• Browns' Nick Chubb is the top-ranked RB: He’s never posted a rushing grade below 80.0, and his most recent grade of 90.7 in 2022 was a career high.
• Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey round out the top three: McCaffrey would probably be No. 1 if receiving ability was heavily weighed, and Henry earned the second-highest rushing grade of his career (86.9) in 2022.
• Injuries drop J.K. Dobbins, Javonte Williams: Both players have proven effective when healthy but dealt with knee injuries in 2022.
Estimated Reading Time: 12 mins
In another installment of our “things to write in the offseason” series, we take a look at running backs. It’s tough to rank players at this position due to committees and varied roles. But here at PFF, we have efficiency numbers to go along with common rushing stats to provide context for who makes the list — and where — in a top-32 ranking.
Chubb takes the top honor here for his consistency. He’s never posted a rushing grade below 80.0, and his most recent grade of 90.7 in 2022 was a career high. Along with being one of the most physically gifted backs, he regularly forces missed tackles at one of the highest rates in the NFL and ranks near the top in yards-per-carry average.
If you asked any non-Titans football fan, they would likely say last year felt like a “down” year for Henry. All he did was rush for more than 1,500 yards with 13 rushing touchdowns while earning the second-highest rushing grade of his career (86.9).
If you heavily weigh receiving ability into where a back should be ranked in an exercise like this, McCaffrey would probably be No. 1. His 92.6 receiving grade was the best at the position last season, and it marked his fourth season with an elite grade in that category. His rushing grades haven’t been as strong, but he’s averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry in each of the past two seasons. Even if his rushing numbers are inflated a bit due to the friendly Shanahan system, McCaffrey is still one of the biggest difference makers at the position.
Jacobs’ 2022 season was unmatched, as was evidenced by his league-leading 1,653 rushing yards. Not only was it his second straight year with a yards-per-carry average above 4.0, but it was also his second straight season of at least 0.21 missed tackles forced per carry (a great average versus other backs) and more than 3.0 yards after contact. Those last two stats really showcase how much he was able to show off his individual ability.
It was a down year for Taylor, as he failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since his early high school days. But Taylor’s “worst” season still yielded 4.5 yards per carry. He’s also averaged more than 3.0 yards per carry after contact in each of his three NFL seasons.
Barkley is one of the most talented backs on this list; I won’t be debating that. But though his production was solid in 2022, it wasn’t to the level we’ve seen from the players ranked above him. His missed tackle rate has been on the lower side (0.11) in each of the past three years, a number you’d like to see closer to 0.20 for the best backs in the league. Though his yards per carry is up recently, his yards after contact has been below 3.0 in each of the past two seasons. On a positive note, he racked up 36 explosive plays of 10 yards or more, which was the most in his career.
2022 was another very good season for Jones, the fifth straight year in which he earned an 80.0-plus rushing grade. He has averaged more than 3.0 yards after contact in every season of his career, and in 2022 he recorded career highs in forced missed tackles per attempt (0.20) and explosive plays (36).
Pollard has been one of the most exciting backs to watch in the NFL over the past two seasons. His 91.0 rushing grade across the past two years ranks fourth in the NFL. He also has the highest yards-per-carry figure (5.3) and the second-highest yards-after-contact average (3.7) in that span. Let's hope he’s fully healthy this upcoming season. If he is, history tells us he’ll put on a show as RB1 in Dallas.
Ekeler brings a dual-threat ability that fantasy football owners have been fawning over for years. As a rusher, he earned grades of 80.1 and 83.6 in 2021 and 2022, respectively. But perhaps even more impressive are his 177 catches in that span, with a 28.2% receiver usage in 2022. He is a do-it-all kind of player.
The narrative around Cook seems to put him on a level that does not appropriately respect how good of a player he still is. In 2022, he tied his career low in yards per carry, but it was still a healthy 4.5. Plus, he earned 3.2 yards after contact, which was the second-highest mark of his career. Nick Chubb (122) is the only back who has had more explosive runs than Cook (112) over the past three seasons. At worst, he’s still a top-10 talent at the position.
11. Breece Hall, New York Jets
Hall was incredibly impressive during his rookie campaign, even if it was cut short due to a knee injury. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry in his seven games of action. He also averaged more than 4.0 yards after contact. He’s such a smooth, smart runner and will be one of the top young backs in the league if he can stay healthy.
Walker was a little boom or bust in his rookie season, as was evidenced by his 23.7% stuff rate (rushes for no gain or a loss of yards). But when it was the “boom” part of that equation, it was special. He finished 12th in the league in total missed tackles forced (37) and 10th in explosive runs (29). And that’s while starting only 11 games.
Kamara isn’t getting the same usage he was when Drew Brees was his quarterback and Sean Payton was his head coach, but that doesn’t mean he’s significantly worse as a player. His 77.7 rushing grade and 4.0 yards-per-carry figure in 2022 aren’t far from his career averages, and though his receiving totals are much lower than what they used to be, he still averaged 8.6 yards per reception and brought in more than 90% of his catchable passes last season. He’s not threatening the top five at the position, but he’s still a very good back.
Pierce was a one-man wrecking crew during his first NFL season. He ranked first among rookies and fifth in the league in total missed tackles forced (49). He was also tied with Nick Chubb for the most missed tackles forced per attempt. His total first-down runs and yards after contact were both top-10 marks in the league as well.
Etienne didn’t play his true rookie season due to a Lisfranc injury, but the wait seemed worth it for the Jaguars, as their backfield speedster earned an 82.9 rushing grade thanks to 45 missed tackles forced (sixth in the NFL) and 26 explosive runs (13th in the NFL).
Stevenson has been very solid to start his NFL career. In each of the past two seasons, he has recorded an 80.0-plus rushing grade. And in both years, he averaged more than 4.7 yards per carry with more than 3.4 yards after contact. The arrow is pointing even higher for Stevenson into 2023 and beyond.
Arthur Smith is known as a smash-mouth type of coach, which made Allgeier the perfect back for his offense last season. Allgeier is a yards-after-contact player, and his 752 yards after contact and 3.6 yards after contact average both showcased that. He should not be forgotten as a very impressive young back from the 2022 class.
Dobbins has been impressive when healthy. The problem is he just hasn’t been healthy a ton. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry in his rookie season but missed the following year due to an ACL tear. This past season, he played in just eight games but once again averaged a very high 5.7 yards per carry. Time will tell if he’ll have full confidence in his knee again. If he does, though, his limited numbers already tell a promising story.
Harris has been solid throughout his NFL career. He’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons but did so with a sub-4.0 yards-per-carry average. So far, he’s been a product of his volume more than efficiency. We’ll see if he can take that next step in 2023.
At this point, Williams making the top 20 is a projection. He started just four games in 2022 before suffering a major knee injury. But Williams averaged more than 4.3 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons. He also finished his final college season at North Carolina with one of the highest forced missed tackles averages PFF has (0.44), and he continued to make that an impressive part of his game in the NFL, averaging 0.26 missed tackles forced per attempt in each of the past two years. It’s potential at this point, but I’m buying in on it.
A seventh-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Pacheco had one heck of a rookie season. Not only did he eventually earn the starting running back job, but his numbers were comparable to many other starters in the league. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry thanks to 510 yards after contact. He’s not the type to make defenders miss, as he finished the season with just 17 missed tackles forced. But he runs tough through contact and is the kind of physical presence who can salt away a game (like the Chiefs need, as they often have the lead).
Mixon has a ton of production in his career. His 814 rushing yards, 16 explosive runs and 3.9 yards per carry average in 2022 were lower than what you would want to see from both a volume and efficiency standpoint, but he remains comfortable with a heavy workload. That includes the passing game, where he recorded a career-high 60 catches and 414 receiving yards in 2022.
Sanders smashed his career highs in 2022 with more than 1,200 rushing yards, 781 yards after contact and 34 explosive runs. He recorded the third-most rushing yards before contact (490), but that doesn’t have to be seen as something only attributable to the offensive line. Sometimes, great vision allows backs to find open space before contact. It was a leap in production in 2022. We’ll see if that efficiency continues with him now in Charlotte.
When healthy, Harris has been a productive and efficient player. He earned 86.1 and 86.8 rushing grades in 2020 and 2021, respectively. He also averaged more than 4.5 yards per carry during that time. He wasn't able to hold off Rhamondre Stevenson on the Patriots' depth chart (Harris’ hamstring injury in Week 5 didn’t help that), but Harris is still a top 32 back.
Williams led the league in rushing touchdowns in 2022 (17). He also rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. All that wasn’t just due to a career high in carries, as Williams averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry. However, his relatively low 2.8 yards-after-contact average and 0.11 missed tackles forced per attempt are why he’s lower on this list.
Herbert hasn’t been the starter in Chicago, but man, he’s been fun to watch. He has such great vision behind the line of scrimmage, and that shows up in his 5.7 yards per carry this past season with an impressive 3.7 yards after contact. He’s also a make-you-miss type of player with a missed tackles forced average of 0.19 (remember, 0.20 is really good).
Over the past two seasons, Mitchell has generated 4.9 yards per carry and an 83.7 rushing grade. Through multiple MCL injuries, he finished 2022 with a 90.7 rushing grade across five total games played. With McCaffrey in San Francisco, it’s hard to think he’ll find career highs in volume, but he’s been effective with the ball.
Penny has played in only 15 games over the past two years. But in each of those seasons, he averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry, which is the highest mark of any back with at least 150 carries during that time. I’m very intrigued to see what he does behind the Eagles' offensive line this season.
Dillon has been a highly graded back over the past two seasons. He earned a 90.1 rushing grade in 2021 and an 88.4 rushing grade in 2022. He’s more of a situational back to complement Aaron Jones, but it’s still worth noting Dillon consistently does his job. His stuff rate (rushes for no gain or a loss of yards) is the lowest in the league, at just 11.6%.
30. Ezekiel Elliott, Free Agent
Elliott doesn’t have a team yet, so projecting his 2023 totals would be silly. Though his efficiency numbers did not warrant the money he was being paid over the past two years (and Tony Pollard consistently outplayed him in 2021 and 2022), Elliott is still productive enough to make this list. Last year was his first season averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry. The more discouraging stat is his 0.10 missed tackles forced average over the past two years, which ranks 46th in the league. That is a sign of his athleticism not being what it used to be. If that continues to be a trend, there will likely be other names that pass him on this list next year.
Akers bounced back this past season with a career-high 80.8 rushing grade, a 4.2 yards-per-carry average and 17 explosive runs on the year. He missed time due to a torn Achilles in 2021, but what we saw last year was an encouraging sign for one of the more talented young backs in the league.
Montgomery might not have the same flashy plays as other backs but he runs hard every carry. And because of that, he’s been a consistently productive player. He's rushed for more than 1,000 yards only once, but over the past four years ranks in the top 10 in total rushing yards. He’s a volume and workhorse type of power back who deserves recognition for his consistency.