The NFL’s offseason has spurred extensive debates about the running back position. Many believe that the top players in this position are being severely underpaid due to the prevailing notion that running backs are easily replaceable assets within the game. Although NFL front offices may justify their reluctance to pay exorbitant sums to running backs, the position arguably wields significant influence on the field.
As the 2023 NFL season’s commencement looms just a week ahead, it’s an opportune moment to assess the running back landscape across all 32 teams. This article endeavors to rank each starting running back in the NFL before the onset of the forthcoming season.
Top 15 NFL Running Backs Ranked
San Francisco 49ers – Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey’s seamless transition from Carolina to San Francisco through a mid-season trade underscores his prowess. A preeminent dual-threat back in the NFL, CMC boasted an average of 4.7 yards per carry last season, amassing over 1,800 scrimmage yards for the third instance in his career. He epitomizes excellence at the RB position and stands poised for further achievements in 2023, especially given the anticipated explosiveness of Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme.
Cleveland Browns – Nick Chubb
When it comes to pure rushing ability, Chubb is arguably unparalleled in the NFL. He maintained an impressive streak of five consecutive seasons with an average of over five yards per carry in the 2022 campaign, amassing a career-best 1,525 rushing yards last season. While Chubb’s involvement in the passing game has been limited, the absence of Kareem Hunt in 2023 might afford him more receiving opportunities.
Tennessee Titans – Derrick Henry
Predictions of an impending decline for the 29-year-old Henry have proven premature; he remains a top-tier running back in the NFL. Bouncing back from a truncated 2021 season due to injury, Henry accumulated 1,538 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in the preceding year. This marked the third instance in his illustrious career that he surpassed 1,500 rushing yards within a season. Tennessee’s head coach, Mike Vrabel, unflinchingly leans on Henry’s prowess.
Los Angeles Chargers – Austin Ekeler
A multifaceted weapon, Ekeler stands as a true swiss-army-knife back. In 2022, he led all NFL running backs by a considerable margin in receptions, securing 127 catches for 722 yards and five touchdowns. Moreover, Ekeler’s effectiveness extended to rushing, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and reaching the end zone 13 times on the ground. His potential to excel in both dimensions remains high in 2023, bolstered by the Chargers’ anticipated explosive offense under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
New York Giants – Saquon Barkley
Barkley showcased his capabilities when fully fit in the previous season, featuring in all 16 games for the first time since his rookie year in 2018. His all-purpose yardage totaled 1,650 yards, accompanied by 10 touchdowns, propelling the Giants to the Divisional round of the NFL Playoffs. Projections for Barkley in 2023 hinge on his health, yet if he remains injury-free, he should continue thriving within Giants head coach Brian Daboll’s revamped offensive strategy.
Las Vegas Raiders – Josh Jacobs
A standout surprise in 2022, Jacobs’ performance exceeded expectations. While he had previously amassed over 1,000 rushing yards in two of his initial three NFL seasons, his output surged to new heights in 2022 with a league-leading 1,653 rushing yards. Contract negotiations briefly impeded his preparation for the season. Still, Jacobs has since agreed to terms on an amended one-year contract with the Raiders, aiming for a strong start in Week 1.
Indianapolis Colts – Jonathan Taylor
Uncertainty clouds Taylor’s status for 2023, exacerbated by a public dispute with Colts owner Jim Irsay. Provided Taylor participates in the season, his stature as an elite weapon remains intact. Following a stellar 2021 campaign, Taylor faced injury setbacks in 2022 and played just 11 games for the struggling Colts. Commencing the year on the PUP list will cause him to miss at least the initial four games.
Dallas Cowboys – Tony Pollard
With Ezekiel Elliott’s departure to New England, Pollard now assumes a central role in the Dallas backfield. The 26-year-old showcased career highs across various metrics in 2022, despite contending with a broken leg as the season began. Anticipating his return to form, Pollard’s electrifying capabilities hint at potential superstar-level performance over the upcoming year.
Green Bay Packers – Aaron Jones
Jones quietly achieved over 1,000 rushing yards for the third instance in his career during 2022. Despite challenges faced by the Packers offense, Jones maintained his reputation as a versatile back, proficient both on the ground and through the air. As Green Bay navigates a post-Aaron Rodgers era, Jones is poised to shoulder a significant load.
Atlanta Falcons – Bijan Robinson
Labeling Bijan Robinson as a top-10 running back might appear premature, but the potential for him to live up to the hype surrounding his selection as the eighth overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons is undeniable. Robinson’s presence in Arthur Smith’s run-oriented offensive scheme bodes well for his production.
Jacksonville Jaguars – Travis Etienne
After recovering from foot surgery that kept him sidelined for his rookie year, Etienne emerged as the lead back for the Jaguars in 2022. Despite impressive performance, there are indications that Jacksonville will manage his workload cautiously in the upcoming season to mitigate injury risks. Nevertheless, Etienne’s explosiveness remains integral to the team’s evolving offensive strategy.
Seattle Seahawks – Kenneth Walker III
Seattle’s perplexing choice to draft Zach Charbonnet in 2023 contrasts with Walker’s impressive rookie showing in 2022. Thriving in the absence of Rashaad Penny, Walker showcased explosive playmaking ability, registering the NFL’s second-most runs exceeding 20 and 40 yards. His potential to impact the game is undeniable.
New England Patriots – Rhamondre Stevenson
Stevenson exhibited significant growth in his second NFL season. With over 1,000 rushing yards and more than 400 receiving yards, he demonstrated a versatile skill set. However, the Patriots’ acquisition of Ezekiel Elliott curtails Stevenson’s ascension in these rankings.
New York Jets – Dalvin Cook/Breece Hall
The Jets’ backfield presents an intriguing scenario. While Breece Hall exhibited star potential in his rookie year, Dalvin Cook’s addition on a one-year deal following Hall’s injury complicates matters. The dynamic duo promises an exciting yet complex dynamic in 2023.
Minnesota Vikings – Alexander Mattison
Inheriting the lead role in the Vikings’ backfield, Mattison steps into the vacancy left by Cook. Historically excelling as a backup, Mattison’s demonstrated ability to perform when called upon positions him well for 2023. His role as a bell-cow back for the Vikings is poised to grow significantly.