The NFC East was a historically bad division in 2020, which is why all four teams were in the race deep into the season. Eventually, Washington took it.
This season, the division is up for grabs yet again. We’re ranking the division by position group. So far we have looked at:
Up today: Running backs
1. Giants: Saquon Barkley, Devontae Booker, Corey Clement
Barkley is coming off a torn ACL that limited him to just two games in 2020, but when he’s healthy, he’s still one of the best backs in the NFL. Even as he played through a high ankle sprain in 2019, he had over 1,000 yards on the ground and another 400+ receiving and he clearly wasn’t himself. You really have to go all the way back to 2018, his rookie season, to see what Barkley is capable of. That year he had over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. It’s fair to wonder about the toll these injuries have had on him but if he’s back to the guy in 2018, watch out.
You could argue that a different team should be in the No. 1 spot because of the rotation after Barkley. But I think he’s good enough on his own to warrant top billing. And Booker is actually a capable runner too. Last year in Las Vegas, he had 93 carries for 423 yards (4.5) and has a career average of 4.0 yards per carry. He has also caught 122 passes in his career. After Booker, it’ll likely be either Clement, Ryquell Armstead or sixth-round draft pick Gary Brightwell rounding out the rotation.
2. Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle
Elliott is still a very good player but at just 25, it appears his incredibly heavy workload might be beginning to have negative effects. After two straight Pro Bowl seasons, Elliott’s average was down to a career low 4.0 last season and he also averaged a career low 6.5 yards per catch. But let’s be clear: Zeke is still really good. He didn’t rush for 1,000 yards last season but has done so in three of his first five seasons and has averaged 48 catches per season in his career.
While Elliott has been the horse in Dallas, Pollard has become a solid player. Over the last two years, he has rushed for 890 yards with an average of 4.8 as the backup. And he’s not as much of a threat through the air but he did catch 28 passes last year. After that, there’s Dowdle, who played very limitedly last year.
3. Eagles: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, Kerryon Johnson
The hope was that Sanders would take a huge jump in Year 2 but that didn’t happen as he struggled with injuries, fumbles and dropped passes. He was actually a more efficient runner in 2020 but wasn’t the same pass catcher. But there’s no doubt that he’s a talented runner and the new coaching staff ought to be able to get more out of him that Doug Pederson did. Expect Sanders to get more carries in 2021 but also to be better utilized in the pass game.
After Sanders, Scott has been the No. 2 but now he has some competition. The Eagles used a fifth-round pick on Gainwell and there’s real reason to think they might try to get him involved in the offense early. He’s undersized but has great ability out of the backfield. And they also claimed Johnson off waivers from the Lions. We’ll see what he has left but if nothing else, he can make the team as a pass protection specialist.
4. Washington: Antonio Gibson, JD McKissic, Peyton Barber, Lamar Miller
As a third-round pick and a converted receiver, Gibson had one heck of a rookie season. He rushed for 795 yards with 11 touchdowns and added 36 catches for 247 yards. And he also played in just 14 games and started 10. So it seems like the future is pretty bright for the young running back out of Memphis.
After Gibson, Washington has McKissic, who is coming off a career year with Washington last season, when he caught 80 passes for 589 yards and 2 touchdowns. After those two, Washington brings back Peyton Barber, who saw some action last year. They also have 30-year-old Lamar Miller, who is now several years removed from his good days and is more of a reclamation project.
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