The NFL may be a passing league these days, but having a rushing elite offense versus a usable offense can be the difference between a wildcard bid and a title chase. The question is, do you need an elite running back to dominate the ground game? Or just an elite rotation? Everyone can agree on the biggest names in the position, from Derrick Henry to Dalvin Cook, but which teams have the best backfields overall?
Here’s a pecking order, identifying the top 10 entering 2022:
RB: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, Foreman D’Onta
Attrition is a major concern here, with McCaffrey having played just 10 games over the past two years. When healthy, however, he is a dual-purpose chain machine. Hubbard showed in 2021 that he could be a decent traditional replacement, and Foreman had a few shards to replace Henry in Tennessee.
RB: Derrick Henry, Dontrell Hilliard, Hassan Haskins
It’s about King Henry, a true freak of nature whose monstrous combination of towering size, brutal power and top speed makes him a weekly nightmare. Neither Hilliard nor Haskins have extensive experience, and Henry’s heavy workload is sure to have an added impact. Until then, the Tennessee group has just the makeup to wear down their opponents.
RB: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon III, Mike Boone
Williams may well be able to carry the backfield on his own, topping 1,300 total yards in just one official start as a rookie. But Gordon is savvy and efficient, especially on the pitch count. All eyes are on Russell Wilson and the passing game, but the QB’s greatest additions are probably here, in the same position as Pete Carroll who was beloved in Seattle.
RB: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram II, Malcolm Brown
They would be higher, purely because of Kamara and his assists, if not for the possibility of the No.41 facing a significant suspension due to off-field conduct. And, maybe, if Ingram didn’t slow down at 32. Still, when Kamara is on the court, he’s usually the most dynamic, single-handedly carrying New Orleans before.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle
Zeke gets a lot of flak these days for not matching Pollard’s explosiveness, but he’s still an above-average all-around starter for a top-10 offense. If Dallas wisely continues to increase Pollard’s role as a runner and receiver to speed up his offense, the one-two punch could be deadly. Can the O line stay upright to make them move?
RB: JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Mike Davis, Justice Hill
Three of the top four full-backs here are coming off season-ending injuries, so their early-season outburst could be slightly reduced. But there’s a reason Baltimore has long been a role model for offense first. Dobbins is built as a workhorse, Edwards is very effective as a change of pace and Davis has plenty of experience as a physical substitute and pass catcher.
RB: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon, Kylin Hill
Top marks come exclusively from their leading duo. Jones has all the tools you want in a contemporary starter despite a history of injuries, while Dillon’s size and physique allow Green Bay to play ball the old fashioned way. Aaron Rodgers plans to lean on them even more now that Davante Adams is gone, and that might not be a bad thing.
RB: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu
There’s maybe a back or two that gets more attention than Cook when they’re in perfect health. Although he’s sure to miss a week or three each season, the Vikings star is one of football’s most gifted natural runners. Its top speed is unreal. Mattison, meanwhile, is practically a clone in terms of height and has been an underrated No. 2 for years.
RB: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Phillip Lindsay
Star power helps, and Taylor has just that, giving Indy perhaps the most complete back in the entire NFL. Matt Ryan will be happy every time he hands the ball to No. 28. Hines, meanwhile, remains a reliable safety valve as a receiver, and Lindsay at least offers plenty of grit and starting experience. If the Colts return to the playoffs, their running game will surely fuel them.
RB: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson
It’s a close call with the Colts, but the Browns’ top three guards did some serious damage when given RB1 duties. Yes, the Cleveland line has something to do with it, but Chubb and Hunt are undeniable talents on their own. The former has averaged over 5 yards per carry over the NFL’s four seasons as a traditional, free-flowing ball carrier. Hunt, meanwhile, is even sneakier with good hands, making him the 1B in Kevin Stefanski’s ground attack.
- Eagles (Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott): Sanders still has home run potential, Gainwell is up as a service man, and Scott retains shades of Darren Sproles as a little guy with a punch.
- Commanders (Antonio Gibson, Brian Robinson Jr., JD McKissic): Gibson is underrated after a quiet second season, and McKissic is a target machine, but what will Robinson offer as a rookie?
- Bills (Devin Singletary, James Cook, Zack Moss): Buffalo is all about throwing the ball with Josh Allen, but if Cook can make an early impact as a receiving option, this group will look pretty balanced.
- Dolphins (Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert, Sony Michel, Myles Gaskin): When do you actually own too strong, if unspectacular running backs?
- Bears (David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert, Darrynton Evans): The top two fullbacks are both starting materials, but you wonder how high their ceilings can be in the Chicago rebuild setup.
- Jaguars (James Robinson, Travis Etienne Jr., Snoop Conner): Robinson has been a steady hand and Etienne is apparently giving off Deebo Samuel vibes, but both guys have just suffered serious injuries.
- Chargers (Austin Ekeler, Isaiah Spiller, Joshua Kelley): Ekeler is an offensive centerpiece due to his contribution as a receiver, but the depth behind him remains unproven.