The running back position has changed in a big way over the last few years. Most NFL teams are opting to go with a committee at the position as opposed to a single workhorse, and franchises won’t always reward their top running back with a lucrative extension. They now come a dime a dozen, and no team has an issue finding a young athlete to pound the rock through the A-gap every given Sunday.
With that being said, there are still elite running backs who are capable of completely carrying an offense. Just look at what Derrick Henry has done over the past few seasons, and what Jonathan Taylor did last year. Below, we will rank the running back talent division by division. Our list will focus more on the names each team has as opposed to the “run offenses” themselves, although those will certainly be taken into consideration. Which one of the eight divisions has the best running backs?
8. AFC East
Buffalo Bills: Devin Singletary, James Cook
Miami Dolphins: Chase Edmonds, Sony Michel, Raheem Mostert
New England Patriots: Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, James White
New York Jets: Breece Hall, Michael Carter
It doesn’t even feel fair to say the AFC East has the “worst” running back corps in the NFL, because they have a very intriguing group. The Bills haven’t had a stud running back since maybe the LeSean McCoy days, but Singletary is capable and it’s hard not to be intrigued by the rookie Cook. The Dolphins went out in free agency and signed three running backs with legitimate starting experience to support Tua Tagovailoa, and the Patriots have a solid stable of players who helped Mac Jones plenty during his rookie campaign. The Jets also have two young running backs that will certainly be wanted in fantasy football leagues in Hall and Carter.
7. NFC West
Arizona Cardinals: James Conner, Darrell Williams, Eno Benjamin
San Francisco 49ers: Elijah Mitchell, Jeff Wilson Jr., Tyrion Davis-Price, Trey Sermon, JaMycal Hasty
Seattle Seahawks: Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Walker III, Chris Carson
Los Angeles Rams: Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson Jr.
The NFC West is arguably the best division in the NFL and had three of the top 11 rushing offenses last year. The 49ers dominate on the ground almost every Sunday, but it doesn’t matter at all who is toting the rock. They’ve cycled through plenty of running backs over the past few years with no issue, although Mitchell does appear to be a great player. As for the Cardinals, Conner experienced a rebirth last year, which earned him an extension. Keep an eye on Benjamin, who is making waves and could replace what Edmonds did for Kliff Kingsbury last year.
The Rams had to fight through the regular season without Akers, who tore his Achilles but still returned for the playoffs. Having him back healthy for 2022 will only help Sean McVay in his mission to run it back. The Seahawks are an interesting team when it comes to their running backs, because Pete Carroll may be relying on these guys in a big way with the loss of Russell Wilson. Penny has been good when healthy, and Walker is one of the rookies this year who could make an immediate impact.
6. AFC West
Denver Broncos: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon
Kansas City Chiefs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ronald Jones, Jerick McKinnon
Las Vegas Raiders: Josh Jacobs, Kenyan Drake
Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler
The Broncos may have a dynamic duo with Gordon and Williams, who finished No. 11 and No. 13 in rushing last year respectively. The Chiefs have found relative success with a few different running backs they’ve thrown out there, but the offense obviously runs more through Patrick Mahomes. Will Edwards-Helaire proved he’s a legitimate No. 1 in 2022, or will Andy Reid have more of a committee approach?
Jacobs is a pretty big name, but he took a step back from his Pro Bowl ways in 2021. The Raiders declined his fifth-year option, so it’s curious as to what the future holds for him under Josh McDaniels. As for Ekeler, he’s a bonafide dual-threat weapon, and recorded a career-high 1,558 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns last year.
5. NFC East
Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley
Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell
Washington Commanders: Antonio Gibson, JD McKissic
Zeke has a cap hit of $18.22 million in 2022 and many want to see Pollard get more touches moving forward. But, Elliott still recorded 1,289 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns last year, and was seventh in rushing yards with 1,002. The bottom line is that the Cowboys have two very capable running backs. The Giants have a big name as well in Barkley, but it’s fair to wonder if he can get back to elite form.
The Eagles had the No. 1 rushing offense in the league last year, and while Jalen Hurts was the leading rusher, Sanders and Gainwell are two underrated running backs. I predict both will have better seasons in 2022 even with the addition of AJ Brown. The Commanders have an interesting situation at running back. Gibson finished sixth in rushing yards last year with 1,037, but fantasy owners lamented the amount of touches McKissic received. He proved to be a versatile weapon that quite literally won a couple of games for the Commanders last season. Gibson was also benched at times due to fumbling, and Washington brought in Brian Robinson to compete as well. Gibson has already proven he’s a talented back, but how Washington handles its rotation will be something to watch this upcoming season.
4. NFC South
Atlanta Falcons: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Damien Williams
Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, Chuba Hubbard, D’Onta Foreman
New Orleans Saints: Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Leonard Fournette
We all know Kamara is one of the best in the game, but this division is a little tricky to rank because of McCaffrey. He’s missed 23 games over the last two seasons, and hasn’t been the same dual-threat weapon he was before he signed his massive extension. It’s just unfortunate. Still, the Panthers have a couple of decent guys behind him in Foreman and Hubbard.
Patterson deserves credit for last season, even if he can’t build on it. The 31-year-old recorded a career-high 1,166 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in 2021, as first-year head coach Arthur Smith became the first one to truly unlock this weapon. Even though he’s not your prototypical running back, Patterson is still going to make plays. For the Bucs, Fournette is another one of those players who doesn’t get enough credit. He recorded 1,266 yards from scrimmage last year and tied a career-high with 10 touchdowns. Jones is no longer on the roster, so the rookie Rachaad White or Ke’Shawn Vaughn could play a role in 2022.
3. AFC South
Houston Texans: Marlon Mack, Rex Burkhead, Dameon Pierce
Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Phillip Lindsay
Jacksonville Jaguars: James Robinson, Travis Etienne Jr.
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry
You could make an argument that the AFC South is the best running back division since they have the top two running backs in the NFL in Henry and Taylor. Henry led the NFL in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in 2019 and 2020, and Taylor took over that crown in 2021 while Henry was sidelined due to injury.
Apart from the two studs, there’s credit to go around for the Jaguars and Texans. Robinson has been great ever since entering the league, that is when Urban Meyer wasn’t holding him back, and he will now have Etienne as a running mate. Then for Houston, Burkhead rushed for a career-high 427 yards in 2021, which included a 149-yard, two-touchdown outing against the Chargers in Week 16. Plus, the Texans added Mack and the rookie Pierce.
2. NFC North
Chicago Bears: David Montgomery, Khalil Herbert
Detroit Lions: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon
Minnesota Vikings: Dalvin Cook
The talent in this division is undeniable. Montgomery is a legitimate RB1, Herbert shined when called upon, Swift went for over 1,000 scrimmage yards in 2021, Jones and Dillon both went for over 1,000 scrimmage yards as well and then Cook was a Pro Bowler for the third straight season.
Another reason this division is one of the best when it comes to running backs is because these players will have major responsibilities in 2022. Montgomery will need to make life easy for Justin Fields, Jones and Dillon could make up for the loss of Davante Adams in several ways and then Swift should get better.
1. AFC North
Baltimore Ravens: JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, Mike Davis
Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Mixon
Cleveland Browns: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt
Pittsburgh Steelers: Najee Harris
The AFC North has the best overall running back group in the NFL, as this division had three of the top four rushers last year. Look at this group: Dobbins rushed for 805 yards and nine touchdowns in 15 games with one official start in his rookie season before missing last year due to injury, Mixon had a career year in 2021 as the Bengals made it all the way to the Super Bowl, the dynamic duo of Chubb and Hunt is probably the best in the NFL and then Harris had a very promising rookie campaign in which he touched the ball more than anyone. It’s fair to expect big seasons from all of these starters in 2022.