NFL News & Analysis

2023 NFL running back unit rankings: San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns among Tier 1 teams

2KA0926 Inglewood, California, USA. 30th Oct, 2022. San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey #23 in action during the NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers in Inglewood, California. Mandatory Photo Credit : Charles Baus/CSM/Alamy Live News

  • San Francisco 49ers possess the NFL best RB corps: Christian McCaffrey was everything the 49ers could have hoped for, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and forcing 30 missed tackles on 199 rushing attempts in the regular season and playoffs while Elijah Mitchell produced 75.0-plus PFF rushing grades in each of the past two seasons when healthy.
  • Atlanta Falcons not far behind: Tyler Allgeier is coming off a very impressive and underrated rookie season and then you add in Bijan Robinson, the eighth overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft.
  • Cleveland Browns may have the top RB but fall to No. 3 when accounting for the entire position: Nick Chubb was the top-ranked player on Trevor Sikkema’s recent top-32 running backs list, but the lack of depth behind him is what drops the Browns to three on this list.
Estimated reading time: 15 minutes

We’ve moved on from individual player rankings to unit rankings now this offseason and today we’re looking at running backs. There aren’t as many lead backs in the NFL as there used to be, with plenty of teams adopting backfields by committees, and unknown players breaking out every season. While rushing production is more heavily correlated to offensive line success and the number of players in the box on defense, here is our look at every running back room in the NFL.

1. San Francisco 49ers

Christian McCaffrey was everything the 49ers could have hoped for, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and forcing 30 missed tackles on 199 rushing attempts in the regular season and playoffs after his midseason trade from the Carolina Panthers. His 91.9 PFF receiving grade in that span was the best in the entire NFL, too. Then you have Elijah Mitchell as depth, who has produced 75.0-plus PFF rushing grades in each of the past two seasons when healthy.

2. Atlanta Falcons

Tyler Allgeier is coming off a very impressive and underrated rookie season where he produced an 88.0 PFF rushing grade, which ranked sixth among all running backs. His 3.58 yards after contact per carry average ranked fourth among running backs that received at least 200 carries, and his 51 missed tackles were tied for 10th at the position. Then you add in Bijan Robinson, the eighth overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. Robinson led all backs in college football with 104 missed tackles forced on 257 carries. Cordarrelle Patterson fills out the group as one of the best role players in football.

3. Cleveland Browns

Nick Chubb was the top-ranked player on Trevor Sikkema’s recent top-32 running backs list, but the lack of depth behind him is what drops the Browns to three on this list. Chubb is tremendous, though, and is coming off a career-high 90.7 PFF rushing grade, which was tied for second-best in the NFL. He forced 83 missed tackles on 302 carries, the second most in the league last season.

4. Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry remains one of the best pure runners in football. Since entering the NFL in 2016, his PFF rushing grade has been below 75.0 just twice, and he is coming off a season where he ranked third in the league by averaging 3.6 yards gained after contact per carry. Hassan Haskins might not have impressed much as a rookie, but 2023 third-round draft pick Tyjae Spears was electric at Tulane, earning a 90.6 PFF rushing grade in 2022.

5. Indianapolis Colts

An injury meant Jonathan Taylor didn’t have a 2022 season to remember, but looking back to 2020 and 2021 it’s not hard to imagine him being one of the best players at the position again in 2023. Even while being limited by injuries last year, he was still more than serviceable, earning a 71.5 PFF rushing grade. Zack Moss is a capable backup, earning 74.0-plus PFF rushing grades in all of his first three seasons in the NFL.

6. Green Bay Packers

The Packers have two of the 12 highest-graded running backs in the NFL from last season in Aaron Jones (86.1; seventh) and A.J. Dillon (81.4; 12th). Both ranked inside the top five in PFF rushing grade, with Jones forcing 53 missed tackles on 214 carries — and every running back who forced more missed tackles on carries than he did received at least 35 more attempts.

7. Las Vegas Raiders

The Raiders running back unit was essentially just Josh Jacobs a year ago, accounting for 339 of the team’s 377 rushing attempts by running backs. Luckily for the team, Jacobs had the best year of his career, leading the NFL in rushing yards and leading all running backs with a 91.9 PFF grade. Jacobs forced 90 missed tackles on rushing attempts, seven more than any other running back.

8. New York Giants

The Giants backfield isn’t quite as dependent on Saquon Barkley as the Raiders are on Jacobs, but he still accounted for 313 of the 406 attempts by running backs for the team in 2022. After injuries had slowed his career since 2020, Barkley was all the way back last year. He ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing yards and was 10th with an 84.9 PFF rushing grade. Backup Matt Breida was fine when called upon too, forcing 11 missed tackles from 61 carries.

9. Los Angeles Chargers

One of the best all-round backs in football, Austin Ekeler is capable of carrying the load for the Chargers. He forced 44 missed tackles on 217 carries in the regular season and playoffs and added another 28 on 109 receptions, too. They aren’t too deep at the position. Isaiah Spiller is looking to unseat Joshua Kelley as their primary backup, but the strength at the top is what sees them earn this spot in the top 10.

10. Dallas Cowboys

This season looks set to finally be the year where we see Tony Pollard in a full-time role with Ezekiel Elliott no longer on the team. Pollard has earned 80.0-plus PFF rushing grades in all four of his seasons in the NFL and has been at 90.0 or better in each of the past two seasons. We’ve even seen him get involved in the passing game in the past two seasons, averaging over 1.40 yards per route run in both seasons.

11. Baltimore Ravens

If J.K. Dobbins can regain his finishing speed in 2023, 11 is too low for the Ravens. That was the only thing that looked to be missing from his game when he returned to the field for the final five games of last year, forcing 10 missed tackles on 70 carries in that span. Factor in Gus Edwards, who has averaged at least 3.2 yards after contact per carry in all four seasons he has been in the NFL, and it’s easy to see why this duo is feared.

12. Seattle Seahawks

Kenneth Walker III’s 84.8 PFF rushing grade last season was tied for the second-best among rookies. His 50 missed tackles forced were the third most among first-year players and showed his long speed with multiple 60-plus-yard runs in his first season in the league. Not satisfied with just Walker at the position, the Seahawks added UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft, with Charbonnet producing 90.0-plus PFF rushing grades in each of the past two seasons.

13. Houston Texans

Dameon Pierce was tied with Walker’s second-best 84.8 PFF rushing grade among rookies but led all first-year players at the position with 62 missed tackles forced on rushing attempts. They added Devin Singletary as a free agent, with the former Buffalo Bills player producing 82.0-plus PFF rushing grades in each of the past two seasons.

14. New York Jets

The Jets would be higher on this list, if not for the fact that their top player at the position is coming back from a torn ACL, as Hall impressed over the first seven weeks of this past season by forcing 16 missed tackles on 80 carries. Michael Carter was better as a rookie in 2021 than last year but is a solid backup while fifth-round draft pick Israel Abanikanda has sub-4.4-second speed and could be a big play threat if he sees enough touches.

15. New Orleans Saints

It’s been a couple of seasons since we’ve seen Alvin Kamara at his peak, coming off a career-low 65.4 PFF receiving grade this past season. Still, even not at his best, he is a solid player who is tough to bring down in the open field, forcing 15 missed tackles of 57 receptions. The Saints added Jamaal Williams, who is coming off a season where he was a force as a short-yardage back, leading the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns. Rookie Kendre Miller is one to watch here, too, coming off a season where he earned an 88.5 PFF rushing grade and forced 70 missed tackles from 224 carries at TCU.

16. Detroit Lions

Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery replace D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams atop the Lions' depth chart at the position. The team made Gibbs the 12th overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, with the speedster producing 81.0 or better PFF rushing grades in all three college seasons at both Alabama and Georgia Tech. He forced 19 missed tackles on 44 receptions in his final season at Alabama, too, so he figures to be a factor both as a runner and receiver right away. Montgomery has just one season with a PFF rushing grade above 80.0 to his name in the NFL but has never seen that grade drop below 65.0 in his four seasons in the league so is fine in a complementary role.

17. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins backfield is deep, even if there isn’t one player that you would trust to carry the load right now. Raheem Mostert has earned 77.0-plus PFF rushing grades in every season where he has seen at least 100 carries while Jeff Wilson Jr. has never dropped below 73.5 using the same criteria. Third-round rookie Devon Achane is the wildcard here, coming into the NFL with a blazing 4.3-second 40-yard dash time and ending his college career with a 215-yard, 16 missed tackles forced on 38 carries performance against LSU.

18. New England Patriots

Rhamondre Stevenson figures to see an even bigger role in 2023 with Damien Harris no longer on the team. Stevenson has posted 81.0-plus PFF rushing grades in both of his seasons in the NFL and was solid as a receiver as well, earning a 68.0 PFF receiving grade on 87 targets in 2022. Pierre Strong Jr., a fourth-round pick a year ago, could emerge as the next option here, coming off a rookie season where he flashed in a very limited role, producing an 83.8 PFF rushing grade on 10 carries and catching all seven passes thrown his way.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars

The 25th overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, Travis Etienne looked good in his first full season in the league after missing all of his rookie year due to injury. Including the playoffs, he forced 64 missed tackles on 251 carries and earned an 82.9 PFF receiving grade. Third-round rookie Tank Bigsby could be an immediate factor as a backup, coming off a three-year career at Auburn where he forced 156 missed tackles on 540 carries.

20. Denver Broncos

The big question for the Broncos is the health of Javonte Williams, who suffered a torn ACL in Week 4 of 2022 after an impressive rookie campaign in 2021. If he is back to that level, the Broncos have a lead back who forced 63 missed tackles on 203 carries as a rookie and added another eight on 43 receptions. If he’s not fully healthy, then there’s a lot of reliance on Samaje Perine, who has seen over 100 carries just twice in his six-year career. He is coming off the second-best year of his career though, averaging 3.07 yards after contact per carry and earning a 77.2 PFF rushing grade.

21. Kansas City Chiefs

Isiah Pacheco was a big factor in the Chiefs running game as a rookie, earning a 74.2 PFF rushing grade and catching all 19 catchable passes thrown his way in the regular season and playoffs. Jerick McKinnon was the biggest backfield factor in the passing game, forcing 10 missed tackles on 60 receptions and finding the end zone nine times as a receiver in the regular season and playoffs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has never lived up to his billing as a first-round draft pick but has produced PFF grades above 65.0 in all three seasons in the NFL so is absolutely fine as a third option.

22. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles don’t really have an individual standout at running back, but they do have at least four players that you’d probably be comfortable giving 10 carries per game, if needed. D’Andre Swift is coming off career highs in yards after contact per carry (3.10) and missed tackles forced (24 on 99 carries). Rashaad Penny has flashed elite-level play when healthy but has struggled to stay on the field, averaging over 4.2 yards after contact per carry in each of the past two seasons but totaling just 176 carries in that span. Kenneth Gainwell is fine in a reserve role while Boston Scott can pop up with a touchdown against the New York Giants when needed.

23. Cincinnati Bengals

There’s every chance that this is Joe Mixon’s final season in Cincinnati given that the team has some big extensions looming and the former second-round pick has one of the biggest cap hits at the position. He isn’t really a game-breaker, with just six rushes of 15 or more yards in the regular season last year, but with 80.0-plus rushing grades in each of the past two seasons, he is still perfectly adequate at the position. Rookie Chase Brown will look to impress when he gets the chance with the hope of earning a full-time role in the future, coming off a season where his 83 missed tackles forced on carries were tied for third-most in college football.

24. Chicago Bears

D’Onta Foreman set career highs in carries, rushing yards and PFF rushing grade in his one season with the Carolina Panthers in 2022 and figures to see plenty of work in this backfield by committee. Khalil Herbert has earned 72.0-plus PFF grades in each of his first two seasons but has yet to show that he can handle a full workload. Rookie Roschon Johnson flew under the radar at Texas playing alongside Bijan Robinson but earned PFF rushing grades of 82.0 or better in all four seasons in college.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers

Najee Harris has been in the NFL for two seasons and rushed for 2,238 yards but hasn’t really justified his selection as a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He is good enough at taking what the offensive line gives him, but Jaylen Warren was more productive on a per-carry basis, both in terms of yards per carry and yards after contact per carry last year. Harris was still the primary ball carrier at the end of the year, but it will be interesting to see if Warren can eat into his touches in 2023.

26. Buffalo Bills

The combination of James Cook and Damien Harris at the top of the Bills running back depth chart feels pretty similar to the pairing of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. Cook was solid as a rookie, earning a 76.8 PFF rushing grade and forcing 22 missed tackles on 106 carries, but he never had a game where he saw 15 or more carries. Harris has produced PFF rushing grades of 77.0 or better in each of the past three seasons and while Nyheim Hines seemed like the perfect fit in the passing game for the Bills, he saw more than double the targets and receptions in the first half of the season with the Colts than he did after his trade to Buffalo.

27. Washington Commanders

Brian Robinson Jr. saw 205 carries as a third-round rookie out of Alabama, earning an 81.0 PFF rushing grade that ranked fourth among rookies. He received 20-plus carries in five games and will almost certainly see the bulk of attempts for the Commanders in 2023. Antonio Gibson will still feature though, with the 2020 third-round draft pick seeing 149 carries a year ago. He is a far bigger factor in the passing game, seeing 46 or more targets in each of his first three seasons in the league and coming off a career-high 80.5 PFF receiving grade a year ago.

28. Carolina Panthers

Miles Sanders set career highs with a 79.3 PFF rushing grade on 294 carries and 1,419 rushing yards in the regular season and playoffs for the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago. He figures to be the Panthers featured player at the position with D’Onta Foreman now with the Bears after a single season with the Panthers. Third-year player Chuba Hubbard also set a career-high with an 81.8 PFF rushing grade last season and should retain his backup role.

29. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have moved on from Dalvin Cook, giving Alexander Mattison his opportunity to be the lead back in Minnesota. Through the first four years of his career, he has forced 92 missed tackles on 410 carries including the playoffs but has just five career games with 20-plus carries. The battle to be his backup will be an interesting one this summer, with Ty Chandler seeing just six carries as a fifth-round rookie last year and now trying to hold off seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride for snaps behind Mattison. McBride impressed in his time at UAB, earning PFF rushing grades of 90.0 or better in all three seasons.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Rachaad White saw 136 carries including the playoffs as a rookie, earning a 66.5 PFF rushing grade, and looks set to be the Buccaneers lead back in 2023. Chase Edmonds leads the backups at the position, coming off a season where many expected him to be a big factor in the Miami Dolphins backfield, only for him to be traded midseason. Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been in the NFL for three seasons now but has topped 60.0 in PFF grade just once.

31. Arizona Cardinals

In fantasy football terms, the Cardinals backfield is probably quite enticing, with James Conner likely to get the vast majority of carries. He’s a solid running back, earning a PFF rushing grade between 66.0 and 77.0 in all six seasons in the NFL but has yet to have a season where he averages over 3.0 yards after contact per carry. Behind him on the depth chart the Cardinals have running backs who saw just 41 carries combined last season.

32. Los Angeles Rams

Cam Akers looked pretty good when he saw the ball in the final quarter of the season in 2022 after season-long trade rumors made it seem likely that he would even finish the season on the Rams roster. He finished the season with an 80.4 PFF rushing grade. Behind him though, the Rams running backs have just 44 combined career carries. Given that, it wouldn’t be a shock to see sixth-round rookie Zach Evans, who forced 36 missed tackles on 144 carries at Ole Miss in 2022, play a significant role in the Rams offense in 2023.


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