Ranking Every NFL Team's Backfield Depth Heading into the 2019 Season

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystMay 22, 2019

Ranking Every NFL Team's Backfield Depth Heading into the 2019 Season

0 of 32

    Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    Wrongheaded thinking led to the idea that running backs are far less valuable today than they once were. They are still valuable, but their usage has adjusted in a pass-first, role-driven league. 

    A backfield is as valuable as its production, depth and potential. 

    For too long, many considered a 50/50 split between run and pass plays as a balanced offense. But that's significantly changed as teams have gone from featuring downfield, low-percentage throws to relying on short, precise throws that serve as extensions of the run and intermediate passing games. 

    Thus, true workhorse backs who were once household names slowly disappeared. Arguments developed over investments. Why should the New York Giants take Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick when the Denver Broncos signed Phillip Lindsay as an undrafted free agent? But those extreme views miss the point. 

    Today, a multi-threat, committee approach is most often used, and value is built upon an offense exploiting all of the weapons in its lineup. That's true balance, not some arbitrary numbers split. 

    The more an offense can do, the more difficult it is to defend. The best backfields feature different skill sets to exploit mismatches. As such, any ranking of the league's backfields must take into account all of its components instead of just looking at the starting option. 


32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1 of 32

    Jason Behnken/Associated Press

    Starter: Peyton Barber

    Depth: Ronald Jones, Andre Ellington, Dare Ogunbowale, Shaun Wilson, Bruce Anderson

    Fullback: N/A

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is saying all of the right things when it comes to the running back position, specifically starter Peyton Barber. 

    "I love him, for a man that size," Arians said, per Joe Bucs Fan. "You know, when you watched the tape, you don't see him as 230 [pounds]. You think he's a 205-pound running back because he's got great feet. ... When we're building something, that's the kind I want to build around."

    The reality is far different. 

    Barber ran for 3.7 yards per carry last season behind the same offensive line the Buccaneers will feature this year. His backup, Ronald Jones, couldn't find his footing as a rookie with 44 yards on 23 carries. The 2018 second-round pick has plenty to prove. 

    The depth beyond them is lackluster. Andre Ellington hasn't played since the 2017 campaign. 

31. Oakland Raiders

2 of 32

    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Starter: Josh Jacobs

    Depth: Jalen Richard, Doug Martin, DeAndre Washington, Chris Warren III

    Fullback: Keith Smith, Alec Ingold

    The Oakland Raiders backfield is almost entirely reliant on incoming first-round rookie Josh Jacobs. Obviously, the Raiders brass is hopeful. 

    "The explosion, quickness that he brings," general manager Mike Mayock said, per the San Francisco Chronicle's Matt Kawahara. "Remember, if you're going to play for Jon Gruden as a running back, you've got to pass-protect, and you've got to catch the football. And this is a three-down back."

    But some cause for concern does exist. Jacobs never served in a feature role for the Alabama Crimson Tide. In fact, the 219-pound back had only 251 career carries. To put that number in perspective, 11 different collegiate runners had more carries last season. 

    Oakland signed Isaiah Crowell as a free agent, but the sixth-year veteran suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a team workout. Then the Raiders re-signed Doug Martin. 

    Jacobs' potential is the only thing keeping the Raiders from having the league's worst backfield.

30. Arizona Cardinals

3 of 32

    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Starter: David Johnson

    Depth: D.J. Foster, T.J. Logan, Chase Edmonds, Wes Hills, Dontae Strickland, Xavier Turner

    Fullback: N/A

    Those expecting a David Johnson revival in Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid scheme may want to reconsider how they view the 27-year-old running back. 

    Johnson may never be a 1,000-yard runner ever again since he'll likely be used more in the passing game. Kingsbury is intrigued by his ability as a receiver. 

    "He's a big back, and when you split him out and put him in space like that, he looks like a true receiver, so that's a unique combination," Kingsbury said, per Kyle Odegard of the Arizona Cardinals official site. "You get a linebacker on him, you should feel comfortable he's going to win that one."

    So Johnson will be used a little differently yet can remain productive after a disappointing 2018 campaign. 

    The rest of the stable is a mishmosh of substandard talent.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars

4 of 32

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Starter: Leonard Fournette

    Depth: Alfred Blue, Ryquell Armstead, Benny Cunningham, Thomas Rawls

    Fullback: N/A

    After a promising rookie campaign, Leonard Fournette looked nothing like the franchise-defining talent the Jacksonville Jaguars expected during his second season. 

    Instead, Fournette missed seven games due to injuries and was suspended for another. He finished his sophomore effort with 439 rushing yards at 3.3 yards per attempt. 

    Don't forget: The Jaguars used the 2017 fourth overall pick to select the running back. As such, he's still a big part of the team's plans. How he responds in his third season will play a significant role in Jacksonville's success. 

    The front office made a concerted effort to improve the backfield's depth. 

    Alfred Blue signed as a free agent after rushing for 400 or more yards in four of his five seasons with the Houston Texans. General manager Dave Caldwell also drafted Ryquell Armstead in this year's fifth round. 

28. Kansas City Chiefs

5 of 32

    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Starter: Damien Williams

    Depth: Carlos Hyde, Darrel Williams, Darwin Thompson, James Williams, Marcus Marshall

    Fullback: Anthony Sherman

    The Kansas City Chiefs entered last season with the NFL's reigning rushing champion and previously productive backups. 

    Kareem Hunt ended up on the Commissioner's Exempt List and the organization eventually released him. The Chiefs cut Charcandrick West before the start of the regular season. Spencer Ware signed with the Colts after the 2018 campaign. 

    Along the way, the Chiefs found suitable, albeit not fully comparable, alternatives. 

    Damien Williams played well in a featured role and averaged 114.4 yards from scrimmage over the team's final five games (including the playoffs). He'll now be asked to contribute in a similar manner for an entire season, which isn't a given. 

    Carlos Hyde provides depth after signing in free agency, but he's a plodder. The 229-pound back averaged 3.4 and 3.3 yards per carry for the Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively, last season.

27. Miami Dolphins

6 of 32

    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Starter: Kenyan Drake

    Depth: Kalen Ballage, Kenneth Farrow, Mark Walton, Myles Gaskin, Patrick Laird

    Fullback: Chandler Cox

    Both Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage flashed last season, and the two will compete to become the Miami Dolphins' starting running back this fall under new head coach Brian Flores. 

    Drake is the favorite after 1,012 yards from scrimmage and nine total touchdowns last season, but Ballage understands a blank slate often follows a new coaching staff. 

    "I'm a competitor. That's what I do; that's who I am," Ballage said, per Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams. "It doesn't really matter who has the most playing time in the past or anything like that. I'm going forward and ready to do my thing."

    Flashes are no longer good enough. The Dolphins need one or both to become offensive focal points and help the transition from Adam Gase's offense to the new system since the options beyond Drake and Ballage are suspect at best. 

26. New York Jets

7 of 32

    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Starter: Le'Veon Bell

    Depth: Elijah McGuire, De'Angelo Henderson Sr., Trenton Cannon, Jalin Moore, Ty Montgomery

    Fullback: N/A

    How good will Le'Veon Bell be upon his return to the field? No one knows, and his current situation doesn't portend great things. 

    According to the New York Daily News' Manish Mehta, New York Jets head coach Adam Gase "absolutely did not want to sign" Bell. The man who supposedly did, Mike Maccagnan, is no longer the team's general manager. 

    Gase and Bell need to suck it up because the Jets organization is wholly invested in both. 

    "Even if reports are true, that won't stop me from doing what I came here to do," the running back tweeted. "Everyone has a job to do, and I'm gonna do mine whether people 'like' me or not. I'm here to win football games."

    If Bells returns to 2017 form after sitting out the 2018 campaign, the Jets will be fine. If not, tension will build since the team's other running back options don't inspire any confidence. 

25. Green Bay Packers

8 of 32

    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Starter: Aaron Jones

    Depth: Jamaal Williams, Dexter Williams, Kapri Bibbs, Malcolm Johnson, Tra Carson

    Fullback: Danny Vitale

    The Green Bay Packers' Aaron Jones seems like he's on the verge of something special, but he hasn't quite reached the lofty standards he set for himself. 

    "I feel like I'm very similar to [the Cleveland Browns' Kareem Hunt] as well as [the New Orleans Saints' Alvin] Kamara, I feel our games are a little bit the same," Jones said during an interview on The Rich Eisen Show (via Packers News' Stu Courtney). "We can stretch the field and catch the ball out of the backfield as well."

    Jones averaged 5.5 yards per carry over his first two seasons and developed nicely as a receiver with 26 receptions during his second campaign. But he's not there yet. His growth now falls on head coach Matt LeFleur and the new offensive scheme.

    Jamaal Williams will once again bang between the tackles as Green Bay's second option, while general manager Brian Gutekunst added Dexter Williams with a sixth-round draft pick. 

24. Houston Texans

9 of 32

    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Starter: Lamar Miller

    Depth: D'Onta Foreman, Taiwan Jones, Josh Ferguson, Buddy Howell, Karan Higdon Jr., Damarea Crockett

    Fullback: Cullen Gillaspia

    Lamar Miller is a solid player, but he's far from a difference-maker. Since 2014, Miller has finished between 10th and 16th in rushing yards each season. 

    As a receiver, the 28-year-old back has averaged 31 catches per season since signing with the Texans in 2016. 

    Head coach Bill O'Brien knows exactly what to expect from his lead back. The same can't be said about anyone else in the backfield. 

    D'Onta Foreman played in one regular-season game last season after suffering a torn Achilles late in the 2017 campaign. Alfred Blue is no longer on the roster. The 30-year-old Taiwan Jones hasn't carried the ball since the '16 season. Josh Ferguson spent all of last year on two different practice squads. And Buddy Howell is a special teams ace. 

    Maybe the team's two undrafted rookies—Karan Higdon Jr. and Damarea Crockett—will make a positive impression.

23. Minnesota Vikings

10 of 32

    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    Starter: Dalvin Cook

    Depth: Mike Boone, Alexander Mattison, Ameer Abdullah, Roc Thomas

    Fullback: C.J. Ham, Khari Blasingame

    The Minnesota Vikings' Dalvin Cook is talented enough to become one of the NFL's best running backs. Unfortunately, injuries have derailed his career so far. 

    Cook played in 15 total games through his first two seasons. In those games, he amassed 1,364 yards from scrimmage. The 2017 second-round pick is a natural runner with good patience and burst. Now healthy after an ACL tear and hamstring issues, Cook may realize his potential

    "Everything's back on schedule," Cook said, per Pro Football Talk's Charean Williams. "No more rehab. It's just great. Get bigger. Get stronger. Get faster. Learn the game more. Lead the group. And just be me."

    The Vikings must replace backup Latavius Murray as well. Mike Boone showed some promise as a rookie. Ameer Abdullah signed as a free agent. General manager Rick Spielman added more depth when he selected Alexander Mattison in this year's third round. 

22. Detroit Lions

11 of 32

    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    Starter: Kerryon Johnson

    Depth: C.J. Anderson, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Mark Thompson, Ty Johnson

    Fullback: Nick Bawden

    The Detroit Lions' Kerryon Johnson started fast during his rookie campaign before suffering a season-ending knee sprain. In 10 games, the second-round pick accumulated 854 yards from scrimmage and averaged 5.7 yards per touch.

    More importantly, Johnson provided the offense with a real running threat. The 21-year-old back famously ended the organization's near-five-year stretch of rushing futility with a 101-yard contest against the New England Patriots. Defenses can no longer pin their ears back because Detroit built a legit ground game.

    This became even truer when the franchise signed C.J. Anderson. The 225-pound thumper was with three teams last season but became a vital component to the Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl run—he compiled 488 yards on the ground during the team's final five games.

    Theo Riddick is a top-notch third-down back with 281 receptions over the last five years.

21. Atlanta Falcons

12 of 32

    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Starter: Devonta Freeman

    Depth: Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison, Brian Hill, Kenjon Barner, Marcus Green, Tony Brooks-James

    Fullback: Ricky Ortiz

    Once upon a time, the Atlanta Falcons' Devonta Freeman was counted among the league's best running backs. His production dipped in each of the last two seasons, though, including an injury-marred 2018 campaign during which Freeman played only two games thanks to knee, foot and groin injuries.

    How the two-time Pro Bowl selection responds after a difficult year will determine whether the Falcons backfield deserves more respect.

    "We can't wait to get Free back," head coach Dan Quinn said, per 247Sports' James Parks. "He's having such an awesome offseason. His energy, his juice, like him being around the team, you feel what he brings."

    Ito Smith's continued development is also key after Tevin Coleman served as the primary backup over the last four seasons. Smith must step into that role after Coleman signed with the San Francisco 49ers.

20. Chicago Bears

13 of 32

    D. Ross Cameron/Associated Press

    Starter: Tarik Cohen

    Depth: David Montgomery, Mike Davis, Ryan Nall, Taquan Mizzell Sr., Kerrith Whyte Jr.

    Fullback: N/A

    The Chicago Bears did what would have once been unthinkable: They traded their three-time leading rusher, Jordan Howard, for a 2020 fifth- or sixth-round pick. Howard averaged 1,123 yards per season during his first three years. But he didn't fit Matt Nagy's scheme.

    Instead, the Bears want more explosive weapons to work in space. Now, they will feature Tarik Cohen, the recently signed Mike Davis and rookie David Montgomery in a regular rotation. The coaching staff envisions all three as interchangeable.

    "It gives you options," Nagy said, per the Chicago Tribune's Rich Campbell. "They're all weapons. They can play on every down. You feel good about where they're at, and as coaches we've got to figure out exactly what [they're best at], and then there's only so many touches, so we have to balance that."

    Neither Cohen nor Davis has handled even 175 touches in a season at the professional level. That's OK since all three will get their fair share of the spotlight.

19. Carolina Panthers

14 of 32

    Chris Keane/Associated Press

    Starter: Christian McCaffrey

    Depth: Cameron Artis-Payne, Jordan Scarlett, Elijah Hood, Reggie Bonnafon, Elijah Holyfield

    Fullback: Alex Armah

    Christian McCaffrey summed up the Carolina Panthers backfield with one quote.

    "I'm way stronger than I was last year," McCaffrey said, per ESPN.com's David Newton. "The faster I can get, the better as well. You can always get bigger, faster, stronger.

    "I don't have any choice. I have to."

    He doesn't have a choice.

    Quarterback Cam Newton, who finished second on the team last year with 101 carries and 488 yards, required offseason shoulder injury. None of the returning running backs besides McCaffrey managed more than 69 yards.

    McCaffrey led the Panthers in carries (219), rushing yards (1,098), targets (124), receptions (107), receiving yards (867) and total touchdowns (13).

    Carolina drafted Jordan Scarlett in the fifth round to provide some relief.

18. Indianapolis Colts

15 of 32

    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Starter: Marlon Mack

    Depth: Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Spencer Ware, Jonathan Williams

    Fullback: N/A

    The Indianapolis Colts lack a feature back. Even so, three different players tallied 400 or more yards from scrimmage last year.

    Those performances were a byproduct of two factors: talented young options and a physically dominant offensive front.

    Marlon Mack set the pace with 1,011 total yards. Nyheim Hines carved a role as a third-down back with 63 receptions for 425 yards. Jordan Wilkins averaged a whopping 5.6 yards per carry. Each is 24 or younger.

    Then, general manager Chris Ballard signed Spencer Ware, who can provide a physical presence between the tackles, which the group previously lacked.

    An emphasis on the running game is coming.

    "Our goal will be to be a top-five, top-seven, rushing team," head coach Frank Reich told reporters.

17. Pittsburgh Steelers

16 of 32

    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Starter: James Conner

    Depth: Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell Jr., Trey Edmunds, Ralph Webb, Malik Williams, Travon McMillan

    Fullback: Roosevelt Nix

    James Conner did his best to make the Pittsburgh Steelers faithful forget about Le'Veon Bell. Conner did so successfully through the first eight games before his production took a downturn.

    An ankle injury also cost Conner three games, though he still earned a Pro Bowl nod with 1,470 total yards and 13 touchdowns. A healthy Conner gives the Steelers what they had in Bell. If not, they'll turn to a young group of options.

    Jaylen Samuels served as a multiposition threat in college and transitioned nicely to halfback. Samuels ran the ball 56 times for 256 yards during his limited opportunities.

    General manager Kevin Colbert added more depth when he selected Benny Snell Jr. in this year's fourth round. The 224-pound Snell ran for 1,000 or more yards in all three of his collegiate seasons. He's a grinder to go along with the Steelers' other bigger backs.

16. New York Giants

17 of 32

    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    Starter: Saquon Barkley

    Depth: Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, Rod Smith, Elijhaa Penny, Jon Hilliman

    Fullback: N/A

    Saquon Barkley alone isn't enough to place the New York Giants among the league's best backfields, though he's special.

    As a rookie, Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage, broke a rookie running back record with 91 receptions, earned a Pro Bowl nod and won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He's the Giants' best weapon in both phases of the game and a difference-maker.

    All that is reflected in New York's ranking, which also includes what is among the league's worst depth.

    Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, Rod Smith and Elijhaa Penny combined for 328 rushing yards last season. Smith, whom the team signed in free agency, averaged 2.9 yards per carry.

    Barkley is exceptional, but the Giants better pray he doesn't miss any time.

15. Los Angeles Rams

18 of 32

    Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

    Starter: Todd Gurley II

    Depth: Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown, John Kelly, Justin Davis, Matt Colburn

    Fullback: N/A

    A healthy Todd Gurley II places the Rams among the league's best backfields. But the knee problems Gurley experienced during last season's Super Bowl run may be a long-term issue.

    According to The Athletic's Jeff Howe, Gurley suffers from arthritis. The pain can be managed by lightening Gurley's workload, but that approach also limits his effectiveness.

    "All I need to worry about is how I'm feeling right now," Gurley said, per ESPN.com's Lindsey Thiry. "I don't know how I'm going to be feeling six months from now. So like I said, just kind of keep working hard, doing what I've been doing these past couple of years."

    The three-time Pro Bowl running back is surrounded by a solid cast. The Rams matched a restricted free-agent offer to Malcolm Brown this offseason. Brown is both a legitimate backup and a core-four special-teamer.

    Also, general manager Les Snead traded up in this year's third round to select Darrell Henderson, who is the organization's insurance policy if Gurley starts to decline.

14. Dallas Cowboys

19 of 32

    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Starter: Ezekiel Elliott

    Depth: Tony Pollard, Mike Weber Jr., Darius Jackson

    Fullback: Jamize Olawale

    The Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott is arguably the game's best running back. He led the league with 1,434 rushing yards last year and deserves the recognition even though his usage rate is off the charts. Elliott already has a pair of 300-carry seasons. Last year, the 23-year-old accumulated 433 touches including the postseason.

    As talented as Elliott is, he can't maintain such a heavy workload.

    Thus, the Cowboys were forced to find help. Dallas drafted Tony Pollard and Mike Weber Jr. in the fourth and seventh rounds, respectively.

    Pollard is a multipurpose weapon, and the coaching staff plans to maximize his skill set.

    "I think he has the ability to adapt to what we do," running backs coach Gary Brown said, per the Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota. "I know people think he's going to be this gadget guy. He's more than that."

    If one of the rookies blossoms, the Cowboys will be much better off.

13. Tennessee Titans

20 of 32

    James Kenney/Associated Press

    Starter: Derrick Henry

    Depth: Dion Lewis, Jeremy McNichols, David Fluellen, Dalyn Dawkins, Alex Barnes

    Fullback: N/A

    The thunder-and-lightning designation for running backs became stale years ago, but the moniker applies for the Tennessee Titans' Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis.

    Henry is a 247-pound freight train who rumbles through defenses. Granted, the 25-year-old isn't a traditional power back because he has the speed to outrace defenders. He's still an overwhelming physical presence, though. Henry's stiff-arm might be the most feared move in professional football. Last season, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner broke through with a 1,059-yard campaign.

    Lewis is a change-of-pace back. The 5'8", 195-pounder piled up 917 yards from scrimmage.

    The Titans don't have much depth beyond their top two, and a third option will have to emerge. Whoever fills the role probably won't receive many reps since Henry and Lewis are so effective.

12. Cincinnati Bengals

21 of 32

    David Richard/Associated Press

    Starter: Joe Mixon

    Depth: Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams, Rodney Anderson, Quinton Flowers, Jordan Ellis, Darrin Hall

    Fullback: N/A

    The Cincinnati Bengals plan to take a new approach under head coach Zac Taylor after last year's version of The Joe Mixon Show. 

    Mixon finished fourth overall with 1,168 rushing yards and tied for second with 11 runs for 20 yards or more. But Taylor understands the Bengals require better balance after Mixon carried the ball 237 times while Giovani Bernard finished second with only 56. 

    "You have to find ways to make sure we're getting the most out of each back doing what they do best," Taylor said, per ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell. "And when we're ready to make a run late in the year, you can still lean on those guys."

    Bernard should be the biggest beneficiary after he set career lows last season in rushing attempts and receptions. The Bengals also drafted a pair of running backs in the sixth round this year. Trayveon Williams and Rodney Anderson both carried their respective collegiate offenses, although Anderson has an extensive injury history. 

11. Seattle Seahawks

22 of 32

    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Starter: Chris Carson

    Depth: Rashaad Penny, C.J. Prosise, Travis Homer, J.D. McKissic, Bo Scarbrough, Adam Choice

    Fullback: Nick Bellore

    Running backs who eclipse the 1,000-yard mark don't receive the same recognition they once did.

    Ten years ago, 15 backs ran for more than 1,000 yards. Nine accomplished that feat in 2018

    Chris Carson finished fifth overall with 1,151 rushing yards last season, but he received little fanfare. Still, he helped the Seattle Seahawks boast the top-ranked ground game. According to Pro Football Focus' Scott Barrett, the 24-year-old is the league's fifth-highest-graded running back over the last two seasons. 

    Carson has plenty of help. 

    2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny started his rookie season slow but finished strong, with 313 of his 448 rushing yards coming in the second half (including postseason). C.J. Prosise is back after ending last season on injured reserve. And 2019 sixth-round pick Travis Homer adds 4.48-second 40-yard-dash speed to the mix. 

10. New Orleans Saints

23 of 32

    Mark LoMoglio/Associated Press

    Starter: Alvin Kamara

    Depth: Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, Devine Ozigbo, A.J. Ouellette

    Fullback: Zach Line, Michael Burton

    The New Orleans Saints couldn't afford to keep Mark Ingram II this offseason, which is unfortunate since he and Alvin Kamara formed the perfect complementary duo. 

    Kamara has established himself as an elite dual-threat option since the Saints spent a third-round pick on him in 2017, earning a pair of Pro Bowl nods in his first two seasons. But Ingram brought a certain tenacity and toughness to the Saints backfield.

    Latavius Murray, whom the organization signed to replace Ingram, is a different type of runner and has been less productive throughout his career. The 29-year-old's game is predicated on speed and burst through the hole, so the Saints might suffer a bit in short-yardage situations. 

    With Ingram, the Saints were a top-five backfield. Without him, they're still on the edge of top-10 status because of Kamara, Murray's incoming skill set, a capable third back in Dwayne Washington, an intriguing undrafted free agent in Devine Ozigbo and two solid fullbacks. 

9. San Francisco 49ers

24 of 32

    Josie Lepe/Associated Press

    Starter: Jerick McKinnon

    Depth: Matt Breida, Tevin Coleman, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Austin Walter

    Fullback: Kyle Juszczyk

    The San Francisco 49ers never saw what their offense was supposed to look like last year because projected starter Jerick McKinnon suffered a torn ACL before the start of the regular season. 

    In McKinnon's absence, Matt Breida emerged with 1,075 yards from scrimmage in 14 games. 

    The 49ers could have been content with McKinnon and Breida as a strong duo. Instead, they signed Tevin Coleman this offseason. All three are ideal fits in head coach Kyle Shanahan's outside-zone scheme. 

    "They all can do a bunch of different things," Shanahan said on The Adam Schefter Podcast (via Niners Nation's Kyle Posey). "The one thing that they have in common is they all run 4.40 or less, so I don't have to look back there to see if I have a slow guy or a fast guy, they are all fast."

    Fullback Kyle Juszczyk can't be overlooked considering he's caught 63 passes since joining the Niners in 2017. 

8. Washington Redskins

25 of 32

    James Kenney/Associated Press

    Starter: Adrian Peterson

    Depth: Derrius Guice, Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine, Bryce Love, Byron Marshall, Craig Reynolds

    Fullback: Elijah Wellman

    Adrian Peterson eventually will begin to fade after a decade-plus of excellence. But the 34-year-old showed no signs of that last season when he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his career. 

    The Washington Redskins shouldn't expect that same production from Peterson in 2019, but they also shouldn't need it. Derrius Guice, their 2018 second-round pick, is expected back from the torn ACL he suffered last preseason. 

    "Derrius is coming along very well," head coach Jay Gruden said, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith. "We're just trying to make sure that leg—his quad and everything—is full-strength before we let him go. That will probably be another thing we'll wait for training camp as well." 

    Chris Thompson is also a skilled third-down back, while Samaje Perine started eight games two years ago. Washington spent a fourth-round pick on Bryce Love as well, although he's recovering from a torn ACL. 

7. Los Angeles Chargers

26 of 32

    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Starter: Melvin Gordon III

    Depth: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Detrez Newsome, Troymaine Pope, Jeremy Cox

    Fullback: Derek Watt

    A healthy Melvin Gordon III makes the Los Angeles Chargers offense dangerous, but he's been dinged up throughout his career. In fact, Gordon has played only one full season so far, and that was his lone 1,000-yard campaign. 

    No one can deny the 2015 first-round pick's natural running ability and smooth, slashing style. However, questions about his availability prevent the Chargers from being even higher here, because they otherwise boast quality depth. 

    Austin Ekeler proved to be one of the league's better backup options this past season, tallying 958 yards from scrimmage. His quickness and receiving skills make him a dynamic secondary option. But he suffered a concussion and neck injury late last year, which opened the door for Justin Jackson. 

    In a four-game span (Weeks 12-15), Jackson averaged 5.9 yards per touch. 

6. Denver Broncos

27 of 32

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Starter: Phillip Lindsay

    Depth: Royce Freeman, Devontae Booker, Khalfani Muhammad, Devontae Jackson

    Fullback: Andy Janovich, George Aston

    The Denver Broncos went from an unsettled backfield to one of the league's best in less than a year. Phillip Lindsay is the main reason why. 

    Last season, Linsday became the first undrafted offensive rookie in NFL history to earn a Pro Bowl nod. He did so despite starting only eight games.

    Lindsay accumulated 1,278 yards from scrimmage and 10 total touchdowns as a rookie. His combination of vision, lateral agility and burst through the hole allowed the 5'8", 190-pound runner to lead the NFL with an average of 3.68 yards before contact, according to Pro Football Focus

    Royce Freeman falls on the other side of the spectrum as a 229-pound back who excels running between the tackles and in short-yardage situations. 

    Along with that pair of second-year runners, the Broncos also have Devontae Booker. The 2016 fourth-round pick finished third on the team last season with 38 receptions for 275 yards. 

5. Buffalo Bills

28 of 32

    Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

    Starter: LeSean McCoy

    Depth: Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, Devin Singletary, Marcus Murphy, Senorise Perry, Christian Wade

    Fullback: Patrick DiMarco

    Experience and age aren't viewed as positives for running backs. Even so, the Buffalo Bills are set to feature two 30-plus-year-old runners. 

    LeSean McCoy is coming off his worst season, while Frank Gore is now 36. Their presence is about more than production, though. The Bills are trying to establish a certain culture. 

    "I was trying to set a record for the oldest backfield in NFL history," general manager Brandon Beane joked, per the Courier Observer's Alex Brasky. "[Gore is] not going to be a big vocal leader, but he's a guy that, off the field, players can model themselves after." 

    The two veterans combined for 1,236 rushing yards last season. Plus, the Bills won't rely only on them.

    Beane used a third-round pick to select Devin Singletary, who forced 96 missed tackles last season, according to Pro Football Focus. T.J. Yeldon also signed a two-year deal after he started 30 games for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the past four seasons. 

4. Baltimore Ravens

29 of 32

    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    Starter: Mark Ingram II

    Depth: Gus Edwards, Kenneth Dixon, Justice Hill, De'Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin

    Fullback: Patrick Ricard, Christopher Ezeala

    Lamar Jackson received most of the credit for the Baltimore Ravens' offensive revival last year. The dual-threat quarterback strains defenses and helps to create running lanes, but the Ravens need the right backs to take advantage of the situation. 

    Gus Edwards played well for an undrafted free agent, tallying 654 rushing yards over the last seven games. Even so, the Ravens decided to make heavy investments in the backfield this offseason. 

    First, Baltimore signed Mark Ingram II in free agency to serve as Jackson's ideal complement. Ingram is a downhill, between-the-tackles thumper to run the inside-zone portion of the scheme. The veteran is also a viable outlet receiver. 

    General manager Eric DeCosta drafted another weapon in Justice Hill in the fourth round. Hill adds 4.4-second 40-yard-dash speed to the backfield. 

3. Cleveland Browns

30 of 32

    Ron Schwane/Associated Press

    Starter: Nick Chubb

    Depth: Kareem Hunt, Duke Johnson, Dontrell Hilliard, Trayone Gray, D'Ernest Johnson

    Fullback: Orson Charles

    The Cleveland Browns own the league's best 1-2-3 punch at running back, but a few circumstances hold them back from having the league's best backfield. 

    First, Kareem Hunt's eight-game suspension won't allow Cleveland to operate at peak capacity until late in the season. Hunt led the NFL with 1,327 rushing yards as a rookie and paced the Chiefs last season with 824 yards. 

    "He makes plays and you see it," Nick Chubb said after practicing with Hunt during OTAs, per the Browns Zone's Scott Petrak.

    Chubb experienced rookie success as well and finished last season as the NFL's highest-graded back, according to Pro Football Focus

    Duke Jonson is the wild card because he's a dynamic weapon out of the backfield with 235 receptions in his first four seasons. But he asked the team for a trade earlier this offseason, according to Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot, which makes it unclear whether he'll be around in the fall. 

2. New England Patriots

31 of 32

    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    Starter: Sony Michel

    Depth: James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris, Brandon Bolden, Nick Brossette

    Fullback: James Develin 

    No team better encapsulates the modern approach to a running back stable than the New England Patriots. Every player has a specific role, and the Patriots use their rotation to its fullest. 

    Sony Michel became a workhorse late last season when New England used a physical brand of football and took advantage of undersized fronts. The first-round rookie ran for 502 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry from Week 16 through Super Bowl LIII.

    Meanwhile, James White is perhaps the NFL's best receiving back. Over the last three seasons, the 27-year-old caught 203 passes, including a career-high 87 last year. Like White, Burkhead is a multipurpose back who can line up in the I-formation or bump over to slot receiver. 

    Damien Harris is the newest addition after New England plucked him in this year's third round. 

    James Develin, meanwhile, leads the way as a sledgehammer at fullback. 

1. Philadelphia Eagles

32 of 32

    Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

    Starter: Jordan Howard

    Depth: Josh Adams, Miles Sanders, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Donnel Pumphrey, Boston Scott

    Fullback: N/A

    The Philadelphia Eagles' backfield depth is staggering. 

    "Guess what, guys?" general manager Howie Roseman told reporters after the Eagles spent a second-round pick on Miles Sanders. "We got a running back. We draft running backs in Philadelphia."

    The Eagles don't just draft running backs; they trade for them, too. 

    Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement all have the ability to be the focal point of the offense for stretches. Yet Roseman went out this offseason and traded a conditional 2020 sixth-round pick for Jordan Howard, who accumulated 3,370 rushing yards in his first three seasons. 

    Howard will set the tone physically. Sanders can contribute in all phases of the game. And the Eagles still have a handful of backs who could start or become prominent role players for other teams. 


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.