Ideas

Ranking The NFL’s Starting Running Backs For The 2019 Season

Some of these guys have really separated themselves from the pack!

Getty Images | Chris Graythen

Football season is in full swing and we’ve seen what all 32 NFL teams are truly capable of during the 2019 schedule. Speaking of which, if you want to see our prediction for every team’s season, read those here … although our top pick is looking a little shaky as of now!

We’ve also already ranked every team’s starting quarterback, and now we’re turning our attention to the men standing behind them in the backfield. Plenty of faces have changed since last year’s rankings, but the guy we picked as the league’s best in 2018 ended up leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns and helping his team make it to the Super Bowl.

All NFL stats used in our rankings come from Pro Football Reference and the rusher we are choosing is the one listed at the top of the team’s depth chart as of week nine of the 2019 slate. Which running back looks the best so far this year?

32. Ty Johnson — Detroit Lions


The Lions were leaning heavily on Kerryon Johnson as their leading running back through six games in 2019 but a knee injury ended his year prematurely. The team currently has rookie Ty Johnson listed at the top of the depth chart and the book on him is pretty short so far. He’s only gotten 30 touches through seven games, giving him a dismal line of zero touchdowns and only 15.4 rushing yards per game. Even Kerryon Johnson was barely topping 50 yards per game so expectations of what Ty Johnson can do are low as of week nine.

31. Damien Williams — Kansas City Chiefs


The Chiefs took quite a tumble this year in terms of the shape of their running attack, after cutting Kareem Hunt following his assault of a woman last year. We had Hunt ranked third overall heading into the 2018 season, and now we’ve got the team’s rushing attack ranked nearly last during 2019 with Damien Williams filling the void. Through the six games he’s played in during this season, Williams has earned only 100 total rushing yards and three total touchdowns.

The Chiefs also have LeSean McCoy listed as a backup to Williams, although he’s been getting more action on the field in recent games.

30. Mark Walton — Miami Dolphins


The Dolphins are a complete mess and that goes for their backfield as well. The team has had three different rushers listed at the top of its depth chart since the star of 2019 and they have nothing to show for all that indecision. Second-year back Mark Walton recently jumped Kalen Ballage as the team’s starter and initial starter Kenyan Drake has been traded.

Walton didn’t start a single game in 2018 as a backup in Cincinnati and in his three games as a starter so far in Miami, he’s averaged less than 30 yards per outing. In 20 games total as an NFL running back, Walton has yet to score a rushing touchdown, but he’s scored four as a receiver, showing he’s at least got good hands. The entire Dolphins squad is in shambles this year so we aren’t expecting much from Walton or anyone wearing the aqua jerseys.

29. Peyton Barber — Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Bucs rusher Peyton Barber finds himself moving up — just two spots, but still — on this year’s list.

He started all 16 games in 2018, which itself is worth celebrating at running back, but his numbers were pretty lackluster. So far, 2019 has been the same story, with Barber managing to stay healthy but not contribute much to the bottom line. He’s averaged just 37.4 yards per game through seven outings and has only found the end zone three times. Barber has been splitting touches almost evenly with Ronald Jones and he’s been getting outpaced.

28. Devonta Freeman — Atlanta Falcons


The Falcons were abysmal when it came to running the ball in 2018, finishing with the league’s sixth-worst total on the ground. It seemed to prove how valuable Devonta Freeman was, since he missed 14 games that season, but the team looks even worse through eight games in 2019. Freeman has been awful since coming back from injury, contributing a mere 41.6 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per attempt, both of which would be career lows since he became Atlanta’s starter in 2015. The fact that Freeman has zero rushing touchdowns through eight games is even more worrying, meaning he hasn’t run a ball in since the 2017 season.

27. David Montgomery — Chicago Bears


The Bears undoubtedly have a solid defense but their rushing game is still a work in progress. The team has three primary backs, with David Montgomery listed as the starter while Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen are also getting touches. Montgomery is a rookie who was drafted by Chicago in the third round of the 2019 draft, so expectations for him weren’t sky-high. So far during his first season, Montgomery has averaged just north of 52 rushing yards per game on 3.7 yards per attempt. He’s only found the end zone three times but those are Chicago’s only three rushing TDs through seven games.

26. James Conner — Pittsburgh Steelers


Like many in the media, we buried James Conner last year, and he proved us wrong. However, in 2019, he’s looked much more average than he did last season. Conner’s yards-per-game average is down to 54.3 from 74.8 and he’s only given the team four scores on the ground through seven games. With injuries to quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, the Steelers have leaned on Conner a lot and he’s struggled to gain 3.9 yards per carry.

25. Joe Mixon — Cincinnati Bengals


To be fair to Joe Mixon, the entire Bengals roster looks atrocious in 2019, so he’s far from alone in being disappointing. The third-year back is only giving the team 40 rushing yards per game through eight contests and he hasn’t found the end zone once on the ground. In fact, quarterback Andy Dalton is the only Bengals player with a rushing touchdown through the halfway point of the season. Overall, the Bengals have the NFL’s worst rushing attack so far in 2019, averaging less than 60 yards per game as a unit.

24. Adrian Peterson — Washington Redskins


At 34 years old, Adrian Peterson has more than a decade on some of the guys on this list and it may finally be starting to show. The Redskins look terrible in 2019 overall and Peterson’s production has slipped a bit from his impressive 2018 season. Through eight games, Peterson has scored just once and is averaging less than four yards every time he touches the ball. Fans in Washington are just waiting to see what Derrius Guice can do as the team’s lead rusher once his second knee injury heals.

23. David Johnson — Arizona Cardinals


Former All-Pro rusher David Johnson has been hampered by injuries and a changing offensive scheme during the 2018 season. After a decent 2018, his yards-per-game average is down by nearly 16, at 42.9 yards per game through seven games in 2019. Johnson has seen many snaps go to his backup, Chase Edmonds, and his run-happy quarterback, Kyler Murray, each of whom have nearly matched his total for rushing yards. Add that to the fact that he’s only chipped in two rushing scores, which matches Murray and is fewer than Edmonds, and it’s been a disappointing year for him.

22. Jordan Howard — Philadelphia Eagles


Former Pro Bowler Jordan Howard recently took over starting duties from rookie rusher Miles Sanders and Eagles fans are still waiting for him to really dazzle them. He’s had two games of at least 80 yards rushing through eight contests so far, giving him an average of 55.4 yards per game at the mid-way point. Howard has been able to find the end zone in four games, though, contributing five rushing touchdowns to the team’s ledger so far. The Bears might be wishing they still had him on the payroll.

21. Sony Michel — New England Patriots


The Patriots are once again the best team in football, as of week nine, but their ground game has been below average. Sony Michel was monstrous during the team’s Super Bowl run in 2018 but his numbers through eight games in 2019 have been middling at best. He’s chipping in less than 60 rushing yards per game on a dismal 3.3 yards per carry, taking his averages down from last year, when they weren’t that good to begin with. However, the team has plenty of other weapons, so they haven’t needed any more than Michel has been able to provide.

20. Frank Gore — Buffalo Bills


After the Bills surprised many by releasing LeSean McCoy before the 2019 season, veteran Frank Gore stepped up as the team’s starter. He’s basically an ageless wonder at 36 years old, especially playing a position that typically burns guys out before they hit 30.

Gore’s production for the Bills has helped give them one of the AFC’s best records through seven games. He’s racked up more than 400 rushing yards in seven games played, including 60.3 yards per game and an impressive 4.4 yards-per-carry average. He’s only scored twice, despite those solid numbers, but that’s two more rushing touchdowns than he scored in 2018.

19. Melvin Gordon — Los Angeles Chargers


The Chargers have been likely the biggest disappointment in the entire league in 2019 and Melvin Gordon bears his share of the blame. He sat out the first four games of the season during a contract dispute and since resuming his role as the team’s starting back, he’s been anything but great. Through four games played, Gordon is averaging a puny 28 rushing yards per game on 2.5 yards per carry. He’s been splitting touches with Austin Ekeler, who is actually the team’s leading rusher through eight games, which also hasn’t helped his overall line.

Either way, our high hopes for the Chargers aren’t looking so good.

18. Phillip Lindsay — Denver Broncos


Phillip Lindsay’s numbers have been hampered by a tandem backfield but he’s Denver’s top rusher through eight games in 2019. Royce Freeman has been getting nearly as many touches as Lindsay, but the latter has given the team 61.5 ground yards per game on 4.5 yards per attempt. Unfortunately, the Broncos have been touchdown-challenged so far, giving Lindsay just four scores on the ground at the mid-way mark.

17. Aaron Jones — Green Bay Packers


For a truly dull Packers offense in 2018, Aaron Jones started eight games, but he’s proven to be a dependable part of the team’s exciting style in 2019. He’s earning nearly 60 rushing yards per game through eight contests so far and has averaged a rushing touchdown for every one of them. His three additional receiving touchdowns make Jones one of the top scorers of 2019 so far. Before the season started, Jones reportedly cut his body fat in half, to just 5.3 percent, so that slimmer figure may be helping his production.

16. Carlos Hyde — Houston Texans


The Texans traded for Carlos Hyde just before the 2019 season started and it’s one the Chiefs might like to have back. The journeyman rusher has been averaging nearly 70 yards on the ground per game for Houston at the halfway point of the season. He hasn’t been scoring many touchdowns — only three through eight games — but when you play with a quarterback as talented as Deshaun Watson, the team doesn’t need your points as desperately. Watson and fellow running back Duke Johnson have encroached on Hyde’s overall numbers but he’s looked good so far.

15. Todd Gurley — Los Angeles Rams


We ranked Todd Gurley at the top of this list last season and he had another brilliant season, winding up a Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection. The 2019 slate has been sluggish for him, however, with his total yards-per-game average down by nearly 70 from where it was in 2018. He’s giving the Rams just over 50.7 yards per game this season, which would be his career low if it keeps up. He has been responsible for six rushing touchdowns but that’s down sharply from the league-leading 15 he gave them during the Rams Super Bowl season.

14. Tevin Coleman — San Francisco 49ers


Former Falcons rusher Tevin Coleman is at the top of the 49ers depth chart as of week nine but he’s been splitting carries with Matt Breida all year and its led to one of the league’s best running attacks. The team currently sits at third in the league in rushing yards per game and Coleman has done plenty to make that possible.

In the five games in which he’s played, Coleman has given San Francisco 66.4 rushing yards per game on 4.7 yards per touch. He’s also given the team eight total touchdowns, including five on the ground, making him a fantasy football stud so far on an undefeated team.

13. Derrick Henry — Tennessee Titans


Derrick Henry finished the 2018 season as the hottest running back in football but he’s cooled slightly during the 2019 slate. The Titans rusher is contributing 72.6 rushing yards per game — and just under 90 total yards per game — through eight games, along with seven total touchdowns. Henry’s yards-per-carry line is down more than a full yard from last season, however, as he’s only getting 3.8 yards when he touches the ball so far this season.

12. Mark Ingram — Baltimore Ravens


The Ravens have the league’s best rushing attack through seven games of 2019 — after posting the second best in 2018 — but much of that was due to quarterback Lamar Jackson. Once again, Jackson is the team’s top rusher so far this season but Mark Ingram has proven to be a brilliant addition to the team’s ground game.

Ingram’s overall production is down a bit from his time in New Orleans but he’s still giving Baltimore 67.1 rushing yards per game on 4.7 yards per touch. The seven rushing touchdowns he’s contributed are the team’s most and the fact that he’s only fumbled once as of week nine is much appreciated by Ravens fans.

11. Le’Veon Bell — New York Jets


The entire New York Jets offense has looked miserable in 2019 and that includes Le’Veon Bell. The former two-time All-Pro rusher has been picking up just 3.2 yards per carry and less than 50 yards pa game through seven games — both easily career lows. On top of that, he’s only scored a single rushing touchdown despite more than 100 touches so far, helping ensure that the Jets have one of the worst rushing attacks in football as of week nine. Bell’s comeback has been a bust so far despite sky-high expectations.

10. Chris Carson — Seattle Seahawks


In his first season as a full-time NFL starter, Chris Carson helped make the Seahawks the best rushing team in the NFL. He started 14 games last year, coming up with 1,151 rushing yards on 82.2 per game. He’s kept up that pace through half of the 2019 slate, giving the Seahawks 82.4 yards per game on 4.1 yards per carry. He’s only given the team three rushing touchdowns through eight games, which is matched by quarterback Russell Wilson, but Carson is a major reason the team is still considered one of the best of the NFC.

9. Marlon Mack — Indianapolis Colts


In his first season as a starter, Marlon Mack proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Colts, helping the team earn a playoff berth. In the 12 games he played in 2018 — 10 of which he started — Mack contributed more than 75 yards per game on the ground on 4.7 yards per carry. He’s been dinged up a bit in 2019, missing two starts, but he’s still given the team consistent production. Through seven games played, Mack has rushed for 84.3 yards per game on an average of 4.3 yards per touch. The Colts rank in the bottom half of the league for rushing scores but those yards from Mack have helped them lead the AFC South in wins so far.

8. Josh Jacobs — Oakland Raiders


Josh Jacobs showed what he’s capable of during his three-year college career at Alabama — and it was plenty to get Raiders fans excited — and he’s been living up to that billing during his rookie NFL campaign. While the Raiders themselves look pretty lackluster, Jacobs ranks among the league’s top rushers with 88.6 rushing yards per game. When you include his 14.6 receiving yards per game, he’s giving Oakland more than 100 total yards every time he suits up, through seven games. The fact that he only has four touchdowns in that span dampens the effect a bit but Jacobs is still a star in the making.

7. Leonard Fournette — Jacksonville Jaguars


Through eight games of his third NFL season, Leonard Fournette is looking like the running back many thought he could become. His major stats are easily the best they’ve ever been, including his averages of 98.9 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. The surprising number is that Fournette has only tallied one touchdown all season, which is Jacksonville’s only rushing score of the 2019. It hasn’t been for lack of trying, however, as Fournette has attempted more rushes than any other back as of week nine.

6. Nick Chubb — Cleveland Browns


In his rookie season, Nick Chubb played in all 16 games but only got to start in nine. He’s taken over the job full-time in 2019 and has been the brightest spot of the team’s season by far. Through seven games in 2019, Chubb is averaging a ridiculous 105.4 rushing yards per game, which is the league’s highest mark. His six rushing touchdowns are also much appreciated but his three fumbles in the past two games aren’t helping a team that has been turning the ball over way too much already.

Former Chiefs rusher Kareem Hunt will be eligible to play for the Browns after week nine, but it seems that Chubb has more than proven his worth at the top of the depth chart.

5. Alvin Kamara — New Orleans Saints


Injuries have dampened what was expected to be a tremendous year for Alvin Kamara, forcing him to miss at least two games so far for the Saints. When he’s been on the field in 2019, Kamara has looked like his old self, providing more than 100 total yards per game to the team’s offense in six games so far. He’s averaging 62.2 rushing yards per game, which is a career high, and 46 receiving yards per game are nearly par for his career. The most disappointing thing about Kamara’s season is that he’s only scored twice, compared to finding pay dirt 18 times last season.

4. Ezekiel Elliott — Dallas Cowboys


Ezekiel Elliott has given us more than enough evidence of being arguably the league’s best pure rusher in the past few seasons but his numbers have slipped a bit in 2019. Through seven games this season, Elliott’s average of 86 rushing yards per game is the worst of his career — but he was incredible for the previous three seasons so it’s tough to compare anything to that level of performance. He’s still giving the team more than 25 receiving yards per game as well and his six rushing touchdowns so far in 2019 already matches his total number from a season ago.

3. Saquon Barkley — New York Giants


The breakout star of 2018, Giants rusher Saquon Barkley was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year for his heroics in the Giants backfield. He’s missed three games in 2019 so far, due to injuries, which has dampened his sophomore season a bit but not totally. Barkley is still contributing more than 100 total yards to the Giants every game, including 74.6 on the ground. His average of 5.0 yards per carry matches what he did during that amazing rookie campaign even if his low scoring output is below pace.

2. Dalvin Cook — Minnesota Vikings


Dalvin Cook has bounced back in a huge way in 2019, after a terrible campaign last season, giving Minnesota the best ground game in the NFC through eight games. He’s leading the league in rushing touchdowns, with nine, and total rushing yards so far. His average of 102.9 rushing yards per game would be a career-best by far if he can keep it up for eight more weeks and the same goes for his average of 5.3 yards per carry. Cook has been nothing short of brilliant in 2019 so far.

1. Christian McCaffrey — Carolina Panthers


Christian McCaffrey continues to amaze us as a human highlight reel and, in our opinion, the best back in the game. If his rushing average of 105 yards per game weren’t enough, he’s also giving the Panthers 49 yards per game as a receiver, making him the game’s most dangerous dual-threat rusher. The 10 total touchdowns, including eight on the ground, rank him right at the top of the league as well. With Cam Newton being sidelined by injuries again this year, McCaffrey has more than pulled his share of the load for the Panthers.