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The NFC North Running Backs

The best NFC North running backs:

1 Adrian L. Peterson
2 Ryan Grant
3 tie Matt Forte
3 tie Kevin Smith

It's hard to be a homer when Purple Jesus is playing in the conference. Grant is a top 10 running back and his vision and feel for the running lanes is outstanding, but Peterson is the best running back in the NFL. He makes defenders look like fools instead of professional athletes and only the rare talents can make that happen. He's not a perfect back; his high running style will lead to fumbles and he isn't a good receiver, but his rushing ability overshadows those faults.

The big question is in Chicago and Detroit. Lovie Smith says RB Cedric Benson is the starter, but they didn't give him a huge vote of confidence when they selected RB Matt Forte in the 2nd round. Maybe Benson will redeem himself, but let's assume Forte is the man. RB Kevin Smith will have to battle RB Tatum Bell for the starting job in Detroit, but Bell fell out of favor last season in Detroit and it's likely Smith will be given every chance to win the job in training camp. How have rookie running backs selected in the 2nd or 3rd round done since 2000?

RB Clinton Portis and RB Anthony Thomas started for Denver and Chicago, respectively, immediately as rookies, and each were two of the top backs in the league as rookies. Portis has remained a solid back (when healthy) but Thomas hasn't come anywhere near repeating his rookie success. RB Brian Westbrook was a 3rd round pick and is now one of the best backs in the league, but as a rookie he had to prove it to the coaches and had fewer than 75 carries. 5 of the 33 backs (15%) drafted between 2001 and 2007 had fewer than 20 carries as rookies, and Carolina drafted two different running backs in the 2nd round (DeShaun Foster and Eric Shelton) that didn't have a single carry in their rookie seasons.

It's possible Forte and Smith will start and succeed as rookies, but it's more likely that they'll battle for playing time and provide little offense in 2008. Detroit and Chicago will be looking for a solution to their running game woes in 2008, and it's unlikely one guy will emerge from either team to become the primary back.