NFL Position Ranking Roulette: The Top 12 Running Backs Following the 2020 Season
Welcome back to the NFL PRR! In this series, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, I will be ranking the top 12 players at each position for the previous season. This is not where I believe they will rank at the end of 2021, just where they stand now. Because of this, incoming rookies will be exempt from the "Following the 2020 Season" blogs. After the draft, leading up to the 2021 NFL season, I will be ranking where I believe each player will rank after the 2021 season, including incoming rookies.
These lists will be controversial, they will raise some eyebrows, but, most importantly, they will open some eyes towards who is actually dominating in the NFL today. Without further ado, here are my top 12 running backs for the 2020 season:
Photo: USA Today
12. Ronald Jones II
RoJo had a statement year in 2020. After being more of a dual threat in 2019, we saw how he can perform as a true runner the following year. On 192 carries, RoJo amassed 978 yards and 7 TDs, while catching 28 passes for 165 yards and 1 TD. These numbers don't seem that impressive, until you consider he only played in 14 games and averaged 5.2 yards a touch (9th among running backs with more than 1,000 scrimmage yards). Also, RoJo led the league in yards after contact with 3.0. With Fournette coming back to solidify the Bucs running back committee, expect both running backs to have more yards per touch and light up opposing run defenses.
11. Miles Sanders
Sanders did very well in his sophomore season. With only 12 games played, he carried the ball 164 times for 867 yards and 6 TDs, while posting 28 catches for 197 yards. Over the course of 16 games, this totals to be 1,418 scrimmage yards and 9 TDs on 256 total touches, assuming one of his receptions ends up scoring. This would put him 7th for total scrimmage yards amongst running backs, with only one getting less touches (Aaron Jones at 248). If Sanders can stay healthy throughout 2021, we could see him shine and be considered a top 10 running back by the end of the season.
10. Ezekiel Elliott
Despite the offensive line injuries and losing his QB, Zeke still put up a solid season. In his first 5 games, Zeke averaged 107.4 total yards per game, while rushing for 5 TDs and catching 1 TD. In 10 games after Dak's injury, he averaged 78 total yards per game, while rushing for just 1 TD and receiving 1 TD. Sprinkle in some injuries to the offensive line and a poor defense, it's clear to see why Elliott wasn't the same back we are normally used to. Regardless, he still totaled 1,317 total scrimmage yards on the year and averaged 4.4 yards a touch. I think that's a solid season given most of his offense was missing and his defense was one of the worst in the league, giving him less playing time (Dallas averaged 28:21 of possession time in 2020, down from 29:32 in 2019, and down from 30:35 in 2018).
9. Josh Jacobs
Jacobs was great in his second year. In 15 games, Jacobs ran the ball 273 times for 1,065 yards and 12 TDs, while hauling in 33 catches for 238 yards. He had the 9th most scrimmage yards out of all running backs with 1,303 yards. It may be difficult for Jacobs to produce these same numbers next season, after he lost 3 of his 5 starting offensive linemen during the offseason. With the additions of Nick Martin, Denzelle Good, and possibly a rookie offensive tackle, Jacobs should be fine in terms of production, and may even get a couple of blows here and there with Kenyan Drake stepping in.
Photo: Associated Press
8. Jonathan Taylor
Already one of the most explosive backs in the game, Taylor lit up the turf in 2020. In 15 games, Taylor had 232 carries for 1,169 yards and 11 TDs, while catching 36 passes for 299 yards and 1 TD. This totals to 1,468 scrimmage yards, and boasts a 5.5 yards per touch rate. He showed awesome progression throughout the year, tallying 837 scrimmage yards over his last 6 games played. It's also worth mentioning that Taylor had the highest catch percentage out of any player in the NFL with 36 catches on 39 targets (92.3%). The only reason he isn't ranked higher is that the Colts had the 7th best offensive line per PFF, as well as the 3rd best defense in the league when considering total yardage allowed and turnovers forced. If the Colts can find a solid left tackle, Taylor could have an even bigger year in 2021 (possible OPOY?).
7. Nick Chubb
Nick Chubb had one of his best seasons on a production level. In 12 games, Chubb carried the ball 190 times for 1,067 yards and 12 TDs, while hauling in 16 passes for 130 yards. Over the course of a full season, this would total to 1,596 scrimmage yards and 17 total TDs on 275 total touches, assuming one of his receptions will end up scoring. His production is nuts, but he is greatly helped by the best offensive line per PFF, and other solid rushing and receiving weapons around him. The Browns did have the 16th ranked overall defense in 2020 and ranked 17th in time of possession with 29:42, so Chubb saw limited action compared to some other running backs. Nevertheless, Chubb had a great year and proved that he is a top 10 back in the league.
6. James Robinson
James RB1son shocked the world in 2020. The undrafted rookie not only made his case for best rookie running back, but one of the best backs in the league. He was the one consistent piece to the Jags offense, as he ran for 1,070 yards and 7 TDs on 240 carries, as well as receiving for 344 yards and 3 TDs on 49 catches, all in just 14 games. Considering the Jags had the 11th worst offensive line per PFF, the 2nd worst defense and the 2nd lowest time of possession, these numbers are even more impressive, and James Robinson's case for best rookie running back is a dead lock.
5. Aaron Jones
The player that makes a good amount of the Packers offense tick finds himself in the top 5. In 14 games, Jones had 201 carries for 1,104 yards and 9 TDs, while catching 47 passes for 355 yards and 2 TDs. He also tied with Nick Chubb for the 2nd most yards per touch for running backs with over 1,000 total scrimmage yards (5.9 yards per touch). Jones is greatly helped by the 2nd best QB of 2020, Aaron Rodgers, the 2nd best offensive line per PFF, and the 9th overall defense. It would have been interesting to see Aaron Jones play elsewhere in 2021, but I think he is the perfect fit for Green Bay and helps the offense tremendously.
4. David Montgomery
David Montgomery was the best second year back in 2020. In 15 games, he carried the rock 247 times for 1,070 yards and 8 TDs, as well as hauling in 54 catches for 438 yards and 2 TDs. His scrimmage total of 1,508 yards is 4th among all running backs, and this is even more impressive when you consider the Bears had the 20th ranked offensive line per PFF, and ranked 15th in overall defense. Montgomery was a surprise to some this year, and looks to be the face of the Bears backfield for years to come. We may even see his production spike with the return of speedster Tarik Cohen.
Photo: Pro Football Focus
3. Alvin Kamara
There was a lot of speculation around Kamara before the season even started. Would the Saints trade him? Would they release him? Would he get top running back money? After securing a 5 year, $75 million deal, Kamara proved why he was worth that much. On 187 carries, Kamara rushed for 932 yards and 16 TDs, while catching 83 passes for 756 yards and 5 TDs. He led all running backs in yards per touch with 6.3, and had the third most total scrimmage yards with 1,688. Despite running behind the 8th best offensive line per PFF, and having the 2nd best defense in the league helping him stay on the field, he exceeded all expectations and outplayed his supporting cast.
2. Dalvin Cook
It took a while for Cook to get his feet wet in the NFL, after missing significant time in his first two seasons, but he has finally solidified himself as a top 3 running back in the NFL. On 312 carries, Cook tallied 1,557 yards and 16 TDs, as well as 44 catches for 361 yards and 1 TD in 14 games. His 1,918 total scrimmage yards were the second most in the league, and on a 16 game pace, he would have hit 2,192 yards, which would have given him the top spot. Pair that with a pace of 18 TDs, all while playing behind 7th worst offensive line per PFF, and being supported by the 9th worst overall defense, Cook's production is absolutely insane. He looks to ball out in 2021 and make his claim as the best running back in the NFL.
Photo: Associated Press
1. Derrick Henry
Is anyone shocked? What else can I say that I haven't already? 8th running back to eclipse 2,000 yards, 5th most rushing yards in a season with 2,027, 17 rushing TDs, played behind the 15th ranked offensive line per PFF, supported by a bottom 10 defense, the most scrimmage yards in 2020 with 2,141, and he averaged 5.4 yards per touch on 397 total touches!!! For someone to still average more than half a first down per touch after getting the ball on more than half of the offensive snaps he played in is insane. Defenses had a 50/50 shot at guessing who was getting the ball: Derrick Henry, or anyone else. Not to mention that most of the defenses he played were in the top half of the league against the run. With all of that, he still put up one of the best rushing seasons we've ever seen. With Taylor Lewan coming back and the Titans improving their defense, my MVP for 2020 could end up breaking the rushing record in 2021.
Sources: Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, ESPN, teamrankings.com
Some notable names that didn't make the list are Melvin Gordon, Clyde-Edwards Helaire, JK Dobbins, Kenyan Drake, and Antonio Gibson. All of these running backs had productive seasons, but either didn't generate the amount of total yardage in order to make the cut, or were supported by the team around them. Most of these running backs may play better than they did in 2020, and may find themselves on next years list.
Join me next time as I cover the top 12 cornerbacks of 2020!