With most NFL teams using multiple running backs in their offenses, there are a ton of really strong backfields in the league. So we will continue our positional rankings here at FTNFantasy with a look at all 32 backfields in the NFL in order.
These rankings mostly just consider teams’ running backs, though situations where another skill player gets a relevant amount of backfield work, such as Deebo Samuel in San Francisco, that comes into play. Running quarterbacks were not considered.
Nick Chubb is one of the best pure runners in the NFL, while Kareem Hunt could easily start and post top-10 numbers on multiple teams in the league. Meanwhile, D'Ernest Johnson is no slouch either. In two starts in 2021, Johnson ran for 146 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against the Broncos and 99 yards on 19 carries plus 7 receptions for 58 yards against the Patriots. As a team, the Browns were second in the league in yards per attempt (5.1). And among running backs with at least 50 carries this past season, the Browns had three players rank inside the top-10 in yards after contact per attempt, as Chubb was third (3.74), Johnson eighth (3.53) and Hunt ninth (3.5).
Jones and Dillon are one of the best one-two punches in the league and will be quite busy for the Packers this season, especially with Davante Adams now in Las Vegas. Both players rushed for 800 yards last season, and they are both extremely capable catching passes out of the backfield. After ranking 17th in rushing attempts last season, expect Green Bay to finish the 2022 campaign inside the top-10.
We know Cook is one of the top running backs in all of football, but what really makes this Minnesota backfield one of the best in the league is Mattison’s presence. Almost anytime Cook has been forced to miss a game the last couple of years, Mattison has stepped in and not just filled in admirably but legitimately dominated. In six games with Cook out of the lineup since 2019, Mattison is averaging 80 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards on about 24 touches per game. He averages just over 20 PPR fantasy points per game in those outings. On top of having Cook and Mattison, the Vikings still have C.J. Ham, one of the most versatile fullbacks in all of football.
The Colts don’t have the depth as the other teams in this tier, but having arguably the best running back in the NFL goes a long way. Taylor is coming off an incredible season where he rushed for over 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns. His 23 runs of 15 yards or more led the league, while 38.7% of his rushing yardage came off explosive runs, one of the highest rates in the league. Meanwhile, Hines is one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league, giving the Colts a really nice balance to their backfield.
Although Elliott is coming off a bit of a down season, we have to remember he was playing through a torn PCL, an injury he suffered back in Week 4. And keep in mind that before Week 5, Elliott was fourth in the league in rushing yards (353), while averaging over 5.0 yards per carry. During that same span, Elliott was seventh in yards after contact per rush (3.42) and fourth in carries of 10-plus yards. And then there is Pollard, who really emerged as a huge part of this Cowboys offense. He recorded five more runs of 15-plus yards than Elliott on over 100 fewer rushing attempts and while it seems extremely unlikely that Dallas just starts playing Pollard over Elliott, there is a chance of more of a split backfield, especially with Elliott getting older. Pollard’s 6.2 yards per touch last year ranked second in all of football, giving this Dallas offense some more juice.
The Broncos’ rushing attack was very impressive last season, as rookie Javonte Williams and veteran Melvin Gordon essentially split the work right down the middle. While Williams is young and exciting, let’s not overlook how good Gordon was last season. He rushed for over 900 yards on 203 carries — Williams rushed for 903 yards on the same number of carries. Williams broke tackles at an impressive rate just like he did in college. He forced 53 missed tackles, good for fifth in all of football. However, that number is even more impressive when you consider that he was essentially in a full 50/50 split with Gordon and the four running backs with more missed tackles forced finished the season with 25, 14, 129 and 104 more rushing attempts than Williams. Williams broke a tackle every 6.5 rush attempts, the best rate in football.
Of course, this ranking is contingent on McCaffrey staying healthy — he has only played 10 games over the last two seasons. But when he’s on the field, McCaffrey can (and will) do everything. Meanwhile, I think the addition of Foreman is a massive upgrade over Hubbard, who was one of the least efficient running backs in football during his rookie season. Hubbard averaged just 3.56 yards per carry last year, while ranking outside of the top 45 running backs in yards per touch (4.0). Foreman, meanwhile, was essentially better in every metric.
It may be a headache for fantasy, but the Patriots backfield has a ton of talent. Harris and Stevenson operated as the 1A and 1B this past season, with both running backs showing strong tackle-breaking ability. In fact, Stevenson broke a tackle every 8.3 rushing attempts, the second-best mark in the league, while Harris broke a tackle every 13.5 attempts, which ranked right around 20th in the league. The Patriots will also get James White back, who has been one of the best pass-catching running backs in football since 2016. Finally, the team looked to add more speed during the draft, bringing in Pierre Strong, who ran a 4.37 40-yard dash. There is so much talent versatility in this backfield, which puts the Patriots in my second tier.
Seemingly the entire Ravens roster dealt with injuries last season, but especially the backfield. Both Dobbins and Edwards suffered season-ending injuries before the year even started, which thrust Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray and Ty'Son Williams into larger roles. All three players had stretches where they were somewhat relevant fantasy running backs, but getting Dobbins and Edwards back will potentially unlock this rushing attack even more. Edwards has been one of the game’s most underrated running backs over the past two seasons, while Dobbins is just getting started. Expect this Baltimore rushing attack to return to being one of the most efficient units in football in 2022.
Like the Panthers, the Titans get a huge boost simply due to the fact that Derrick Henry is on the roster. Yes, he missed about half the season with a foot injury, but he still rushed for 937 yards, ninth in the NFL. The depth on this team isn’t the greatest, but they did draft Hassan Haskins, while Dontrell Hilliard filled in well in Henry’s absence last season. As long as he stays healthy, Henry will contend to lead the league in rushing and make this Tennessee offense go, which is enough to place the Titans atop the third tier.
San Francisco appeared to have hit a home run with Elijah Mitchell, a sixth-round selection in 2021. He ended up winning the starting running back job, rushing for 963 yards on 207 carries despite only playing in 11 games. The team let Raheem Mostert leave in free agency but drafted Tyrion Davis-Price out of LSU and if Trey Sermon can step up in his sophomore season, this backfield will have plenty of depth. However, the X-factors from this team are Deebo Samuel and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Samuel averaged around four rushing attempts per game and scored an insane eight touchdowns on the ground. As long as he’s in San Francisco, he’ll remain a huge part of their rushing attack. Meanwhile, Juszczyk is the best and most versatile fullback in the league. He lined up out wide 17% of the time last season and in the slot 21.7% of the time, good for the fifth-highest rate among all running backs. He can run the ball, he can line up all over the field and catch the ball, while also remaining an elite run-blocker, which helps open up this elite rushing attack.
Similar to the Patriots backfield, the Raiders have plenty of viable running backs. And it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise with former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels now the head coach in Las Vegas. Josh Jacobs should remain the lead back, but Kenyan Drake will be back healthy. Meanwhile, the team added Brandon Bolden, Ameer Abdullah and rookie Zamir White. Bolden was a really good pass-catching running back last season with the Patriots, hauling in 41 balls for just over 400 yards, and remains tied to his former New England OC in McDaniels.
I’d have Seattle ranked a bit higher if there weren’t so many injury concerns. Chris Carson is one of the most underrated running backs in the league, but his future is uncertain after undergoing a surgical fusion on his neck. Meanwhile, Rashaad Penny finally showed the Seahawks what they have been waiting to see since they selected him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. From Week 14 on last year, Penny was arguably the best running back in football, as he led the NFL in rushing yards (671), rushing touchdowns (6), 100-yard games (4), yards per attempt (7.29), yards after contact per attempt (5.27) and fantasy points (110.2). He’ll likely enter the season splitting work with Ken Walker, who was amazing during his collegiate career. If Carson can return to action this season, Seattle could potentially have three top-30 players in their backfield. That is difficult to ignore.
It was pretty interesting to see Washington, a team with limited draft capital as it is, spend a third-round pick on a running back in Brian Robinson. He joins Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic to form a strong backfield. Gibson’s usage hasn’t been the most consistent but a huge reason behind that is the fact that McKissic is an elite pass-catching and pass-protecting running back.
Ekeler was amazing last season, rushing for over 900 yards and 12 touchdowns and adding 70 receptions and an additional eight scores. For the first time in his career, the Chargers unleashed Ekeler as the clear short-yardage back, as he finished sixth among all running backs in carries from inside the 5-yard line (12). As great as Ekeler is, however, the Chargers have been looking for a consistent secondary running back behind Ekeler. Perhaps they found it with Isaiah Spiller, who has a very strong all-around game at the running back position.
If I didn’t have some concerns over Cam Akers’ efficiency coming off his return from a torn Achilles, the Rams would be much higher. Darrell Henderson was very productive as the starting running back last season and if Akers can get closer to his form to end his rookie season, this could be one of the best duos in football. Akers only averaged 2.6 yards per rush during the playoffs and while he clearly didn’t look 100% back, it is worth noting that he faced two of the best run defenses in football during that stretch.
It is entirely possible that this time next season, we will be talking about D'Andre Swift as one of the best running backs in the NFL. Before suffering a shoulder injury on Thanksgiving, Swift was the RB5 in PPR, averaging 18.6 points per game. During that same span, Swift also led all running backs in receptions (53) and targets (65), while only Cordarrelle Patterson had more receiving yards than Swift’s 420. And keep in mind that while Swift did return to end the year in Weeks 17 and 18, he was seriously limited. During that stretch, he only recorded 17 total touches, while logging 57% and 54% of the snaps, which was well below his 73% snap rate from the first 10 weeks of the season. Meanwhile, Jamaal Williams is an extremely capable No. 2 running back, while Craig Reynolds was great in Weeks 14-15 when thrust into a larger role, rushing for 195 yards on 37 carries.
The Bears have an average backfield, which is why they fall to 18th here. David Montgomery is a very strong running back, while Khalil Herbert was very good in his absence last season. In Weeks 5-8, Herbert operated as the lead back for Chicago, ranking fourth in the league in rushing yards (344) and second in rushing attempts (78).
After an outstanding 2021 campaign, the Buccaneers re-signed Leonard Fournette. On a per-carry basis, no one in this backfield was amazing last year, but Fournette and Giovani Bernard were great in the passing game. Fournette, despite missing three games, finished third among all running backs in receptions (69), while his 49 first-read targets led the position. The team added Rachaad White during the draft, a very talented running back with great size and receiving ability. He caught 43 balls last year and saw 16% of Arizona State’s targets. His 2.25 yards per route run ranked fourth in the nation but White can also handle a full workload. If he lands on the right team that gets him involved right away, he could easily be the third-best running back in this class.
Alvin Kamara remains one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL, while Mark Ingram looked a lot more comfortable once he was traded back to the Saints in the middle of last season. To start the season, Kamara was seeing multiple 20-plus carry games because then backup Tony Jones got hurt. And with the Saints going so run-heavy last year, Kamara saw a career-high 240 carries, despite missing four games.
Please stay healthy, Saquon Barkley. When he’s on the field, he’s an elite talent at the running back position. But that hasn’t been the case as of late, and with the depth in this backfield extremely underwhelming, it is enough to push the Giants outside of my top 20, despite how unbelievable Barkley is.
Buffalo doesn’t have an elite running back, but the team does have one of the most underrated players at the position in Devin Singletary. From Week 12 on, Singletary ranked seventh among all running backs in both carries (105) and rushing yards (455). During that span, he also scored the second-most rushing touchdowns in the league (5), while his 29 red-zone carries were good for third in football. And keep in mind that Moss was healthy for most of those games but was inactive. Singletary posted a 74% snap share during the final seven weeks, while logging a total of 128 snaps during that stretch, sixth most among running backs. He was the RB6 in fantasy during those seven games and it was legitimately shocking to see Singletary find the end zone. Bills running backs scored 12 rushing touchdowns this past season, up from the eight in 2020. Meanwhile, Buffalo added the missing piece from this backfield — a legitimate pass-catching running back. James Cook will fit perfectly into this offense.
Joe Mixon enjoyed a strong 2021 campaign, ranking third in the league in rushing yards (1,210) and fourth in rushing touchdowns. They lost Giovani Bernard last offseason, but Chris Evans is a capable pass-catching running back, while Samaje Perine operated as a very solid backup running back, averaging around 5.5 yards per touch last season.
Sanders has been a relatively hyped running back in fantasy and while he’s certainly shown flashes, he’s also been very inconsistent. He has been extremely efficient during his NFL career, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, while ranking seventh, 13th and 15th in yards per touch. He’s truly been one of the best running backs in football when it comes to ripping off long runs. In 2021, 35% of Sanders’ rushing attempts went for 15 yards or more, good for the sixth-best rate among qualified running backs. And in 2020 and 2019, Sanders ranked 11th and ninth in breakaway run rate. So the talent is clearly there. However, he’s been a disappointment as a pass-catcher, which is why the Eagles added Kenneth Gainwell last season, who caught 33 passes as a rookie.
The Jets added Breece Hall in the second round of April’s draft. He saw a ton of work during his time at Iowa State, rushing the ball nearly 720 times over three seasons. And over the last two years, no running back in college football recorded more touches than Hall. He’ll join Michael Carter to lead this Jets backfield and if Hall is as good as many expect him to be at the NFL level, the Jets backfield could easily be a top-10 unit this time next season.
If there weren’t injury concerns with this backfield, Jacksonville would be much higher. However, the fact remains that James Robinson is coming off the dreaded torn Achilles, while last year’s first-round selection Travis Etienne missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury. I do like how Robinson’s and Etienne’s skillsets complement each other, but the injury concerns are enough to push this backfield down in the rankings.
Miami has revamped its entire offense this year, including the backfield. This time last season, the Dolphins’ running back depth chart consisted of Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown and Salvon Ahmed, so adding Chase Edmonds, Raheem Mostert and Sony Michel is a massive improvement. While health has been a concern, Mostert remains one of the fastest running backs in football and is obviously familiar with this Mike McDaniel offense. Edmonds, meanwhile, hasn’t been a lead back very often in his career but has always been incredibly efficient. Miami had the worst rushing attacks in the NFL last season but appear to be much improved heading into 2022.
Since being drafted at the end of the first round a few years ago, Edwards-Helaire has been a massive disappointment. Through two seasons, CEH has only scored eight rushing touchdowns, despite playing in one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses. The Chiefs added Ronald Jones, who has shown the ability to rip off long runs but is legitimately one of the worst receiving backs in all of football.
We know Harris is really, really good and is a candidate to lead the NFL in touches. However, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland are arguably the worst second- and third-string running backs in football. If Harris is forced to miss any time, an already-struggling running game will become even worse in Pittsburgh.
Volume was on James Conner’s side last season, but he wasn’t the most efficient back on a per-touch basis. In fact, he averaged just 4.7 yards per touch (27th) and was just 30th in carries of 10 or more yards (15). Chase Edmonds is now in Miami, leaving Eno Benjamin and rookie Keaontay Ingram behind Conner on the Arizona depth chart.
The Texans have a backfield consisting of aging veterans and a fourth-round rookie in Dameon Pierce. Head coach Lovie Smith is going to want to run the football and it’ll be interesting how the carries are dispersed. Houston gave Rex Burkhead nearly 17 touches per game in Weeks 11-18 last season.
Cordarrelle Patterson came out of nowhere to not only carve out a role in the Atlanta offense, but for most of the season, Patterson almost was the offense. He operated as both a running back and wide receiver for the Falcons, ultimately finishing the season averaging nearly 13 touches per game. His 52 receptions were fifth most among all running backs, while his 63 targets were eighth most. Patterson lined up all over the formation, lining up out of the slot just over 18% of the time and out wide 31.7% of the time. The Falcons added Tyler Allgeier in the draft, who does fit this offense well. His 213 rushing attempts out of zone schemes last year were the fourth-most in college football, while Atlanta runs a ton of zone running schemes. Mike Davis and Patterson combined for 216 rushing attempts out of zone, which would have led the entire NFL. Over 74% of both players' carries came out of zone. Allgeier finished second in the nation in yards after contact last season and could operate as the early-down back over Patterson, especially given his 5-foot-11, 224-pound frame.
Adam Pfeifer has been covering fantasy football, baseball and basketball since 2012. He has been featured in the Football Diehards fantasy magazine for four years now, while also making multiple appearances on Sirius XM Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter @APfeifer24.