Rating NFL’s high 10 RBs for 2021: Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey dueling for the throne


Rumor has it operating backs do not matter, however I suppose that logic relies upon upon which of them you are speaking about, as a result of they are not all created equal. For with regards to assessing one of the best within the NFL on the place, you are hard-pressed to maintain that argument going, figuring out full-well not everybody can do what they do, when/if given the prospect. It is the explanation the Dallas Cowboys awarded Ezekiel Elliott a historic contract regardless of re-signing Alfred Morris as insurance coverage throughout his 2019 holdout, and solely months after drafting Tony Pollard

And, in fact, you then noticed Christian McCaffrey financially blow the roof off not lengthy thereafter. It is also why the New York Giants will do the identical for Saquon Barkley or danger shedding him sooner or later, the latter not being one thing the Tennessee Titans needed to take an opportunity on once they awarded Derrick Henry his new deal. A myriad of variables decide how profitable a operating again shall be on the NFL degree, and the underside line just isn’t all of them are created equal. That turns into deathly clear when making an attempt to establish one of the best in all of soccer. 

The next 10 gamers have confirmed to be in a league of their very own, in a method or a number of.

Translation: They matter, and in a serious manner.

Honorable Point out: 

Leonard Fournette, Chris Carson, Austin Ekeler, David Montgomery

You need to love “Playoff Lenny,” except you have been one of many defenses tasked with stopping him this previous winter. Fournette rejuvenated his model after going from being launched by the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020 to being a key cause the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February, and whereas he is now not being requested to hold a whole offensive load, he is nonetheless top-of-the-line within the league on the place. The identical goes for Carson, who re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks and is well one of many extra slept on halfbacks within the league. If Carson can keep wholesome and get again to producing like he did in 2018 and 2019 — when he delivered 2,810 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns mixed — he’ll knock on the door to doubtlessly enter the highest 10 on this record.

And do not go counting out Ekeler and Montgomery, two gamers who’ve stepped into the function of franchise participant and who additionally is perhaps one season away from difficult to be listed this time subsequent yr.

If you happen to assume Fournette had it unhealthy in Jacksonville…

Enable me to introduce you to Mixon, who’s an insanely gifted participant on what was lately [literally] the worst workforce in all the NFL. Certain, issues are [again] wanting up for the Bengals, on the heels of grabbing quarterback Joe Burrow with the first-overall decide within the 2020 NFL Draft, however Mixon has been one cooking with Crisco for fairly a while now. A weapon out of the backfield as both a runner or a receiver, his final two seasons have seen him accumulate 2,888 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns.

Think about he is finished this with a carousel of questionable QB play and an general lack of a downfield risk to take the strain off of him — A.J. Inexperienced having been repeatedly sidelined with foot points — and regardless of adjustments to the teaching workers in Yr 3. On any given Sunday, Mixon can adapt to regardless of the opposing protection offers him. If he must play bully ball, he’ll do it. If he must stretch linebackers skinny with display passes and pressure an imbalance within the secondary, he can do this as properly. 

There weren’t many brilliant spots in Cincinnati earlier than Burrow landed, however Mixon has grow to be a lighthouse for Bengals followers desperately on the lookout for one thing optimistic to carry onto, and desires solely be wholesome in 2020 to rejoin Burrow (and now wideout Ja’Marr Chase) in giving opposing defenses a nightmare or two. 

Welcome to the social gathering, Mr. Jacobs.

A breakout rookie season for the Raiders put Jacobs on the radar for this record, however an even bigger pattern dimension was wanted earlier than itemizing him as one of many 10 finest within the league at his place. One yr later, he is earned the proper to be listed right here, to say the least. Sure, the Raiders are having difficulties on offense, but it surely’s not due to the run recreation. Jacobs has been constant in his means to punch opposing defenses within the mouth on a weekly foundation. Two years in, he already has two 1,000-yard seasons with out the advantage of a dominant go recreation to enhance him (Darren Waller however) and to take strain off of him a a snap-to-snap foundation. 

All Jacobs did with that complication was faux it did not exist, dashing for two,215 dashing yards and 19 dashing touchdowns in his first two years as a professional and he’d add an additional 404 receiving yards to his stat line within the course of. Perhaps the addition of Kenyan Drake shaves a few of his numbers in 2021 and possibly not, doubtless the latter. The underside line is Jacobs will get his reps and he’ll benefit from them when he does, as has been the case heading into Yr 3. And with looming contract talks on the horizon, he has an added cause to proceed elevating his recreation. 

A favourite of quarterback Derek Carr and head coach Jon Gruden, Jacobs is the transmission that helps the motor go in Las Vegas, and rightfully so. He is one of many brightest up-and-coming stars within the NFL, and he is seemingly simply getting began.


That is the thought you have typically had throughout one in every of Barkley’s many spotlight performs, and there have been fairly a little bit of them already as he readies for his fourth yr within the NFL. Regardless of his prowess at Penn State, some have been involved NFL groups have been putting too excessive of a worth on the place when the Giants opted to pick Barkley with the second-overall decide solely two seasons after the rival Dallas Cowboys used a fourth-overall decide on Ezekiel Elliott and one yr after the Panthers took Christian McCaffrey eighth-overall, however bollocks to that. 

Barkley is a generational expertise who cannot be changed with the following man up on the roster, and anybody who believes so is mainly saying the Giants may plug in anybody and get 3,469 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns, and with two completely different QBs in his first two seasons — on an offense with an afterthought of a passing assault. That, to me, is the equal of claiming all Daenerys Stormborn wanted was three canaries to take the Iron Throne, as a result of “they will fly, too.”

Whether or not it was a turnover-prone Eli Manning in 2018 or a rookie in Daniel Jones who tossed his share of interceptions the next yr, each workforce lining up in opposition to the Giants is aware of the one activity at hand has been to cease Barkley. Nonetheless, they’ve principally been unable to do it, and it is as a result of he is top-of-the-line halfbacks this league has ever seen. It appears the one factor that may cease Barkley is his personal physique.

Issues may get very fascinating for Jones in 2021.

Questions on if he’ll have Aaron Rodgers or Jordan Love below heart would not detract from the current second although, when Jones is well top-of-the-line RBs within the league. Realizing what he brings to the desk, he waved off an preliminary provide from the Packers final offseason and as a substitute opted to guess on himself going right into a contract yr, and that guess actually paid off in a giant manner. The Professional Bowler inked a four-year, $48 million this previous March after posting profession numbers in 2020 that helped the Packers have a particular season that included Rodgers touchdown honors as MVP — aided by the very fact groups could not ignore the Inexperienced Bay dashing assault to throw the sink at deleting Rodgers receiving weapons.

Jones himself grew to become a kind of receiving weapons a time or two, including 355 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns to a marketing campaign that additionally noticed him rush for 1,104 yards and 9 TDs. Certain, the TD tally was down from 2019, however his worth to the offense by no means dipped one iota, and averaging 5.5 yards per carry is proof to what he does when the ball is in his palms. Jones is slippery, fast and has the burst to make a defender remorse the no matter angle he selected to absorb making an attempt to sort out him.

As Jones enters his fifth yr within the league, he could also be requested to do extra if Rodgers is not in uniform, however you doubtless will not hear him complain about it. He loves each alternative afforded to him, and would not typically disappoint when it is time to come up huge when the workforce wants him most.

Like Mixon, Chubb isn’t any stranger to struggling in Ohio however, in contrast to Mixon, issues modified in 2020.

And, to be extra correct, Chubb isn’t any stranger to being on a struggling workforce, as a result of he is been stellar as a person since coming into the league. Being compelled to share the load with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson in his rookie season barely put a dent in what he did on the sector, pushing them each out of the way in which (and finally off of the workforce) en path to 996 dashing yards and eight dashing touchdowns in solely 9 begins. Totally unleashed in Yr 2, the previous second-round decide exploded for 1,494 dashing yards (1,772 from scrimmage) and emerged as one of many high 5 finest operating backs in all of soccer. 

Chubb has confirmed he can dominate on the NFL degree as a runner and a receiver — touchdown honors as a Professional Bowler in his first season as a full-time starter — and with barely a sound as his manufacturing is commonly tempered within the eyes of some by his refreshing humility and buttoned-up demeanor. The Browns, but once more, had loads to determine (and did), however the operating again place wasn’t a kind of issues. Chubb is an animal by any and all measure, and the very fact Cleveland was capable of safe him with out utilizing a first-round decide is a coup.

Aggressive. Quick. Certain-handed. Bodily. Sturdy. Clever. These are all adjectives you should use to explain Chubb, one-half of the Browns dynamic duo together with Kareem Hunt, as all of us witness a premier again who — as loopy because it sounds — hasn’t hit his peak but.  

5. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys

Zeke remains to be Zeke, however he is aware of the NFL wants a reminder.

He is by no means been extra able to do injury, heading into 2021 within the “finest form of his life” and “locked in” to reunite with Dak Prescott and a wholesome offense that is confirmed it could possibly (and has) statistically been one of the best within the league. Elliott set the stage for operating backs like McCaffrey and Barkley to be taken with excessive picks in 2017 and 2018, respectively, as a result of he proved the Cowboys proper once they added him to the roster within the first spherical of the 2016 NFL Draft. Elliott shattered information long-held by legends like Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett, and was simply Rookie of the Yr if not for the very fact he occurred to be barely overshadowed by the emergence of Prescott that very season. 

Nonetheless, he was capable of garner First-Crew All-Professional honors, a Professional Bowl nod and the crown as NFL dashing chief in his first yr out, and he is not regarded again since. Elliott is now a two-time dashing champ, two-time All-Professional and three-time Professional Bowler who hasn’t missed a single recreation in 4 seasons because of harm and is just one yr faraway from posting a career-best 2,001 yards from scrimmage. 

Regardless of the passing prowess in Dallas, Elliott stays a lynchpin within the offense, and easily must get again to eliminating giveaways (as he did in Week 7 by means of Week 17 final season) together with persevering with so as to add worth as a receiver out of the backfield (as he is finished the final two seasons). For perspective, solely Henry, Chubb and McCaffrey rushed for extra yards in 2019 than did Elliott, and solely Henry and McCaffrey had extra dashing TDs that season. He had the worst season of his profession in 2020, and was nonetheless solely seven dashing yards away from being within the high 10, statistically — one thing to remember right here.

Money the verify.

Like others on this record, Kamara deservedly secured his bag from the New Orleans Saints, touchdown a five-year contract extension value $75 million forward of the 2020 season. Not a soul may justifiably query why the workforce forked over that a lot coin, as a result of Kamara has been lightning in a mason jar since getting the nod out of the College of Tennessee in 2017. Questions on if he may carry the load with no complement like Mark Ingram have been answered, after which some. The four-time Professional Bowler has grow to be the gold normal for what a dual-threat again appears like — averaging 1,541 yards from scrimmage over his first 4 years within the NFL.

However Kamara is not merely racking up main yardage, he is additionally navigating his manner by means of visitors and into the top zone regularly. He is given the Saints double-digit TD tallies in three of his 4 seasons and a complete of 21 (!!) final yr alone. Making an attempt to include Kamara entails attempting to determine if he’ll take a handoff within the conventional method, or in movement, or will or not it’s a faux handoff after which delivered to him as a bubble display, and many others. and many others. It is a recreation of chess head coach Sean Payton performs masterfully, figuring out Kamara can take no matter’s thrown at him; each actually and figuratively talking.

With out Drew Brees within the combine, he is in the same state of affairs (schematically) as Aaron Jones, as in attempting to find out what adjustments his offense may contain with no future Corridor of Famer quarterback below heart however, by all accounts, Kamara shall be simply effective whether or not it is Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill or rookie Ian Guide getting a glance in 2021. He is adequate to climate the storm at QB, as a result of he is a hurricane within the backfield. 

Dalvin can most undoubtedly prepare dinner. 

There is no doubt he is proven he is top-of-the-line operating backs in all of soccer. The issue for the previous second-round decide is whereas that is clearly true, so have been questions surrounding his sturdiness heading into final season — his battle with accidents having tied down his potential previous to 2019. Prepare dinner burst onto the scene in his rookie yr by taking the franchise file for single-game dashing yards from Adrian Peterson, operating for 127 yards in his NFL debut, however wound up with solely 354 dashing yards and two touchdowns that yr after struggling a torn ACL that sidelined him after Week 4. 

He’d miss extra time in Yr 2 because of hamstring points earlier than breaking out final season, and subsequently holding out with the hopes of commanding a extra “respectable” contract provide from the Vikings. He each landed his contract after which went on to indicate everybody why he was value it. Prepare dinner practically set career-best marks throughout the board, racking up 1,557 dashing yards and 16 dashing touchdowns en path to 1.918 yards from scrimmage and 17 complete touchdowns whereas averaging 5.0 yards per handoff. I am hard-pressed to nudge him previous the 2 gamers ranked above him on this record, not less than in the meanwhile, however I additionally would not die on a hill that claims he is not now doubtlessly one of many top-2 abilities within the league.

2. Christian McCaffrey, Panthers

Run CMC.

Issues get dicey when approaching the highest of this record — given the stratospheric degree of expertise — but it surely’s exhausting to argue McCaffrey being wherever however atop of the hill, even with a misplaced 2020 season. Others on this record have an apparent means to catch out of the backfield in addition to dominate on handoffs, however what the Panthers have unleashed in McCaffrey seems like an absolute cheat code. He is as a lot of a large receiver as he’s a operating again (and so they paid him as such), however he is nonetheless very a lot the latter, racking up dashing yards and dashing touchdowns at a blistering tempo, and his 2,392 yards from scrimmage (and 19 touchdowns) in 2019 was downright disrespectful to opposing defenses. 

He was rewarded final offseason when the Panthers leapfrogged him over Elliott because the highest-paid operating again in NFL historical past, which units the stage for Barkley to take the monetary throne within the close to future, however the Giants as a soccer workforce may by no means require Barkley to be what McCaffrey is in Carolina. In case you did not do the maths above, McCaffrey was each a 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in 2019, and he is even been identified to return kicks and punts. The 2-time All-Professional is a renaissance man — the likes of which have been not often seen within the NFL — making him one of the best within the land. 

Because the Panthers moved on from Ron Rivera and Cam Newton and now into Matt Rhule and Sam Darnold, they will look to the spry 25-year-old to proceed carpet-bombing the league going ahead. He misplaced some floor after harm stole his 2020 season, and gamers like Prepare dinner nudged nearer whereas Derrick Henry ran proper previous him for the No. 1 spot heading into 2021. That mentioned, if he is again to kind this yr, Henry higher glue eyes to the again of his head.

All hail the king. 

Sure, you possibly can attribute a few of the turnaround in Nashville to Ryan Tannehill. For essentially the most half, nonetheless, it was Henry strapping the Titans on his again and bulldozing by means of opponents. When Tannehill could not get issues going, Henry took the ball and have become a person possessed — particularly when it mattered most. Within the playoffs following the 2019 season, he rushed for an eye-popping 182 yards and 195 yards, respectively, within the upsets over the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, on the street… and with each groups throwing the kitchen sink at him. He may solely be stopped by the eventual Tremendous Bowl champion Kansas Metropolis Chiefs, however the aforementioned playoff performances let everybody know his common season was no fluke.

And what a daily season it was, with Henry taking the NFL dashing title with a career-high 1,540 yards to go together with 16 dashing touchdowns, and those that believed he was merely a bowling ball came upon he can navigate across the pins at will; as evidenced within the All-Professional including one other 321 receiving yards to his resume final season. Some puzzled if he may replicate that success and, to be honest, he did not. As an alternative, he ran previous these marks like they have been standing nonetheless — dashing for a monstrous 2,027 yards with 17 dashing touchdowns whereas averaging an eye-popping 126.7 yards per recreation within the course of. 

Henry has gotten higher each season on the NFL degree, and it correlates immediately with having been topped the full-time starter in 2018. There are zero indicators of him slowing down or being slowed down in 2021, and that ought to make the battle to retain his throne this season one thing to behold. And now Titans opponents need to additionally account for Julio Jones, so good luck. 



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