Honorable Mention: Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
I fully expect Robinson to cement himself as a top-ten running back in the league as just a rookie, but couldn’t properly place him on this list before playing an NFL down. Robinson is regarded as one of the best overall prospects of the past several years and the Falcons spent top-ten draft capital on him. Arthur Smith, who coached Derrick Henry to an Offensive Player of the Year season in 2020, loves to run the ball and will make Robinson the focal point of his offense from the get-go.
10. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Ekeler is an elite receiving back and was the only running back with over 100 catches last year. He’s a quarterback’s best friend catching out of the backfield and is crafty after the catch. Ekeler is also one of the league’s most lethal red zone threats and had 15 rushing touchdowns last year. He’s not an elite runner like the rest of this list, but his dual-threat ability makes him invaluable to an offense.
9. Kenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks
Logging 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie is impressive, and Walker has all the tools to maintain that level of play in the future. He had no fumbles and forced a 21.9% broken and missed tackle rate in 2022. He is a pure runner that will continue to give defenses fits in a now split backfield with incoming rookie Zach Charbonnet
8. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
After splitting carries with Ezekiel Elliot for four years, Pollard finally has the keys to the Dallas backfield. He’s been one of the most efficient and highest-graded rushers in the league the past few years and truly broke out in 2022. He rushed for over 1106 yards, including 805 after contact, and nine touchdowns with no fumbles. He also caught 44 passes for 394 yards and had just one drop. The Cowboys’ new bell cow should thrive even more this season.
7. Breece Hall, New York Jets
Despite his ACL tear last October, I’m all in on Breece Hall becoming a superstar in New York. The Jets have praised Hall’s recovery process as “fantastic”, and we’ve seen running backs come back from similar injuries and feast (most prominently Adrian Peterson in 2013). If anyone will return from a serious injury and still take a step forward, I’m betting on Hall to do so.
Currently ranked #10 in rushing through Week 7. (Heal up soon!)
Breece Hall was drafted with pick 36 of round 2 in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.96 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 7 out of 1632 RB from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/nU6qstZJSf #RAS pic.twitter.com/e2YBnaDxM2
— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) October 27, 2022
He improved in each game as Hall gained more of the coaching staff’s trust and more of a workload each week. Hall led the league in yards after contact with 4.13 per contact. Aaron Rodgers coming to town will raise the tide for the entire offense, and Hall can succeed as a pass catcher after averaging two yards per route run as a rookie.
6. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
The king is still a force to be reckoned with at age 29, but I’m expecting some natural regression on a retooling Titans team with a poor offensive line. Tyjae Spears was drafted on day two to help lower some of Henry’s workload. That should allow Henry to maintain his efficiency and status as one of the hardest players to tackle in the league. After leading the NFL in rushing attempts in three of the past four seasons (he was hurt for part of the fourth), he deserves a lesser load.