The NFL arms race continued in 2019 as teams desperately attempted to surround their quarterback with the NFL’s next great weapon. With the Le’Veon Bell/James Conner duet now defunct and the Alvin Kamara/Mark Ingram one-two punch gone, a new influx of top rushing tandems is taking over the NFL.
The 2019 offseason saw many running backs find a new home as teams proceed to practice a committee approach or opt for a younger player as opposed to a veteran with an exorbitant salary, but in today’s NFL, young quarterbacks are also being paired with elusive running backs to take a different offensive approach.
With that said, here is PFF’s list of the top rushing duos in the NFL.
1. Cam Newton & Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
Newton's 74 rushing attempts in 2018 were his lowest total since 2011 — his first year in the league — which is likely a result of the shoulder issues he experienced later in the season.
A clean bill of health for Newton would result in a lethal offensive attack for the Panthers, but if his injury woes persist, the team may have to further lean on running back Christian McCaffrey to carry the load. A season ago, McCaffrey finished third in yards from scrimmage (1,965) at just 23 years old and played 91.2% of the Panthers’ total snaps.
McCaffrey was one of three running backs to avoid 20 missed tackles on both rushing and receiving attempts, and Newton tied for first among quarterbacks in forced missed tackles on rushing attempts (20) with far fewer attempts than his league-leading counterpart, Lamar Jackson. The pair’s elusiveness is a huge reason why they have the potential to be the best in the league.
2. LAMAR JACKSON & MARK INGRAM II, BALTIMORE RAVENS
This offseason, the Baltimore Ravens signed former Saint Mark Ingram in a move which pairs the bruiser with elusive quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson ranked tied for first among quarterbacks in forced missed tackles on rushing attempts (20), but he also led all non-quarterbacks in rushing attempts (130) by a large margin. According to ESPN, Ravens’ owner Steve Biscotti claimed the 6’2” 212-pound quarterback wouldn’t be running as much in 2019, but even a slight decrease will still place Jackson in the upper echelon of quarterbacks rushing attempts.
Ingram, on the other hand, set career-high marks in several rushing categories in 2018. His 83.3 rushing grade was his highest since 2013, and his 3.2 yards after contact per attempt also set a career-high after he increased it for the sixth straight season.
3. Kyler Murray & David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray, PFF’s top-ranked player on our 2019 Draft Board, matched the highest grade we've ever given to a college quarterback in the PFF College era in his last collegiate season, mirroring fellow No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield‘s 2017 campaign.
In Murray’s final season at Oklahoma, he surpassed all Power-5 quarterbacks with an 84.4 rushing grade after he averaged a mightily impressive 7.9 yards per attempt on the ground. Six Power-5 quarterbacks had 830-plus rushing yards in the regular season. The only quarterback to earn that total with less than 110 rushing attempts was Murray. How many did he have? 81.
On the other hand, Johnson should see an increase in 2019 production based off scheme alone. First-year head Coach Kliff Kingsbury has built a reputation of preferring a shotgun-heavy offense, which just so happens to suit David Johnson down to the ground. During his breakout 2016 season, Johnson excelled rushing from the shotgun formation, earning 6.3 yards per carry on such runs.
4. MELVIN GORDON III & AUSTIN EKELER, LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
You don’t have to venture far down the running back player grades to find this duo. Gordon (86.1) and Ekeler (85.1) ranked third and sixth, respectively, among all NFL running backs, but they also ranked first and second for a short period of the season.
Ekeler, the perfect complement to Gordon, gained 1,020 all-purpose yards in 2018. NFL teams should start to take notice of Ekeler as a result of this since he has been the Chargers’ best-kept secret since he entered the league in 2017.
A season ago, Gordon forced 41 missed tackles on the ground, and he ranked eighth among players at the position with an elusive rating of 65.5. All eyes will be firmly on Gordon as he enters the fifth and final year of his rookie deal.
5. NICK CHUBB & KAREEM HUNT, CLEVELAND BROWNS
Early on, we will see more of Duke Johnson Jr. than Kareem Hunt, but when Hunt returns following his eight-game suspension, there is no doubt that he and Nick Chubb will be one of the finest pairs in the league.
Having Hunt on the roster supplies Cleveland one more weapon to their already high-octane offense. He's forced 104 missed tackles since he entered the league in 2017 — first among running backs in that span — and his 0.23 missed tackles forced per attempt is tied with Kenyan Drake and Nick Chubb for the best mark among running backs with 100-plus rushes since 2017.
Chubb nearly broke our elusive rating scale in the early part of the season as he was one of the most effective rushers PFF has ever seen. He (103.3) was the only back to exceed a 90.0 elusive rating that also had more than 100 attempts (192). Chubb took home the trophy for the highest-graded rusher in 2018 and should look to build on that as he enters his sophomore season.