The running back will remain a staple position on football teams as long as the game exists. And for such an important position, it’s one that people are always interested in seeing who’s the best. Here are the best running backs in the NFL, as of the 2021 season.
32. Najee Harris (Pittsburg Steelers)
Back when he came up as a rookie, people had so much faith in Najee Harris. And that faith hasn’t been completely unjustified. Ranking someone as new to the game as him is simply difficult, although he’s certainly been putting in his fair share of work to help his team.
31. Kenyan Drake (Las Vegas Raiders)
Kenyan Drake just didn’t get the space he needed while in Arizona. Now that he’s with the Raiders, his extreme speed and talent allow him to play at the best of his ability.
30. Leonard Fournette (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
After joining the Jaguars in 2017, Leonard Fournette was able to get over 1,000 yards in his first season in the NFL. And that wouldn’t be the last season he managed to get some many rushing yards. However, just looking at his stats, you can tell that his skill either wildly fluctuates from the season, or he just doesn’t get the play time he deserves. Currently, he’s with the Buccaneers.
29. Sony Michel (Los Angeles Rams)
In his first two years with the Patriots, Sony Michel displayed phenomenal rushing capability. Back-to-back he managed to get over 900 rushing yards a season. However, last year these stats took a hit, due to him playing less games. Perhaps, now that he’s with the Rams, he’ll get the chance to show off his skill once again.
28. Chase Edmonds (Arizona Cardinals)
Back when Kenyan Drake was still at Arizona, Chase Edmonds managed to outperform him every chance he got. Primarily the team’s receiving back, he generated a passer rating of 112.9 when targeted.
27. Jamaal Williams (Detroit Lions)
Jamaal Williams’ five-year football career has allowed him to gain over 3,200 yards in receptions and rushing. His number of touchdowns is a little low, but that’s not the only way someone measures a running back’s capabilities.
26. Devin Singletary (Buffalo Bills)
Devin Singletary’s greatest strength is being able to break through tackles. Since his start in the NFL in 2019, he’s broken 68 tackles on 308 carries. In addition, he’s caught 19 receptions out of the backfield.
25. Darrell Henderson (Los Angeles Rams)
While a skilled running back, Darrell Henderson doesn’t quite have the stats to back up a higher position on this list quite yet. It wasn’t until more recently that Henderson had the time to show off his skills. But since then, he’s become a breakout star in the Rams’ offense.
24. Gus Edwards (Baltimore Ravens)
As a running back, Gus Edwards has a consistently excellent rushing game. Every season he’s gotten over 700 yards. While the yards he picks up for his receptions aren’t always as consistent every season, he managed to make drastic improvements in that area last season, going up from 45 to 129 receiving yards.
23. Damien Harris (New England Patriots)
The 2021 season will only be Damien Harris’ second full season with the Patriots as a running back, but he’s shown his level of skill. Harris managed to get 691 rushing yards, with an average of five yards. In addition, he got 52 receiving yards, with an average of 10.4.
22. Raheem Mostert (San Francisco 49ers)
Raheem Mostert has some pretty impressive stats. His stats aren’t particularly high on their own, at least for the four full seasons he’s played so far, but his stats show a great deal of consistency through his plays.
21. Melvin Gordon (Denver Broncos)
Melvin Gordon has an impressive rushing game, with his PFF in that category being 83. He generated an average of 3.1 yards after contact per carry, as well as breaking 51 tackles on 215 attempts. However, his work in the passing game has been declining, with his PFF in pass-blocking hovering around 40.
20. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Kansas City Chiefs)
While not exactly a dominating running back, Clyde Edwards-Helaire does still have some skill. He averaged three yards after contact per carry, and 23 of those carries went for at least ten yards.
19. Miles Sanders (Philadelphia Eagles)
Miles Sanders is more productive a running back than his PFF grades might suggest. He’s got impressive speed, carrying the ball more than 15 yards in 14 carries since coming into the NFL. This pairs with his average of 3.3 yards after a contact per carry to show how reliable a carrier he really is.
18. Antonio Gibson (Washington Football Team)
In just his first year as an NFL player, Antonio Gibson managed to get a PFF rushing grade of 85.3. That puts him in the top percentile for running backs, at least as far as rushing goes. He’s an excellent ball carrier that needs more of an opportunity to be used as a receiving weapon.
17. Joe Mixon (Cincinatti Bengals)
Sometimes, the real detriment to a player’s skill is a lack of good teammates to support them. This could be the case with Joe Mixon. While he’s averaged 3.9 yards per carry, three of those yards came after contact.
16. Austin Ekeler (Los Angeles Chargers)
One would have expected the highest PFF receiving grade for the last few seasons to go to one of the top ranked running backs on this list. But no, it went to Austin Ekeler with a 93.6. He also had the most receiving touchdowns and explosive plays when he got that grade.
15. James Robinson (Jacksonville Jaguars)
While an undrafted rookie before, James Robinson proved himself just as impressive as any runner when he was given the change. Robinson averaged 3.2 yards after contact per carry. This was especially impressive, given that his team’s offensive line wasn’t exactly unstoppable.
14. D’Andre Swift (Detroit Lions)
After only a couple of years as a player, D’Andre Swift has truly come into his own. He earned an All-SEC honors in 2019 with 1,218 yards, scoring seven touchdowns on 196 carries. In addition, he managed to get 216 more yards from 24 catches and a touchdow. Keep in mind that this was all in one year, and his skill hasn’t diminished whatsoever.
13. Chris Carson (Seattle Seahawks)
Chris Carson is one of the hardest-running ball carriers in football. He’s broken through 136 tackles and averaged over three yards after contact per carry over the last three years.
12. David Montgomery (Chicago Bears)
David Montgomery is a little lacking in the speed department, but he’s excellent at everything else. In 2020, he averaged 3.1 yards after contact per carry. This earned him an 82.3 PFF rushing grade.
11. Jonathon Taylor (Indianapolis Colts)
We he first started playing, Jonathon Taylor led all rookies in the league in rushing yards. He got 15 carries of 15 or more yards and 35 that went for at least ten.
10. Kareem Hunt (Cleveland Browns)
Kareem Hunt is the highest non-starting running back on this list. He’s half of the league’s top running back combo in Cleveland. While he managed to get well over 2,100 yards during his first two seasons with Kansas City, it was when he moved to Cleveland that his real skill with Nick Chubb began to shine. In four seasons, he’s totaled 16 touchdowns on receptions.
9. Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas Raiders)
In both of his first two seasons with the Raiders, Josh Jacobs managed to surpass 1,000 yards. While his average yards per carry dropped in his second season, Jacobs added more to his game in 2020. He managed to get 33 receptions out of the backfield and scored five more touchdowns on the ground than in his rookie season. He’ll consistently break through arm tackles and just as easily avoid defenders. And with just three fumbles to his name, he won’t drop the ball once it’s in his hands.
8. Ezekiel Elliot (Dallas Cowboys)
Elliot’s days as an elite runner may have passed, but he still has the durability and well-rounded skill to make him a top 10 running back. He narrowly missed 1,000 yards, but got more than 50 receptions out of the backfield for the third straight season. His receiving game is also still on point, getting multiple receiving touchdowns and at least 300 receiving yards in four of the five seasons he’s played so far. He has a career total of 6,384 rushing yards, 1,957 receiving yards, and 56 touchdowns.
7. Saquon Barkley (New York Giants)
Although Saquon Barkley needed to sit out the last season, his return marks the reemergence of one of the most talented, all-around backs in the league. He has excellent strength, balance, and evasive skill. No defender is capable of simply bringing him down once he gets the ball.
6. Aaron Jones (Green Bay Packers)
As one of the top running backs in the NFL, Aaron Jones has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in the past two years. The last two seasons also got him 25 rushing touchdowns.
5. Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns)
Nick Chubb is possibly the most difficult to tackle ball carrier in the NFL. In just three seasons, Chubb’s scored a total of 30 touchdowns. In his rookie season, he moved the ball for a total of 996 yards. And his career average per carry is 5.2 yards.
4. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings)
If he hadn’t missed 23 games total from a variety of injuries, Dalvin Cook might have placed higher on this list. In just the last two seasons, Cook’s totaled 2,692 yards and 29 touchdowns.
3. Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)
Alvin Kamara is a touchdown machine in the Saints’ offense, recording 43 scores on the ground and 15 through the air. In each of his four seasons with the team, he’s managed to catch at least 81 receptions, as well as rushing for 3,340 yards.
2. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers)
Christian McCaffrey isn’t just fast, but he increases his level of danger on the field with terrific vision and amazing balance. Even though his last season was shortened from an injury, only playing three games, he managed to score six touchdowns in that time. He’s the only running back in NFL history to have ever caught more than 100 passes in back-to-back seasons. In his four years in the NFL, he’s recorded 3,145 rushing yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 2672 receiving yards, and 16 receiving touchdowns.
1. Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
Derrick Henry routinely gets first downs for his team, if he’s not just scoring a touchdown. It seems almost impossible to bring him down on first contact. And his threatening stiff-arm certainly helps keep would-be tacklers off of him. In his sixth year as a running back, he has recorded 5,850 rushing yards and 55 touchdowns. And 1,500 of those rushing yards, and 16 touchdowns, were only in his last two seasons.