Stevan Ridley is having a breakout season. It certainly looks like the New England Patriots have found a gem in the 23-year-old runner. I shared some statistics about a month ago that prove he's one of the best backs in the NFL this season, but are we ready to call him elite just yet? Christopher Price of WEEI.com seems to think so.
When you start putting together a short list of the best and most durable running backs in the league, Stevan Ridley’s name isn’t necessarily at the top. But over the first 11 games of the 2012 season, he’s done more to bring balance to the Patriots offense than any single individual, sparking a running renaissance in New England not seen since Corey Dillon rushed for 1,635 yards in 2004. And as a result, he’s on pace to become one of just a handful of elite backs over the last five years who has hit the 300-carry plateau and 4.0 yards-per-carry mark in the same season.
You can't blame Price for feeling that way. Ridley has been phenomenal - and more importantly very reliable - which places his stats easily within the top 5-10 runners in the league this season. His 939 rushing yards currently rank him 7th in the NFL and his eight rushing touchdowns are only topped by Arian Foster's 12 and Doug Martin's nine. There is no question that Ridley has been very impressive this season, but the question Price has created here... is he elite?
To me, the word "elite" hints at longevity. If you look at the quarterback position and the players we allow ourselves to call elite only a few names are universally accepted: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and maybe Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger depending on how you feel about their role in their Superbowl victories. Even though certain quarterbacks may end up with higher single season numbers (currently Matthew Stafford ranks No. 1 overall in passing yards with 3,429) that doesn't necessarily mean that those throwers are elite.
I think you need to treat running backs with the same rules. Of the top ten rushers in the NFL this season as far as total yardage is concerned, two are rookies. Doug Martin and Alfred Morris have actually posted more yardage than Ridley. Are they elite? I think we need to wait and see with these guys to determine if they can have this kind of production over several seasons. While Ridley, Morris and Martin have all been very useful for their respective teams I don't think we can immediately place them in the same category as Arian Foster, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Those guys are the elite. Could Ridley get to that point? Absolutely. But he's currently a second-year back who wasn't full-time in his rookie season. He's got a ways to go before I use the word "elite" to describe him.