New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is the top back in the NFL, according to a poll of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players, but Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey isn't far behind.
In the poll conducted by ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, McCaffrey finished second behind only Barkley. One anonymous AFC executive provided their rationale for placing Barkley ahead of CMC: "Not as sturdy as Saquon. Not the same speed-and-power combo. That affects what you do a little bit more, even though both are great."
McCaffrey led the NFL in touches, yards from scrimmage and total touchdowns last season, while Barkley struggled through injuries and missed three games after leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2018 as a rookie.
Barkley is undoubtedly the bigger and more powerful back than McCaffrey, standing 6'0" and 233 pounds compared to McCaffrey's 5'11" and 205 pounds. Even so, durability has been a bigger issue for Barkley to this point in their careers.
In three NFL seasons, McCaffrey has yet to miss a game. Barkley is only two years in, and he missed three full games and much of a fourth last season with a high ankle sprain.
Despite the injury, Barkley still managed to top the 1,000-yard mark with 1,003 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, plus 52 receptions for 438 yards and two scores. Even so, it paled in comparison to what he did as a rookie when he rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns, while catching 91 passes for 721 yards and four scores en route to being named NFL Rookie of the Year.
An anonymous NFC executive marveled at Barkley's big-play ability and status as a home run hitter with the ball in his hands: "Can score from anywhere on the field, and you feel that. That's rare. Can generate more big plays than anyone."
If Barkley's production as a rookie is what the Giants can expect in the coming years when he's healthy, then it will be difficult to argue against his status as the NFL's top running back.
If anyone can challenge Barkley, however, McCaffrey is the top candidate. It was apparent in 2018 how good he was, as he finished with 1,965 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns, but McCaffrey was a Pro Bowl snub nonetheless.
The 24-year-old star couldn't be denied last season, though, rushing for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, while also making 116 receptions for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns en route to being named a Pro Bowler and First Team All-Pro for the first time.
McCaffrey became just the third player in NFL history for finish with 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in a single season, joining Marshall Faulk and Roger Craig.
An anonymous NFL coordinator called McCaffrey "one of the best players in football," and it is tough to argue against that assertion given how many ways McCaffrey can impact the game.
The Carolina Panthers clearly agree, as they signed McCaffrey to a four-year, $64 million extension this offseason. If Barkley stays healthy and productive, he is likely next in line among running backs for a big contract.