Note: No rookies were included in this exercise. Age refers to player's age at start of the 2012 season on Sept. 5.
It's tough being a running back in the NFL these days between the short shelf life, shift to two-RB systems and availability of replacements through the draft and free agency. That's not to say that the running back position isn't important, but it's more of a case of the league's decreasing demand to match an increasing supply, which isn't the case at many positions in this league.
However, it sure is nice to have a great running back. Ask Peyton Manning how important it was to have Marshall Faulk lining up behind him during Manning's infantile stages of his NFL development. Think Christian Ponder is hoping Adrian Peterson returns to full health and continues his Hall of Fame-like career to begin the 2012 season? But like every position in today's NFL, running backs can't be one dimensional. The days of heavy-footed runners who offer nothing as a receiving threat are gone.
Instead, as demonstrated by the top of our list after Peterson, running backs who can consistently exploit linebacker coverage or run some wide receiver routes from different positions on the field are becoming more and more valuable.
Peterson was having an excellent 2011 season before being sidelined with a knee injury. He has an outstanding combination of size, strength and athleticism for the position. He has great power to move the pile on contact and shows good vision to hit a crease.
He has solid receiving skills as a target in the passing game. When healthy, Peterson is an impact player and one of the best backs in the league.
McCoy had an outstanding season in 2011. He has good size and excellent athleticism, along with great vision and inline run skills. He possesses speed and quickness to the hole (and through it) and a burst to get to the edges.
He is a reliable receiver out of the backfield and shows elusiveness in space. McCoy was arguably the best back in the league in 2011, averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring 20 touchdowns (17 rushing and three receiving).
Foster has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and gives the Texans a quality feature back who can carry the load and force defenses to focus on stopping him first and the pass second.
He is a good-sized back with excellent balance on contact and has shown the ability to get skinny as he hits the hole while being able to make people miss once he gets to the second level. He does a good job of running behind his pads and being patient as he allows the hole to develop. He is a quality receiver out of the backfield on the short swing passes as well as downfield routes.