The NFL's Best Running Backs
Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley

Los Angeles Rams running back TODD GURLEY ranked third in the NFL with 1,251 rushing yards and led the league in rushing touchdowns (17) and total touchdowns (21) last season. In 2018, Gurley scored at least one touchdown in each of the Rams' first 10 games and joined Pro Football Hall of Famers O.J. SIMPSON (14 games in 1975), LENNY MOORE (14 in 1964) and ELROY "CRAZY LEGS" HIRSCH (10 in 1951) as the only players in NFL history to score a touchdown in each of their team's first 10 games of a season.

Gurley, who had 19 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2017, became the seventh player in NFL history to record at least 19 scrimmage touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Entering his fifth season, Gurley has 56 touchdowns from scrimmage in 58 career games. With four touchdowns in his first two games of the 2019 season, he would become the fifth player in NFL history to record at least 60 touchdowns from scrimmage in his first 60 career games.

    "[Todd Gurley] does so many things well. He's got the ability to break a lot of tackles." - Chicago Bears linebacker ROQUAN SMITH on Gurley

Since entering the league as the 10th overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, Gurley leads all players in rushing yards (4,567), rushing touchdowns (46), scrimmage yards (6,430) and scrimmage touchdowns (56). Gurley became the third player in NFL history to record at least 4,500 rushing yards, 1,500 receiving yards and 55 scrimmage touchdowns in his first four seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers LADAINIAN TOMLINSON and MARCUS ALLEN.

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys running back EZEKIEL ELLIOTT led the NFL with 1,434 rushing yards and became the fifth player to lead the league in rushing yards in two of his first three seasons.

Ezekiel Elliott ranked second with 2,001 scrimmage yards in 2018 and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer EMMITT SMITH, HERSCHEL WALKER and DEMARCO MURRAY as the only players in franchise history with 2,000-or-more scrimmage yards in a single season.

Elliott, who had 1,994 scrimmage yards in 2016, is the fourth player in NFL history to record at least 1,900 scrimmage yards in two of his first three seasons. Since entering the NFL in 2016, Elliott leads the league with 4,048 rushing yards in 40 career games. With 952 rushing yards in his first 10 games in 2019, he can become the fifth player in NFL history with at least 5,000 rushing yards in his first 50 career games. The four other players to accomplish the feat are all enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Additionally, Elliott has 1,199 receiving yards in his three-year NFL career and is the fifth player in NFL history with at least 4,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in his first three NFL seasons, joining OTTIS ANDERSON, CHRIS JOHNSON and Pro Football Hall of Famers BARRY SANDERS and LADAINIAN TOMLINSON.

Saquon Barkley

New York Giants running back SAQUON BARKLEY burst onto the scene in 2018, taking the league by storm as a rookie. The second-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft led the league with 2,028 scrimmage yards and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON (2,212 in 1983) and EDGERRIN JAMES (2,139 in 1999) as the only rookies with at least 2,000 scrimmage yards in NFL history. Barkley, Dickerson and Pro Football Hall of Famer MARCUS ALLEN (1982) are the only rookies to lead the league in scrimmage yards in the Super Bowl era.

The 2018 Rookie of the Year recorded at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first six games, the second-longest streak to begin a career in NFL history. In total, Barkley finished the season with 13 games of at least 100 scrimmage yards, tying Dickerson (1983) for the most games with 100+ scrimmage yards by a rookie in NFL history.

Barkley finished second in the league with 1,307 rushing yards in 2018 and became the first rookie in Giants history to rush for more than 1,000 yards.

In Week 2, Barkley had 14 receptions, the most in a single game in franchise history. He finished the season with 91 receptions, the most by a rookie running back in NFL history (REGGIE BUSH, 88 receptions in 2006).

Alvin Kamara

Since entering the league in 2017, New Orleans running back ALVIN KAMARA has been a force to reckon with in both the running game and passing game. Kamara joined Carolina running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY and former NFL running back HERSCHEL WALKER as the only players to record at least 1,500 rushing yards and 1,500 receiving yards in their first two seasons in NFL history.

Kamara has 1,611 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, while notching 162 receptions for 1,535 yards and nine touchdowns over his first two seasons. He is the first player to record at least 1,500 receiving yards and 20 rushing touchdowns in a player's first two seasons in NFL history.

Kamara recorded nine games with at least two touchdowns in his first 25 career games, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famers CURTIS MARTIN (10) and STEVE VAN BUREN (10), as well as EDGERRIN JAMES (10), for the most games with at least two touchdowns in a player's first 25 career games in NFL history.

In Week 3, Kamara recorded 15 receptions and tied WILLIAM ANDREWS (November 15, 1981) and RICKEY YOUNG (December 16, 1979) for the second-most catches by a running back in a single game in NFL history. Only CLARK GAINES (17 on September 21, 1980) recorded more catches as a running back in a single game in NFL history.

    "There's a level of awareness with him that I think is unique. He picks up on things very quickly. I think that's unique. And so then combine that with exceptional athletic skills and you get the player that he is." -- New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES on Kamara

Christian Mccaffrey

In 2018, Carolina running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY had 107 receptions, surpassing MATT FORTÉ (102 in 2014) for the most receptions by a running back in a single season in league history, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer LADAINIAN TOMLINSON and Forté as the only players to record 1,000 rushing yards and 100 receptions in a single season in NFL history.

In Week 11 vs. Seattle, McCaffrey became the first player in franchise history with at least 100 rushing yards (125), a rushing touchdown (one), at least 100 receiving yards (112) and a touchdown catch (one) in a single game.

McCaffrey's 187 receptions are tied with ODELL BECKHAM JR. for the third most among all players in their first two seasons in NFL history.

    "It's encouraging and motivating to see a guy that can attack a defense in so many different ways, whether handing the ball off, whether blocking, whether throwing the ball down the field. I've never been around anything [like him] ... He's a person who plays bigger than he is, and his impact on the game helps us so much." -- Carolina Panthers quarterback CAM NEWTON on McCaffrey

Year Two Running Backs

The 2018 rookie class featured some of the most prolific rookie seasons for running backs in league history. Below is a sampling of statistical highlights from several of the league's top young rushers.

New York Giants running back SAQUON BARKLEY led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2,028) and ranked second in rushing yards (1,307) in 2018. Barkley had 91 receptions and surpassed REGGIE BUSH (88 in 2006) for the most receptions by a rookie running back in league history. The Giants rookie joined Pro Football Hall of Famer ERIC DICKERSON (2,212 scrimmage yards in 1983) as well as EDGERRIN JAMES (2,139 in 1999) as the only rookies to record at least 2,000 scrimmage yards in NFL history.

Last season, Denver running back PHILLIP LINDSAY recorded 1,037 rushing yards and joined LEGARRETTE BLOUNT (2010) and DOMINIC RHODES (2001) as the only undrafted rookies to record at least 1,000 rushing yards since 1967. Lindsay became the first undrafted player in NFL history to record at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first two career games.

In Week 10, Cleveland running back NICK CHUBB recorded a 92-yard touchdown run, which marked the longest rushing touchdown in franchise history and passed BO JACKSON (91) and DEMARCO MURRAY (91) for the longest touchdown run by a rookie since 1970. In 2018, Chubb averaged 5.19 yards per carry, which set a franchise record for the most yards per carry by a rookie in a single season (minimum 100 attempts) and marked the highest yards per carry of any Browns running back since GREG PRUITT in 1978 (5.45).

In 2018, New England running back SONY MICHEL set the NFL postseason record for the most rushing touchdowns by a rookie with six, and finished tied for the second-most rushing touchdowns in a single postseason by a player in NFL history, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famer TERRELL DAVIS (eight in 1997). Michel finished his rookie campaign with 931 rushing yards, which surpassed LAWRENCE MARONEY (745 in 2006) for the most rushing yards by a rookie under head coach Bill Belichick.

Double-Trouble Running Backs

They seem to be all over the league. Those running backs, like MELVIN GORDON and DAVID JOHNSON that can hurt you two ways: rushing or catching the ball.

Dual-threat running backs not only force defenses to be ready for anything, they allow offenses to keep their best playmakers on the field in any situation.

More and more offenses are relying on these dual-threat players to keep the chains moving. Eight running backs rushed for at least 800 yards while adding at least 50 receptions in 2018, the most in a single season since 2002.

    "I think he's just gotten to the point where he sees the running back as a three-down position." - Los Angeles Chargers quarterback PHILIP RIVERS on Melvin Gordon

Each NFL season, running backs are improving on their ability to catch the football. That stood out most to Carolina quarterback CAM NEWTON and New York Giants quarterback ELI MANNING, as each of their respective running backs broke NFL records. Carolina's CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY had 107 receptions, the most by a running back in NFL history, while SAQUON BARKLEY recorded 91 receptions, the most by a rookie running back in NFL history. In total, five running backs in 2018 had at least 75 receptions, the most in a single season in league history.

1,000-Yard Rushers

One of the most prolific offensive seasons in NFL history, 2018 saw nine players rush for at least 1,000 yards. Of those nine players, six reached the milestone for the first time in their career (in bold below), the most players since seven reached 1,000 for the first time in 2010.

    1. Ezekiel Elliott Dallas 1,434

    2. Saquon Barkley N.Y. Giants 1,307

    3. Todd Gurley L.A. Rams 1,251

    4. Joe Mixon Cincinnati 1,168

    5. Chris Carson Seattle 1,151

    6. Christian McCaffrey Carolina 1,098

    7. Derrick Henry Tennessee 1,059

    8. Adrian Peterson Washington 1,042

    9. Phillip Lindsay Denver 1,037

New York Giants running back SAQUON BARKLEY became the first rookie in franchise history to surpass 1,000 rushing yards. Barkley totaled seven games with at least 100 rushing yards, tied with EZEKIEL ELLIOTT for the most in the NFL last season.

Cincinnati running back JOE MIXON became the first Bengal since 2014 with a 1,000-yard rushing season. With 1,000 rushing yards in 2019, Mixon can become the first Cincinnati running back since CEDRIC BENSON (2009-11) to record 1,000 rushing yards in consecutive seasons.

Seattle running back CHRIS CARSON became the Seahawks' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 and joined SHAUN ALEXANDER, MARSHAWN LYNCH and RICKY WATTERS as the only Seattle running backs with 1,000 rushing yards in a single season since 2000.

Carolina running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY became the fifth Panther to record a 1,000-yard rushing season. In 2018, he became the first player in league history with at least 50 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards in five consecutive games (Weeks 9-13).

Tennessee running back DERRICK HENRY rushed for 238 yards and four touchdowns in Week 14, the highest single-game rushing total and tied for the most rushing touchdowns in franchise history. In Weeks 14-15, Henry became the fifth player since 2002 to record at least 170 rushing yards and two touchdown runs in consecutive games.

Denver running back PHILLIP LINDSAY had 1,037 rushing yards and joined DOMINIC RHODES (1,104 in 2001) and LEGARRETTE BLOUNT (1,007 in 2010) as the only undrafted rookies with at least 1,000 rushing yards in the common-draft era.

 

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The NFL's Best Running Backs - NFL 100