming that none can predict. So, don’t get too high, and don’t get too low…unless you’re a Colts fan. Sorry, Colts fans.