NFL1000: Ranking the Top Running Backs of 2017 Season

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2018

NFL1000: Ranking the Top Running Backs of 2017 Season

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    As has been the case with most NFL skill positions over the last 15-20 years, the role of the running back has changed drastically in the new millennium. Once upon a time, if a back carried the ball more than 350 times a season, was a decent receiving threat on simple screens and was OK as a blocker, that was enough as long as that back was productive with his carries. 

    Now, the paradigm has changed. Backs with over 300 carries in a season are rare. The opportunities come from total touches, and thus total yards from scrimmage is the real stat to look at.

    Not only must today's elite backs be formidable as inside and outside runners, but they also must be able to flare out of the backfield and make their presence known as receivers from the slot and outside, running far more advanced route trees than were demanded a generation ago. And if you can't pass-block? Welcome to a limited role in a passing league.

    NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock has been watching every back through the 2017 season, and he's ready to pass judgment on them all.

    He has rated the running backs with an overall performance score that grades the following traits:

    Inside Running: 25 points. How well does the back use patience and power to wait for his blocks to open? How quickly and with how much burst does he exploit those gaps? Can he blow through defenders in a zone slide or a trap? How well is he able to break first contact to get to linebacker depth and beyond?

    Outside Running: 25 points. How well does the back get to the edge and elude outside defenders with speed and agility? Does he bounce outside with quickness and authority when his inside gaps are taken? Can he get to the boundary and deal with linebackers and safeties who are as quick as he is?

    Receiving: 20 points. Does this back exhibit the ability to run a full route tree, or is he just good on screens and swing passes? How are his hands? When he flares from the backfield to the slot or outside, is he a legitimate receiver or just a decoy? If you were to put him in an empty backfield, would he find other ways to succeed?

    Blocking: 20 points. Blocking among skill position players is equal parts desire and technique. Does this back seem eager to block for others on passing downs, or does he disappear when he doesn't have the ball? Does he square up well against defenders to deliver consistent blocks?

    Position Value: 7/10. A score that takes into account the importance of the position when comparing scores across other positions.

    Note: In the case of a tie among players, NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock ranked players by personal preference.

    Make sure to check out all of the NFL1000 rankings from the 2017 season.



Notable Omissions

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    When we ranked these running backs, we wanted them to have enough snaps and attempts so we could get a true picture of their development in—and effect on–their offense. Backs who played less than 10 percent of their team's offensive snaps were exempted from the rankings as were all fullbacks. Notable names not graded include the following:

    David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

    Darren McFadden, Dallas Cowboys

    C.J. Spiller, Kansas City Chiefs

    C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks

    Terrance West, Baltimore Ravens

    Byron Marshall, Washington Redskins

    James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

    Corey Grant, Jacksonville Jaguars

Nos. 84-81

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    Al Pereira/Getty Images

    84. Eddie Lacy, Seattle Seahawks

    Inside Running: 12/25
    Outside Running: 
    11/25
    Receiving: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    54/100

    The Seahawks gave Eddie Lacy every chance to take the starting job and get his career back on track. However, Lacy was unable to repay the faith shown in him by the Seahawks, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on the season. He offered little as a receiver on third downs and saw his role reduced due to his minimal impact down the stretch.

                

    83. Robert Turbin, Indianapolis Colts

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    58/100

    Turbin entered the NFL as a raw and undeveloped talent with great athletic traits. Now he's finished his sixth season, he hasn't developed much from his rookie year. With Gore and Mack on the roster, it was always going to be hard for Turbin to take away snaps from either back and he only had 23 carries for 53 yards at 2.3 yards per carry this season.

               

    82. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Doug Martin was once one of the most productive backs in the NFL, but those days appear to be in the past after back-to-back lackluster seasons. Martin averaged 2.9 yards per carry and lacked the burst and power he once displayed on a regular basis. He's a likely cap casualty for Tampa Bay this offseason given his large contract that it can get out of relatively unscarred.

                       

    81. Rod Smith, Dallas Cowboys

    Inside Running: 11/25
    Outside Running: 
    13/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Rod Smith beat out Darren McFadden to be the third running back on the depth chart. Alfred Morris won the job as the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott, while Smith proved himself as a capable third-down back. He was mostly used as a pass protector and as a receiving option out of the backfield. His highlight of the season came in Week 14 against the Giants, when he lined up in the slot and ran a simple slant. The Giants left the middle of the field wide open, and Smith ran 81 yards down the field for a touchdown.

                    

Nos. 80-76

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    80. Benny Cunningham, Chicago Bears

    Inside Running: 12/25
    Outside Running: 
    13/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Benny Cunningham is the forgotten man of the Bears backfield. He had just nine carries and was restricted mostly to a third-down back role. Even then, Tarik Cohen was preferred as a receiver out of the backfield, while Cunningham spent more time blocking.

                

    79. Adrian Peterson, Arizona Cardinals

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    61/100

    Adrian Peterson lost playing time in New Orleans because rookie sensation Alvin Kamara emerged and starter Mark Ingram performed well. Peterson never had more than 10 carries in a game for the Saints, and he struggled to have much of an impact. After he was traded to the Cardinals, his play was up and down. Peterson ran for 134 yards against the Buccaneers and 159 yards against the 49ers, looking like the Peterson of old as he had sharp jump cuts and ran through arm tackles. But against the Rams, Seahawks and Texans, he could only muster a combined 76 yards on 46 carries. Overall, those few flashes of his former self were just that, flashes. Outside of those two big games, he struggled to produce a great deal, albeit without much help.

                   

    78. Samaje Perine, Washington Redskins

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    The rookie back spent large parts of the season on the bench behind Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson. Samaje Perine took a while to get going and settle into life in the NFL. He struggled with the pacing and direction of his tracks early on, but he improved after taking the place of the injured Kelley. Down the stretch, he showed better contact balance that was typically associated with him in college, but the Redskins still need to see more from him if he is to be their lead back going forward.

                   

    77. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    DeMarco Murray was one of the bigger disappointments this season. The Titans did all they could to be a run-first offense, but they stuck with Murray for too long. Murray rarely manages to create his own yards, instead just taking what his blockers give him. He lacks the vision and burst to consistently create yards for himself, which means if the blocking isn't set up for him, he won't get very far. His teammate, Derrick Henry, was far more successful with the same group of blockers during the regular season, which suggests Murray was underperforming.

                   

    76. Elijah McGuire, New York Jets

    Inside Running: 12/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Despite bursting onto the scene with a big game against the Jaguars early in the season, Elijah McGuire didn't have a great season. He offers some speed and quickness, making him a threat to break a big run if he gets into the open field. However, his small frame prevents him from breaking many tackles, and if he's asked to run between the tackles, he can be too easily tripped up or brought down. He does offer a nice change of pace from Bilal Powell, which might make Matt Forte expendable this offseason.

Nos. 75-71

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    75. Paul Perkins, New York Giants

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    Paul Perkins had a poor year that was disrupted by injuries. Coming out of college, he was known as a fleet-footed back with jump-cutting ability to make defenders look silly, but he didn't showcase that this season. The Giants haven't helped him either. Instead of finding ways to get him the ball in space, they used heavy personnel, loading up the box and ran him up the middle on gap plays. He's not a power back and is easily brought down if defenders can get a hand on him, which is why he needs plays to be called that get him the ball in space.

                        

    74. Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    The Rams gave Todd Gurley II the vast majority of the snaps at running back this year, and understandably so. It was until late in the season that they began to give other backs opportunities to spell Gurley to help keep him fresh. Malcolm Brown is a reliable backup who understands his assignments, runs the correct routes and reads out blocks well. But he's not someone that will create many of his own yards or make spectacular plays like Gurley does.

                    

    73. Charcandrick West, Kansas City Chiefs

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    62/100

    With the emergence of rookie Kareem Hunt, Charcandrick West hardly saw any touches this season. He occasionally came in to spell Hunt, but Hunt played the vast majority of snaps and proved capable of being a lead back and a solid receiver out of the backfield, meaning West's opportunities were very limited. He caught more passes than carried the ball, playing as a third-down back in relief of Hunt. West has some wiggle to him and is a solid backup option, but he's unlikely to see any increased playing time in Kansas City as long as Hunt remains healthy.

                       

    72. Rob Kelley, Washington Redskins

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    63/100

    Rob Kelley's season was sporadic due to various injuries. He is a powerful back that doesn't shy away from contact and can be effective when he makes decisive cuts. However, Kelley misses lanes from time to time and lacks the speed to run away from defenders regularly.

                        

    71. Charles Sims, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Charles Sims has developed into a solid third-down back, though he hasn't fulfilled his potential since college. He still flashes quickness in the open field to elude defenders, but not as regularly as the Bucs would like. To his defense, though, Tampa Bay could do a better job schematically in getting him into more favorable looks.

Nos. 70-66

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    70. Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Wendell Smallwood showed flashes of potential as a third-down back, but lacks consistency at this point in his career. He is elusive in the open field as a receiver, and not only understands his role in protection schemes, but is a willing blocker. His production hasn't matched that potential yet, which is partially due to a crowded backfield.

                    

    69. Corey Clement, Philadelphia Eagles

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Corey Clement was a reliable backup option for LeGarrette Blount to start the season, but then was relegated to third on the depth chart once the Eagles added Jay Ajayi. He has good quickness to elude defenders and can lower his shoulder when he needs to. But he isn't a particularly reliable receiver out of the backfield and his pass protection needs work, which limits how often he can be on the field.

                  

    68. DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    DeAndre Washington's production, like Jalen Richard's, was limited somewhat by the crowded backfield in Oakland. Washington is a shifty back with the ability to line up outside or in the slot as a receiver as well as run routes out of the backfield. However, production hasn't matched the flashes of talent he has displayed on occasion.

                    

    67. Shane Vereen, New York Giants

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Like most of the Giants' players, Shane Vereen had a disappointing season. He never carried the ball more than six times in a game and his catches were limited. He was mostly relegated to a third-down back role, where he still contributed as a pass protector and receiver out of the backfield, but his production was minimal as the Giants offense struggled to get much going without their top receivers.

                    

    66. Latavius Murray, Minnesota Vikings

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Latavius Murray took over as the main workhorse back when Dalvin Cook went down in Week 4. He runs with a surprising burst for a back of his size and can cut sharply enough to make defenders miss. However, he runs slightly high, which is to be expected for a 6'3" back, but it means he doesn't run over as many tackles as his frame might suggest. He can also work off-script, cutting against his track and reads. This occasionally can lead to a big play, but it can also lead him into a defender.

Nos. 65-61

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    65. Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota Vikings

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Jerick McKinnon is a smaller, shiftier back with a good burst to elude defenders. He works best when running to the edge where he can use the open field to make defenders miss. He can cut sharply and change direction without losing much momentum. However, he can be a little too hesitant when running between the tackles, which means leaving yards on the field.

                  

    64. Damien Williams, Miami Dolphins

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Damien Williams spent most of 2017 as a backup behind Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake. When Ajayi was traded, Williams had an opportunity to increase his workload, but Drake stepped up and solidified the role for himself. When he came on in relief of Drake, he flashed some shiftiness to elude defenders in the open field, but not regularly enough to claim more playing time away from Drake.

                   

    63. Alfred Morris, Dallas Cowboys

    Inside Running: 18/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    64/100

    Alfred Morris has always been a reliable but unspectacular back. With Ezekiel Elliott suspended for much of the season, Morris saw a bigger workload than he would have expected. He can be trusted to stick to his track and read out the blocks correctly before dropping a shoulder to fight for extra yards after contact. However, he lacks the explosiveness to make people miss, or to run away from defenders, and he doesn't create as much of his own yards as Zeke. He's a nice option to have as the primary backup and remains a productive option.

                       

    62. Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Matt Breida is the latest in a long line of undrafted free agents to become productive under a Shanahan offense. Mike Shanahan was known for taking undrafted or late-round backs and getting yards out of them, and Kyle Shanahan has continued in his father's footsteps. Breida suits the one-cut zone system and has proven he is capable of more than just spot reps. He isn't an explosive back, but he can be relied upon to make the correct reads and keep the offense ahead of the chains, which is highly valued in Shanahan's offense.

                       

    61. Mike Davis, Seattle Seahawks

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Since being called up from the practice squad, Mike Davis took over the majority of the workload as the Seahawks' starting back. He's a solid zone runner, looking particularly effective on inside zone—when he can cut his run back toward the weak side once the defense has over-pursued to the play side. His average yards per carry won't blow anyone away, but neither does the Seahawks offensive line.

Nos. 60-56

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    60. Alfred Blue, Houston Texans

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    While Alfred Blue doesn't have the natural talent of starter Lamar Miller, he did show more trust in his offensive line. He ran more decisively and always finished his runs well by lowering his pad level and keeping his feet driving forward to ensure he picked up every available yard. Blue found himself buried on the depth chart behind Miller and rookie D'Onta Foreman for much of the season, but played well in his limited snaps.

                      

    59. D'Onta Foreman, Houston Texans

    Inside Running: 19/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    11/20
    Blocking: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    D'Onta Foreman is an impressive athlete with both imposing size and the speed to outrun defenders. He split carries for most of his rookie campaign with Lamar Miller and was just starting to get into rhythm when he ruptured his Achilles in Week 11. He ran well between the tackles, keeping his pad level low enough to bulldoze defenders, but he also ran well to the edge, showing off his speed. Foreman only had six catches and offered very little on third downs as either a receiver or as a pass protector, which he will need to improve upon going forward.

                       

    58. Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Jamaal Williams' NFL career got off to a slow start, often being outshone by fellow rookie Aaron Jones. But once Jones was injured, Williams got his opportunity. As the season progressed, the light slowly came on as he acclimatized to life in the NFL. He began to trust his tracks and run with more confidence, leading to a better, sharper cut and burst. He's also been a solid option as a receiver out of the backfield, giving the Packers plenty of options at running back entering the offseason.

                       

    57. Jamaal Charles, Denver Broncos

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    After the first four weeks of the season, Jamaal Charles looked like he still had something left to offer the Broncos. He averaged over five yards per carry in his 33 carries through four games, but slowly saw his production and snaps diminish. By Week 14 he had zero carries, and in Week 16 he was a healthy inactive as the Broncos looked to give their younger backs more opportunities to develop in a lost season.

                        

    56. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    With so much of the offense geared toward rookie Christian McCaffrey, it was easy to forget Jonathan Stewart's role within the Panthers offense. He played out the year as the starting running back, though did split time with McCaffrey. Stewart, who is now at the dreaded age of 30, did not produce his best season; though that's not all his fault. The offensive line struggled to move defenders off the ball, often leaving Stewart with nowhere to go. But he wasn't able to create his own yards or break as many tackles as in years past.

Nos. 55-51

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    55. Danny Woodhead, Baltimore Ravens

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    65/100

    Danny Woodhead's Week 1 hamstring injury heavily hampered his season. He was placed on injured reserve and designated to return in Week 11, but struggled to be as effective after coming back. Woodhead checked in on third downs and other obvious passing situations. He is still a good receiver out of the backfield, but his role was limited given the reliance on Alex Collins and the running game.

                    

    54. Jacquizz Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    The Buccaneers missed a trick with Jacquizz Rodgers. In Atlanta, Rodgers was an effective third-down back known more for his receiving skills than his running between the tackles. But this year with Tampa Bay, his catch total was in the single digits. He was used more frequently as a runner to spell the starting back. For his size, he runs well between the tackles with quick feet that enable him to quickly cut from the front to the back side.

                       

    53. T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    T.J. Yeldon's stats were largely boosted by one performance against the Colts, when rushed for 122 yards on nine carries, including a 58-yard touchdown run. Outside of that game, his stats fell in line with Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory in the 3.5 yard-per-carry range.

                        

    52. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay Packers

    Inside Running: 12/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Hopes were high for Ty Montgomery as he entered his first full season as a running back, having previously converted from wide receiver. He averaged nearly six yards per carry in 2016, but that average dropped to just 3.8 this season. Some of that can be attributed to various injuries Montgomery suffered throughout the year. As a runner, he looked far more at home in zone schemes where he only had to make one cut. When he was asked to run power schemes, he looked a little hesitant at times, giving defenders a chance to close in around him.

                    

    51. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

    Inside Running: 13/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    66/100

    Christian McCaffrey's rookie year, at least from a production standpoint, was disappointing. Looking purely at his stats, he didn't prove worthy of the eighth overall pick. However, much of that has to do with the team around him and the play-calling. The Panthers tried to force-feed him the ball in unimaginative ways which were easy for defenses to predict. It felt like every time he motioned outside, he was running a screen, for example. Since the bye week, they started to be more creative in how they got him the ball in space where he could better showcase his skill set.

Nos. 50-46

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    50. Jalen Richard, Oakland Raiders

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    15/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Jalen Richard's role in Oakland was restricted by the presence of both Marshawn Lynch and DeAndre Washington. Lynch was the main workhorse back, while Washington and Richard split time on third down and other obvious passing situations. Richard is a solid runner who, despite his small frame, runs well between the tackles. But his eight fumbles, some of which came on kick-return duty, need to be addressed in the offseason.

          

    49. Mike Tolbert, Buffalo Bills

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    13/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    67/100

    Mike Tolbert is one of the few remaining productive fullbacks in the NFL. He works well as a lead blocker for LeSean McCoy. He was also effective carrying the ball in short-yardage situations when the Bills opted to run up the middle.

          

    48. Mike Gillislee, New England Patriots

    Inside Running: 22/25
    Outside Running: 
    14/25
    Receiving: 
    12/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    After Mike Gillislee's promising start to the year—with three touchdowns in the season opener against the Chiefs—expectations were high for the former Buffalo Bill. He was brought in to replace LeGarrette Blount as the short-yardage power back who could punch the ball in on the goal line. But thanks to the Patriots' crowded backfield and the emergence of Dion Lewis, Gillislee, who scored his fourth TD in Week 2, did not record his fifth until Week 16. He was also a healthy inactive from Week 10 through 15.

          

    47. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    11/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    The season started off in a positive manner for Tarik Cohen; he was a threat to break a big gain every time he touched the ball. While he's only 5'6", his size helps him keep a low center of gravity as he cuts on a dime at speed, making him very elusive. Defenses struggled to bring him down—especially in the open field. But since that electric start, Cohen was limited to more of a receiving-back role, even lining up out wide. Teams became more aware of his threat and took time to limit his opportunities for explosive plays.

          

    46. Javorius Allen, Baltimore Ravens

    Inside Running: 19/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    12/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    68/100

    Javorius Allen possesses a lot of desirable tools for an NFL running back. He's big (6'0", 222 lbs), strong and fast with the ability to make sharp jump cuts to elude defenders. However, his production was only average, especially when compared to Alex Collins. Allen runs too upright, which makes it easier to knock him off balance and prevents him from breaking as many tackles as his frame suggests. While he is a decisive runner, he does occasionally make the wrong decision, leaving yards on the field.

Nos. 45-41

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    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    45. Peyton Barber, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Peyton Barber's season took off after he rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries against the Packers in Week 13. Since then, he wrestled snaps away from Doug Martin and looked far more lively with the ball in his hands. He's a bigger back who is capable of lowering his pad level to power over defenders and fight for extra yards, but he's also shiftier than his frame (5'11", 225 lbs) would indicate. However, he'll need to prove he's capable of sustaining production over a longer period of time if he is to outright win the starting job.

                    

    44. Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Chris Carson worked his way up the depth chart in Seattle and earned the starting job by Week 3. He looked like a natural zone running back, with good vision and feel for pressing the hole to open up cutback lanes. Unfortunately, his season ended in Week 4 when he broke his ankle and was put on injured reserve.

          

    43. J.D. McKissic, Seattle Seahawks

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    J.D. McKissic was one of the few consistent backs for the Seahawks. He's elusive in space and works best running to the edge. He's also a strong option as a receiver out of the backfield, and he settled into a role as a third-down back while taking spot snaps on first and second down.

               

    42. Matt Forte, New York Jets

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Matt Forte looked a shell of his former self. He played with an injured knee since Week 11, but lacked the consistent explosion the was known for in Chicago. He still flashed the ability to elude defenders and run strongly between the tackles, but it was far too inconsistent. Forte is 32 and could be a cap casualty for the Jets this offseason.

               

    41. Wayne Gallman, New York Giants

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Wayne Gallman came on strongly down the stretch after a slow start. He showed some quick feet to cut sharply in the hole and elude defenders as he burst across the line of scrimmage. He looked most effective on zone runs where he showed good vision to cut his run all the way back across the line, but the Giants are typically more of a power and gap-scheme team. Gallman also proved effective as a receiver out of the backfield and appeared to take snaps away from Shane Vereen down the stretch.

Nos. 40-36

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    Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

    40. Orleans Darkwa, New York Giants

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Orleans Darkwa was one of the few bright spots on the Giants roster. He flashed potential to be in contention for the starting running back job going into 2018, displaying vision and good contact balance in the power running scheme. He took advantage of his opportunity early in the season after the Giants suffered some injuries at running back, but he was contained better by opposing defenses as the year progressed. He'll need to show that he can sustain those flashes of potential if he is to claim the starting job outright.

          

    39. Ameer Abdullah, Detroit Lions

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Ameer Abdullah had a frustrating season. He's a very talented back with an ability to make sharp cuts and change direction at speed, making him very elusive and hard to bring down. But he didn't make the most of his talent this year. He was the lead back and at times flashed ability to create his own yards and make defenders miss in the hole. But other times, he looked average and was stopped too easily. He lost playing time after Thanksgiving as the Lions tried something different to get their run game going.

          

    38. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Austin Ekeler is another explosive, elusive back with receiving skills the Chargers seem to specialize in finding. He's a versatile weapon who can line up in the slot or run routes out of the backfield. They were creative with how they got him the ball, sometimes having him run the jet sweep back across the formation to get him to the edge. He proved to be a nice change of pace from Melvin Gordon and established himself as a viable option for the Chargers in third down and other obvious passing situations too.

          

    37. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    69/100

    Marlon Mack was one of the few exciting young talents on the Colts offense. He has a nice blend of speed and quickness that makes him tough to catch in the open field. He gave the Colts a jolt early in the season as a nice change of pace from Frank Gore, but the offensive line had the same issues blocking for Mack as they did for the lead back. Mack was a strong receiving option out of the backfield too, which is something the Colts should look to utilize going forward.

          

    36. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    2017 was a disappointing year by Lamar Miller's standards, as he failed to average at least four yards per carry for the first time in his career. It appeared as though he lacked trust in his offensive line, which would be understandable given the Texans' situation up front. But at times he looked tentative running between the tackles and didn't show the same burst as when running to the edge or working in the open field as a receiver. The Texans will certainly be looking for more out of Miller next year, but could perhaps help him with some improvements to their offensive line.

Nos. 35-31

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    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    35. Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    13/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Devontae Booker pushed C.J. Anderson for playing time in the offseason before he suffered a wrist injury that kept him out until Week 4. He slowly worked his way back into the fold, but it wasn't until late in the season that he began to consistently see a solid number of carries. Booker has some quickness to him to elude a defender in the hole and create some of his own yards. He also displays good patience to let blocks develop in front of him before making his cut, but he doesn't have the breakaway speed to always take advantage of a hole in the defense.

          

    34. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns

    Inside Running: 19/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    After establishing himself as the lead back in 2016, Isaiah Crowell was expected to have a breakout season in a contract year. That didn't quite materialize, with the Browns struggling to get much going on offense. But Crowell still showed flashes of his ability. He runs powerfully with a low pad level that enables him to keep balance through contact and fight for extra yards. He has the frame (5'11", 225 lbs) to withstand the rigors of a heavier workload than he's had, and with more carries he could wear down defenses more.

          

    33. Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots

    Inside Running: 16/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Rex Burkhead was the wild card of the Patriots backfield. Dion Lewis was the main runner, James White was the third-down receiving back and Mike Gillislee was brought in for short-yardage situations. Burkhead, however, didn't have a defined role. He did a little bit of everything, filling in for Lewis on first and second down as a runner, and for White as a receiving back on third downs. At times, he functioned as a second back and complements the role of whichever other runner is on the field. He proved to be a valuable asset because of his versatility.

          

    32. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    70/100

    Aaron Jones burst onto the scene in Week 5, when he ran for 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries to help the Packers take down the Cowboys in Dallas. He got his opportunity due to Ty Montgomery's injuries and he took it with both hands. Jones looked every part of a starting back in the NFL, running naturally in both zone and gap schemes, with the patience to press the hole and the burst to run away from defenders. But he also succumbed to the injury bug and was limited after the bye.

          

    31. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Giovani Bernard's primary role with the Bengals was as the third-down back; however they often mixed him in with Joe Mixon as part of the rotation on first and second down too. He's a good receiver out of the backfield and his blocking improved, but the Bengals didn't do enough schematically to maximize his talents. He's a small, shifty back who works well in space, but the Bengals haven't found ways to get him in that space—either as a receiver or as a runner—often enough.

Nos. 30-26

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    John Grieshop/Getty Images

    30. Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    71/100

    Theo Riddick's injury history is the only reason that he's not a more productive back. He's an explosive threat as a runner to the edge and as a receiver out of the backfield, but the injuries restrict him to a third-down role in Detroit. He's capable of producing more, but the Lions have been wisely cautious with his workload.

          

    29. James White, New England Patriots

    Inside Running: 14/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    18/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    James White is more of a receiver than a runner for the Patriots. He was one of the team's leading pass-catchers and a matchup weapon out of the backfield. The Patriots liked to move him around, from the backfield to the slot, or even out wide. He runs solid routes and is great after the catch with the shiftiness to make people miss in the open field. His ability as a receiver can often benefit other receivers too, as he draws attention of underneath coverage to open up deeper routes.

          

    28. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    Melvin Gordon has a slight tendency to want to bounce his runs outside, which makes sense given his athletic ability. He's at his best in the open field where he can make defenders miss. He's also capable of eluding defenders in the hole, but his vision to find gaps between the tackles was lacking at times. When he was decisive with his cuts, he was a home run threat; but at times he hesitated and didn't trust his blockers to open up the hole for him.

          

    27. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders

    Inside Running: 19/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    Marshawn Lynch's return to football went under the radar somewhat. The Raiders offense failed to live up to the vast expectations at the start of the season, but Lynch ran well in spite of that. There was an adjustment period as the previously power-heavy Raiders meshed with the prolific zone-running back, but Lynch still ran his tracks and made the correct reads.

          

    26. Frank Gore, Indianapolis Colts

    Inside Running: 18/25
    Outside Running: 
    17/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    Frank Gore is a model professional in every sense. Even at 34, he still ran with excellent technique, keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and his pad level low as he chose the correct paths. He instinctively reads the game well and rarely makes a poor decision with his cuts. He was still a viable option out of the backfield as a receiver too, though he wasn't asked to do that as often. The Colts offensive line didn't open many lanes for him this year, but that didn't stop him from competing hard every week.

Nos. 25-21

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    Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

    25. C.J. Anderson, Denver Broncos

    Inside Running: 18/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    C.J. Anderson quietly went about his business this season. The Broncos have had plenty of turnover with coaching staffs, but Anderson continued to be a reliable workhorse who can switch between zone and gap schemes effortlessly. Despite the issues at quarterback increasing defenses' focus on him, Anderson managed to average more than four yards per carry and produced his first 1,000-yard season of his career.

          

    24. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

    Inside Running: 18/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    72/100

    The Bengals are set to undergo an offseason full of turnover, but in Joe Mixon, they have a running back with the talent to build around. Mixon's rookie season was underwhelming statistically, but his team was built to pass the ball. He demonstrated all the skills he displayed regularly in college, with great ability to start and stop while cutting on a dime despite being listed at 228 pounds. Whatever new staff takes charge in Cincinnati, they would be wise to feature Mixon and use the running game as a foundation.

          

    23. Duke Johnson Jr., Cleveland Browns

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    18/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Duke Johnson Jr. was one of the most productive receiving backs in the league. The Browns were willing to move him around, letting him run routes from the slot—and not just out of the backfield. He was particularly strong on choice routes, giving the quarterback an option. Johnson has ball-security questions, having fumbled four times this season, and he isn't a workhorse back. But he's developed into a nice rotation piece for the Browns.

          

    22. LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia Eagles

    Inside Running: 20/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    The Eagles' signing LeGarrette Blount may have gone under the radar, though he performed well. His ability to run both gap and zone concepts allowed the Eagles to be creative in designing their run game to specifically attack their opponents each week. Blount runs his paths well and does a great job lowering his shoulder to run over defenders and finish powerfully.

          

    21. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

    Inside Running: 18/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Carlos Hyde is a solid, well-rounded back who deserves more credit than he's been given. The 49ers offense relied purely on him for production until Jimmy Garoppolo was named the starting quarterback. Despite all the focus on him, Hyde still ran tough and executed Shanahan's zone scheme well enough to give the 49ers a foundation to build around.

Nos. 20-16

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    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    20. Bilal Powell, New York Jets

    Inside Running: 19/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Bilal Powell is a reliable veteran back who can carry the workload but won't necessarily blow anyone away. He rarely coughs up the ball and runs both power and zone schemes well. He's technically sound, running with good pad level and shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and a nice forward lean that enables him to stay on his tracks and break arm tackles. He lacks breakaway speed, but he's a good back who won't do many things wrong.

          

    19. Chris Ivory, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Inside Running: 21/25
    Outside Running: 
    16/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    Chris Ivory faced eight or more defenders in the box on more than half of his runs this year, per NFL Next Gen Stats. With teams not overly worried about the Jaguars' passing attack, the run game became the focus. Ivory rarely had an easy run and had to fight hard for every yard. He ran with power and broke through arm tackles, forcing defenses to wrap up properly. Ivory is one of the more underrated backs in the league and went unnoticed with Leonard Fournette in town, but he is still a valuable part of the Jaguars offense.

          

    18. Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia Eagles

    Inside Running: 18/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    73/100

    The Eagles' trading for Jay Ajayi was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Both Ajayi and the Dolphins had been struggling, and the move worked out for both teams. Ajayi averaged over five yards per carry since the trade (3.4 YPC prior) and gave the Eagles a nasty one-two punch splitting carries with LeGarrette Blount. He runs better with outside running concepts, like the wide zone, but the Eagles also did a good job executing other running concepts to spring him free.

          

    17. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

    Inside Running: 20/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    74/100

    In contrast to teammate DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry did a terrific job creating his own yards. On numerous occasions, the Titans allowed an unblocked defender to work into the backfield, but Henry managed to either burst away from him or simply run him over. He faced stacked boxes on half his carries, per NFL Next Gen Stats, and still averaged over four yards per attempt. His size and athleticism, combined with his running style, gives him a bright future, and the Titans would be wise to give him the rock more.

          

    16. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

    Inside Running: 19/25
    Outside Running: 
    18/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Dalvin Cook was on pace to be one of the leading rushers in the NFL before suffering a torn ACL in Week 4, ended his rookie campaign. During his brief stint as the Vikings starting back, he proved capable of carrying the offense. He's an excellent zone runner with great vision and feel for when to press the hole and when to cut back. Cook looked like one of the most promising talents from the rookie class and should be a big part of the Vikings offense next year.

Nos. 15-11

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    Reed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    15. Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    21/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Kenyan Drake spent the start of the season behind Jay Ajayi, but he was given an opportunity when the Dolphins traded the latter to the Eagles. Once Drake saw extended playing time, he never looked back. He has shown explosive home run hitting ability and fantastic lateral agility to make defenders miss in the hole. He runs with good pad level, allowing him to keep a low center of gravity as he runs through contact. He's proven worthy of extended playing time next season.

          

    14. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta Falcons

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 
    22/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    75/100

    Using Tevin Coleman as the secondary punch after Devonta Freeman is a huge advantage for the Falcons offense. He's a better outside runner than inside, as he can turn the edge with a burst of speed and run away from defenders. Coleman is a home run hitter who defenses need to be ready for as he can break any given run for a huge gain.

          

    13. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Inside Running: 20/25
    Outside Running: 
    20/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    Leonard Fournette had a somewhat streaky rookie campaign. He produced 100-yard performances against the Texans, Steelers, Rams, Browns and Seahawks, against whom he imposed himself as he powered through tackles and ran away from defenders. But at times, like against the 49ers (48 yards) and the Cardinals (25 yards), he missed a few rushing lanes and was bottled up. He certainly flashed more than enough to give the Jaguars plenty of encouragement going forward, but he will need to improve his consistency and patience—instead of trying to hit every hole at 100 miles per hour.

          

    12. Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens

    Inside Running: 20/25
    Outside Running: 
    21/25
    Receiving: 
    14/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    Alex Colllins was one of the pleasant surprises of the season. He was waived by the Seahawks and picked up by the Ravens, where he has since thrived behind a solid offensive line and a diverse running scheme. He has quick feet and burst to elude tacklers and find open holes when the Ravens use gap schemes, while he reads zone schemes well and naturally presses the hole before making his cut. He earned the starting role for the Ravens and gives their offense a sound foundation.

          

    11. Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    18/20
    Blocking: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    76/100

    Chris Thompson became a one-man offense at times for the Redskins after they lost Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Thompson doesn't have the frame (5'8", 191 lbs) to withstand the rigors of running between the tackles regularly, but is excellent running to the edge and catching passes out of the backfield. Until his injury, he was the Redskins' leading receiver because of his ability to take screens and HB choice routes and turn them into big plays. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely after he suffered a broken fibula in Week 11.

10. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 22/25
    Outside Running: 
    21/25
    Receiving: 
    13/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    If he did not play for the Bears, Jordan Howard would be a much bigger name. He's flown under the radar since he was drafted, but has been productive for a team that lacks much threat on offense outside of him. Despite being the focus of defensive game plans and facing a higher percentage of eight-man boxes than just about anyone else every week (see below), Howard still finished in the top 10 in rushing yards. He runs decisively, a key in the Bears predominantly zone scheme, with great pad level, which gives him leverage to power through defenders and fight for extra yards.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    Howard faced eight or more in the box on 43.1 percent of his carries in 2017, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which was the seventh-highest figure in the league. This was because of Chicago's limited passing game, and what Howard did despite that and an injury-plagued offensive line made him a top-level rusher. While he's not a second-level speedster, Howard has a bit of Le'Veon Bell in his game in that he has a great deal of patience behind the line of scrimmage and the quickness and power to exploit gaps when they open. Here's hoping he will be better utilized with a more imaginative coaching staff in 2018 and beyond.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

9. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 20/25
    Outside Running: 
    19/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    77/100

    It's safe to say Ezekiel Elliott's second season didn't match the high standards he set for himself during his rookie campaign. His ongoing legal battle after the NFL suspended him for six games following its investigation of domestic violence allegations clearly had an impact on him and the Cowboys. It wasn't until Week 7 that we saw the dynamic rusher he's clearly capable of being, but his suspension was upheld after numerous delays a few weeks later. His season will likely be remembered for the suspension, which is exactly how it should be if the allegations against him are true.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    Elliott proved his value with his presence and in his absence in 2017. When he was on the field, Dak Prescott had the play-action passing game rolling, and the Dallas offense worked as planned for the most part despite unexpected regression by the offensive line. However, the fact that Elliot dropped a full yard per carry in his second season—from 5.1 to 4.1—is cause for concern. When Elliott has the room to speed through inside gaps or run outside zone, he's one of the best in the business. But he's not a natural creator who can get by the defense if it gets in the backfield before he can make the moves he needs to make for big plays.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

8. Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

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    Bill Feig/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 23/25
    Outside Running: 
    20/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    While Alvin Kamara takes all the plaudits, Mark Ingram is quietly having the most productive year of his career. He's a fantastic back in his own right and has run multiple schemes—outside zone, inside zone, power, trap, iso and everything else you can think of—at a high level. Ingram is fundamentally sound, running with a good pad level and low center of gravity and making the correct reads. It's easy to overlook players who adjust their track and pace for each type of run, but that's vitally important for Ingram and the success of the Saints running game. It allows Sean Payton to game-plan specific schemes to each opponent instead of being forced to stick to just zone or just gap plays like some other coaches.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    As much as people talk about the New Orleans offense as an explosive entity, you'd think Ingram would get more credit for that success. He's passed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the last two seasons, and he ranks sixth in the league in rushing yards in 2016-17. Perhaps it's because Ingram makes it look easier than it actually is—he's a smooth, gliding runner with decent speed at the second and third level, and he has estimable power, but his productivity in the running and passing games comes more through consistency and a clear understanding of his role than any physical characteristics. That should in no way minimize his status as one of the league's most important backs.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

7. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 18/25
    Outside Running: 
    22/25
    Receiving: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    Despite the various controversies coming out of Buffalo—from trades of star players to an oddly timed quarterback change—LeSean McCoy stood tall as the reliable foundation of the Bills offense. He produced another 1,000-yard season, the sixth of his career, and continued to be equally effective as a receiver. His quick-cutting ability makes him incredibly elusive and a nightmare for defenders to tackle in the open field. He'll be 30 entering next season but doesn't appear to have lost a step.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    It's a big statement to make, but McCoy is the NFL's best pure elusive runner since Barry Sanders, and despite his years in the league, there's no sign he's losing any of that capability. He's also Buffalo's most consistent receiver, providing Tyrod Taylor with options in the flat and with a full route tree when he motions to the slot. Few backs in the league are more versatile, and none may be more explosive.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

6. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 21/25
    Outside Running: 
    20/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    80/100

    The Falcons offense had some turnover, with the key change being offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving to coach the 49ers. With Steve Sarkisian hasn't come close to reproducing the explosive of Falcons last season, he's relied on Devonta Freeman and the running game. Freeman runs the ball effectively inside and out in the Falcons' zone scheme, which requires him to make decisive reads to optimize his paths before bursting upfield with a sharp cut that he executes so smoothly. He's also a strong route-runner and an excellent pass protector.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    The ability to run inside zone with the vision and power required and to run outside zone with the breaking speed to hit the edge and elude outside defenders? That's a rarer combination of skills than you might think. Freeman is a violent inside runner, a quick outside runner with an explosive extra burst upfield, and when given the opportunity, he's a versatile receiver out of the backfield and when motioned into the slot or outside. The switch in offensive coordinators from Shanahan to Sarkisian made the Falcons offense more generic in how running backs were utilized, but Freeman did as well as he possibly could.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

5. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

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    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 19/25
    Outside Running: 
    23/25
    Receiving: 
    18/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    81/100

    Since the Saints made the wise decision to give Alvin Kamara more snaps and trade Adrian Peterson, Kamara has taken the league by storm. He's been one of the most explosive playmakers in recent years. The Saints do a terrific job scheming him into space by moving him around and giving the defense different looks, but Kamara makes the most of every touch he gets. He has incredible balance through contact and somehow manages to stay on his feet through huge hits. He combines that balance with devastating elusiveness that means its tough to even get a hand on him let alone tackle him. He's the favorite to be Offensive Rookie of the Year, which he thoroughly deserves.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    When Sean Payton had Reggie Bush in his backfield a few years back, he changed the NFL by moving Bush from the backfield to the slot quite often, forcing opposing defenses to take their third and fourth linebackers off the field depending on the scheme. Other teams took notice, and the nickel defense as a base defense was born. Payton hasn't had a back with the versatility and athleticism Bush presented at his peak until 2017, when the Saints backed into a major win by drafting Kamara in the third round. While Kamara proved to be a big-play machine in the backfield, leading the league in yards per carry at 6.1, his abilities as a receiver set him apart and make him such a crucial component of the offense. Kamara can run the flat and seam routes you'd expect of any running back in a wide-open offense, and when you add in his power element, which Bush never had, it's possible to argue Kamara is the most ideal running back Payton's ever had for his system.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

4. Dion Lewis, New England Patriots

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    Steven Senne/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 23/25
    Outside Running: 
    20/25
    Receiving: 
    16/20
    Blocking: 
    15/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    81/100

    Dion Lewis is one of the most underrated backs in the league. The Patriots like to rotate their guys, and it took them a while to settle on Lewis as the main back. But late in the season, his workload increased, and he's rewarded them for their faith. Despite his size, he's excellent between the tackles, with a low center of gravity that gives him good balance through contact. He also has the vision to find small holes that he can burst through that other bigger backs can't.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    Running backs are not generally meant to be rock stars in the Patriots system. For Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, each back has a specific set of roles. But Lewis has presented his case for more snaps with his skill set, and the team responded. Lewis had 83 carries for 398 yards and three touchdowns in December—all season highs for a month—and he added 17 catches for 127 yars and two touchdowns. If the Patriots need a burst of power running in the postseason—and it's likely they will—Lewis will be the man to turn to with his underestimated ability to generate yards after contact via power and agility.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

3. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 23/25
    Outside Running: 
    22/25
    Receiving: 
    15/20
    Blocking: 
    14/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    81/100

    Kareem Hunt has been one of the best backs in the league this season. He led a Chiefs offense that took the league by storm to start the year. Helped by some creative play designs, Hunt ran with power and decisiveness. He is particularly effective in a zone scheme, as he can press the hole, make one cut and burst down the field. He runs with a good pad level, giving him great balance through contact that allows him to break tackles and pick up extra yards, which maximizes every run.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    The only mystifying thing about Hunt's effect on the Chiefs offense happened in the middle of the season, when head coach Andy Reid, for whatever reason, veered away from using Hunt as a runner, receiver and decoy, making the offense more pedestrian. When offensive coordinator Matt Nagy took over the play-calling late in the season, Hunt once again got the opportunities he deserved. His abilities as a rusher and receiver are clear, but in Kansas City's option-based offense, it's his ability to create misdirection and confusion among defenses with pre-snap motion and post-snap deployment that makes him one of the best fits between player and team from the 2017 draft.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

2. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    Inside Running: 23/25
    Outside Running: 
    21/25
    Receiving: 
    17/20
    Blocking: 
    17/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    85/100

    Le'Veon Bell is simply one of the best running backs in the NFL. He has unrivaled patience with his running, at times coming to a complete stop while he waits for his blocks to develop before suddenly bursting through the hole. He's equally effective running inside, out, gap and zone and will create his own yards regardless of the scheme if he needs to. Bell is also a fantastic receiver and has the ability to move outside or line up in the slot and run routes. Overall, Bell is the model of the modern NFL running back, and between his running and receiving abilities, he can carry an offense.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    If you took a strong drink every time an announcer mentioned Bell's patience during a broadcast, you'd pass out by halftime. But it's not an overrated factor of Bell's game—he seems to defy the laws of football with his ability to stand behind the line and wait with an agonizing patience for holes to open up. Then, of course, he has the power and speed to create big plays. What isn't talked about enough, though, is that Bell is the best receiving back in the league—if he was deployed solely as a slot and outside receiver, he could still have a major impact because he understands routes and has the ability of a pure receiver. His versatility, not his patience, is the secret to his greatness—and his importance to the Steelers offense.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar

1. Todd Gurley II, Los Angeles Rams

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Inside Running: 22/25
    Outside Running: 
    23/25
    Receiving: 
    18/20
    Blocking: 
    16/20
    Position Value: 
    7/10
    Overall Grade: 
    86/100

    While the development of Jared Goff has been the major theme of Sean McVay's first season as Rams head coach, Todd Gurley II's revival shouldn't be overlooked. McVay has done an excellent job scheming ways to get Gurley in space, where he can show off his terrific athletic ability. He runs well to the edge, where he looks to bounce outside and take on smaller defenders he can run over. He's also proved to be a huge threat as a receiver, making him a complete back that finished the season with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
    —NFL1000 running backs scout Mark Bullock

    In 2016, Jeff Fisher did the impossible: He made Gurley disappear. Fisher and offensive coordinator Rob Boras put one of the most talented backs of the last decade in a weird committee, punishing him with limited snaps when he couldn't create miracles behind a horrid offensive line. The switch to McVay obviously opened things up for Goff and for Gurley as a receiver, but it also let Gurley use all his abilities in a fully dimensional offense. Behind a much improved offensive line, Gurley led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,093 and touchdowns with 19. There isn't a thing you'd want a running back to do that Gurley can't—he has great power and speed, ankle-breaking agility, and he's developing into a top-flight asset as a receiver. Perhaps the best pure back to come out of college since Adrian Peterson, Gurley finally has the perfect offense for his talents, and the arrow is pointing up.
    —NFL1000 lead scout Doug Farrar