The NFL has had no shortage of strong running backs in its history. Coming into 2020, there are plenty of top backs, but we don’t quite have the same amount of bell cow backs as year’s past. There are more committees and running backs that specialize in different areas of the offense. Those dual-threat running backs carry an advantage over backs who just play on passing downs or are used in clear run situations. Below are the top 50 running backs in the league right now. If you are looking for our fantasy rankings, you can find them here.
Top 50 Running Backs
The more and more I think about Saquon Barkley‘s 2019 season, the more I am impressed with him. The Giants had a below-average offensive line, and he missed three games with a high ankle sprain and still rushed for over 1,000 yards. He ranked 6th in yards created and saw an average of 6.8 defenders in the box. Christian McCaffrey has come into the league and dropped monster numbers. While the volume has been high, McCaffrey produces at another level in the run game and through the air. McCaffrey is coming off a season where he had over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 19 total touchdowns. McCaffrey averaged 5.9 yards per touch and also ranked third in evaded tackles. In three years, he has 39 total touchdowns and 5,443 yards from scrimmage. While McCaffrey has put up the bigger numbers, Barkley is still the best running back.
Ezekiel Elliott is about as reliable as a back can be. He has rushed for over 5,000 yards in his first four seasons in the NFL and has 48 total touchdowns. Averaging 96.5 rushing yards per game in his career, you can count on Elliott to bring it game in and game out. Elliott was 4th in rushing yards last season and 5th in total touchdowns. He wasn’t talked about much either. 2019 was a down year for Alvin Kamara in terms of what he produced in the prior two seasons. He wasn’t healthy for the last few games of the season, yet his overall numbers are still impressive. Kamara is one of the best in evading tackles and creating his own yards. Being lethal in the run and passing game is a massive edge for running backs these days.
When healthy, Dalvin Cook is a top-five running back in the game. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his career and has averaged 8.8 yards per reception. We saw him in a healthy year last season. Cook finished 9th in rushing yards and 6th in receiving yards. Cook was also 4th in evaded tackles and 5th in yards created. Aaron Jones is a name who might get his volume cut because of a committee in Green Bay. He was 10th in yards per touch last season, and he was 4th in evaded tackles. Jones also had a nose for the end zone.
Getting out of Miami was the first step in getting Kenyan Drake‘s career going. Most of his production came in Arizona. While it is unfortunate Drake’s early career was wasted, heading into the 2020 season, he can undoubtedly be a top ten back. Josh Jacobs came out of Alabama, which has produced plenty of backs over the last few seasons. Jacobs isn’t the most notable athlete, but he is an excellent back. His first year in the NFL was a big success as he had 242 rushing attempts, but only 28 targets. It doesn’t seem like those targets are coming either. Jacobs finished 7th in rushing yards and 9th in yards created. We should continue to see him be fed while with the Raiders.
Continuing with the rookie trend, Miles Sanders has a very bright future in this league, and he has jumped ahead of some notable names for me. He didn’t have the highest volume, but when he was out there, the Eagles offense was far better than when he was off. Sanders averaged 5.8 yards per touch, which was the 7th most in the league. He also evaded the 13th most tackles, which is big given he didn’t have as much volume as others around him. While Mark Ingram is up there in age now, he is coming off one of his best seasons. The volume could take a hit, and efficiency will likely drop, but Ingram has been an underrated back. Ingram ranked 8th in yards per touch and was 14th in yards created. Kareem Hunt returned from suspension last season and has stuck around with the Cleveland Browns. While Chubb is still the starter, Hunt is a dangerous weapon in the Browns offense. He averaged 5.8 yards per touch last season and evaded 22 tackles on less than 100 touches.
Melvin Gordon gave us a glimpse of his usual self once he got back into football shape after a holdout. Now in Denver, it will be interesting to see how his workload is given Phillip Lindsay is there as well. Both of these backs are solid, and the two of them should pack a pretty big punch. Todd Gurley is going back to where he played college ball, as he is playing for the Atlanta Falcons. The touchdown numbers kept him afloat. Gurley’s 2019 season was not great. He ranked 48th in yards per touch and was 24th in yards created. Leonard Fournette is somewhat disrespected around the fantasy community as he, of course, scored three touchdowns on 300+ touches. The 2018 season was a letdown, but there are still factors to his game to like. Fournette got healthy in 2019 and was durable. He played 15 games and had the 7th most rushing attempts and the 5th most receptions among running backs. Sure Fournette didn’t have the most efficient ground game. He still ranked 8th in created yards and also saw the 4th highest average defenders in the box.
Another running back in a new city is David Johnson. While he is on the older side for a running back these days, Johnson still had juice left before the injury last season. Despite being pushed aside by Drake, Johnson is still a borderline top 20 back with upside. Johnson averaged 5.5 yards per touch, which is a positive sign for when he was healthy. Now, in Houston, he shouldn’t have much competition for touches. The Pittsburgh Steelers season was a disaster on the offensive side, and James Conner suffered injuries and suffered from bad offensive line play. Because of the lackluster passing game, he saw the 8th highest stacked front against him.
Devin Singletary had his first year cut into by injury and also the ghost of Frank Gore. Singletary had an impressive rookie season but is unlikely to get a full-time role in 2020. Singletary was 18th in evaded tackles, 8th in runs over 15 yards, and averaged 5.4 yards per touch. James White is another dual-threat back who has had a very successful career. While he is never going to get full volume, his work in the passing game is hard to match. White had the third-most receiving yards among backs in 2019 and averaged 6.5 yards per touch. That was second in the league among running backs. Raheem Mostert is an undrafted free agent out of Purdue. Last season with the 49ers, he churned out some big games. Mostert ranks 4th in yards per touch and first in true yards per carry. He also had double-digit runs for over 15 yards.
Duke Johnson is going to be one of those names that never gets the role he deserved. Houston, he was still in a secondary role despite creating 6.5 yards per touch and was top ten in yards per carry. Johnson is not just a good receiving back, as he is a good back on the ground as well. Marlon Mack is an interesting name because he has done his damage on the ground and not through the air despite having success as a receiving back in college. Mack was 10th in rushing yards and had eight touchdowns as well in 2019. He did also rank top ten in yards created.
Many of us want to see a healthy Derrius Guice because he is one talented back. Despite playing a limited sample last season, there is so much to like. Guice had 26 rushing touchdowns over his final two seasons at LSU and rushed for over six yards per carry in the three years he was there. Falling to the second round was not about his skill. We haven’t seen him healthy, but that time is coming. Matt Breida is an exciting name these days as he is on the move to Miami. He was in a three-person committee last season in San Francisco and had over five yards per touch. His teammate this year, Jordan Howard, is a bulldozer of a back. Howard has bounced around the last few seasons, but averaging 4.6 yards per touch as mainly a ground back isn’t bad.
Jamaal Williams is in the Green Bay Packers committee of talented backs, and he is a versatile threat. Williams ranked 27th in yards per touch and 31st in evaded tackles. Not bad for a second-string back. He was also 38th in yards created and had an 87% catch-rate. Latavius Murray has been a second-string back the last few seasons, but a damn good one. A bit on the older side these days, he still produced strong numbers in 2019. Murray had over 800 yards from scrimmage and six total touchdowns. He also saw a high number of defenders in the box on average. Tarik Cohen is a small receiving back who uses his speed and size to bolster the Bears passing game.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted some insurance with Alexander Mattison. He was a third-round pick and had a successful career at Boise State. Mattison, of course, played the backup role to Cook but had 4.9 yards per touch, which ranked 27th among running backs. He also ranked inside the top 20 in runs over 15 yards. Mattison is an impressive back, but the backup role hinders that production. Nyheim Hines is a receiving back for the Indianapolis Colts. Coming out of college, the appeal was a blazing fast back who could do magic in the open field. Hines averaged 5.4 yards per touch and caught 76% of passes thrown his way.
We get to an area of running backs with a lot of unclear futures ahead of them. Starting with the top names who have a chance to get a bigger role, Tony Pollard would need an injury to occur. He is behind Elliott on the depth chart, of course, but Pollard has the skills to be a legit NFL running back. He averaged 5.6 yards per touch and created 1.9 yards per touch, which ranks inside the top 50. Rashaad Penny won’t be ready for the upcoming season, but Penny flashed that upside a bit last season. He averaged 6.3 yards per touch and had positive numbers in a small span. The issue now will be the injury and getting him back to full health.
Giovani Bernard and Chris Thompson have similar roles in the NFL. Both being geared towards passing downs, they have made their paycheck by helping their quarterbacks out of the backfield. Bernard continues to play a backup role to Joe Mixon, and because of Mixon’s ability to also perform well in the passing game, there isn’t much of a chance for Bernard to get significant touches. Now Thompson has a chance to play a receiving down role in Jacksonville, even with Leonard Fournette there. He has been in the league for a while now. Thompson has 4.8 yards per carry in his career and 8.4 yards per reception.
It is looking more likely that Kerryon Johnson fizzles out of this league, and we are in a sort of no man’s land for rankings of running backs. Detroit drafting Swift is a gut punch to Johnson, but he has not stayed healthy since getting to the league. The rest of the names here are likely to fluctuate over the next few months as we start to see how depth charts turn out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers was the best running back in 2019. He rushed for over 1,300 yards and had 15 rushing touchdowns. McCaffrey also hauled in 116 receptions and had four receiving touchdowns. He had nearly 2,400 yards from scrimmage.
Barry Sanders played just nine years in the NFL and had over 1,000 yards in every season. He also had 99 touchdowns on the ground alone. Overall he had over 18,000 yards from scrimmage and 109 total touchdowns. Sanders is a six-time All-Pro and the best running back of all-time.
Emmitt Smith is the best running back to ever play for the Dallas Cowboys. Smith played 13 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, rushing for over 150 touchdowns and had over 17,000 rushing yards. Smith also has over 20,000 all-purpose yards and 175 total touchdowns.
Walter Payton played his entire career with the Chicago Bears from 1975 to 1987. He rushed for over 16,000 yards on the ground and had 110 rushing touchdowns. He also had over 4,500 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Payton was one of the best in this era.
Being the best running back of all-time, Barry Sanders is the best back of the 1990s. He was elusive and remarkably consistent in production as he never had a season under 1,000 rushing yards. Sanders dominated the 90s in a time where there were plenty of elite Hall of Fame running backs.
LaDainian Tomlinson was a menace in the 2000s, playing from 2001 to 2011. He had a career year in 2006 where he had 1,815 rushing yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. In Tomlinson’s career, he has over 18,000 all-purpose yards and over 160 rushing and receiving touchdowns.
Emmitt Smith has 164 rushing touchdowns, which is the most of any running back in NFL history. The next closest is LaDainian Tomlinson, with 145 touchdowns. Smith dominated the NFL for 13 years with the Dallas Cowboys and played a year with the Arizona Cardinals.
Emmitt Smith has the most rushing yards in NFL history, and it will be a tough record for anyone to break. Smith has 18,355 rushing yards, and the next closest is Walter Payton, who has 16,726 yards. The closest active player is Frank Gore, with 15,347 rushing yards.
Marshall Faulk was a significant threat in the passing game, and he finished his career with 767 receptions, which is the most ever by a running back. Faulk played mostly with those talented Rams offense and also did damage on the ground as well.
No surprise here as Mashall Faulk also has the most receiving yards ever by a running back. Faulk had 6,875 rushing yards and dominated in both the ground and passing game. Faulk was a part of the Greatest Show on Turf teams while in St. Louis.