2019 NFL Starting Running Back Rankings
Some of these guys are literally carrying their team to the playoffs!
We’re inching closer to the 2019 NFL playoffs and we’ve seen plenty of evidence for what all 32 NFL teams are truly capable of this season. 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 at the moment!
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. All NFL stats used in our rankings come from Pro Football Reference.
Which starting running back has looked the best so far this season?
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 started a single game as of publication and has a dismal stat line of zero touchdowns and only 15.9 rushing yards per game. Good thing Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a career year or the team would be hurting on offense.
31. 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 start of 2019, and they have nothing to show for all that indecision. Second-year back Mark Walton didn’t start a single game in 2018 as a backup in Cincinnati, and in his four games as a starter so far in Miami, he’s averaged less than 30 rushing yards per outing. In his short career as an NFL running back, Walton has yet to score a rushing touchdown.
30. 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 eight games he’s played in during this season, Williams has averaged less than 38 rushing yards per game and has only run for three scores.
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.
29. Ronald Jones II — Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is another team that has seen its rushing game in flux during the 2019 slate. After starting all 16 games for the team in 2018, Peyton Barber was replaced as the lead back about halfway through this season, with Ronald Jones II taking over. In his three games as the Bucs starter so far, Jones has given the team slightly more yards than Barber — 42.3 rushing yards per game versus 32 — and has found the end zone four times.
28. Sony Michel — New England Patriots
The Patriots are once again one of the best teams in football, but their ground game has been well below average. Sony Michel was monstrous during the team’s Super Bowl run in 2018, but his numbers through 10 games in 2019 have been awful. He’s chipping in just 31.5 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. We’ll see if Michel once again becomes a freak in the postseason.
27. 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 58 rushing yards per game. Fans in Washington are just waiting to see if Derrius Guice can stay healthy long enough to take over the job from Peterson full time.
26. David Montgomery — Chicago Bears
The Bears have three primary running 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 coming into the season and he hasn’t exceeded them. So far during his first season, Montgomery has averaged less than 50 rushing yards per game on a dismal 3.5 yards per attempt through 10 contests.
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 52 rushing yards per game through 10 winless contests, and he’s found the end zone only once on the ground. Overall, the Bengals have one of the NFL’s worst rushing attacks so far in 2019, averaging slightly more than 80 yards per game as a unit, with Mixon providing the majority of that meager total.
24. 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 with him in 2019. Freeman has been awful since coming back from injury, contributing a mere 41.2 rushing yards per game and 3.5 yards per attempt through nine games, both of which would be career lows since he became Atlanta’s starter in 2015.
The fact that Freeman has zero rushing touchdowns through nine games is even more worrying, meaning he hasn’t run a ball in for a score since the 2017 season.
23. Tevin Coleman — San Francisco 49ers
Former Falcons rusher Tevin Coleman is at the top of the 49ers depth chart, but he’s been splitting carries with Matt Breida all year and it’s led to one of the league’s best running attacks. The team currently sits at second in the league in rushing yards per game — averaging nearly 150 yards as a unit — and Coleman has helped the offense but his numbers are pedestrian on their own. In the eight games in which he’s played, Coleman has given San Francisco just 51.1 rushing yards per game on 3.9 yards per touch.
22. Devin Singletary — 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 — but he’s since relinquished that job to rookie Devin Singletary. In three games as the team’s starter, Singletary has provided a spark, giving the team 6.1 yards per carry, which is the highest mark of anyone on this list. It’s a small sample size, but the 71 total yards he’s giving the team per game make him an exciting find for Bills fans as the team looks for a playoff berth.
21. Kenyan Drake — Arizona Cardinals
Former All-Pro rusher David Johnson has been hampered by injuries and a changing offensive scheme during the 2018 season, and he lost his role as the Cardinals’ starter about halfway through 2019. He was replaced atop the depth chart by Kenyan Drake, who was traded from Miami and has looked impressive in a red jersey so far.
In his three games starting for Arizona, Drake has averaged more than 94 total yards per game, including 70.7 yards on the ground. He’s averaging 4.4 yards per touch on the season but has bumped that number up to 5.2 in his time in the desert. He’s been a nice compliment for run-happy quarterback Kyler Murray.
20. 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 more average than he did during his breakout season. Conner’s yards-per-game average is down to 48.8 from 74.8, and he’s only given the team four scores on the ground through the eight games in which he’s played. With injuries to quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph, the Steelers have leaned on Conner a lot, and he’s struggled to gain 3.8 yards per carry.
19. Jordan Howard — Philadelphia Eagles
The Chicago Bears may be wishing they still had Jordan Howard on the payroll but Eagles fans, meanwhile, are still waiting on him to really dazzle them. Through the nine games in which he’s played in 2019, Howard is rushing for 58.3 yards per game, which isn’t all that great, but the fact that he’s found the end zone seven times total is a reason to celebrate. The former Pro Bowler has been battling a shoulder injury recently but hopefully his best days in a green jersey are yet to come.
18. Melvin Gordon — Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have been one of the biggest disappointments 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 yet to reach full power. Through six games played, Gordon is averaging 50 rushing yards per game on just 3.5 yards per carry. He’s been splitting touches with Austin Ekeler, who is actually the team’s leading rusher through 10 games, which also hasn’t helped Gordon’s overall line.
Either way, our prediction for the Chargers to win the Super Bowl isn’t looking so good right now.
17. Le’Veon Bell — New York Jets
The entire New York Jets offense has looked miserable in 2019 and that surprisingly includes Le’Veon Bell. The former two-time All-Pro rusher has been picking up just 3.2 yards per carry and less than 51 yards per game through 10 contests — both easily career lows. On top of that, he’s only scored three touchdowns despite more than 160 touches so far, helping ensure that the Jets have one of the worst rushing attacks in football this season. The 30.9 receiving yards he’s contributed help a bit but Bell’s comeback has so far been a bust.
16. Phillip Lindsay — Denver Broncos
Phillip Lindsay’s numbers have been hampered by a tandem backfield, but he’s Denver’s top rusher through 10 games in 2019. Royce Freeman has been getting nearly as many touches as Lindsay, but the latter has given the team 65.1 ground yards per game on 4.9 yards per attempt. Unfortunately, the Broncos have been touchdown-challenged so far, giving Lindsay just five scores on the ground in 10 games.
15. Todd Gurley — Los Angeles Rams
We ranked Todd Gurley at the top of this list last season and he ended up having 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 about 60 from where it was in 2018. He’s giving the Rams just over 58.3 rushing yards per game this season, which would be close to his career low if it keeps up. He has been responsible for seven rushing touchdowns through nine games, but that’s down sharply from the league-leading 15 he contributed during the Rams Super Bowl season.
14. Mark Ingram — Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens have the league’s best rushing attack through 10 games of 2019 — after being the league’s 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 — and would be near the top of this list if we were counting him as a rusher — but Mark Ingram has proven to be a brilliant addition to their ground game.
Ingram’s overall production is down a bit from his time in New Orleans, but he’s still giving Baltimore all they need, with 66.7 rushing yards per game on 4.9 yards per touch. The eight rushing touchdowns he’s contributed are the team’s most, and the fact that he’s only fumbled twice after 10 games is much appreciated by Ravens fans.
13. Carlos Hyde — Houston Texans
The Texans traded for Carlos Hyde just before the 2019 season started, and it’s a trade the Chiefs might like to have back. The journeyman rusher has been averaging nearly 77 yards on the ground per game for Houston through 10 games. He hasn’t been scoring many touchdowns — only four so far — 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, despite playing virtually no role in the passing game.
12. 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 several starts already and expected to miss more after hand surgery, but he’s still given the team consistent production through 10 games played. In that span, Mack has rushed for 86.2 yards per game on an average of 4.5 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.
11. 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 some games in 2019 so far, due to injuries, which has dampened his sophomore season a bit. Barkley is contributing more than 94 total yards to the Giants every game. However, it’s hard not to be disappointed when you see that his yards-per-carry average of 4.0 is down a full yard from last season, and that he’s only scored three times through seven games played.
10. Alvin Kamara — New Orleans Saints
Injuries have dampened what was expected to be a tremendous year for Alvin Kamara, forcing him to miss 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 eight games in which he’s played so far. He’s averaging 59 rushing yards per game, which is a career high, and his 46.6 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.
9. Aaron Jones — Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones has been a touchdown machine so far in 2019, helping the Packers put together an exciting offense. Through 10 games, he’s averaged more than one rushing touchdown every time out, giving him a league-leading 11 scores on the ground. He’s also scored three times through the air, giving him 14 total touchdowns on the year. On top of that, Jones is averaging about 94 total yards every game, including nearly 60 on the ground.
8. Derrick Henry — Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry finished the 2018 season as the hottest running back in football, and he’s been stellar again during the 2019 slate. The Titans rusher is contributing 83.2 rushing yards per game — and just over 100 total yards per game — through 10 games. He’s also given the team 10 total touchdowns so far. His average of 12.8 yards per catch leads all rushers on this list. Henry remains a major bright spot for the often-confounding Titans.
7. 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 10 games of the 2019 slate, giving the Seahawks 85.3 rushing yards per game and 18.9 receiving yards per game, both of which are career highs. He’s only given the team four rushing touchdowns, but it hasn’t kept his team from being one of the best in the NFC. Well, that and the fact that they have arguably the best quarterback in football this season.
6. Leonard Fournette — Jacksonville Jaguars
Through 10 games of his third NFL season, Leonard Fournette is looking like the running back many thought he could become. His major stats are stellar, including his averages of 85.4 rushing yards per game on 4.7 yards per carry and 32.9 receiving yards per game. The most surprising number is that Fournette has only tallied one touchdown all season, which seems like a huge waste of his contributions.
5. Josh Jacobs — Oakland Raiders
Josh Jacobs showed what he’s capable of during his three-year college career at Alabama — which was plenty to get Raiders fans excited — and he’s been living up to that billing during his rookie NFL campaign. Helping the Raiders become a surprising playoff contender, Jacobs ranks among the league’s top rushers by contributing 92.3 rushing yards per game through 10 starts. When you include his 14.4 receiving yards per game, he’s giving Oakland more than 100 total yards every time he suits up. There can be no question that Jacobs is a star in the making who could top this list in years to come.
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 10 games this season, Elliott’s average of 83.3 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 also giving the Cowboys a career-low 22 receiving yards per game, but his seven rushing touchdowns so far in 2019 already tops his total number from a season ago.
3. 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 10 games in 2019, Chubb is averaging a stellar 101.1 rushing yards per game, which is just shy of the league’s highest mark. Former Chiefs rusher Kareem Hunt has been stealing carries from Chubb in the past couple games, but the latter player has already done plenty to stake his claim as the Browns starter, even if his six touchdowns could use a boost.
2. Dalvin Cook — Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook has bounced back in a huge way in 2019, after a terrible campaign last season, giving Minnesota arguably the best ground game in the NFC through 11 games. He’s leading the league in rushing touchdowns, with 11, and total rushing yards so far. His average of 92.5 rushing yards per game and 41.4 receiving yards per game make him as valuable as any single player on the field this season. Put simply, 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 league-leading rushing average of 105.9 yards per game weren’t enough, he’s also giving the Panthers more than 51 yards per game as a receiver, making him the game’s most dangerous dual-threat rusher. The 14 total touchdowns, including a league-high 11 on the ground, make him basically the entire Panthers offense, especially with Cam Newton being sidelined by injuries again this year.
Between his average of 5.3 yards per carry and 8.8 yards per catch, McCaffrey is giving the team more than seven yards every time the ball goes in his direction this season.