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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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FR: Free agency (tri)weekly review pt. 4

The big moves on the free agent market are winding down, but as they do there are a couple worth noting. So we’ll compare the moves from the last 3 weeks (March 21-April 10) to each other, with 10 being the most significant of the week and 1 being the merely mentionable. For looks at previous moves, click on the part 3 post and then follow the links there for opening weekend, week 1, and week 2 relativity comparisons.

10 – Bears (add OTs Orlando Pace and Kevin Shaffer and S Glenn Earl) – The Bears had a huge need at offensive tackle after the retirement of John Tait and the departure of John St. Clair via free agency. Pace has battled injuries in recent years, but he stayed on the field for most of last season for the Rams. But St. Louis lurched into full rebuilding mode, and so Pace was cut. He lands in Chicago, where he will likely start at left tackle unless ‘08 first-rounder Chris Williams has taken 2 or 3 quantum leaps forward. With Pace, Williams, she Kevin Shaffer now on board, the Bears should be OK at tackle this year even given the injury histories of all three guys. It makes sense for the Bears to spend on Pace since so much is riding on Cutler’s performance and thus his protection. Shaffer can be a solid right tackle. His addition gives the Bears the flexibility  to put signee Frank Omiyale inside at guard, which would strengthen that spot as well. Shaffer, who was cut by Cleveland, could take the place of St. Clair, the guy who took his spot with the Browns. Earl once had promise, but he missed the last two years with injury. He’s worth a flier on a one-year deal to see if he’s healthy.

9 – Texans (add DT Shaun Cody and LBs Cato June and Buster Davis) – Cody, a former second-round pick, comes to Houston from Detroit as the second key defensive line addition of the offseason for the Texans (along with DE Antonio Smith). Cody will be more of a run-stuffer, but with Smith, Mario Williams, and Amobi Okoye, that’s precisely what the Texans need. Don’t be shocked if Cody isn’t part of the most improved defensive line in the league next year. He won’t be the most important part, but there’s definitely a role for him to play there. June, who has started in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, is a classic weak-side linebacker in a 4-3 set. He’ll fit in as a likely starter in Houston and should be a minor step up. Davis is from that same system, so he should provide depth as well.

8 – none

7 – Ravens (kept CB Samari Rolle and QB Todd Bouman) – The Ravens had cut Rolle in a salary-cap move earlier this offseason, and they replaced him (and Chris McAlister) by signing Dominique Foxworth and Chris Carr to join Fabian Washington. Rolle isn’t the lockdown guy he used to be, but he’s a veteran hand who can still fit in as a contributor.  Bouman has started in the league, but his value is as a veteran third-stringer who lends some advice and experience to youngsters Joe Flacco and Troy Smith.

7 – Raiders (add QB Jeff Garcia and OT Marcus Johnson) – We’ve seen a lot of backup quarterback moves this offseason (including Kyle Boller to St. Louis and Patrick Ramsey to Tennessee this week), but this is the strangest. First of all, Garcia’s West Coast, dink-and-dunk style is a polar opposite to big-armed starter JaMarcus Russell. And while it might seem on the surface that Garcia could help mentor Russell, that’s never really been Garcia’s deal. He’s a good quarterback who wants to play and play well, and so his own play is his biggest concern. Maybe Garcia, now 39, has had a change of heart, but I doubt it. The temptation for the Raiders is going to be to play Garcia, because he will give them a better chance to win right away. Garcia is apt to fall into that tempting mindset too, which could cause a quarterback controversy. But Oakland must develop Russell if they are going anywhere anytime soon. So this move is just as likely to blow up in the Raiders’ faces as it is to work. But the impact of it keeps it high in this comparison.

6 – 49ers (add OT Marvel Smith) – Smith was a starter in Pittsburgh, but injuries limited him to just 17 games over the past two years. He now returns home to the Bay Area to replace Jonas Jennings as the 49ers’ right tackle. If Smith can stay healthy, this will be an upgrade for Frisco – bu that’s a big if.

6 (con’t) – Saints (add S Pierson Prioleau and DT Rod Coleman; kept QB Joey Harrington) – Prioleau is a borderline starting safetywho will replace Kevin Kaesviharn. That’s a minor upgrade, but with S Darren Sharper and CB Jabari Greer now in town, the Saints believed continuing the secondary overhaul would help in the long run. Coleman sat out last year, but he is a former Pro Bowler who is reunited with his Atlanta DL coach Bill Kollar. If he’s healthy, he’ll help a lot, but even becoming a situational pass rusher from the inside would be a benefit for the Saints. Harrington is nothing more than a third-string quarterback at this point.

5 – Redskins (kept DE Phillip Daniels; add LB Robert Thomas) – Washington cut Daniels earlier this offseason in a cap-related move but brought him back at a minimum salary. Daniels and fellow graybeard Renaldo Wynn will provide experienced depth at defensive end, and both are still good for 10-15 plays a game. Thomas is a vet who fits in as a backup.

5 (con’t) – Bengals (add DT Tank Johnson) – Johnson’s time in Dallas was fairly calm after his tumultous tenure in Chicago. While off-the-field problems have plagued Johnson, he’s a good rotation defensive tackle with a little bit of pass rushing upside. His talent is an upgrade for Cincy if he can stay on the field.

4- Rams (add QB Kyle Boller and TE Billy Bajema; kept OL Adam Goldberg) – Boller got a horrible rap in Baltimore, and he was far from consistent, but the former first-round pick also showed moments of promise. He comes in as the backup for Marc Bulger, and some teams still think Boller’s upside is worth a shot. I tend to agree. Bajema is a block-first tight end who the Rams want to use as a complement to Randy McMichael. Goldberg isn’t a starter, but he’s a valuable backup who actually started games at four different positions on the line for the Rams last year. He’ll be around as an insurance swingman for the next two years with his new deal.

4 (con’t) – Packers (add C-OG Duke Preston) – The Packers never seem to spend on free agents, so when they sign one it sticks out like a sore thumb. Preston started 11 games at center for the Bills last year, and the Packers think he can contribute at either center or guard. Expect him to be a starter next season.

4 (con’t) – Jets (add CB Donald Strickland) – Strickland, who was in San Francisco last year, has bounced around quite a bit. He’s probably a fourth corner who can move up to nickelback in a pinch. Thankfully, that’s what the Jets have planned for him, as Strickland will be behind Darrelle Revis and Lito Sheppard in the pecking order.

4 (con’t) – Chiefs (add OL Mike Goff) – Goff has been a starter his entire 11-year career, but his play has begun falling off to the point where it might be better for him to come off the bench. He’s proficient at playing guard or center, so he should fit in well as a swingman in K.C.

3 – Lions (keep OT George Foster; add C Dylan Gandy) – Foster, a former first-round pick, lost his starting job last year but is still an OK backup tackle.

3 (con’t) – Browns (add WR David Patten) – Patten won’t replace Joe Jurevicius, who was cut, much less Donte Stallworth, who faces charges after a lethal traffic accident. But this 13-year veteran, who played in Cleveland back in 2000, can be an adequate fourth receiver. This move will help as long as Patten isn’t asked to do much more.

3 (con’t) – Colts (keep LB Tyjuan Hagler, add LB Adam Seward) – Hagler returns to back up at all three linebacker positions, but don’t be surprised if he ends up starting outside. In a year with a lot of change on defense, having Hagler around is a bit of a security blanket for the Colts. Seward is a sturdy inside ‘backer who never broke through in Carolina. He’s slated to back up Gary Brackett in Indy. These moves help, but the Colts still have work to do before their linebacker corps is ready for action.

2 – Titans (add QB Patrick Ramsey) – Ramsey, a former first-rounder in Washington who settled in as a backup in Denver, comes to Tennessee to replace Chris Simms. He’s a favorite of returning Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who spent time with him in Denver. Ramsey is certainly good enough to back up Kerry Collins, and so his presence will put a lot of pressure on Vince Young to get better. If Young doesn’t, he could be a third quarterback with no chance of seeing the field in ’09.

2 (con’t) – Cardinals (add FB Dan Kreider; kept CB Ralph Brown) – Kreider, a Ram last year, spent most of his career with the Steelers, and so he knows Cards head coach Ken Whisenhunt. He’s a useful role player. Brown is another vet who the Cards are keeping around on a one-year deal. He doesn’t need to start now that Arizona added Bryant McFadden to ’08 rookie sensation Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but Brown can fill in as a nickelback in a pinch.

1- Vikings (kept FB Naufahu Tahi and DE Otis Grigsby) – The Vikings matched Cincinnati’s offer sheet for Tahi, a block-first fullback who stepped into the lineup the second half of last year. He allows the Vikings flexibility with their sets and can help pave the way for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. Grisby was non-tendered as a free agent, but the Vikings were willing to bring him back for less money to be a backup.

1 (con’t) – Steelers (kept LB Keyaron Fox) – Fox got a two-year deal to hang around as a backup in Pittsburgh. He’s an asset on special teams, but he’s not special on defense.

1 (con’t) – Bills (add OG Seth McKinney) – McKinney shouldn’t start, but he’s a versatile interior lineman who won’ t kill you in a pinch.

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