Play-makers make plays. We have heard it repeatedly in the discussion of pivotal moments of a sports contest, and the NFL possesses these archetype talents in extreme fashion.
The AFC South is saturated with skilled offensive weapons at the top of league.
Including two running backs that finished in the top five for rushing yards in 2011 (1st - Maurice Jones-Drew; 5th - Arian Foster).
Equally as important as the performances of these star players are the obstacles they overcome and their methods of success, despite these obstacles.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans, and Indianapolis Colts make up the offensive-relentless AFC South division.
The starting running backs for all the division’s teams minus Indianapolis combined for 99 broken tackles last season, all of which were in the top 10.
The Houston Texans' offense broke tackles on 5.8 percent of their 1,027 plays from scrimmage, while Tennessee had a fourth-best 7.2 percent of plays with a broken tackle.
By taking a closer look at the elusiveness of each team’s offensive gems, the AFC South will make an argument for housing the best running back in the NFL.
Whether it is Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, or Maurice Jones-Drew, the AFC South division has players on each team that demands attention and gang tackling in order for defenses to survive their run, in a competitive and literal sense.
Indianapolis Colts - Reggie Wayne
In 2011 Indianapolis lived on the bottom of the NFL’s successful list, as they finished tied for the worst record last season and earned the No. 1 overall pick of the NFL Draft.
Although they have shredded the roster sheet and may be the team with the least amount of expectations this year, all is not lost in the organization.
Reggie Wayne caught 75 passes for 960 yards last season, proving to be an iron man that survived three different quarterbacks in the same season.
Since 2004, Wayne has caught at least 75 passes in every season, finishing in the top five for receptions twice, and yielding 7,809 yards combined.
The absence of Peyton Manning is an obvious reason for the decline of Wayne’s numbers, but with some new Luck that calls himself Andrew and supporting cast member Pierre Garcon leaving for Washington D.C., Wayne is sure to be more of a target in 2012.
Tennessee Titans - Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer
One of the biggest talks of this season is whether Chris Johnson will return to his unstoppable form. After holding out for a new contract last season, Johnson saw a career low rushing yards, rushing average, and rushing touchdowns.
Chris Johnson ran the football considerably better in the second half of the 2011 season, ending the year with a ninth best 30 broken tackles. Football Outsiders have Chris Johnson’s broken tackle rate at 9.4 percent of his attempts, in which he out-willed and outran defenders in the open field.
Johnson was tied for the second most rushes of 20 yards or more last season, breaking plays for big runs on 13 occasions. Word of mouth has it that Chris Johnson has been preparing himself to climb the top of the rushing mountain again this season.
Complementing Chris Johnson in the backfield for Tennessee is Javon Ringer, a four-year veteran out of Michigan State. At 5’9, 213 pounds, Ringer is a tough back that bounces off defenders; just ask Football Outsiders, who noted that Ringer escaped a tackle on 18.4 percent of his touches, a league best of all running backs with at least 85 touches.
With a consistent attack from Javon Ringer and Chris Johnson, the Tennessee Titans will sustain an effective running game in the 2012 season.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings
Rashad Jennings has been an exceptional backup to Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville, averaging over five yards per carry in 2009 and 2010. The Forest, Virginia native looks to be a productive weapon for the team in 2012.
Big fans of Maurice Jones-Drew are shouting three words in Jacksonville: PAY THE MAN! Sure Jones-Drew has two years left on his current contract, in which he will ultimately make $17.5 million in 5-year bonus money, but his contribution to the least valuable NFL franchise is major.
Perhaps the holdout by Jones-Drew was premature and perceived as selfish by the organization, but his league-leading rushing and elusiveness can’t be denied.
Maurice Jones-Drew not only rushed for a league best 1,606 yards and 100.4-yard average last season, but he also shook a third best 37 tackles on 386 touches. His 9.6 percent attempts with a broken tackle made the Football Outsiders list, and his 9,327 yards from scrimmage since 2006 is only second to the St. Louis Rams’ Steven Jackson.
Contract issues aside, Maurice Jones-Drew will be nothing less than a top five running back in 2012, and defenders will need a welcome back party to stop him.
Houston Texans - Arian Foster, Bent Tate
Ben Tate has averaged 5.4 yards per rush last season, rushing for 942 yards for Houston, more than several starting running backs. After being drafted in the second round behind multiple running backs in 2010, including Toby Gerhart and Ryan Mathews, Tate has been out to prove he is deserving of the NFL.
Arian Foster averaged 94.2 yards per game in 2011, only second to Maurice Jones-Drew. His 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns were fifth in the NFL, and he also finished fifth in yards after the catch with 635.
Foster recorded a broken tackle on 9.7 percent of his touches and eighth on the total broken tackles list by Football Outsiders.
After Ben Tate broke his ankle in his first preseason game in 2010, Arian Foster took the hand-off, took one cut and never looked back. Those words are repetitive by players who try to explain Foster’s agility, as he is one of the most elusive backs the NFL has to offer.
When choosing one running back in the NFL with the complete package, Arian Foster is the guy. His speed, power, and vision in the open field have made him a household name, and a defender’s burden.
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