Ranking the NFL's five most valuable running backs of the 2023 season

2T99PXK San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) pulls away from Seattle Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs (6) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wassen)

Christian McCaffrey leads the way: McCaffrey's 89.7 receiving grade is 6.7 grading points better than the next-closest qualifying back.

• Not just a bruising runner: Through Week 14, Derrick Henry has produced the highest grades of his career as a receiver (77.6) and pass-blocker (85.7), the latter of which leads the position.

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

PFF's stance on running back value has been well documented, and that's probably an understatement at this point.

However, that stance has always been backed up by data, chiefly PFF WAR, which incorporates how well players perform, what the players did and the importance of those tasks as they pertain to winning football games, and how often players did those things.

While a running back is certainly not as valuable as a quarterback or wide receiver, the top-tier players at the position can still play an integral role if they are used well.

Here are the most valuable running backs in the NFL through 14 weeks.

1. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers

Wins above replacement: 0.22

Unsurprisingly, McCaffrey leads the way here, holding PFF’s highest overall grade at the position at 91.3. His 89.7 receiving grade is 6.7 grading points above the next-closest qualifying back.


2. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Wins above replacement: 0.18

While he is commonly known as a bruising runner, Henry’s performances in the passing game have contributed to this WAR rating. Through Week 14, he’s produced the highest grades of his career as a receiver (77.6) and pass-blocker (85.7), the latter of which leads the position. 


3. Raheem Mostert, Miami Dolphins

Wins above replacement: 0.16

Mostert has earned a 91.5 rushing grade through Week 14, the best mark in the league. He averages 0.26 missed tackles per attempt and 3.4 yards after contact, both ranking top-three among qualifying backs. 


3. Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Wins above replacement: 0.16

Etienne is perhaps the most elusive back in the league. In 13 games, he’s forced an impressive 69 missed tackles on 263 touches, the most in the NFL. That’s contributed to Etienne ranking top-seven in explosive rushes and receptions at the position. 


5. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

Wins above replacement: 0.15

Pollard earned a 79.1 pass-blocking grade, the highest mark of his career. He is one of just four backs with over 70 snaps in pass protection, with the next-highest-graded managing just a 57.0 grade.


5. Rachaad White, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Wins above replacement: 0.15

The second-year back has produced the highest grades of his career as both a rusher (76.5) and a pass-blocker (71.2). Across 57 pass-blocking snaps, White has allowed zero sacks and just three total pressures for a league-leading 5.3% pressure rate, the lowest among qualifying backs. 


 

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