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The NFL: A Running Back-Driven League?

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2013 Minnesota Vikings: Five Players to Keep an Eye On
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Adrian Peterson,

These days in the National Football League, there's so much emphasis placed on the performance of the quarterback that you wonder if he's the only player on the field.

Someone has to run the football and someone certainly has to catch it. If the quarterback doesn't want to spend the afternoon or evening on the turf, it's safe to say someone has to block for him as well.

There's also the defense getting that other team off the field, as well as the special teams doing their best to improve field position.

So here's the first of many looks at the other positions on the field and their importance. A one-man show is great in tennis, bowling and handball. It doesn't work when it comes to football.

First up it's the running backs. Which teams value one of the other guys in the backfield more than most? Here's a small sampling:

Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings: The 2012 National Football League's Most Valuable Player has been the workhorse in the Minnesota backfield for a half-dozen seasons. And a year after being limited to 12 games and injuring his knee in December, Peterson responded with 2,097 yards (second most in a season in NFL history) and was a big part of the team's stunning trip to the playoffs. He's still-developing quarterback Christian Ponder's best friend.

Arian Foster, Houston Texans: The former undrafted free agent has been an absolute beast the last three seasons, making life miserable for opponents and easier for Texans quarterbacks, be it veteran Matt Schaub or T.J. Yates during his rookie campaign in 2011. In 45 regular-season games since 2010, Foster has run for 4,264 yards and 41 scores, plus caught 159 passes for 1,438 yards and six touchdowns. And we haven't even mentioned his sensational play in the postseason.

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens: Since entering the league in 2008 (the same year both quarterback Joe Flacco and head coach John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore), only Peterson (8,766) and Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson (8,546) has amassed more yards from scrimmage than Rice (8,233). And while Flacco has certainly dealt with his share of critics, the only negative usually associated with Rice is that he doesn't get the ball enough.

Frank Gore, San Francisco 49ers: The Niners' all-time leading rusher can't be any steadier than he has the last two seasons, rushing for 1,211 yards in 2011, 1,214 yards in 2012 and eight touchdowns apiece. Quarterbacks Alex Smith and now Colin Kaepernick have benefitted greatly from Gore, head coach Jim Harbaugh's philosophy and one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars: Yes, the Jaguars all-time leader in touchdowns scored missed the final 10 games of the 2012 season. But astoundingly, the seven-year pro still led Jacksonville with 414 yards rushing a year ago. He could be in the running (pun intended) for NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2013. Be it Blaine Gabbert and/or Chad Henne behind center, it's essential that Jones stays healthy.

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks: The team that allowed the fewest points in the league last season did get a great performance from quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012, whose 26 touchdown passes tied the NFL rookie record for a season (co-owned by then Colts quarterback Peyton Manning). But many don't realize Lynch ran for 1,590 yards last season, 178 more in two playoff games and totaled 100-plus yards rushing in 11-of-18 overall outings last year.

So where would many of the league's quarterbacks be without their backfield mates? And who else deserves a mention in this regard? In any case, this is a team game that requires many components to win a championship.

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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