NFL Starting Running Backs, Ranked For The 2020 Season

The NFL season is well underway and we’ve seen what every team is capable of at this point. You can check out our updated power rankings for each team for a look at how we think they all stack up so far. But right now, let’s turn our attention to the men earning the toughest yards in the game.

Most great offenses have a gifted running back to go along with their other weapons but some current NFL teams are more blessed than others in that department. Relying heavily on stats compiled by ESPN, here’s our ranking of every starting running back in the NFL at this point in the schedule.

Updated: Oct. 27, 2020

32. Devonta Freeman — New York Giants

When Saquon Barkley tore his ACL early in the season, the Giants found themselves without their most dependable offensive weapon. The team quickly signed two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman to take over as the team’s featured back, ending his period as a free agent after he was let go by the Falcons. So far, Freeman’s tenure with New York has been a disappointment, with virtually all of his numbers being as low as they’ve been since his NFL career started in 2014. He’s picking up just 3.2 yards per carry and averaging barely over 30 rushing yards per game so far on an offense that has been pretty lackluster all the way around.

31. Justin Jackson — Los Angeles Chargers

Justin Jackson is another rusher who took over a starting job after another player’s injury. Austin Ekeler went down four games into 2020 and the former seventh-round draft pick has been the team’s lead back since then. He’s only picking up about 44 yards from scrimmage per game and has yet to score a touchdown but part of that lack of production stems from his offense’s practice of spreading the ball around. Jackson is only getting seven carries per game right now, which ranks near the bottom of all starting running backs.

30. Rex Burkhead — New England Patriots

Speaking of guys who hardly get any carries every week, veteran Rex Burkhead’s paltry numbers are partly due to his role being shared with two other guys. In addition to splitting touches with James White, the Patriots offense has been using quarterback Cam Newton as its top rusher so far this season. As a result, Burkhead is getting fewer than seven carries a game and chipping in less than 50 yards from scrimmage on average, though he has made three touchdowns so far this season.

29. Frank Gore — New York Jets

It’s hard to believe that Frank Gore is still a starting NFL rusher at 37 years old but the immortal back got the job after the Jets suddenly cut Le’Veon Bell mid-season. The future Hall of Famer is putting up career-low numbers — including in yards per carry and receiving yards per game — but the entire Jets offense is a mess right now and he’s easily the oldest player on this list. Still, Gore’s 44.3 rushing yards per game puts him above some of the others.

28. Jerick McKinnon — San Francisco 49ers

After missing the last couple of seasons with injuries, Jerick McKinnon is getting his first regular action as a starter since 2017, when he was with Minnesota. He took over the job after the 49ers depth chart was wrecked by injuries, causing Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson to sit out. McKinnon has looked pretty impressive in his limited role, picking up 4.8 yards per touch and scoring four touchdowns so far on just 6.3 carries per game, but we’ll need some more evidence to bump him up the list.

27. Mark Ingram — Baltimore Ravens

We thought there was a chance Mark Ingram could see his numbers climb a bit in 2020, since every defense in the league is focusing on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, but it’s been the opposite. Ingram has been a victim of a running game that spreads the ball pretty evenly among four players, including himself, Jackson, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins. As a result, Ingram is only averaging 37.5 rushing yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry. The three-time Pro Bowler is getting nearly half as many touches per game as he got last season.

26. D’Andre Swift — Detroit Lions

As of this writing, D’Andre Swift technically hasn’t started a game yet but he recently rose to the top of a crowded Lions depth chart at the running back position. Swift took over the role from Kerryon Johnson and has also competed with Adrian Peterson and Bo Scarbrough for touches. He’s getting an impressive 5.3 yards per carry on fewer than six rush attempts per game so far. Swift has been capable as a receiving target as well and has found the end zone five total times.

25. Myles Gaskin — Miami Dolphins

In his second year of NFL service, Myles Gaskin took over the starting job for the Dolphins over Matt Breida and Jordan Howard. Through seven weeks, he was leading the team in snaps and carries at the running back position, picking up nearly 60 yards per game on the ground. He’s yet to prove himself as much of an end zone threat despite the Dolphins offense averaging more than 26 points per game.

24. Devin Singletary — Buffalo Bills

Devin Singletary is in his first season as a full-time starting NFL running back and his production hasn’t been much to brag about so far. He’s averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and 42.7 rushing yards per game at this point in 2020. His total rushing output has nearly been matched by that of his quarterback, Josh Allen. It’s also frustrating to Bills fans that he’s only scored a single touchdown through seven games and has yet to bust off a single run of longer than 20 yards this season.

23. Mike Davis — Carolina Panthers

Journeyman Mike Davis is playing for his fourth team since 2015 and has been asked to fill some mighty big shoes in Carolina this season. An ankle injury to Christian McCaffrey — whom we ranked second overall in our preseason running back preview — has given Davis the starting job for much of 2020 so far. He’s chipping in an impressive 73.9 total yards from scrimmage per game, 40 of which is coming on the ground. Once McCaffrey is back, he’ll be relegated to the bench but his consistency could get him a shot at starting somewhere else.

22. Antonio Gibson — Washington Football Team

When Washington jettisoned Adrian Peterson right before the start of the 2020 season, it gave rookie Antonio Gibson a chance to step into the spotlight. The young rusher has four touchdowns on the season, which is a quarter of the 16 total touchdowns the whole offense has scored. He’s averaging 74 yards from scrimmage per game on 4.4 yards per carry, giving fans of this struggling franchise something to root for.

21. David Montgomery — Chicago Bears

Second-year rusher David Montgomery has been handling more receiving duties this year than he did in 2019 but his overall numbers are still a bit disappointing. He’s only had one run of more than 20 yards through seven games and has only found the end zone once from a handoff. His 3.7 yards per carry rank near the bottom of the position and aren’t helping the Bears reestablish themselves as a rushing powerhouse.

20. Darrell Henderson — Los Angeles Rams

Darrell Henderson is another second-year back putting up decent numbers that are being hindered by his offensive system. After the Rams cut Todd Gurley in the offseason, the team went to a three-headed rushing attack that features Henderson, Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown taking snaps. Henderson has had the majority of the touches, averaging 12.4 carries per game and making the most of them by gaining 4.7 yards per carry. His 58.9 rushing yards per game won’t make him a fantasy football star but he’s doing everything his teammates need him to right now.

19. David Johnson — Houston Texans

It’s been three seasons since David Johnson had an All-Pro, breakout year with the Cardinals and his production still hasn’t approached what he did in 2016. Now starting for the Texans, Johnson is contributing 79 yards from scrimmage per game. It’s a decent number but doesn’t come close to replacing the offense Houston lost by trading DeAndre Hopkins for him in the offseason.

18. Melvin Gordon — Denver Broncos

Like David Johnson, Melvin Gordon is a guy who has put up otherworldly statistics in years past but hasn’t been able to consistently give his teams that kind of output. In his first year starting for the Broncos, the former Chargers star has been a reliable scoring threat but he’s also been guilty of costly mistakes. Gordon has fumbled three times in five games to go along with the five touchdowns he’s scored. However, the 69.8 rushing yards he’s averaged per game this season is also near his career-best mark.

17. Todd Gurley — Atlanta Falcons

While Todd Gurley’s yardage output has always fluctuated a bit, he can always be counted on to score touchdowns. That has continued in his first season with the Falcons, where he was tied for the league lead with seven rushing touchdowns in seven games. One of those scores was actually a bonehead move of clock mismanagement that would end up costing his team a victory, but it still counted on his ledger. His 2020 average of 69.3 rushing yards per game is an improvement from his lackluster 2019 season but not back to the figures that made him a two-time All-Pro with the Rams.

16. Kenyan Drake — Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals offense has looked great this season and Kenyan Drake has been a regular contributor. He’s been good for more than 73 rushing yards per game and has exploded for three different runs of more than 20 yards without fumbling the ball once. Unfortunately, he’s seen his role in the passing game diminished considerably, averaging just 4.1 receiving yards per game, which is by far a career low for the dynamic back. A recent ankle injury will likely cause him to miss some time but Drake is expected to be back shortly.

15. Kareem Hunt — Cleveland Browns

The Browns have had one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL for the past couple of seasons and plenty of the credit goes to Nick Chubb. A knee injury has caused Chubb to miss some time in 2020, but Kareem Hunt has filled in admirably. The former star rusher with the Chiefs has been good for more than 80 total yards from scrimmage per game so far and has found the end zone a total of seven times. The Chubb injury could’ve sunk the Browns offense but Hunt has given them a great option that’s capable of long runs and goal-line catches.

14. Ronald Jones II — Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A big surprise for many football fans during the 2020 season has been the output of Ronald Jones for Tampa Bay. The young rusher had his role as the starter threatened when Leonard Fournette was signed in the offseason but he’s never surrendered the job. Jones has put up career-high numbers across the board, including a major increase in carries. He’s averaged 84.6 total yards from scrimmage and had a stretch of three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, helping the Buccaneers look like a dominant force.

13. Jonathan Taylor — Indianapolis Colts

When Marlon Mack got hurt early in the season, the starting rusher job in Indianapolis went to rookie Jonathan Taylor. While Mack has been a steady, if underrated back in recent years, many Colts fans were pumped to see Taylor get a chance after the brilliant college career he had at Wisconsin. In six games this year, including five as the starter, Taylor has averaged a little more than 88 total yards per game. His average of 4.1 yards per carry leaves room for improvement but he’s got the makings of a future star.

12. Chris Carson — Seattle Seahawks

Chris Carson was a machine a year ago for the Seahawks, putting up a second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and finishing only behind Derrick Henry for total first downs earned at the position. This year, his stats have been a little softer, partly because Seattle’s passing game has never been stronger. He’s giving them less than 54 rushing yards per game but that’s on a paltry 11 carries per outing. The 24.5 receiving yards he’s averaged each week are by far the most of his career and he can be relied on for a touchdown pretty much every week.

11. Josh Jacobs — Las Vegas Raiders

Josh Jacobs proved himself as a running back to watch following a stellar rookie season in 2019. So far in 2020, his numbers have dipped a bit but he’s still doing plenty to keep the Raiders offense dangerous. He’s getting a monstrous workload of 19.3 carries per game, plus enough catches to average 20.3 air yards per game, but his average of 3.4 yards per carry is one of the weakest at the position. It’s shocking that Jacobs has yet to have a run of longer than 16 yards through six games, but he’s been great at finding the end zone, scoring five times on the ground in that span.

10. Joe Mixon — Cincinnati Bengals

Coming into the 2020 season, Joe Mixon hadn’t fumbled in two years. He ended that impressive streak early in the year but has still been a great weapon for the Bengals this season. The team is feeding him the ball 19.8 times per game, which ranks near the top of the position, and he’s contributing nearly 100 total yards per outing. His rushing averages of 3.6 yards per carry and 71.3 yards per game aren’t exactly amazing but he’s playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in football.

9. James Robinson — Jacksonville Jaguars

Rookie James Robinson has to be one of the best stories to come out of the 2020 NFL season. Sure, the Jaguars look awful but this guy was signed as a free agent by the team after going undrafted and he’s been the best offensive weapon on the team. Through seven games, he was one of only seven running backs in the entire league to be averaging more than 100 total yards of offense per game. He’s scored six total touchdowns, which ranks him right at the top of the position, and is picking up 4.5 yards per carry. It looks like Jacksonville found a hidden gem in Robinson.

8. Ezekiel Elliott — Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are a complete mess right now and Ezekiel Elliott shares plenty of the burden. The three-time Pro Bowler has seen his rushing average drop every season he’s been in the league and, at 65.4 yards per game, it’s now nearly 20 yards below where it was in 2019. On top of that, he’s contracted a serious case of fumble-itis, dropping the ball five times in six games, which is just one shy of his previous career high in fumbles for a single season. Still, Elliott has found the end zone six times so far and is picking up 95.4 total yards per game, both of which rank him near the top of the running back position.

7. James Conner — Pittsburgh Steelers

Injuries caused James Conner to disappoint many Steelers fans in 2019 but he’s bounced back in a big way this year. He’s pounding opposing defenses on the ground for 4.7 yards per carry, which is one of the best marks in the league. Nobody on this list has had as many runs of 20-plus yards as Conner’s four so far this year and the extra 18.7 yards he’s picking up through the air each week make him an indispensable part of Pittsburgh’s offense.

6. Clyde Edwards-Helaire — Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs fans weren’t sure what to expect when star rusher Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season and his role went to rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but they have to be thrilled by how it’s turned out. The former LSU star has been a natural fit in one of the league’s best offenses, exploding for 4.8 yards per carry on 16.4 touches per game on the year so far. Overall, Edwards-Helaire is giving the reigning Super Bowl champs more than 106 total yards of offense every week, which puts him firmly in the conversation for rookie-of-the-year honors.

5. Miles Sanders — Philadelphia Eagles

After a promising rookie season in 2019, Miles Sanders has developed into an exciting starter this season. He leads all starting running backs with an average of 6.1 yards per carry and that’s pretty impressive when you figure he’s getting more than 14 handoffs each week. Sanders is picking up an average of 105 total yards each week for the Eagles and has rattled off three different runs of 20 yards or more through seven games. If he can find the end zone a little more often, he will quickly be in elite territory.

4. Dalvin Cook — Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings are struggling to find wins this season but Dalvin Cook cannot be blamed for the team’s woes. The former Pro Bowler is putting together another career season, picking up 97.8 rushing yards per game so far, which ranks him second at the position. He’s also tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns, with seven of them, despite playing in only five of Minnesota’s first six games due to a mild groin injury. He’s been good for more than 110 total yards of offense per game this season and we hope that keeps up when he’s back at full strength.

3. Aaron Jones — Green Bay Packers

A legitimate star rusher is hard to come by but Aaron Jones has proven himself to be one over the past couple of seasons. The Packers star has been a touchdown machine, finding the end zone seven times in five games so far this year after leading the league with 19 total scores in 2019. When you throw in his averages of 5.2 yards per carry and 110 total yards per game, you’ve got a player who’s a virtual lock for his first Pro Bowl.

2. Alvin Kamara — New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara has never missed the Pro Bowl in three seasons and he’s putting together another remarkable season in 2020. With Christian McCaffrey’s injury, Kamara has become the league’s most versatile running back and his stats have never been better. While his career-high 60.7 rushing yards per game aren’t near the top of the position, the 76.7 receiving yards — also a career best — he’s chipping in on top are easily the best of anyone on this list. Put it all together and the Saints are getting an incredible 137.4 total yards per game with zero fumbles and seven touchdowns through six games from the likely All-Pro selection.

1. Derrick Henry — Tennessee Titans

While Alvin Kamara’s numbers have been mind-blowing, Derrick Henry embodies everything a football fan imagines in a great running back. He’s been crushing defenders with stiff arms and pure power all season long, averaging a league-best 110.5 rushing yards per game at this point. He also leads the NFL in total rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total carries. The Titans are feeding Henry nearly 24 times per game and he’s rewarding them with 4.6 yards per carry. In total, he’s contributing 124 total yards of offense each week and is unquestionably the best pure rusher in the game right now.