In life there are certain things you just have to accept such as pineapple on pizza, paying your taxes, and the death of the workhorse running back. I’m not denying the fact that there are talented do-it-all running backs, but I’m emphasizing the fact that teams are more successful when employing a running-back-by-committee.
The 2019 San Francisco 49ers proved that having a committee of Matt Brieda, Raheem Mostert, and Tevin Coleman was able to 1. Save cap space ($4 million total vs $15 million for Ezekiel Ellliot) and 2. Keep their running backs healthier and be more prepared for injury. If I was an NFL GM, I would no doubt employ a RBCC, but sadly I’m not, yet.
This list features the best running backs currently in the NFL, while also taking into account their individual situations (Le’Veon Bell & Joe Mixon dealt with putrid offensive lines last season). Without much further ado, here are the Top 10 running backs for 2020.
Alvin Kamara- New Orleans Saints
Kamara is definitely one of the better running backs in the league and his playstyle fits perfectly with New Orleans’ system. His running style is very unique, as he thrives in open space as a one cut runner, but is also exceptional at breaking tackles, as he was 3rd in the league in 2019.
He’s been considered the lightning to the thunder of Mark Ingram/Latavius Murray, because of his explosiveness and pass catching ability (3rd most receptions out of running backs). His playstyle is almost identical to the #10 player on this list, but that player put up more efficient numbers than Kamara did, which kicked him out of the top 10.
Josh Jacobs- Las Vegas Raiders
If you want to include Jacobs in your top 10 list, knock yourself out, as he was 6th in the league in yards after contact, but his inability to be effective in the pass game hurts his ranking. In his rookie season, he gave the Raiders a consistent presence on the ground, as he fits the Raiders physical mantra to a T. Jacobs is a downhill runner who has underrated agility and deserves to be recognized for his talent, hence the honorable mention.
Miles Sanders- Philadelphia Eagles
Sanders is getting a chance to be the RB 1 for the Eagles, and he fits their scheme perfectly. He’s an explosive playmaker who is a dual-threat running back in the run and pass game. Sanders broke the Eagles rookie record for yards from scrimmage with 1,327 yards which is why he’s on the cusp of top 10.
10. Kenyan Drake- Arizona Cardinals
Drake is a no-brainer for me on this list because of what he showed the Cardinals at the end of last season. He is the perfect complement to Kyler Murray and the air raid offense because he thrives as a pass catcher who can contribute as a one-cut, angular runner.
Drake’s career took a pedestrian start in Miami before he arrived in Arizona this past season. I extrapolated his 8 games he played with Arizona to a full 16 game season and he would’ve had 1,500+ yards from scrimmage while rushing for 5.3 yards a carry. Drake’s rushing style is summed up by one simple stat: 4th in the league at yards-before-contact.
He uses his speed to hit open holes and size to break arm tackles, but if you ask him to run someone over, you’re talking to the wrong player. Drake’s versatility as a runner/pass catcher combined with the perfect system in Arizona gives him the opportunity to finally maximize his potential as a top running back in the NFL.
9. Aaron Jones- Green Bay Packers
Jones was one of the most productive running backs this past season by leading the league in rushing touchdowns with 16. Jones is an all around back who finally got a chance to be the #1 option this past season, and he flourished. Jones’s explosiveness is his biggest asset as a runner, and he was frequently used out of the backfield in Matt LaFleur’s first year as head coach.
What’s interesting about Jones is the fact that the Packers drafted a terrific short-yardage running back in AJ Dillon to potentially relieve Jones of his goal-line work. Overall, Jones is a productive player who has no holes in his game and will continue to be productive for the Green Bay Packers.
8. Le’Veon Bell- New York Jets
Bell is easily one of the most disrespected backs in the league because of the situation he’s been placed in. He went from a Top-5 offensive line in Pittsburgh to the 29th ranked line in New York, so it’s not difficult to see why he struggled this past season. Although he didn’t put up quality stats, the film shows that he still possesses the elusiveness, agility, and playstyle that made him such a great running back in Pittsburgh.
His playstyle relies on his incredible patience behind the offensive line and his ability to make defenders miss at the second level, but he’s unable to be effective when he’s constantly met in the backfield by defenders. If the Jets off-season additions to their offensive line help, expect Le’Veon Bell to have a much more successful season than his in 2019.
7. Derrick Henry- Tennessee Titans
I’ll admit, I’m not one of the riders on Henry’s bandwagon because of the fact that he’s a one-trick-pony. Henry’s playstyle is a downhill runner who is most effective when he’s running the ball 20+ times a game. While this smashmouth playstyle is extremely effective when his team is winning, it’s completely ineffective when they are losing.
Derrick Henry is a total non-factor in the passing game, as shown by having only 16 receptions in 2019. Henry averaged a measly 63 rushing yards in losses this past season versus 129 yards in wins. The issue with Derrick Henry isn’t about his ability to physically dominate defenses, but it’s the minimal impact that he makes during passing situations. I’m also struggling to trust Henry’s ability to dominate defenses for another full 16 games this season hence the low ranking on this list.
6. Dalvin Cook- Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook finally had a healthy season which finally led to a huge breakout performance. Cook’s first two seasons in the league both ended prematurely due to injury, and while he missed 3 games in 2019, he was able to become the Vikings workhorse running back. Cook gives the Vikings a back who is effective in any running situation, while also being one of the most effective running backs in the NFL in the screen game.
He fits the Vikings run-heavy scheme perfectly and absolutely tore apart defenses in 2019. What Cook provided for the Vikings offense allowed Kirk Cousins to flourish in the play action pass game while leading them to a 10-6 record. The biggest issue with Dalvin Cook is his injury history as we can’t rely on him to be healthy unlike the rest of the players on this list.
5. Nick Chubb- Cleveland Browns
Nick Chubb’s tremendous year was completely overlooked because of the Browns’ failure of a season. Chubb was #1 in yards after contact and #3 in total broken tackles, which shows his ability to consistently produce even behind a porous offensive line. Nick Chubb’s biggest impact comes from his rushing style, as he consistently gets the Browns into solid second/third down situations.
This off-season, the Browns added two excellent offensive tackles in Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills, while also adding run heavy head coach Kevin Stefanski, so expect for Chubb to be an even more efficient runner this season.
The only “weakness” in Chubb’s game is in the pass game, which allowed for Kareem Hunt to eat into his touches (from 23 without Hunt to 17). All in all, Chubb is one of the most effective rushers in the league, and he’ll have another 1,300+ rushing yards this season.
4. Joe Mixon- Cincinnati Bengals
Joe Mixon, similar to Le’Veon Bell, is heavily disrespected because of his situation in Cincinnati. Mixon has a blend of speed, power, and patience that makes him effective in every possible situation. If you extrapolate Mixon’s second half stats of 2019 to a full season, he would have had the most rushing yards in the NFL all while dealing with a terrible offensive line.
The reason Mixon is over guys like Derrick Henry is the fact that he’s a true do-it-all back who is effective in every facet of the game. For Mixon to put up the 9th most rushing yards despite being on the worst team in the league last season tells me all I need to know about his ability.
With the Bengals having a much improved passing attack and a better defense, expect for Mixon to produce at a far more efficient rate, while competing for the NFL rushing title.
3. Saquon Barkley- New York Giants
I know this ranking will surprise a lot of people because the majority have him as the RB 2, but his inconsistency is the reason. First off, yes, the Giants have supplied Barkley with a mediocre offensive line, but when it gets to the top tier of running backs, there has to be something that separates them.
While Barkley is known for having spectacular plays such as his 68 yard touchdown, he’s also known for being a non-factor in other games as well. In his tremendous rookie season, one where he had 2029 total yards, he had 7 games with less than 50 rushing yards. Saquon is a rare talent at the running back position and with a better offensive line there’s no doubt he’d put up more consistent statlines, but until then, he’ll stay at #3.
2. Ezekiel Elliott- Dallas Cowboys
While this may be controversial, Zeke deserves far more respect than he receives. Yes he benefits from having a great passing attack, and yes he benefits from having a top offensive line, but that doesn’t take away from his consistency throughout his entire career.
Through 4 NFL season, Zeke has averaged 127 total yards a game on 4.6 yards a carry while missing a grand total of two games due to injury. Coming into the NFL, he wasn’t a great pass catching back, but over the past two years, he averaged 65 receptions and 490 yards a season. The sole reason for having Elliott over Barkley is the consistency factor.
Yes Barkley makes tremendous plays, and yes he is arguably more of an explosive runner, but with Elliott you’re getting a runner who is effective in any situation and fits the Cowboys pound-the-rock scheme. The Cowboys never have to worry about gaining yards on the ground because Zeke produces whenever his number is called on.
1. Christian McCaffrey- Carolina Panthers
McCaffrey is the undisputed #1 running back in the NFL for 2020. He put up 2,392 yards from scrimmage, 3rd most all time, and is effective in every facet of the game. The Panthers rely on McCaffrey to be their leading rusher and receiver, at the goalline, and whenever they need a big play. McCaffrey is the best running back in the NFL, and will continue to produce for years to come.
If you disagree with any of these rankings or just want to check out my other content, feel free to reach me on Twitter @danielalameda11
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