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Jersey Numbers: Running Backs

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We started this project with wide receivers in this post and then with tight ends in this post and quarterbacks in this post. Now we move to running backs, who wear numbers between 20 and 49.

20 – Thomas Jones, Jets – It was surprising to hear during this week’s Jets/Patriots game that Jones had moved into the top 30 of all-time NFL rushers. That’s an impressive accomplishment, especially for a guy who struggled as a top-10 overall pick in his first stop in Arizona. But in subsequent stops in Tampa Bay, Chicago, and now New York Jones has proven he can produce. He’s an easy choice here over young whippersnappers Steve Slaton of Houston and Darren McFadden of Oakland. Other notable 20: Justin Forsett, Seahawks

21 – LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers – LDT is no longer the dominant force he was in his prime years, but if one of the top 10 backs of all time is playing in the league, we have to give him the number nod, even over a stud like Frank Gore of San Francisco or a long-time producer like Fred Taylor of the Patriots. Other notable 21s: Mike Bell, Saints; Ryan Moats, Texans; Javon Ringer, Titans; Melwede Moore, Steelers

22 – Matt Forte, Bears – Forte had an outstanding rookie year last year, but this year he’s been stymied by a subpar offensive line. Still, he gets the nod at this point over Julius Jones of the Seahawks and Fred Jackson of the Bills. Other notable 22s: Peyton Hillis, Broncos; Jacob Hester, Chargers; Chris Brown, Texans; Clifton Smith, Buccaneers

23 – Ronnie Brown, Dolphins – Before suffering a season-ending injury, Brown was continuing to prove himself as one of the league’s top-10 backs. Throw in the fact that he can throw it out of the Wildcat, and Brown gets the nod over Marshawn Lynch of the Bills and Pierre Thomas of the Saints. Other notable 23s: Willis McGahee, Ravens; Shonn Greene, Jets

24 – Marion Barber, Cowboys – Marion the Barbarian isn’t having a dominant year, but he’s still a really good back. We have no choice but to give him the nod over comeback story extraordinare Cadillac Williams of Tampa Bay.

25 – Ryan Grant, Packers – While Reggie Bush’s 25 is a best selling jersey not just in New Orleans but league wide, Grant has been the more consistently productive back over the past three years. So we’ll give Grant the nod over Bush. Other notable 25s: Justin Fargas, Raiders; LenDale White, Titans; Garrett Wolfe, Bears; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs

26 – Clinton Portis, Redskins – Although he’s sidelined by a concussion at the home, Portis’ long and productive career makes him an easy choice here over promising rookie Beanie Wells of Arizona.

27 – Ray Rice, Ravens – Brandon Jacobs of the Giants has a bigger profile, and Larry Johnson of the Bengals has a longer career, but Rice is the best back wearing this number right now. Rice is a threat running and receiving, and he can move the chains as well as bust the big play. So he gets the nod over Jacobs, Johnson, and rookie Knowshon Moreno of the Broncos.

28 – Adrian Peterson, Vikings – This is a close call, because Peterson and Chris Johnson of the Titans – probably the two best backs in the league – both wear the same number. We’ll stick to conventional wisdom and lean toward Peterson in this close call. Otehr notable 28s: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers, Correll Buckhalter, Broncos; Felix Jones, Cowboys; Derrick Ward, Buccaneers; Maurice Morris, Lions

29 – Joseph Addai, Colts – Addai isn’t a great back, but he’s good both as a runner and a receiver when he’s healthy. With Leon Washington of the Jets hurt, Addai is an easy choice at this number. Other notable 29s: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Michael Bush, Raiders; Glen Coffee, 49ers, Chester Taylor, Vikings

30 – John Kuhn, Packers – Green Bay’s fullback is the only notable back currently wearing 30. Thankfully, he has gotten into the end zone often enough to make this selection look respectable.

31 – Jamal Lewis, Browns – Lewis isn’t the back he once was, but the former 2,000-yard rusher has had a terrific career. He’s the clear choice at this number over rookie Donald Brown of the Colts. Other notable 31s: Rock Cartwright, Redskins; Jason Wright, Cardinals

32 – Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars – Jones-Drew has moved seamlessly from being a part-time back to a full-time guy this year while still producing big numbers in terms of yardage and touchdowns. That gives him the nod over Cedric Benson, who is having a terrific season with the Bengals. Other notable 32: Jerious Norwood, Falcons

33 – Michael Turner, Falcons – The Burner has been incredibly productive since joining the Falcons in 2008, and that makes him the best back wearing 33 over pass-catching specialist Kevin Faulk of New England and short-yardage specialist LeRon McClain of Baltimore. Other notable 33: Justin Griffith, Seahawks

34 – Ricky Williams, Dolphins – Ricky wins the battle of the Williamses over DeAngelo Williams of Carolina based on Ricky’s longer career track record of production. Both are outstandingly talented backs. Other notable 34s: Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers; Kevin Smith, Lions; Tim Hightower, Cardinals; Ovie Mughelli, Falcons; Sammy Morris, Patriots

35 – Jerome Harrison, Browns – It’s slim pickings at this number, so we have to give the nod to Harrison, who has had a moment or two as Jamal Lewis’ backup. Other notable 35s: Owen Schmitt, Seahawks; Dan Kreider, Cardinals; Chad Simpson, Colts

36 – Brian Westbrook, Eagles – Westbrook, who has been a terrific multipurpose back for many years now, is the easy choice at this number. He’s a truly great player. Other notable 36: LaRod Stephens-Howling, Cardinals

37 – Jason McKie, Bears – McKie, the Bears’ fullback, gets the nod here over recent Bengals signee Fui Vakapuna, another fullback. Neither will make fans forget a great fullback wearing 37 – Larry Centers of the Cardinals.

38 – Samkon Gado, Rams – Gado has had a few moments in the league, so although he’s just a backup in St. Louis now, we opt for him over Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi and injured Dolphins back Patrick Cobbs.

39 – Steven Jackson, Rams – Jackson plays for a terrible team, but he remains a terrific bellweather back for St. Louis. He gets the nod over the declining Willie Parker of Pittsburgh and the inconsistent Laurence Maroney of the Patriots. Other notable 39: Madison Hedgecock, Giants

40 – Brian Leonard, Bengals – As we get into the 40s, we’ll have a harder time finding backs wearing these numbers. Leonard, the Bengals’ do-everything back is the only notable runner wearing 40.

41 – Lorenzo Neal, Raiders – Neal has long been one of the league’s best blocking fullbacks, but his career is winding to a conclusion, which is why he’s bounced around in recent years.

42 – BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots – The law firm, as Green-Ellis is called, has done a good job when called on by the Patriots. Other notable 42s: Tony Fiametta, Panthers; Mike Cox, Chiefs; DeShawn Wynn, Packers

43 – Darren Sproles, Chargers – Sproles, the mite-sized, dynamite-powered Chargers back, gets the nod here over underrated Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver.

44 – Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants – Bradshaw, once the speedy portion of the Giants’ RB trio, has emerged as the team’s best runner this season. He gets the nod over a batch of fullbacks here. Other notable 44s: Heath Evans, Saints; Luke Lawton, Raiders; Vonta Leach, Texans; Moran Norris, 49ers, Jason Snelling, Falcons; Mike Karney, Rams

45 – Mike Sellers, Redskins – In a batch of fullbacks, Washginton’s Sellers gets the nod because of his short-yardage acumen and special-teams impact. Other notable 45s: Ahmard Hall, Titans; Brad Hoover, Panthers; Jerome Felton, Lions

46 – Ladell Betts, Redskins – Betts is the only notable back wearing 46. Thankfully, he’s a solid player who has produced when he has gotten the chance to fill in for Clinton Portis.

47 – Lawrence Vickers, Browns – Vickers, a fullback, is the only notable NFL back wearing 47 right now.

48 – None – Poor Stephen Davis. (We went to the same high school.) No current back is making his former number 48 proud.

49 – Tony Richardson, Jets – Richardson has long been one of the league’s better fullbacks, and he now plies his trade with the Jets after stints in K.C. and Minnesota. He’s the only back currently wearing 49.

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Week 8 moves

We do a weekly update on major NFL transactions. We include signings, releases, and also players who are put on injured reserve, because they are lost for the year. You can check out the Week 7 transactions here and work your way back through the season.

Additions

Chiefs (claim WR Chris Chambers on waivers, sign CB Travis Daniels) – The Chiefs pounced when their division rivals the Chargers cut Chambers, a quality receiver for a long time who seems to have lost a step or a grip or something. Chambers is probably still good enough to play for the Chiefs, though he’s not better than current No. 2 and No. 3 receivers Bobby Wade and Mark Bradley. Daniels, a former Dolphin and Brown who was among the Chiefs’ final cuts in September, comes in to add depth in the secondary after the Chiefs had to put S Jarrad Page on injured reserve for the rest of the season after suffering an injury in practice last week.

Broncos (add CB Ty Law) – Law isn’t the game changer he was back in his days with the Patriots, but last year he was an effective half-season player for the Jets. He kept himself in good shape last season, so it’s fair to assume he’ll be ready to play pretty much right away for the Broncos this year. He adds depth to a cornerback group that includes superstar Champ Bailey as well as Andre Goodman and rookie Alphonso Smith.

Buccaneers (add PK Connor Barth and Mike Mickens) – The Buccaneers tried to make two upgrades, signing Barth to replace Shane Andrus and signing Mickens to replace Marcus McCauley. As bad as the Bucs are, these moves won’t make the difference, but churning the roster looking for someone who can help now or in the future isn’t a bad plan.

49ers (add CB Keith Smith) – Smith, who spent the last five seasons with the Lions, adds depth to a secondary that will be without CB Nate Clements for several weeks. To make room for Smith on the roster, the Niners cut WR Micheal Spurlock.

Subtractions

Colts (put LB Tyjuan Hagler and CB Marlin Jackson on injured reserve) – You can read much more of the impact of these injuries in this post on the Colts. Indy promoted LB Cody Glenn from the practice squad to take Hagler’s roster spot and signed DE Josh Thomas, who played for the team over the past five years, to fill Jackson’s place on the 53-man roster.

Seahawks (cut RB Edgerrin James and CB Travis Fisher; put S C.J. Wallace on injured reserve) – James, who signed with the Seahawks just before the season, averaged just 2.9 yards per carry over the first seven games of the season. This is just about the end of James’ solid career. He did pile up just enough yards in Seattle to move into the top 10 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, so that’s a positive to his lackluster Seahawk tenure. The Seahawks also cut Fisher, who had served as a backup corner, and put Wallace, a special-teamer, on injured reserve. By making these moves, Seattle cleared space to promote three players from the practice squad – WR Mike Hass, S Jamar Adams, and CB Roy Lewis. That will allow the Seahawks to get a look at these young players and see if they might fit as roster pieces going forward.

Texans (put TE Owen Daniels on injured reserve) – Daniels, one of the top three or four tight ends in the league, was having a great season before he suffered a torn ACL against Buffalo last week. He’s now gone for the season, which is a huge loss to the Texans’ prolific passing game. It will likely take a better effort from wide receivers Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones to make up for Daniels’ absence, because the Texans don’t have another tight end who is anywhere close to Daniels as a receiver. To replace Daniels on the roster, the Texans promoted DE Jess Nading from the practice squad.

Patriots (cut OG Kendall Simmons) – The Pats took a chance on Simmons, the long-time Steeler who was trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered last season, but Simmons never found a role in New England and his only game action came on special teams.

Falcons (put S Jamaal Fudge and LS Mike Schneck on injured reserve) – The Falcons put two more guys on injured reserve this week. Schneck was a reliable long snapper for the Falcons over the past several years. To replace him, the Falcons signed Bryan Pittman, who snapped for the Texans for many years. To replace Fudge, Atlanta added Charlie Peprah.

Bengals (cut OG Scott Kooistra) – Kooistra had been a backup for the Bengals since Marvin Lewis arrived in Cincy in 2003, but he had just one start during his tenure. His roster spot was taken by FB Fui Vakapuna, but his departure more likely means that rookie first-rounder Andre Smith is getting closer to playing.

Rams (cut WR Tim Carter) – Carter, a former Giant, never latched in St. Louis after arriving there earlier this season. If he can’t cut it in that mediocre receiving corps, he has little hope of hooking on elsewhere in the league.

Browns (cut PK Billy Cundiff and CB Anthony Madison) – Cundiff had served as a fill-in for the injured Phil Dawson, who is now ready to return. Madison had mainly played on special teams for Cleveland.

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