Top 10 Running Backs Heading into 2020

Next up for the 2020 NFL Season Preview is the running backs. I wrote in 2019 about how cool it was to see a resurgence of the feature back to some degree. It brings me back to my childhood, which was the early and mid 2000s where nearly every franchise had a formidable feature back.

A year and a half ago, Todd Gurley was the back in football by a mile. I still pinned him as the number one guy ahead of 2019 until the knee issues proved to hinder him in the long term. They did again. Now, I don’t view him as a top 10 back until he can get back to form.

What is interesting about the current crop of backs is that most of them can easily move up 3-4 spots from where I have them.

10. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

2019 Stats: 1,137 yards, 4.1 ypc, 5 TDs / 287 rec yards, 3 TDs
2019 Rank: Unranked

The only RB on this list who I considered leaving off. Last season, I pinned Mark Ingram as the number 10 back in football. He was considered for that spot once again. There were a handful of others I considered such as Chris Carson, Leonard Fournette and Marlon Mack. However, I went with Mixon for his production on some pretty lowly rosters the last couple of seasons. Over the last two years, he has 2,300 rush yards and 17 total touchdowns. He has been one of the few consistent pieces on a very erratic offense.

9. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

2019 Stats: 1,084 yards, 4.6 ypc, 16 TDs / 49 rec, 474 yards, 3 TDs
2019 Rank: Unranked

He may be one of the most under the radar running backs in the league. In 2019, we saw what he could do with a full workload and he proved his worth amassing 1,500 plus yards from scrimmage and 19 TDs. What is most impressive is how well he has done in his yards per touch in all three years thus far. He averages 5.0 yards per carry for his career. Prior to shouldering a full workload, he averaged 5.5 ypc in each of his first two seasons. Where he really showed out this season was how much of a threat he is catching the ball out of the backfield averaging 9.7 yards per catch.

8. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

2019 Stats: 1,150 yards, 4.8 ypc, 7 TDs
2019 Rank: Unranked

Despite missing three games in his rookie season, Jacobs still cracked the century mark. Among RBs with over 200 carries, he tied for 3rd in yards per carry. He is a battering ram of a runner. I have always fancied the shorter RBs with wide frames from the time I was a kid. He fits that bill at 5’10 220 lbs. What I love most about his game is how decisive he is once he has the ball. There is not much hesitation. His average time behind the line of scrimmage is 2.67 seconds ranking him 1st among runners who reached that 200 threshold. Because of his decisiveness, that helped place him 5th in the league in yards after first contact.

7. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

2019 Stats: 797 yards, 4.7 ypc, 5 TDs / 81 rec, 533 yards, 1 TD
2019 Rank: 6th

Even though 2019 was an injury riddled let down for one of the most exciting runners in football, he isn’t falling out of the top 10 yet. I have faith he will get back on track in 2020. What I love about Kamara is his ability to make the first guy miss, whether an actual broken tackle or just getting around the pursuing defender. Interestingly enough, he finished 1st in broken tackles per attempt among all RBs despite his down year. He broke a tackle every 5.9 attempts. The second best was a tie between Damien Williams and Aaron Jones at 7.4. It reminds me so much of LT. Him being a dual threat back like LT is also where I draw the comparison. He is equally great as a receiver as he is a runner. Unfortunately, receiving is where he ultimately fell short in 2019. He wasn’t nearly as aggressive as we are used to seeing. Because of that, he went from averaging over 9.0 yards per catch to 6.6 in 2019.

6. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

2019 Stats: 1,494 yards, 5.0 ypc, 8 TDs
2019 Rank: 7th

If anyone says Hue Jackson (doubt anyone says that) should not have been fired from the Browns in 2018, I give you Nick Chubb. He wasn’t used in Jackson’s offense and once he was gone, we saw how great he can be. He has been one of the league’s best since week 7 of 2018. He was the only runner in the league who finished in the top 5 in both yards before contact and yards after contact. He led the league in broken tackles. Chubb is an absolute stud. It felt premature to put him higher than this, but he is a guy I can 100% see climbing into the top 2-3 after 2020.

5. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

2019 Stats: 1,135 yards, 4.5 ypc, 13 TDs / 53 rec, 519 yards
2019 Rank: Unranked

Health. Health. Health. He has looked like he could be one of the best RBs in the league since day one. The problem is he can’t stay healthy enough to show that. He finally played enough snaps in 2019 to show exactly how great he is. Contingent on health, he can easily rise or fall from this list in 2020, especially the latter because of the talent pool spike we’re seeing at the position. His ceiling is massive though.

4. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

2019 Stats: 1,540 yards, 5.1 ypc, 16 TDs
2019 Rank: Unranked

Want to talk about bringing back bruisers? He is the definition of one. His stiff arm is absolutely lethal. At 6’3 247 lbs…good luck. He captured his first rushing title in 2019. He also led the league in rushing TDs. He tied for the league lead in yards after contact at 3.2 compared to his less than great 1.9 yards before contact, which ranked 12th among backs with 200 carries. Part of that comes from the fact he faced 8 in the box on 35% of his carries (5th among all runners). That is what I love about his game the most because it is bred for playoff football. The weather gets colder and defenses tighten up. There is nothing more demoralizing than watching a team turn around, hand it off and know you can’t do a damn thing but watch him gain 4-6 yards every play. In five career playoff games, he has 630 yards averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

3. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

2019 Stats: 1,003 yards, 4.6 ypc, 6 TDs / 52 rec, 438 yards, 2 TDs
2019 Rank: 3rd

Another RB who battled an injury last season, that didn’t stop him from being productive in year two. He finished with another 1,000 yard season. Barkley is an absolute stud and it will take some strong convincing to say he isn’t in the top 3. In 29 career games, he has over 3,400 yards from scrimmage with 23 TDs.

2. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

2019 Stats: 1,357 yards, 4.5 ypc, 12 TDs / 54 rec, 420 yards, 2 TDs
2019 Rank: 2nd

Despite his second season where he missed 6 games due to suspension, Zeke is one of the most consistent backs in football. He has two rushing titles and finished second in yards in 2019. He is formidable as a receiver. He is a guy Dallas can rely on to feed him 20+ per game and let him do work.

1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

2019 Stats: 1,387 yards, 4.8 ypc, 15 TDs / 116 rec, 1,005 yards, 4 TDs
2019 Rank: 5th

He is decisive and quick with the ball in his hands both as a runner and receiver. He is hands down the best RB in the league right now because of it. Since taking the reins as THE guy in Carolina, he has finished with 1,000 plus yards and 100 plus receptions the last two years. He became the third player in NFL history to do that in 2018. Now, he’s done it twice, the only to do so. In 2019, he became the third player in league history to rush and receive for 1,000 yards each. The sky is the limit.

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