Shemon & Sheppard – In The Afternoon

Shemon & Sheppard – In The Afternoon

Shemon & Sheppard – In The Afternoon

Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

Part two of the top-10 NFL skill positions is focused on running backs after releasing the top-10 wide receivers in the league. These lists are subjective. I take the past production of players into account, as well as the players age, wear and tear, and what their usage looks to be in 2022. There are players like Derrick Henry who had an unbelievable 2020, but due to injury couldn’t replicate those numbers in 2021. That shouldn’t be held against Henry when looking at the top 10 running backs in the NFL.

Of the “skill positions” on the offensive side of the ball, running back seems to be the most volatile. The wall that running backs specifically hit is as real as the device you’re reading this one. Guys like Le’Veon Bell is out of the league in 2022, just 3 seasons after signing a 4-year/$52 million contract with the Jets. And there are plenty of other examples of running backs falling off a metaphorical cliff.

Each of the last 9 top performing running backs (in fantasy) fit within a very specific framework. They were 25 years-old or younger, drafted in the top-12 ADP, and haven’t been back-to-back since 2007. Taking those data points, there are only 4 players to fit within that criteria. Najee Harris, DeAndre Swift, Saquon Barkley, and Jevonte Williams. Fantasy output is not the be-all end-all when ranking the “best” running backs in the league. But, it is a pretty good indicator of what players are poised for big seasons. Or potentially big seasons. Three of the four names are on the list of top 10 running backs in the NFL.

  • 10. Antonio Gibson (Washington Commanders)

    Antonio Gibson

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    Antonio Gibson had a sneaky awesome 2021. He was one of six running backs to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark last season. He totaled 14 touchdowns last season with 7 coming on the ground and 7 coming through the air. Looking at his 2022 outlook, he is clearly the #1 back with JD McKissic and rookie Brian Robinson behind him on the depth chart.

  • 9. Joe Mixon (Cincinnati Bengals)

    Joe Mixon in Super Bowl LVI

    Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Joe Mixon is the perfect back for the pass happy Bengals. He is very good in the passing game, but is an explosive enough of a runner to keep the defense honest in stopping the run. Mixon was the 3rd leading rusher in the league last season with 1205 yards, and added 13 rushing touchdowns. In the pass game Mixon added 42 receptions for 314 yards and 3 more touchdowns. At 26 he still has a few years before franchises start getting weary of his age, but his suspension in college might have been a blessing in disguise because he wasn’t beat up by the time he got to the league.

  • 8. Austin Ekeler (Los Angeles Chargers)

    Austin Ekeler

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    Maybe the most underrated back in the entire league. Even though he has never eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark, he has had 400+ receiving yards each of the last 4 seasons. In 2021 Ekeler accounted for 20 touchdowns with 12 rushing TDs and 8 more receiving! Yards are yards, and Ekeler’s 1,500 scrimmage yards are among the most in the league. The receiving part of the game is more and more important with running backs, and Ekeler might be the best pass catching back in the league.

  • 7. Christian McCaffery (Carolina Panthers)

    Christian McCaffery playing

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    This was the most difficult player to place on the list. When he is healthy and on the field he is still an unbelievable talent. He has played a grand total of 10 games over the last 2 seasons. But going back to his 2019 stats he had over 1,000 receiving and rushing yards, and added 19 touchdowns. If he can stay healthy, I think he is a still capable of being an elite back. But, another season riddled by injuries and

  • 6. D'Andre Swift (Detroit Lions)

    D'Andre Swift

    Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Swift is one of four backs that fit the criteria to be the leading fantasy back in the league this season. He only had 617 rushing yards last season and 7 total touchdowns. However… he added 62 receptions and 452 receiving yards. He is the focal point of the Lions offense, and defenses go into games wanting to stop him and put the game on the shoulders of Jared Goff. That doesn’t stop he from being a top back in the league. For fantasy purposes he is an RB1 simply due to his usage. He’s entering the 3rd year of his career, and poised for a breakout season.

  • 5. Nick Chubb (Cleveland Browns)

    Nick Chubb Cleveland Browns

    Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

    Chubb accounted for 1,259 yards rushing last season even with backups Kareen Hunt and D’Ernest Johnson taking 178 rushing attempts away from Hunt. It does need to be noted that Nick Chubb missed 3 games due to injury. Chubb is the best running back in Cleveland- hands down!

  • 4. Najee Harris (Pittsburgh Steelers)

    Najee Harris Stiff Arm

    Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    A Steelers running back had to be on this list. It doesn’t matter how talented the Steelers running back is or how bad the offensive line is. Steelers running backs produce. As a rookie behind a below average offensive line and a dead armed quarterback, Harris still had 1,200 rushing yards in his rookie campaign. Harris also accounted for 467 receiving yards. He accounted for a total of 10 touchdowns. There have been reports that the Steelers are going to limit his touches this season, but they’re saying 350 touches instead of 400. If the Steelers can improve their line, and either Trubisky or Kenny Pickett under center, the Steelers should lean heavily on Harris this season.

  • 3. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings)

    Dalvin Cook Run

    Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The knock on Dalvin Cook has been his injury history. In his 4 seasons with the Vikings he is yet to play a full season. However he has still played in 14, 14, and 13 games over the last 3 seasons, so injuries haven’t side lined him for an extended period of time. With all that said, Cook has still managed to be top-10 in rushing yards each of the last 3 seasons with the last 2 seasons ranking in the top-5. The change in offensive philosophy from Mike Zimmer to Kevin O’Connell. O’Connell comes from the McVay coaching tree and will still heavily feature the run.

  • 2. Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)

    Derrick Henry Scary

    Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    His 2020 season was an all-time season surpassing the 2,000 yard mark on the ground. In 2021 Henry missed 9 games, but was still top-10 in rushing yards on the season. With a healthy 2022, he should be right back on top of the rushing yards list. I put him at 2 because his receiving output is not good at all.

  • 1. Jonathan Taylor (Indianapolis Colts)

    Jonathan Taylor vs New England

    Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    I present your 2021 rushing leader, and it wasn’t close. Taylor had over 1,800 rushing yards, over 300 receiving yards, and 20 total touchdowns. The passing game is okay in Indianapolis, and maybe it will be more consistent this year with Matt Ryan instead of Carson Wentz. Taylor’s 2021 season was spectacular, but a healthy 2022 for Jonathan could see him surpass his 2021 numbers.

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