Over the next two weeks, NESN.com will break down the NFL’s best positional groupings on both sides of the football, ranking teams in order of worst to first.
Today, we rank the best running back groups in the NFL.
Of note, this is not a ranking narrowing down the league’s best running backs, as teams were evaluated on the overall position. The top four running backs on each team’s depth chart, courtesy of ESPN, were included.
32. Los Angeles Rams (Darrell Henderson Jr., Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown, John Kelly)
After releasing starter Todd Gurley, there’s a lot of inexperience in the Rams’ backfield, with Henderson, who contributed 39 carries for 147 yards in 13 games in 2019, entering his second year and the rookie, Akers.
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Ronald Jones II, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Dare Ogunbowale, Raymond Calais)
Jones started nine games in 2019 and ranked outside the top 25 in carries (172), yards (724) and yards per rush (4.2). Vaughn is a 2020 third-round pick.
30. Philadelphia Eagles (Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Corey Clement, Elijah Holyfield)
Sanders, a sophomore, started 11 games for the Eagles in 2019, compiling 818 yards on 179 attempts. Scott enters his third year after totaling 245 yards on 61 carries.
29. Buffalo Bills (Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, T.J. Yeldon, Taiwan Jones)
The Bills have invested third-round picks in running backs each of the last two years, with Singletary (151-775 in 2019) and Moss. We’ll see how it pays off in 2020.
28. Chicago Bears (David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce)
Montgomery compiled 889 yards on 242 carries during his rookie season, while change-of-pace back Cohen tallied 669 yards of offense in 2019.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars (Leonard Fournette, Chris Thompson, Ryquell Armstead, Devine Ozigbo)
You can count on Fournette (265-1,152 in 2019) to gain tough yards on the ground, but does he even want to be in Jacksonville?
26. Arizona Cardinals (Kenyan Drake, Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin, D.J. Foster)
With former Cardinals running back David Johnson gone, Drake (170-817 in 2019) will command the room. And based on his 643 yards in eight games with the Cardinals, that’s a good thing for Arizona. Edmonds, who eclipsed a five-yard average on 60 carries, will see more touches in 2020.
25. Washington Redskins (Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic)
If Guice, a 2018 second-round pick, can return from an injury which halted his rookie season after five games, the Redskins could have a nice complement between he and the still productive Peterson (211-898 in 15 games).
24. Atlanta Falcons (Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison)
Gurley is coming off a season with the Rams in which he recorded career lows in rushes (223) and yards (857). The Falcons are hoping he’ll benefit from a change of scenery, as Smith and Hill have low levels of past production.
23. Los Angeles Chargers (Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley, Darius Bradwell)
Ekeler’s two-phase production in 2019 — 132 carries for 557 yards, 92 receptions for 993 yards — justified the Chargers moving on from former starter Melvin Gordon.
22. Kansas City Chiefs (Damien Williams, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams)
The Chiefs addressed their running back need in the draft with first-round pick Edwards-Helaire. Williams, who started six games in 2019, compiled 498 yards on 111 rushes in 11 games overall.
21. Las Vegas Raiders (Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, Lynn Bowden Jr., Devontae Booker)
Jacobs is another back who flourished as a starter in 2019 (242-1,150), but the Raiders don’t have much behind him.
20. Houston Texans (David Johnson, Duke Johnson, Buddy Howell, Karan Higdon)
The Texans traded a three-time All-Pro receiver for an injury-impacted running back with a massive contract. With that said, a pair of healthy Johnsons — David and Duke — could make for a sound 1-2 pairing.
19. Detroit Lions (D’Andre Swift, Kerryon Johnson, Bo Scarbrough, Jason Huntley)
It’ll be interesting to see who earns the starting job between the 2020 first-round pick, Swift, or the 2018 second-rounder, Johnson, who was putting together a solid 2019 before injuries halted his season (113-403 in eight games).
18. Pittsburgh Steelers (James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr.)
After a Pro Bowl 2018 season, Conner (116-464 in 10 games) was held up by injuries in 2019. While Pittsburgh believes he’ll return to form, both Samuels and Snell Jr. have shown they can contribute and provide good depth.
17. Miami Dolphins (Jordan Howard, Matt Breida, Patrick Laird, Kalen Ballage)
Between Howard (119-525) and Breida (123-623), the Dolphins have two of the top 25 runners by average from 2019. They’ll share carries, and it’ll help Miami improve from the worst rushing offense in the NFL.
16. Cincinnati Bengals (Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Rodney Anderson)
Mixon tallied his second straight 1,100-plus-yard season in 2019, finishing in the top 10 in carries (278) and yards (1,137). Bernard has shown flashes himself, but he continued to take a step back, recording just 170 yards on 53 carries in 16 games.
15. Tennessee Titans (Derrick Henry, Darrynton Evans, Dalyn Dawkins)
The NFL’s leading rusher, Henry, put together a career year in 2019, during which he led the league in attempts (303), yards (1,540) and touchdowns (16). Evans is a 2020 third-round pick.
14. New York Jets (Le’Veon Bell, Frank Gore, Kenneth Dixon, Josh Adams)
Bell wasn’t as productive in his first year with the Jets (245-789) as years past with the Steelers, but with Gore now the backup, it’s a group that should succeed in 2020.
13. Carolina Panthers (Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis, Jordan Scarlett)
McCaffrey is, if not the best, among the most complete running backs in the league. He compiled 1,387 yards on the ground and 1,005 yards in the passing game in 2019. Depth behind him, however, is an issue for Carolina.
12. Indianapolis Colts (Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins)
Mack put together a strong 2019 campaign (247-1,091) and the Colts made their top 10 rushing offense even better by selecting Taylor in the second round.
11. Minnesota Vikings (Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah)
Cook ranked in the top 10 in attempts (250), yards (1,135) and rushing TDs (13) in 2019, while Mattison (100-462 in 2019) is a more-than-capable backup.
10. New York Giants (Saquon Barkley, Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman, Jonathan Hilliman)
Barkley (217-1,003 in 2019) is a top 10 back, while Lewis, in his first year with the Giants, should be a nice complement given his ability as a pass catcher.
9. Dallas Cowboys (Ezekiel Elliot, Tony Pollard, Jordan Chunn, Rico Dowdle)
Elliot is among the best in the game, ranking in the top five in attempts (301), yards (1,357) and TDs (12) in 2019. His backup, Pollard (86-455), provides the Cowboys with a strong tandem.
8. Green Bay Packers (Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, A.J. Dillon, Tyler Ervin)
Jones (236-1,084) led the league in rushing TDs (16), while Williams (107-460) and Dillon, a second-round pick, will give the Packers both an exceptional starter and solid depth behind him.
7. New England Patriots (Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden)
The Patriots were called the best in the league by one former NFL GM, as they could legitimately have four running backs touch the field each Sunday. Michel likely will keep his starting job, with Harris possibly contributing between the tackles. Additionally, White is among the best pass-catching backs in the NFL, while the experienced Burkhead is a do-it-all contributor.
6. Seattle Seahawks (Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Carlos Hyde, Travis Homer)
The Seahawks are the only team with two 1,000-yard rushers from 2019. Carson ranked fifth in both attempts (278) and yards (1,230), while Hyde, entering his first year in Seattle, compiled 1,070 yards on 245 carries in Houston.
5. New Orleans Saints (Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Ty Montgomery, Dwyane Washington)
The dual-threat Kamara (171-797 rushing; 1,330 yards of offense) and hard-pounding Murray (146-637) are an exceptional complement to each other — and to quarterback Drew Brees.
4. Baltimore Ravens (Mark Ingram II, J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill)
Drafting Dobbins in the second round fits the Ravens’ ground-and-pound scheme perfectly. He’ll back up Ingram, who ran for 1,018 yards in 2019 with the eighth-best average (5.0 yards per rush).
3. Denver Broncos (Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman, Khalfani Muhammad)
The Broncos made a splash in free agency by signing Gordon. The former Chargers star ran for 1,105 yards in his last 16-game season, while Lindsay, who proved a capable starter (224-1,011 in 2019), could make even more of an impact within the 1-2 punch.
2. Cleveland Browns (Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard, D’Ernest Johnson)
The Browns have among the league’s best 1-2 pairs with Chubb (298-1,494 in 2019) and Hunt, who only played eight games during his first season in Cleveland but isn’t far removed from a 1,300-yard season in 2017.
1. San Francisco 49ers (Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson Jr.)
The 49ers have a plethora of talent at the position, as all four have starting capabilities. Mostert recorded the second-best average in the NFL (137-772), Coleman (137-544 in 2019) is a very good No. 2 and McKinnon (1,000-plus yards of offense in 2017) has showed how productive he can be.