While the 2021 NFL season is still a few months away, it’s never too early to look ahead. Fan bases will argue day and night about who has the better team. Instead of debating the entire roster, why not debate positions. In the second part of a 12 part series, I will rank each team’s running back position. These rankings are a culmination of what the player has done over the entirety of their career, how they performed last season, and projecting how they will play this upcoming season.
Be sure to check out all of Moran’s NFL Positional Rankings.
1. Tennessee Titans
Derrick Henry has been the best running back in the NFL for over a year now. Henry is coming off an incredibly special 2020 season. He has unreal size and power as a runner. What makes Henry special is his speed considering how big he is. In 2021, expect him to continue his dominance. The Titans’ offense goes through Henry. He makes life easier for the entire Titans team. The Titans may not have a great backup to Henry, but there is no running back in the league better than him.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Similar to Henry, these last two seasons for Dalvin Cook have been great. Cook has speed and fits the zone running scheme the Vikings have implemented the last two years. In 2021, Cook should continue to attain great success. After Cook, the Vikings have a great backup running back, Alexander Mattison. These two will have featured roles in the Vikings offense this season. By the end of the season, Cook and Mattison will likely be regarded as a top tandem.
3. Cleveland Browns
Heading into 2021, the Browns have arguably the best running back duo in the NFL. As they enter a year with big expectations, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will be instrumental for the Browns’ offense this season. Chubb is a very pure runner. He has had great early success. Having Hunt allows the Browns the opportunity to keep Chubb fresh throughout the season. These two along with the great offensive line they will be running behind will set the tone for the Browns this season.
4. Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey being back healthy will help the Panthers in a big way. McCaffrey is arguably the most complete running back in the NFL. He is a phenomenal receiver. As a runner, he has had great success. His speed is special. In 2021, expect him to have a big year. He will get a lot of opportunities in both the run and pass game. His talent and versatility will help the Panthers’ new quarterback, Sam Darnold.
5. New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara is a very dynamic football player. Like McCaffrey, Kamara is a special receiver. Without Drew Brees, it will be interesting to see how things may change for Kamara in the passing game. Nonetheless, Kamara will still contribute and be great for the Saints as a result of his talent. He is capable of doing a good job as a runner. In 2021, Kamara will remain a focal point for the Saints’ offense.
6. Green Bay Packers
Before the start of free agency, the Packers made a big transaction. The team re-signed star running back, Aaron Jones. Over the last two seasons, Jones has been given more of an opportunity. Jones has made the most of it. He has great speed, fits the scheme Matt LaFleur has implemented, and has the ability as a receiver. In his second season, AJ Dillon should have a bigger role. Dillon has great size and power as a runner. These two should have a successful 2021.
7. New York Giants
Having a healthy Saquon Barkley for the Giants will make a big difference for the team in 2021. Barkley is a gifted athlete. He has great size, speed, and receiving ability. The Giants’ offense will be predicated around Barkley and his dynamic skill set. This season, as long as he remains healthy, expect Barkley to have his best year in the NFL. He should help Daniel Jones greatly, who needs it, entering a vital season.
8. Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have a very formidable tandem at running back in Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Elliott is entering a crucial season in his career. Over the last two seasons, he has not been as dominant as his first three years. This season though, he should still gain a lot of yards rushing and score many touchdowns. However, he may not run with the same explosiveness as he had earlier in his career. Pollard is an exciting player entering his third NFL season. This year, he should have a bigger role in the offense. Expect Pollard to deliver.
9. Cincinnati Bengals
Running back Joe Mixon will be a big part of the Bengals offense in 2021. Mixon is a talented runner and receiver. Despite all the talent the Bengals now have on the outside, Mixon is still going to be pivotal for this offense to attain success. As long as he remains healthy, Mixon should have a productive 2021 in both the run and pass game. This season, the Bengals’ offensive line should be better.
10. Las Vegas Raiders
Heading into 2021, the Raiders have two talented running backs. Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake should make for an exciting duo. Jacobs is an incredibly talented runner. He is very pure, possesses good size, power and speed. Drake should have a sizable role in this offense. Jon Gruden has relied on two running backs. It should lead to both players feeling fresh throughout the season which is always a great thing. Jacobs and Drake will have to perform well for the Raiders to have another good offense.
11. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts head into 2021 with arguably the best running back trio in the NFL. Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack will be a very fun group to watch. Taylor is a complete player. He has great running and pass-catching ability. Taylor had an impressive rookie season. This upcoming season, expect Taylor to play even better. Hines is a great receiver. He will have an integral role in the Colts’ offense. Mack is probably the best third-running back on any team. He has had great success as a runner and has speed. In 2021, this backfield will be very fun to watch.
12. Chicago Bears
David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen complement each other well. The Bears’ offense will be predicated around Montgomery with what he is capable of as a runner. He had a great season last year. Cohen will be back healthy. He brings great speed and ability as a receiver. These two should have intricate roles in the Bears offense this upcoming season. They have different skillsets and should work well together as a tandem.
13. Los Angeles Rams
It will be exciting to see Cam Akers in his second season. He should build off what he did at the end of his rookie year and have a very productive season for the Rams. When Akers got healthy at the end of last season, he showed his great talent. Akers is a very natural runner. The Rams also drafted Darrell Henderson recently. Henderson has an intriguing skillset. Early on last season, when he was called upon he showed he is capable of playing well. In 2021, Akers and Henderson should make for one of the better running back duos in football.
14. Washington Football Team
Antonio Gibson had a strong rookie year for Washington. Gibson has exceptional receiving ability. He also has speed. With a better team around him, expect Gibson to play even better this season. As a runner, with more experience, he should continue to progress. Along with more experience, better quarterback play and improved wide receivers on the outside should help Gibson take the next step as a runner. Gibson should be even better in year two.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars have two talented young running backs. Last year, as an undrafted free agent, James Robinson had great production. Robinson was one of the few good players the Jaguars had on a bad team a year ago. Expect him to continue to have success as a runner. Travis Etienne was drafted by the Jaguars with the second selection they made in the first round. Etienne has special speed. He should contribute as both a runner and receiver right away. It will be fun to watch Robinson and Etienne as young players in their first season together.
16. Denver Broncos
Melvin Gordon has had a very solid NFL career. In 2021, expect Gordon to have a productive year for the Broncos. The Broncos traded up in the draft to select Javonte Williams early in the second round. Williams has exciting potential. Gordon and Williams should be a good running back tandem this season. They should both have pretty big roles in the Broncos’ offense.
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers come off a Super Bowl victory with a good group of running backs. Down the stretch last season, Leonard Fournette ran very well and propelled the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl. Ronald Jones is a talented player with speed. This offseason, Giovani Bernard was one of the few new players acquired by the Buccaneers. Bernard should mesh well with Tom Brady as a result of his receiving ability. All three of these players should have a role. This backfield trio should be a productive one.
18. San Francisco 49ers
A healthy Raheem Mostert will make an impact on the 49ers this season. Mostert has great speed and big-play threat ability anytime he has the football. In the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected Trey Sermon. Sermon is a bigger back who runs hard with power. He should help in-between the tackles and on short yardage reps. Before free agency, the 49ers re-signed Pro Bowl fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. Juszczyk is the best fullback in the NFL. He is a great athlete, receiver, blocker, and has versatility. Mostert, Sermon, and Juszczyk should help the Kyle Shanahan led rushing attack be successful for the 49ers this season.
19. Seattle Seahawks
Chris Carson has had a good career for the Seahawks. Carson should remain a focal point in the Seahawks offense this upcoming year. He is very talented as a runner. Carson has also quietly had some good production as a receiver the last two seasons. As long as he remains healthy and takes good care of the football, he will remain productive. For the Seahawks to continue their success, it will be imperative that Carson continues to play at the level he has.
20. Detroit Lions
The Lions head into 2021 with a running back duo that has potential. Last year, the team drafted D’Andre Swift. Swift had an impressive rookie season. This season, he should be a mismatch as a receiver. Expect him to have success. In free agency, Jamaal Williams was signed by the Lions. Williams runs hard. He should get more opportunities than he had with the Packers. Swift and Williams will have one of the best offensive lines in football blocking for them.
21. Los Angeles Chargers
Having a healthy Austin Ekeler will help the Chargers. He is a dynamic player. Ekeler is one of the better receivers at running back in the NFL. He should have great success this season catching passes from Justin Herbert. Expect Ekeler to also be effective as a runner. The Chargers’ offensive line should be much improved this season. In 2021, Ekeler will be integral for the Chargers offense to attain success.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers drafted Najee Harris in the first round. Harris had great production at Alabama. The Steelers do not have many other options at running back. Expect Harris to get opportunities as a three-down player who contributes as both a runner and receiver. With the lack of depth the Steelers have at running back along with his talent, Harris could be an offensive rookie of the year candidate.
23. Baltimore Ravens
As a second-year player, J.K. Dobbins should be taking on a bigger role. Dobbins certainly has proven in the past he has the talent to succeed. He should be efficient this season as a runner. The Ravens also have Gus Edwards. He is heading into his fourth season with the team. Edwards has shown some good things early in his career. He should work well with Dobbins. These two should both be contributors to the Ravens’ offense this season.
24. Kansas City Chiefs
Clyde Edwards-Helaire had some good moments in his rookie year. He should improve in his second season. Edwards-Helaire has the talent to be a great running back. He is built low to the ground. He is a shifty runner. Edwards-Helaire is also capable of being a good receiver. With unknowns at the skill positions outside of Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, Edwards-Helaire will be expected to break out this season. He was drafted in the first round for a reason. It will be exciting to see what plan Andy Reid has for Edwards-Helaire.
25. New England Patriots
Damien Harris was healthy last season and showed some very good things. This offseason, the Patriots did not address running back in any big way. That seems to show they have some confidence in the talent Harris has. He has good size and running ability. In 2021, expect Harris to contribute to the Patriots even more. The skill is there and he has a great opportunity.
26. New York Jets
In the fourth round of the draft, the Jets selected Michael Carter. Carter is an exciting prospect. He fits the zone running scheme the Jets will be using. Carter is also a great receiver. This should help Zach Wilson as a rookie. Ty Johnson is a player who showed some great things last season. Johnson has great speed. He should have a bigger role this season and make an impact. In free agency, the Jets signed Tevin Coleman. Coleman has played most of his career in the system the Jets will be running. In 2021, expect Carter, Johnson, and Coleman to all contribute.
27. Buffalo Bills
In his second season, expect Zack Moss to make progress. Moss has talent. He is a bigger, more physical back. Devin Singletary is now entering his third season with the Bills. Singletary had a very good rookie season. He has shown he has the ability. Singletary is a smaller back and quick. The Bills’ run blocking this season should be improved. This should help both Moss and Singletary.
28. Arizona Cardinals
In free agency, the Cardinals addressed a position of need at running back by signing James Conner. Conner has had some great moments in the NFL. Hopefully, he helps the Cardinals this season. Chase Edmonds is a young player with some promise. Edmonds has done some good things the last few years for the Cardinals. He could improve this season and be impactful. Expect both Conner and Edmonds to have a role this season.
29. Miami Dolphins
Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, and Malcolm Brown should all split-time in the backfield for the Dolphins. Gaskin had good production last season. Expect him to contribute in the passing game. In the few games Ahmed got a lot of carries in last season, he made an impact. It will be interesting to see how he is utilized this year. Brown is a solid veteran who was signed in free agency. He is a bigger back who runs hard and can help in the passing game. Hopefully, between these three, the Dolphins can have a more reliable backfield.
30. Philadelphia Eagles
Miles Sanders is entering an important third season. Sanders has talent but needs to produce. Hopefully, this season he can show what he is capable of. In the fifth round of the draft, Kenny Gainwell was selected by the Eagles. Gainwell has speed and receiving ability. The Eagles might have gotten a good player later in the draft. Sanders is bigger than Gainwell. However, they are both similar as speed backs with pass-catching ability.
31. Atlanta Falcons
Mike Davis was added by the Falcons in free agency. He had good production a season ago for the Panthers. Due to the Falcons’ lack of depth at running back, Davis has a great opportunity to re-prove what he is capable of. Davis is a hard runner. In 2021, expect Davis to get a lot of snaps and contribute to the Falcons.
32. Houston Texans
David Johnson agreed to a contract restructure early in the offseason. Johnson has had a great career. Unfortunately, injuries have derailed things for him in recent years. When the Broncos let Phillip Lindsay go, he signed with the Texans. Lindsay did some great things with the Broncos. He should get a lot of playing time in this backfield. It will be interesting to see if he rebounds.
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