The NFL is an ever-changing game. And, while it may seem like the running back position is growing less important due to the emphasis being placed on passing, this isn’t the case. Teams are just learning to be smarter and more efficient with the way they structure their rushing attacks by switching to a “running back by committee” format. This means that instead of one, injury-prone workhorse, teams have a multitude of backs that each excel at a unique skill.
The result of this change has been more diverse, star-filled backfields surfacing across the league. Today, I have ranked seven of these backfields below, which I believe have separated themselves as being the best in the NFL.
#7 – Oakland Raiders
Running Backs: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake, Jalen Richard
The Raiders greatly bolstered their backfield this offseason by signing Kenyan Drake in free agency. He will be paired with existing workhorse Josh Jacobs to create a formidable duo. Since entering the league in 2019, Jacobs has been solid, posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. This year, he added an impressive 12 touchdowns to go along with the yardage, further proving his value as a first-round pick.
Meanwhile, Kenyan Drake is now on his third team in three years. After an okay start to his career in Miami, Drake exploded with the Cardinals raking up nearly 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns in 21 starts. While Jacobs is the more physical runner, Drake has great speed and can play a role in the receiving game.
It will be interesting to see how this duo performs behind a reconstructed offensive line. I’m not even a huge fan of the Raiders signing Drake when they had more pressing needs defensively. However, the individual talent of both him and Josh Jacobs is enough to squeeze them onto my list
#6 – Indianapolis Colts
Running Backs: Jonathan Taylor, Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines
The Colts have one of the most interesting backfields in the league as it features a dynamic trio. First, there’s Jonathan Taylor who’s heading into his second season. As a rookie, Taylor impressed, to say the least. He rushed for 1,169 yards and 11 touchdowns. His biggest impact came in the back half of the season as he recorded at least 70 yards in the Colts’ last six games.
Marlon Mack, on the other hand, missed all of last season after going down with a torn Achilles in Week 1. Nonetheless, when healthy, he is a tough, physical back who runs hard. Mack’s injury came after he passed the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career in 2019. He also has a nose for the endzone with 20 touchdowns in 23 career starts.
Last, but not least, Nyheim Hines is one of the best third-down running backs in the NFL. Last season, he had over 850 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns. Hines gets most of his work done as a target out of the backfield. He can even fill a slot receiver role. As a runner, he is quick and capable of getting to the outside.
Perhaps what makes the committee in Indianapolis so threatening is the top-tier offensive line they run behind. With the physicality of Taylor and Mack, Hines in the receiving game, and their Oline, the Colts could have the best rushing attack in the league this upcoming season.
#5 – Carolina Panthers
Running Backs: Christian McCaffery, Chuba Hubbard
As seen with the next three teams on this list, sometimes it still takes just one monster player to have a top NFL backfield. Christian McCaffery is that monster player for the Panthers and is arguably the best running back in the NFL.
CMC did miss almost all of last year with an ankle injury. However, in 2019, he was not only the best running back, but one of the best players in all of football. He posted over 2,300 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns. This included him having 1,000+ yards both rushing and receiving. In 2018 he was also tremendous, as he was just 35 yards shy of 2,000 scrimmage yards.
Clearly, McCaffery is more than just a running back as he can lineup almost anywhere offensively. Even though the Panthers have no one but rookie Chuba Hubbard behind him on the depth chart, CMC’s greatness earns them a spot in the top five.
#4 – Tennesee Titans
Running Backs: Derrick Henry, Darrynton Evans
The Titans also rely on just one dominant back in Derrick Henry (and he is more than enough, ask Josh Norman). As with CMC, not much explanation is needed for how good he is, but here it is anyway.
Henry set a record for the fifth-most rushing yards in a single season last year with 2,027 yards. He also added 17 touchdowns to go along with the yardage and was an overall force to be reckoned with. Since 2018, Henry has now gained at least 1,000 yards each season and 10 touchdowns.
Unlike the committees and more versatile backs on this list, Henry is one of the few remaining examples of an old-school, physical ground game in the NFL. And, he’s shown that old-school can still get it done, as he carries that Titans to just outside of the top three on this list.
#3 – Minnesota Vikings
Running Backs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah
When healthy, Dalvin Cook is arguably a top-three running back in this league. He exploded for over 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Cook has an incredible skill set as a runner as he combines strength, elusiveness, and speed to make an impact. The Vikings have one of the worst offensive lines on this list, but Cook makes things look easy.
The reason the Vikings’ backfield is ahead of both the Titans and Panthers is their depth. Alexander Mattison has been a great filler for Cook over the last two years. He has over 1,103 scrimmage yards on 219 touches in his short career. Even when Cook is out, the Vikings run game doesn’t slow much as Mattison can pick up the load. So, based on depth, Minnesota snags the third spot on this list.
#2 – New Orleans Saints
Running Backs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray
The lead horse for the Saints is Alvin Kamara, one of the most skilled and agile running backs in the NFL. While he has failed to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, Kamara is still a matchup nightmare due to his added receiving threat.
Kamara has hit at least 1,500 scrimmage yards in three of his first four NFL seasons. On top of this, he has shown he can get in the endzone, as he recorded 21 total touchdowns last season. Six of those came in an unbelievable Christmas day effort against the Vikings.
Behind Kamara sits one of the most talented backups in the league in Latavius Murray. In two seasons with the Saints, Murray has gained at least 600 yards in each and has 11 total touchdowns. While Murray isn’t always as flashy as Kamara, the Saints’ ground game doesn’t waiver much when he has to come in the game. He also still manages to get a good amount of touches despite Kamara’s greatness.
It’s more of a duo in New Orleans than most people think, and this pair is just short of the top spot on my list.
#1 – Cleveland Browns
Running Backs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson
Of course, the number one spot on this list has to go to the Browns with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Behind Derrick Henry, Chubb has been the best power back in the league. In 2019, his last fully healthy season, he rushed for nearly 1,500 yards. This past season, despite some injury issues, he was still able to notch a career-high 12 touchdowns with his physicality.
Kareem Hunt, on the other hand, is the perfect counterpart to Nick Chubb, as he is a great receiving back. He uses his speed and agility to shred defenses on third down. Last season, Hunt had 1,145 scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. He was the X-Factor of the Browns offense in my opinion.
Chubb and Hunt are the perfect pairings of running backs. And, behind that nasty (the good nasty) Cleveland offensive line, they seem unstoppable.