The running back position isn't considered to be as important in the modern, pass-happy NFL. However, some running backs still remain the center of their teams' offenses, and depth is more important than ever with rampant injuries. With three months until the start of the 2020 season, we rank the NFL backfields from 1-32.
No team in the NFL sports a 1-2 combo more talented than the Browns have with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Chubb, a second-round pick from 2018, has averaged 5.1 yards per carry through two seasons and rushed for nearly 1,500 yards last year. Hunt served as a third-down back during the second half of 2019 after an eight-game suspension, but he led the NFL in rushing during his rookie season with the Chiefs in 2017 and has averaged 4.7 yards per carry during his three seasons while also showing great ability as a receiver.
You probably can't name Christian McCaffrey's backup, but that says as much about the star running back's elite play and durability as it does the Panthers' lack of depth. The star back led the NFL with 403 touches and 2,392 yards from scrimmage last season and has easily established himself as the most durable running back in the game. For what it's worth, Reggie Bonnafon and Jordan Scarlett are McCaffrey's primary backups going into 2020.
No team has better depth from top to bottom at running back than Baltimore. Mark Ingram showed that he had plenty left last year at age 30 after signing in free agency, with 5.0 yards per carry and 1,265 yards from scrimmage. Gus Edwards is limited in his skill set but is a perfect fit as a downhill-running backup, averaging 5.3 yards per carry through two seasons. The Ravens drafted former Ohio State star J.K. Dobbins in the second round and still have 2019 fourth rounder Justice Hill, who showed great burst in his rookie season.
There isn't a more consistent running back over the last four seasons than Ezekiel Elliott. He's averaged 96.5 rushing yards per game and rushed for 5,405 yards total. Elliott's durability hasn't necessitated the team's backups to get much work, but Tony Pollard looked fast in his rookie season while averaging 5.3 yards per carry in 86 totes.
Saquon Barkley has shown why he was the second overall pick in the 2018 draft, leading the NFL in his rookie season with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and adding 1,441 yards in 13 games last year. New York still receives plenty of criticism for selecting Barkley instead of the available quarterbacks in the draft, but Barkley has shown he can impact the game in multiple ways on offense. The Giants improved their depth this offseason by signing Dion Lewis and also still have former Clemson star Wayne Gallman, though he's struggled with only 4.0 yards per carry over three seasons.
No running back in football scares defensive players more than the 6-foot-3 Derrick Henry, who has elite speed and a devastating stiff arm. He led the NFL in carries (303), rushing yards (1,540) and rushing touchdowns (16) last year, his first as a full-time starter. Third-round pick Darrynton Evans is set to replace Dion Lewis as the team's change of pace back.
There's little debate that Dalvin Cook is an elite running back when he's on the field, but durability issues have limited him in three seasons. Over that time, he's appeared in only 29 regular season games, but he did have 1,654 yards from scrimmage in 14 games last season. 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison had a fine rookie season with 4.6 yards per carry, and the bottom of the roster has experience between Mike Boone and Ameer Abdullah.
Alvin Kamara was supposed to step into the bell cow role last season with the departure of Mark Ingram, but that didn't quite come to fruition. He still had 252 touches in 14 games but wasn't quite the same as his first two seasons, averaging 5.3 yards per touch. Meanwhile, Latavius Murray stepped in to have a solid year with 4.4 yards per carry, but there was still a clear difference when he was on the field compared to Kamara. The Saints depth lower on the roster is strong with Ty Montgomery and Dwayne Washington.
The Seahawks' running game was elite for most of last season until they lost their top two backs, Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny, to injuries. Carson should be ready for the start of 2020 and has been terrific over the last two years with 82 rushing yards per game and nearly 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year. Penny's status after a knee injury is more shaky, which is likely why the team added former Texans starter Carlos Hyde. The team also spent a fourth-round pick on DeeJay Dallas and still has 2019 draftee Travis Homer.
Fans were frustrated by Aaron Jones' lack of regular playing time until head coach Matt LaFleur's arrival last year. Starting all 16 regular-season games, Jones had 1,558 yards from scrimmage and a league-leading 19 touchdowns. He's also averaged 5.0 yards per carry cumulatively over three seasons. Fellow 2017 draftee Jamaal Williams remains on the roster, and the Packers added A.J. Dillon, a powerful runner out of Boston College, in the second round.
Josh Jacobs showed himself to be a potential star in his rookie season, with 1,316 yards from scrimmage and 4.8 yards per carry in 13 games. The Raiders coaching staff also really likes third down back Jalen Richard, and rookie Lynn Bowden has a chance to be a playmaker as he moves from quarterback and wideout to running back. Former Bronco Devontae Booker is also in the mix.
Damien Williams has been injury prone but healthy when it's mattered over K.C.'s last two playoff runs, with 540 yards from scrimmage in five games. He's shown capable but will now be challenged by first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, whose versatility in the passing game is a perfect fit for Andy Reid's offense. The team also liked what it saw out of 2019 sixth-rounder Darwin Thompson last season, and Darrel Williams also remains on the roster.
Apparently not satisfied with 2018 third-round pick Royce Freeman, the Broncos signed former Charger Melvin Gordon this offseason. He's had a productive but inconsistent career so far and joins with back-to-back 1,000 yard rusher Phillip Lindsay to make a strong one-two punch. It will be interesting to see which version of Gordon shows up, as he's averaged less than 4 yards per carry in every season but 2018, when he had 5.1 yards per carry in the Chargers backfield.
Joe Mixon has consecutive 1,100 yard rushing seasons for poor Bengals offenses, and he's also been a solid receiver. Cincinnati also still has Giovani Bernard, who has served in various backfield roles since 2013. The running back depth remains one of Cincinnati's strengths, with 2019 draftees Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson adding upside at the bottom of the roster.
Kenyan Drake didn't fully realize his potential until he was traded from Miami to Arizona last season. He started eight games with the Cardinals, rushing for 643 yards and eight touchdowns and now has back-to-back 1,000 yards-from-scrimmage seasons. Chase Edmonds also showed strong flashes in spot starts last season, which is probably one reason the team felt comfortable trading David Johnson this offseason. Former Arizona State star Eno Benjamin moved down the road after the Cardinals drafted him in the seventh round.
Miles Sanders very well could be a star in the making. The 2019 first-round pick had an excellent rookie season with 1,327 yards from scrimmage and 5.8 yards per touch. He's expected to get more work this season but has solid support from speedy change-of-pace back Boston Scott and receiving back Corey Clement.
The Colts have an interesting one-two punch heading into 2020 with Marlon Mack and rookie second-round pick Jonathan Taylor. Mack has struggled to stay healthy while carrying the load over the last two seasons, but he did have his first 1,000 yard rushing season in 2019 while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Taylor blew away the combine after a historic career at Wisconsin. The depth behind that pair is also still good, with receiving specialist Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins.
The Bills are ready to unleash 2019 third-round pick Devin Singletary after letting Frank Gore walk in the offseason. Singletary is undersized but averaged 5.1 yards per carry in his rookie season, rushing for 775 yards in only 12 games. Bigger back Zack Moss could be a nice complement after showing versatility and production at Utah. Former Alabama star T.J. Yeldon's NFL career hasn't gone as well as planned, but he has receiving ability and experience.
The Jets spent big money on Le'Veon Bell last offseason, but so far that move has come back to bite them. He averaged only 3.2 yards per carry last season, albeit behind a poor offensive line. Bell has three seasons with more than 1,800 yards from scrimmage, but the last one was in 2017. New York signed future Hall of Famer Frank Gore to give Bell some support and also spent a fourth-round pick on former Florida back Lamical Perine.
The Pats have plenty of running back depth, but they lack a bell cow. After a good rookie season, 2018 first-round pick Sony Michel saw major regression last year with only 3.7 yards per carry. 2019 third-round pick Damien Harris was terrific at Alabama but barely played in his rookie season. James White is arguably the best receiving back in the game, with 169 total receptions over the last two seasons. Rex Burkhead is extremely versatile but hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last three seasons.
The Texans seem confident in a David Johnson rebound after acquiring him from Arizona, but should they be? He fought injuries in Arizona last year and seemed to fall out of favor, finishing the season with only 130 touches. He's still one year removed from 1,386 yards from scrimmage, but running backs can fall off a cliff quickly. Duke Johnson is perhaps the league's best third down back and remained in that role behind Carlos Hyde last season despite Bill O'Brien using a third-round pick to acquire him.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has followed in the footsteps of his father, Mike, in producing great running back performances from nowhere. In 2018 it was Matt Breida, and last season speedy Raheem Mostert emerged from obscurity to average an awe-inspiring 5.6 yards per carry over 137 totes. The team also gave former Falcon Tevin Coleman big money, but he only averaged 4.0 yards per carry and had 724 yards from scrimmages in 14 games overall. Jerick McKinnon remains in the fold, but his football future is in doubt after multiple knee surgeries.
David Montgomery's rookie season was somewhat disappointing, but it should be noted that he was running behind a banged up offensive line. He had 889 yards rushing but averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. Tarik Cohen is a treat to watch with the ball in his hands, though head coach Matt Nagy has been hesitant to expose the 5-foot-6 back too much, giving him only 64 carries last season. The depth behind those two running backs is inexperienced, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the Bears made a move before the start of 2020.
Not only did the Chargers let Melvin Gordon walk in free agency this offseason, but they extended Austin Ekeler in what could be considered a big slap in the face for Gordon after he held out early last season. Ekeler was deserving, however, after recording 92 receptions and 1,550 yards from scrimmage last season. It still remains to be seen if he can carry a full workload, which is likely why the team spent a fourth-round pick on Joshua Kelley. Former Northwestern back Justin Jackson also has two years of valuable experience.
The fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, Leonard Fournette had a career year in 2019 with 1,152 yards rushing but seems to be at a crossroads in his career entering his fourth season. He's averaged a mediocre 4.0 yards per carry for his career, but Fournette's progress as a receiver with 76 catches last year does show promise. Former Redskin Chris Thompson has been a terrific third down back during his career when he's been healthy, but has proved repeatedly that he can't be relied on for too many touches. Ryquell Armstead found the field as a backup in his rookie season but averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
The Steelers thought they had the long-term replacement for Le'Veon Bell in James Conner, but his status is less clear after last season. Conner played only 10 games and averaged only 4.8 yards per touch. The team has also drafted Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell over the last two years, and while the two have shown flashes, neither looks to be starter-capable anytime soon. The wild card going into 2020 is fourth-round pick Anthony McFarland Jr., who is the speediest back of the bunch and averaged 6.7 yards per carry at Maryland.
Adrian Peterson deserves his due as one of the best running backs to ever play, but there are few teams where he would see as much playing time as he has with Washington over the last two years. He did average a respectable 4.3 yards per carry last season at age 34. The first two seasons of Derrius Guice's career have been disappointing with multiple knee issues, but he did average 5.8 yards per carry in 42 opportunities last year. Former Stanford star Bryce Love returns from a knee injury of his own after a redshirt rookie season, and former Bucs starter Peyton Barber is also in the fold. Third-round pick Antonio Gibson will make the full-time transition from wideout to running back and showed blazing speed at the combine. Third down specialist J.D. McKissic rounds out a long list of interesting names.
The Falcons moved on from Devonta Freeman after he clearly lost a step last season, but it remains to be seen if former Ram Todd Gurley is a much better alternative as he battles through an arthritic knee. Atlanta does have a lot of recent draft picks to choose from if Gurley isn't able to carry the load, with 2017 draftee Brian Hill, 2018 draft pick Ito Smith and 2019 fifth rounder Qadree Ollison.
The Rams cut Todd Gurley this offseason and go into 2020 with a trio of unproven running backs. Malcolm Brown is the more experience backup, joined by 2019 draftee Darrell Henderson and recent second-round pick Cam Akers. L.A. is hoping it has a gem in the pile, but it's hard to know until the talent is exposed on the field.
The Lions seemed upset with 2018 second-round pick Kerryon Johnson's development and inability to stay healthy, as evidenced by their drafting of second-round pick D'Andre Swift from Georgia. Swift has huge upside, if his college career is any indication. The Lions were forced to give rookies Bo Scarbrough and Ty Johnson playing time last year due to their lack of depth.
Miami desperately needed to revamp its backfield after last season and has done so by adding Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. Howard played well in a part-time role for Philly last year (4.4 yards per carry) but hasn't gotten anywhere near his rookie production from 2016, when he had 1,313 yards rushing and 5.2 yards per carry in Chicago. We're about to find out how much of Breida's production was a product of Kyle Shanahan's run-friendly scheme, as Breida has averaged 5.0 yards per carry over three seasons. The Dolphins round out their depth with Patrick Laird, Kalen Ballage and Myles Gaskin.
Two coaching staffs have seemed frustrated for 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones' development, but he did have more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage last year. He will be challenged by third-round pick Ke'Shawn Vaughn for the starting job. Dare Ogunbowale served as a third down back last season and heads into 2020 with the same role. The Bucs offense leaned on the pass last year, and it looks like it'll do the same this season with the additions of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.