NFL News & Analysis

Ranking the most elusive NFL running backs from the 2021 season

Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Denver Broncos running back Javonte Williams (33) runs the ball against Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton (54) during the first half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

In this day and age when running back performance and offensive line play are known to be closely intertwined, elusiveness stands out more than ever. The running backs who make plays in spite of good or bad blocking in front of them squeeze the most value out of their touches.

Below, we rank 25 of the most elusive running backs from the 2021 NFL season based on missed tackles forced per attempt.

1. Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.310 | Missed Tackles Forced: 63

Williams handled the same number of carries (203) as Melvin Gordon III — his Broncos teammate — in 2021, but the then-rookie still averaged more missed tackles forced per attempt (0.310) than the 64 running backs who recorded at least 65 carries. Through the 2021 regular season, Williams totaled a second-ranked 63 missed tackles forced, 903 yards and four touchdowns.

2. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.269 | Missed Tackles Forced: 21

Across his 78 attempts, the fifth-year Toledo product forced 21 missed tackles and gained 269 yards after contact, which was 69.7% of his total yardage. While he handled the second-fewest rushing attempts, Hunt found the end zone five times.

3. Michael Carter, New York Jets

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.265 | Missed Tackles Forced: 39

The Jets’ ball-carrier saw 77.46% — the third-highest percentage — of his 639 total yards come after contact and forced 39 missed tackles in 2021. While he was lower down the list in first downs and touchdowns, he averaged 4.3 yards per attempt, which was more of a middle-of-the-pack figure.

4. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.263 | Missed Tackles Forced: 57

The Alabama product forced 57 missed tackles across the 2021 regular season, which was tied for third-most. He turned 217 rushing attempts into 872 yards, 617 of which came after contact. Jacobs found the endzone nine times, which was the fifth-most, and moved the sticks for 45 first downs, which was around the middle of the pack.

5. D'Ernest Johnson, Cleveland Browns

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.260 | Missed Tackles Forced: 26

Johnson — the second of three Cleveland rushers — earned a top-ranked 90.6 rushing grade on his 100 rushing attempts for 534 yards. While he forced only 26 missed tackles, he still managed 347 yards after contact.

6. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.250 | Missed Tackles Forced: 57

Chubb rounds out the group of Browns running backs after forcing 57 total missed tackles. Despite handing the fifth-most rushing attempts (228), he still rushed for the second-most yardage (1,258). Nearly 77% of his rushing yards (967) came after contact, and he was tied for the second-most first downs (62).

7. Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.239 | Missed Tackles Forced: 45

Singletary, the first of two Bills backs to appear on the list, earned a 77.9 rushing grade on 188 carries for 870 total yards in 2021. He is part of a three-way tie for seventh place with 45 total missed tackles forced. He found the end zone seven times and moved the chains 44 times last year.

8. Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.233 | Missed Tackles Forced: 31

The Patriots are typically a backfield-by-committee team, which explains why Stevenson and Damien Harris both appear on the list. Stevenson rushed only 133 times for 606 yards, which averaged out to 4.6 yards per carry, and scored five times.

9. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.228 | Missed Tackles Forced: 39

Jones snuck into the top five in rushing grade with an 83.9 mark. He tallied 799 yards, four touchdowns and 37 first downs on 171 carries. He managed 543 yards after contact — 67.96% of his total.

10. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.227 | Missed Tackles Forced: 27

Penny may have moved the chains only 28 times to go along with six touchdowns — both of which were average or below — but he forced a solid 27 missed tackles on 119 attempts.

11. Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.222 | Missed Tackles Forced: 45

Gordon averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his 203 attempts and recorded a sixth-ranked eight touchdowns and 49 first downs. He forced 45 missed tackles and rushed for 918 yards, which ranked seventh of the 25 players on this list.

12. Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.209 | Missed Tackles Forced: 28

Mattison earned a 61.5 rushing grade in 2021, which is the worst of the group, but he still had 374 of his 491 total yardage come after contact. That 76.17% rate ranked sixth on the list. His 28 missed tackles forced was on the low end, but he also took fewer carries than most running backs on this list.

13. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.208 | Missed Tackles Forced: 27

Pollard backed up Ezekiel Elliott for Dallas in 2021, receiving just 130 carries as a result. He rushed for 719 yards and only two touchdowns. Still, he earned the second-highest grade of the group, a 90.3, and forced 27 missed tackles.

14. Tevin Coleman, New York Jets

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.202 | Missed Tackles Forced: 17

The Indiana product recorded the third-fewest carries of the group (84), but he had the highest percentage (81.46%) of his total yards (356) come after contact. Coleman recorded only 17 forced missed tackles, the second-fewest on this list, and was the only player to not find the end zone.

15. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.199 | Missed Tackles Forced: 66

It’s to absolutely nobody’s surprise that Taylor was the best NFL running back last season. He leads the list in just about every category. The Colts’ back earned the third-highest grade (90.0) and recorded the most missed tackles forced (66), attempts (332), yards (1,811), yards after contact (1,272), touchdowns (18) and first downs (106). Obviously, his forced missed tackle total comes with a high number of carries, but he still averaged a missed tackle about every five attempts.

16. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.198 | Missed Tackles Forced: 40

When Chase Edmonds got injured and missed time with the Cardinals last season, Conner stepped up and solidified himself as Arizona’s RB1. He forced 40 missed tackles, which ranked 10th on the list, and rushed 202 times for 752 total yards. He found the end zone 15 times, which was tied for second-most of the group, and ran for 53 first downs.

17. Kenneth Gainwell, Philadelphia Eagles

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.191 | Missed Tackles Forced: 13

Gainwell snuck in with just 68 carries — three more than the minimum requirement for this list. He rushed for 291 yards, five touchdowns and the fewest (19) first downs on the list. His 13 forced missed tackles were also the fewest of the bunch, but he still averaged one about every five tackles.

18. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.188 | Missed Tackles Forced: 47

Across Cook’s 250 carries, he put up the sixth-most missed tackles (47) and rushed for the fourth-most yards (1,159 yards). He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and hit paydirt six times. Still, only 58.84% of his total yardage came after contact, which isn’t bad, but it’s the lowest figure of the group.

T-19. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.188 | Missed Tackles Forced: 45

Kamara earned only a 65.9 rushing grade last season, but he posted 898 yards on 240 carries for four touchdowns and 42 first downs. He rounds out the three-way tie for seventh place with 45 forced missed tackles.

T-19. Sony Michel, Los Angeles Rams

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.188 | Missed Tackles Forced: 39

The defending Super Bowl champion turned 208 carries into 845 yards, four touchdowns and 49 first downs for a 73.5 rushing grade. His 39 missed tackles forced puts him near the middle of the pack, and 70.65% of his yardage came after contact.

T-19. Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.188 | Missed Tackles Forced: 18

Moss rounds out the three-way tie for 19th place with 0.188 missed tackles forced per attempt. While that amounts to just 18 forced whiffs, he did handle 144 fewer carries than Kamara — who is part of the tie. Moss took on the second-most carries among Bills running backs, behind Devin Singletary, and recorded four scores and 22 first downs.

22. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.186 | Missed Tackles Forced: 57

Harris, a 2021 rookie out of Alabama, has already proven capable of handling a bell-cow role for Pittsburgh. His 307 carries last season were the second-most in the league. He forced 57 missed tackles and tallied 913 of his 1,200 yards after contact, the latter of which ranked seventh. He tied for second with 52 first downs and found the endzone seven times — not bad for an upcoming sophomore.

23. Damien Harris, New England Patriots

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.183 | Missed Tackles Forced: 37

This Harris, the upcoming fourth-year New England back, headlined Alabama before Najee took the reins. Damien earned the fourth-best rushing grade (85.8) on 202 carries for 929 yards in 2021. Only 59.75% of his yards came after contact, which was the second-worst rate of the list, but 37 forced missed tackles is far from poor.

24. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.180 | Missed Tackles Forced: 37

Ekeler averaged 4.4 yards per carry on 206 carries for 911 yards and 12 touchdowns, which ranked fifth among running backs with at least 65 carries in 2021. He also forced 37 missed tackles and converted 53 carries into first downs.

25. Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers

Missed Tackles Forced per Attempt: 0.179 | Missed Tackles Forced: 37

Mitchell rounds out the top 25 after totaling 37 missed tackles forced and averaging 0.179 per attempt. Across the regular season, he tallied 963 yards and five touchdowns on 207 attempts. 79.44% of his total yardage came after contact, which ranked second in the group.

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