Heading into the 2013 NFL season, there was little argument among analysts and fans on the topic of who was the NFL’s best running back. The consensus selection was obviously the Minnesota Vikings‘ Adrian Peterson.
Coming off a season that saw Peterson recover from a torn ACL and MCL to put up 2,097 rushing yards, the title was well deserved. Somewhere among the next four or five backs vying for second best was the Kansas City Chiefs‘ Jamaal Charles.
Charles recorded 1,745 all-purpose yards (1509 rushing) alongside six touchdowns in 2012, good enough for one of the best seasons of his career. Charles looked great, but he wasn’t even remotely considered amongst the discussion of best back in the league. Then 2013 happened.
Peterson was plagued by the dreaded quarterback carousel on his way to 1,266 yards rushing for a milquetoast Minnesota offense that limped its way to a 5-10-1 record. Peterson averaged 4.5 YPC in 2013, down from 6.0 in 2012, and he didn’t seem to have the burst through the tackles that he possessed the previous year. Charles, meanwhile, was spectacular.
Charles registered 1,980 total yards and scored a ridiculous 19 touchdowns to spearhead Kansas City’s monumental transition from worst to last undefeated team. He was incredible on the ground (5.0 YPC) as well as being instrumental in Kansas City’s pass game, finishing first among running backs with 693 yards receiving.
Between Charles and the Philadelphia Eagles‘ LeSean McCoy, some speculated that the torch may have been passed in 2013. McCoy earned the rushing title with a career-high 1,607 yards on the ground, also finishing with more all-purpose yards than Charles at 2,146.
While Shady undoubtedly had a tremendous year, Charles meant more to the Kansas City offense than any other non-quarterback in the league did to theirs. Alex Smith‘s knack to throw short, safe passes heavily relied on Charles making plays after the catch, and make plays he did.
He routinely turned broken plays into huge gains and has seemed to find his niche in Andy Reid‘s running back-focused offensive scheme. With the numbers Charles turned in this season, it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t the best back this season, but is he top dog moving forward?
Charles has most integral parts from Kansas City’s 2013 offense returning and seems to be primed for a repeat performance as Reid isn’t likely to abandon the gameplan that worked so well for the Chiefs all season. Still, I’m not ready to place him ahead of Purple Jesus on my 2014 board yet.
Peterson was still very productive in what was considered down year for him, finishing fifth among all backs in yardage and scoring 10 rushing touchdowns. Once again, this in what was considered a down year.
Additionally, Peterson accomplished this amidst an almost-comical succession of quarterbacks, culminating on Monday night in Week 7 when newly-acquired Josh Freeman finished a shameful 20-for-53 passing with 190 yards and one interception in 23-7 loss to the New York Giants.
Yes, Peterson saw some rough times in 2013, but with Minnesota already having made personnel changes and surely looking to sign a capable field general for 2014, Peterson’s chances of returning to undisputed king of all backs looks promising for next year.
However, with the addition of Charles and McCoy into the discussion, this has become an interesting question heading into the 2014 offseason. A solid case could be made for all three of these guys for the title of best back, but I just couldn’t live with myself if I had anyone other than AP at the top of my list heading into 2014.