2009 NFL Season: A Question of Evolution

The NFL game is changing — and fast.  Take a look at the top rushers, by yards per game:

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. LaDainian Tomlinson
  3. Clinton Portis
  4. Edgerrin James
  5. Jamal Lewis
  6. Larry Johnson
  7. Fred Taylor
  8. Ricky Williams
  9. Steven Jackson
  10. Willie Parker

The NFL's Top Rusher -- Adrian Peterson

The old guard doesn’t have much time left.

Now, take a list at the top wide receivers, ranked by yards per game:

  1. Anquan Boldin
  2. Torry Holt
  3. Randy Moss
  4. Larry Fitzgerald
  5. Marvin Harrison
  6. Andre Johnson
  7. Terrell Owens
  8. Chad Ochocinco
  9. Marques Colston
  10. Isaac Bruce

The NFL's Top Receiver - Anquan Boldin

The next five receivers hoping to nudge their way into this elite group is: Steve Smith, Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Bowe.

The striking thing about this list for me is the relative youth and remaining upside of the receivers when compared to the running backs.  The old adage is that an NFL running back is done by the age of 30.  With wide receivers, we see the number is probably closer to 37 or 38.  Only Isaac Bruce and Marvin Harrison are likely to be out of work next season; and Bruce is second in receiving yards all-time behind Jerry Rice.

Torry Jabar Holt, who seems like he’s been running crisp routes since Nixon was in office, is only 33 years old.  Can he play another 4 years in a run-heavy offense on natural grass?

The running back list could look very different next.  It is conceivable that only Adrian Peterson and Steven Jackson could have starting jobs in 2010.  They might also be the only two to see significant carries at any point in the future.  But even the younger backs on the outskirts of this  list do not have such promising futures.

Consider this:

  • Frank Gore – Currently playing in his 5th season with the San Francisco 49ers.  He’s injured now (ankle) and has been seriously injured before — more than once.
  • Willis McGahee – While McGahee is not currently injured, what is written above holds for him as well.
  • Ryan Grant – Grant, a former back up on the New York Giants is currently the “franchise” for the Green Bay Packers.  He’ll be 27 in December.  Given how much Aaron Rodgers likes to throw the ball, Grant could move up the list over the next few years.

End Note:  No matter how you cut it, the challenge is stiff for running backs.  At present, Adrian Peterson and Ryan Grant are separated by about 35 yards per game.  That’s an enormous difference.  Peterson’s value is clear to fans and casual observers alike.

For Boldin,  his place atop this list would surprise many; it should not.  He is the only player averaging 80 yards per game in the NFL.  Last night, while the Cardinals were being throttled by the Indianapolis Colts in their own building, Boldin still managed to come away with 6 catches for 83 yards and a score.  It wasn’t spectacular, but it’s the least you can expect from him every single time he walks on the field.  It makes me wonder what it will take for the Cardinals to demonstrate their awareness of his unique talents.


  1. MOst of the running backs seem like old headds to me. I mean, they are all familiar names and mostly older players except for Peterson and maybe Steven Jackson.
    But I do agree that wideouts are having their careers extended. I wonder how much longer TO can be elite.

  2. No doubt. I think it also means this running back by committee thing is really pervasive across the league. Marion Barber is not on this list because he split carries with Julius Jones, and now Felix Jones. Michael Turner is not on this list because of LT. Fred Taylor has kept Maurice Jones-Drew off the list. Matt Forte has to reach the minimum # of carries and then step his game up. He’s right behind Gore and McGahee.

  3. I was surprised to see Ricky Williams on the RB’s list as well as “Q” atop the WR’s list. Good stuff.

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