In today’s pass-happy NFL, it’s easy to look past the running game.

Passes are flashy, fun, and make the highlight reels; but grinding out first downs on the ground in short-yardage situations is a key part of any functioning pro offense, and explosive running plays still happen in today’s NFL.

There’s a reason that running backs go first in your fantasy football drafts, and it’s because they make a massive difference for their teams.

These are the best running backs in football right now.

5. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings

There are plenty of reasons why Adrian Peterson should not be on this list.

He’s 30 years old, which is pretty much retirement age for an NFL running back. He’s been away from football for a full year. His absence came because of horrific off-the-field behavior. Minnesota’s offensive line has some question marks.

But there are a few big reasons to give him a spot here: his numbers. He ran for almost 1,300 yards in his last full season, which compares favorably to just about everyone on this list.  He’s one of the all time greats, and until he proves he’s done, it’s very hard to bet against him.

Most of us presume that Peterson will be rusty when he returns, but there’s really not much precedent for a still-productive running back taking a full season off at his age.

Could the long break be what Peterson needs to extend his career?

4. Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers

Does Eddie Lacy benefit from the Packers’ pass-first offense, or does the Packers passing game benefit from Lacy’s threat as a rusher?

The answer has to be “both.” It’s impossible to disentangle Lacy’s power running from his role in the Packers’ offense, but this year will provide an interesting litmus test for his skills: the Packers lost their best deep threat, Jordy Nelson, to injury in the preseason.

Lacy’s raw power and skill make him a good bet to respond well to the adversity.

3. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks

Marshawn Lynch’s most famous play of 2014 was the one he didn’t make: coach Pete Carroll called a pass in an obvious run situation, the pass was picked off and the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl.

Lynch didn’t touch the ball on the play, but it’s his dominance that made the call such a head-scratcher. Lunch ran for 1,306 yards last year, with plenty of it coming after contact.

The Seahawks rely on Lynch to make their entire offense work, using him to gain first downs or draw defenders away from the pass.

Expect Lynch to do that job well yet again this season.

2. DeMarco Murray, Philadelphia Eagles

Nobody in the NFL gained more rushing yards last year than DeMarco Murray did. He rushed for a jaw-dropping 1,845 yards!

Of course, he was helped out by a stellar Dallas offensive line that was able to push open some big holes and spring Murray for some highlight-reel runs. Now with the Philadelphia Eagles, Murray will have to prove that his 2014 was more his doing than the O-line’s.

Even after factoring in regression, however, it’s hard to avoid the fact that Murray is one of the league’s premiere rushers. He may not be able to match his 2014 season, but neither will anyone else.

As for his 2015 competition, he’ll more than hold his own against them.

1. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

With all due respect to the other running backs on this list, Le’Veon Bell is the best in the league.

He had a very strong season last year, rushing for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged more than 81 yards per game. And the best part is that Bell is just 23 years old, which means that even as a running back he has plenty of years left in his prime.

Bell is so good that he’s going first in fantasy drafts around the world, even though he’s out for the first two games.

Not having Bell for a couple week will irk fantasy owners, but it will really frustrate the Steelers: plenty of observers thought they could have gotten past the Baltimore Ravens, and perhaps gone even further, had Bell not been sidelined with an injury during last year’s postseason.

The biggest problem with Bell's talent, however, is that the running back will miss out on two games this season due to misconduct.

By Joe Messineo


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