Ranking all 32 NFL starting running backs for 2020
Miles Sanders is coming off a great rookie season in which he set an Eagles rookie record in yards from scrimmage. But where does he rank among the NFL’s best starting running backs?
Some of this list is hard to do because plenty of teams don’t have a defined starter, so I projected a bit and picked for some teams.
Here’s how I’d rank the 32 starting running backs in the NFL:
(All photos USA Today Images)
32. Ronald Jones - Buccaneers
Entering his third season, Jones had an OK year in 2019. He rushed for 724 yards and caught 31 passes for 309 more. He’ll be joined in Tampa Bay by a couple of Hall of Famers in Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski so that offense will be better and more efficient in 2020.
31. Sony Michel - Patriots
It’ll be interesting to see what the departure of Brady means for Michel in 2020. He’s been a solid player the last two years, going over 900 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons. But his average was down to 3.7 in 2019 and he isn’t much of a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield.
30. Raheem Mostert - 49ers
We saw with that 220-yard performance in the playoffs just what Mosert can do, but we’ve only seen it in spurts. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season but got just 137 carries on the season. He gained 772 yards on his 137 carries while Tevin Coleman also had 137 carries and picked up just 544 yards.
29. Cam Akers - Rams
Without Gurley in LA, it should clear the way for the rookie to have a chance to win the starting job from Darrell Henderson. The second-round pick from Florida State is a quick and athletic player with upside. We’ll see.
28. Adrian Peterson - Redskins
Even going into his third year with Washington, it’s still strange to think about Peterson being a Redskin. He’s an all-time great wasting away his last bit of football life with a hapless franchise. He rushed for nearly 900 yards at 34 years old last season. Now that he’s 35, he might be able to be somewhat productive again.
27. David Johnson - Texans
If the Texans see this list, they’re going to be shocked to find out Johnson isn’t in the top five. But this isn’t 2016 anymore. Johnson was an All-Pro that year but the simply hasn’t been that guy since and last year had 345 rushing yards in 13 games. Maybe he bounces back but the signs aren’t great.
26. Devin Singletary - Bills
In 12 games last season, Singletary rushed for 775 yards and averaged 5.1 per attempt. He also caught 29 passes. He’ll need to stay healthy in 2020 but the Bills might have something in the second-year player who forced 42 missed tackles last year.
25. Tarik Cohen - Bears
The Bears have Cohen and second-year player David Montgomery, so they don’t really have a true feature guy. Cohen started 11 games last season, so I’ll give him the nod. It was a down season for Cohen in 2019 after a Pro Bowl year in 2018. He averaged just 3.3 yards per attempt last year and his yards per reception went from 10.2 to 5.8. Still, he’s an exciting young player and if Nick Foles wins that job, it’ll help him.
24. Jordan Howard - Dolphins
Howard was having a nice season with the Eagles last year before he suffered a stinger and didn’t do much at all the second half of the season. So that injury paired with his workload in his first three seasons scares me a bit. But he’s been a productive player in his career and he got his YPA up to 4.4 in 2019 before the injury.
23. D’Andre Swift - Lions
The Lions used their second-round pick on Swift out of Georgia and I think they got the best running back in the draft class. Nothing against Kerryon Johnson, but he’s struggled to stay on the field and I expect Swift to take that lead back job from him. He’s going to be fun to watch with the Lions and has a chance to be wayyyy higher on the list going into 2021.
22. Todd Gurley - Falcons
Maybe a change of scenery will get Gurley back to his All-Pro level, but I’m not optimistic. The drop-off was steep and the knee might be shot. Sure, last year he still had over 1,000 scrimmage yards and 14 total touchdowns but he wasn’t himself. Gurley averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and was as shell of his former self.
21. Marlon Mack - Colts
Look, I think Jonathan Taylor is the future running back of the Colts but I also think Mack has done too much to toss him to the side right away, especially in this strange offseason. Mack rushed for 1,000 yards last season and has 17 rushing touchdowns in the last two years.
20. Melvin Gordon - Broncos
After holding out until late September, Gordon returned and didn’t play particularly well in 12 games. He had 612 rushing yards and an average of 3.8, but still caught 42 passes. Now with the Broncos, he’ll try to find the Pro Bowl form he had in 2018.
19. Clyde Edwards-Helaire - Chiefs
I don’t think it’s going to take long for Edwards-Helaire to take over for Damien Williams as the starter even in this unusual offseason. There’s a reason the Chiefs used their first-round pick on him. He’s a true dual-threat running back who will also catch a lot of balls out of the backfield.
18. Austin Ekeler - Chargers
Ekeler isn’t a pure running back but it’s impossible to ignore his production. He rushed for 557 yards last year but caught 92 passes for 993 yards and 8 touchdowns. He’s one of the best receiving running backs in the league and because of that he’s going to be a huge fantasy football player again in 2020.
17. Le’Veon Bell - Jets
It’s hard to really judge Bell’s 2019 season. Was it good? No. But the Jets were a disaster too, so it’s hard to really tell what kind of season he had. I definitely think his 3.2 yards per attempt last year isn’t indicative of how he played. With an improved offensive line, he has a chance to do some damage in 2020.
16. James Conner - Steelers
Conner missed six games last season with injuries and even when he was on the field, he wasn’t nearly as good as he was in his Pro Bowl season in 2018. But he’s back and healthy and Ben Roethlisberger is back and healthy. And Conner is still just 25 so I like his chances of having a bounce back year. When he’s healthy, Conner is a tough runner to bring down.
15. Chris Carson - Seahawks
In 2019, Carson put together his second straight 1,000-yard season and also caught 37 passes. The addition of Carlos Hyde means we might see a drop in some of his production but he’s still going to be a major part of the Seahawks’ offense.
14. Mark Ingram - Ravens
He’s 30 now but Ingram is coming off another 1,000 yard season and Pro Bowl appearance. He also averaged 5.0 yards per carry in his first season in Baltimore. Lamar Jackson overshadowed everyone in Baltimore last season but Ingram was a big part of the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense.
13. Kenyan Drake - Cardinals
Arizona traded for Drake in October and he was great down the stretch for the Cardinals. In eight games, he had 643 rushing yards with 8 touchdowns and he had 28 catches for 171 yards. If he can do that for a full season, he’s going to be a Pro Bowler in 2020.
12. Josh Jacobs - Raiders
He missed three games because of injury but it was a really impressive rookie season for Jacobs, who rushed for 1,150 yards and 7 touchdowns. According to PFF, Jacobs was the most elusive RB in football last year, with .30 missed tackles per touch and 3.5 yards after contact per run.
11. Miles Sanders - Eagles
Yes, I have Sanders one spot ahead of Jacobs. Sanders got off to a slower start in his rookie season but helped carry the Eagles into the playoffs on his way to setting an Eagles rookie record for yards from scrimmage. Sanders is a true all-around back who is unquestionably the feature back now that Jordan Howard has moved on to Miami.
10. Leonard Fournette - Jaguars
In 2019, Fournette had a big season, rushing for a career-high 1,152 yards and catching an incredible 76 passes. The Jaguars aren’t going to be very good in 2020 and I’d expect Fournette to continue to be a major part of their offense.
9. Joe Mixon - Bengals
Mixon has had back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons and has caught 78 passes while playing for a terrible team. While you might think the addition of Joe Burrow means more passing, getting a top-notch quarterback will just make the Bengals an overall better offense, which will help Mixon.
8. Aaron Jones - Packers
After leading the NFL in yards per attempt in 2018, Jones had his first 1,000 yard season in 2019 and led the NFL in rushing touchdowns and also added 49 catches for 474 yards. The Packers added A.J. Dillon so he probably won’t have 19 total touchdowns again in 2019 but he’s still a really good player.
7. Dalvin Cook - Vikings
In 2019, Cook was able to stay a little healthier and put together a breakout season, rushing for 1,135 yards with 13 touchdowns and adding another 519 receiving yards on top of that. Health is still a concern but few are better when healthy.
6. Nick Chubb - Browns
In his first two NFL seasons, Chubb has averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and put up nearly 1,500 yards rushing in 2019. PFF recently ranked Chubb as the most elusive running back in the NFL. He’s just a well-rounded runner who is shifty but also breaks tackles.
5. Alvin Kamara - Saints
Three years in the league, three Pro Bowls for Kamara. In 2019, he missed a couple games, dealt with some injuries and saw his numbers dip but he’s a tremendous dual threat. He has caught exactly 81 passes in each of his first three NFL seasons.
4. Derrick Henry - Titans
While he’s not the type of receiving threat a lot of the guys on this list are, no one runs harder than Henry. In 2019, he led the NFL in rushing attempts (303), yards (1,540), touchdowns (16) and yards per game (102.7). And then in the playoffs he pretty much carried the Titans into the AFC Championship Game, rushing for 377 yards against the Patriots and Ravens.
3. Ezekiel Elliott - Cowboys
Elliott is one of six players in NFL history to have over 7,000 yards from scrimmage in his first four NFL seasons and the top three on that list are in the Hall of Fame. Some people expected Zeke to slow down in 2019, but he put together a huge season: 1,357 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 54 receptions, 420 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns.
2. Saquon Barkley - Giants
Despite a high ankle sprain in 2019, Barkley still managed to rush for 1,000 yards and put up nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage for a bad team. He wasn’t as good as his rookie season but if he’s healthy, there aren’t many backs better than him in the NFL.
1. Christian McCaffrey - Panthers
There’s a reason why McCaffrey is the highest-paid running back in NFL history. It’s almost like he’s playing a different game than everyone else. There are three people in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in a single season: Roger Craig, Marshall Faulk and McCaffrey last year. In fact, his 2,392 yards from scrimmage last year is the third-highest total ever. And McCaffrey is entering Year 4.