Ranking The NFL's Top 7 Backfields Entering 2022 Season
Despite all the talk about positional value, there's still an advantage to having a dynamic backfield.
The days of one superstar running back in the NFL might be waning, but it's still important for teams to have a rotation of backs that can make plays.
With the popularity of the running back-by-committee approach surging, it's best to look at the whole backfield to get an idea of how teams rank. Najee Harris, Alvin Kamara and David Montgomery were the only players at the position to average at least 75 percent of their team's offensive snaps per game last season, per FantasyPros.
Based on recent production, injury history, depth and overall talent level, here's a look at the seven best backfields in the league heading into the new season.
7. Denver Broncos
Notable Backs: Javonte Williams, Melvin Gordon III
Russell Wilson is a smart man. The star quarterback chose to waive his no-trade clause to go to Denver for a reason.
The receiving corps is filled with young talent, but he also knows he has a running back duo in Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon III capable of big plays.
The pair cracks the list based on the potential for a Javonte Williams breakout season combined with the steadfast production of Gordon.
There was a lot to like about William's rookie season. The North Carolina Tar Heel barely missed the cut for Next Gen Stats' top-10 most explosive runners from last season based on runs of 10-plus yards and carries that hit 15 mph, and that was with him only playing 51 percent of the snaps.
Williams looked the part of an elite back when he got the ball last season. He led the league in attempts per broken tackle with 6.5 last season, breaking 31 tackles on just 203 carries.
The Broncos were able to ease the rookie into the offense because Gordon is still a competent back. He had 1,131 all-purpose yards last season, averaging 4.6 yards per touch and scoring 10 touchdowns.
If Williams takes the next step in his progression while Gordon continues to be a productive back, the Broncos could be even higher on this list by the end of the season. For now, they are the most projection-based backfield on the list.
6. Tennessee Titans
Notable Backs: Derrick Henry, Hassan Haskins
When healthy, Derrick Henry is still one of the most unique forces in football.
King Henry only played in eight games last season, and he still ran for 937 yards. The key number there is that he did that in just eight games. Given his workload over the last three seasons and the fact that he is 28, there's reason to be skeptical about his health going forward.
Henry has been an anomaly to this point in his career. He was 10th in carries last season despite playing just under half the season and led the league in attempts in 2019 and 2020 with over 300 attempts each season.
The wear and tear might not be affecting his play yet, but it could affect his availability. Thus, the Titans are a little lower on the list than they would be had Henry finished last season healthy.
Should Henry miss time again, the Titans will have to rely on fourth-round pick Hassan Haskins. While the rookie recorded an impressive senior campaign at Michigan, rushing for 1,327 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games, the Titans wouldn't be on the list if it weren't for Henry.
5. Dallas Cowboys
Notable Backs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard
The Dallas Cowboys might have their depth chart mixed up with Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard but that doesn't take away from the fact this is still one of the league's most talented backfields.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on the decline from an efficiency standpoint, but he's still a productive back. He was still one of only seven backs to crack 1,000 yards rushing and averaged 4.2 yards per carry.
What saves the Cowboys ranking is the efficiency that Tony Pollard brings to the table.
The third-year back was one of the most efficient backs in the league, recording 1,056 yards from scrimmage and 6.2 yards per touch on the season. Pollard finished only behind Rashaad Penny in the latter category among running backs.
Pollard was difficult to bring down on first contact, too. He was sixth in the league in yards after contact per carry.
This season, the Cowboys have reportedly been looking to get Pollard even more involved, playing him in the slot during OTAs. With an expanded role for Pollard, the Cowboys backfield is still a top-five unit in the league.
They just don't have the same caliber starting back as the next four teams on the list.
4. Minnesota Vikings
Notable Backs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison
Don't let the fact that Dalvin Cook finished outside of the top 10 in points-per-reception fantasy football leagues fool you. The 26-year-old back is still one of the best in the league.
Cook was the second-most explosive running back last year by Next Gen Stats. He had 54 runs of 15 miles per hour or more, the most at the position.
Cook did see a dip in his numbers as a receiver in 2021 and didn't find the end zone as often. He only hauled in 34 receptions and scored six rushing touchdowns after scoring 16 in 2020.
Some of that had to do with the emergence of Alexander Mattison as his backup. The Boise State product saw 39 targets, more than his first two seasons combined.
The 5'11", 215-pound back wasn't just a pass-catcher, though. He proved to be a tough runner and was one of just four running backs who averaged one broken tackle every 10 attempts or less.
Mattison's rise makes up for the small dip in production for Cook. He had four starts in Cook's absence and had at least 100 yards from scrimmage in three of them.
3. Indianapolis Colts
Notable Backs: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Phillip Lindsay
Jonathan Taylor alone locks up a top-three spot on the list.
The 23-year-old back viciously took the torch as the league's best running back in his second season. He led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,171 and tied for the lead in total touchdowns with 20.
Perhaps most impressively, he had 41 more combined first downs and touchdowns than anyone in the league last season, per PFF.
At a position where explosiveness and age matter, Taylor is still in his early prime and was ranked as the most explosive running back in the game, according to Next Gen Stats. His ranking was boosted by the most yards after contact (1,418) and yards over expected (481).
The only thing holding back the Colts in these rankings is the question of what happens if Taylor goes down. While the two teams ahead of them on this list would be fine for a stretch without their No. 1 back, the Colts can't say the same.
Nyheim Hines is a great sidekick for Taylor, though. Hines chipped in 586 scrimmage yards last season, but 310 came through the air. If Taylor were to go down, the Colts would have to rely on a combination of Hines and Lindsay to carry the ground game.
2. Green Bay Packers
Notable Backs: Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon
The departure of Davante Adams throws some uncertainty into what the Green Bay Packers' offense will look like in 2022. Fortunately, they have a tandem of running backs in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon that are more than capable of leading the way.
Last season, both players eclipsed the 1,100-yard mark and combined for 2,306 scrimmage yards.
What makes them especially dangerous is their balance. Jones averaged 5.3 yards per touch on 223 with 10 touchdowns. Dillon had 221 touches, averaging 5.1 yards and scoring seven times.
Between Jones' pass-catching and Dillon's powerful running, they have all of their bases covered. The two have become nearly interchangeable and should only see bigger roles with Adams and his 169 targets now gone.
The Packers have justified confidence in their running back duo. Expect them to carry the offense in 2022, even with a reigning MVP at quarterback.
1. Cleveland Browns
Notable Backs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson
Peanut butter and jelly. Cheeseburgers and fries. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Some duos just belong together.
Regardless of who is playing quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, the combination of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt is difficult to stop. Individually, both running backs are routinely atop PFF's leaderboard for forced missed tackles.
Chubb has a reputation for being a powerful, between-the-tackles runner but he's also capable of hitting the home run. According to Next Gen Stats, Chubb hit over 15 miles per hour on more than 20 percent of his runs last season.
Hunt is still a great complement, though. His pass-catching ability gives the Browns a well-rounded skill set in the backfield. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry but also caught all but five of his targets last season.
The lone ding here is Hunt's availability. He only played eight games in 2021 because of injury and eight games in 2019 due to suspension.
However, third-string running back D'Ernest Johnson is a more than capable replacement. The fourth-year back recorded three games of at least 130 yards from scrimmage last year, two of which came in starts while Chubb and Hunt were sidelined. Johnson has proven he can step into the starting lineup and gives the Browns three options capable of big games.
Advanced stats via Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted.