Best Running Backs in the NFL 2023: Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, and Derrick Henry Battle Atop Rankings

The best running backs in the NFL can all offer speed, power, vision, and at least some pass-catching ability. But who sits at No. 1?

Best Running Backs in the NFL 2023: Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, and Derrick Henry Battle Atop Rankings

The best running backs in the NFL come in all shapes and sizes and offer varying skill sets. Some excellent RBs rely on power, while others hang their hat on speed. Of course, the elite players at the position offer a combination of both traits.

Running backs come and go more frequently than any other position. That’s just the nature of playing a role where you’re essentially involved in a car crash 20 times per game. Through all that turnover, one RB has remained dominant.

Who’s the Best Running Back in the NFL?

Christian McCaffrey is the best running back in the NFL. The 49ers, realizing how McCaffrey’s dual skill set as a runner and receiver could benefit their offense, traded four draft picks to acquire the 26-year-old from the Panthers just before the 2022 NFL trade deadline.

In 11 games with San Francisco, CMC posted 746 yards and six scores on the ground while adding 52 receptions, 464 yards, and four touchdowns via the air.

Inside Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, McCaffrey became the platonic ideal of a pass-catching running back who’s just as capable of burying defenders as a rusher as he is lining up as a No. 1 receiver in the passing game.

It’s fair to question McCaffrey’s durability, as injuries limited him to just 10 total games from 2020-2021. Yet, he’s a dynamic threat any time he’s available, and his peak is higher than any running back in the league.

MORE: FREE Mock Draft Simulator With Trades

Sacrificing draft capital for a veteran back is typically a questionable decision, and the 49ers may ultimately miss those picks they traded away. But McCaffrey opened up San Francisco’s offense and gave the club the most versatile set of weapons in the NFL, which was especially critical when the 49ers were forced to turn to rookie seventh-round quarterback Brock Purdy.

No matter who is under center to begin the 2023 season, CMC will offer a safety-blanket presence while also offering game-breaking ability. He’s one of one among NFL running backs.

Top positional rankings for the best running backs in the NFL highlighting Christian McCaffrey and Josh Jacobs.

Running Back Rankings 2-10

McCaffrey is the best running back in the NFL, but there isn’t a massive gap between the 49ers’ stalwart and the rest of the top 10.

2) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

McCaffrey is the most complete running back in the NFL, but Nick Chubb is the best pure runner in the league. Among active RBs with at least 100 attempts since 2018, Chubb ranks first with 2.9 yards after contact per rush. He exhibits tenacity with each carry, and it’s rare to see the four-time Pro Bowler go down without taking a few defenders with him.

Chubb, who last season stayed injury-free for the first time since 2019, is a perfect fit for the Browns’ zone-running scheme. He’s a master of the cutback, and when he finds a lane, there are few with his acceleration.

Cleveland’s offensive line is elite, but Chubb would be among the NFL’s best backs even behind a subpar front five. He’s an excellent creator and is routinely capable of turning what should have been a loss into positive yardage.

3) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry is an absolute beast. In both 2019 and 2020, Henry led the league in carries, yards, and touchdowns. A foot injury cost him nine games in 2021, but he ranked first in attempts again last season.

The Titans deploy Henry as a blunt instrument whenever he’s on the field. Facing the Texans without Ryan Tannehill in Week 8, Tennessee handed the ball to Henry a whopping 32 times while asking rookie quarterback Malik Willis to attempt only 10 passes. Henry’s brute force is astounding, and his ability to take over a game is unrivaled among running backs.

Henry’s production capacity is especially remarkable given that he faced heavy boxes (eight-plus defenders) on 38.11% of his carries, second-most in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Even when opposing defenses know what’s coming, they still can’t stop Henry.

No one knows what the future holds for Henry. Not only does he have that massive workload under his belt, but he turned 29 years old in January. He’s also entering the final year of his contract. Success is fleeting and temporary for running backs, and not even Henry can evade the passage of time or the effect of wear and tear.

But for now, the King’s reign continues.

4) Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Jonathan Taylor was widely viewed as the NFL’s best running back heading into last season, but his production took a step backward after an outstanding 2021.

It was always going to be difficult for Taylor to match his output from his second NFL campaign. That year, he led the league with 1,811 yards and 18 touchdowns while earning a first-team All-Pro nod. Still, most didn’t expect Taylor’s numbers to drop as far as they did (861 yards and four TDs before being placed on injured reserve).

Of course, several factors led to Taylor’s diminishing stats. Although the Colts recently fielded one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, the unit was among the league’s worst in 2022. With no push up front, Taylor had nowhere to go.

Indy’s putrid offense also meant Taylor didn’t have the opportunity to score. In 2021, Taylor received 87 red-zone carries, 39 more than second-place Austin Ekeler. But last season, he handled just 31 carries inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Taylor hasn’t become a worse player all of a sudden, but the structure around him crumbled. If the Colts can figure things out for 2023, Taylor should post a rebound season.

5) Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

No running back made himself more money in 2022 than Josh Jacobs. The Raiders had already declined Jacbos’ fifth-year option for 2023, so they had to deploy the franchise tag to retain him after he posted the best season of his career.

Jacobs led the league with 1,653 rushing yards, 100+ yards ahead of second-place Henry. He generated more first downs (93) than any other rusher, and his 58% success rate was fourth among running backs.

Jacobs did all this while playing behind an offensive line that was below average. Yet, his excellent vision allows him to find a crease when the blocking isn’t perfect. He’s perfectly capable of grinding out yardage as a sustaining runner, but when Jacobs sees a hole, he’s not afraid to hit it with speed.

6) Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

In 2022, Austin Ekeler ranked fifth in the NFL in receptions. Not fifth among running backs. Fifth, period.

His 107 catches trailed only Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Stefon Diggs, all of whom — as you may be aware — are elite pass catchers.

While Ekeler doesn’t create as many big plays in the passing game as McCaffrey can, he’s become an incredibly valuable checkdown weapon for Justin Herbert, especially when injuries to L.A.’s receivers and offensive line forced the Chargers to work the short game.

Ekeler isn’t a pounder, but he’s a tough runner. He took the most carries of his career in 2021 (206) and remained effective, but Los Angeles had been adamant that they want to keep Ekeler’s usage rates in check.

Although Ekeler requested a trade this offseason, the Chargers didn’t move him, meaning he’ll likely play out the final year of his contract in Los Angeles before looking for a payday next offseason.

7) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

The Saquon Barkley resurgence is officially upon us. We always knew Saquon was one of the most talented backs in the league, but injuries have sapped his on-field availability.

An ACL tear cost Barkley nearly the entire 2020 season, and while he played 13 games in both 2019 and 2020, he was hobbled by ankle injuries in both campaigns and never looked like his old self.

With health on his side again, Barkley thrived in a new offensive scheme. He matched his previous career high with 352 touches, and he looked reborn under Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka. Barkley ranked fourth in the NFL with 1,312 rushing yards and reached the end zone 10 times.

Barkley, still only 25, received the franchise tag this offseason. It’s unclear whether the Giants will be able to work out a long-term extension with their star running back before the season begins.

8) Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

As with Barkley, everyone already knew Tony Pollard was highly talented. But it wasn’t injuries preventing Pollard from seeing the field — it was the Cowboys staff’s undying belief in Ezekiel Elliott.

Pollard had popped off for some big games in the past, but a two-game injury absence by Elliott last season allowed Pollard to finally prove he’s one of the most explosive players in the NFL.

With Elliott sidelined in Weeks 8 and 9, Pollard totaled 246 and four touchdowns on the ground, cementing his status as a vital member of the Dallas offense. After Zeke returned, the two largely split carries before Pollard suffered a high ankle sprain in the Cowboys’ Divisional Round loss.

Pollard was scheduled to become a free agent this offseason, but Dallas retained him via the franchise tag. Elliott’s release paved the way for Pollard to become the Cowboys’ 1A back in 2023, but there’s still a chance Dallas could reunite with Zeke over the summer.

9) Rhamondre Stevenson, New England Patriots

Rhamondre Stevenson can’t match the track record of any other running back in the top 10, even Pollard. He’s been in the NFL for just two seasons and has primarily split time in New England with Damien Harris.

The Patriots never invest much in running backs and always seem to use a committee approach, but Belichick may have found his next workhorse. Stevenson finished fourth in attempts per broken tackle (8.8), a stable metric that quantifies one of the few things a running back can control. He also ranked ninth in yards after contact per attempt.

Additionally, Stevenson is a reliable receiver in the passing game. The former fourth-round pick managed 69 receptions on 88 targets for 421 yards. Among RBs, only Ekeler, McCaffrey, and Leonard Fournette posted more catches.

Stevenson still has a lot more to prove, and his ranking is something of a projection. But he’ll be an exciting player to watch next year and could become the centerpiece of the Patriots’ offense by 2023 (if he isn’t there already).

10) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Still one of the most efficient backs in the NFL, Aaron Jones crossed the 1,000-yard threshold for the third time in his career while ranking fourth in rushing DVOA and sixth in success rate. While he’s surrendered carries to fellow Packers RB AJ Dillon, Jones is the far more accomplished receiver.

Jones will be back in Green Bay in 2023 after reworking his contract in February. The Packers’ rushing attack may become all the more important next season as Jordan Love takes his turn under center following the Aaron Rodgers trade, so Jones could be in for another heavy workload as Green Bay aims to support its young starting quarterback.

Top Running Backs Remaining

11) Travis Etienne Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

Urban Meyer’s wisdom in using a first-round pick on a running back aside, Travis Etienne Jr. was a perfect fit for Doug Pederson’s offense last season. A Lisfranc injury ended his rookie campaign before it began, but Etienne showed elusiveness and game-breaking speed in 2022 en route to 1,441 total yards, the 10th-most among running backs.

The Jaguars traded James Robinson at the 2022 deadline, clearing the way for Etienne to become Jacksonville’s lead back for the foreseeable future.

12) Breece Hall, New York Jets

Like Etienne, Breece Hall also missed time in his rookie season due to injuries. But the former Iowa State back managed 463 rushing yards and four touchdowns before tearing his ACL in October. Expected to be ready for the start of the 2023 regular season, Hall is another interesting piece for a Jets offense that already includes reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson.

13) Kenneth Walker III, Seattle Seahawks

The first running back selected in the 2022 draft, Kenneth Walker III finished second to Wilson in OROY voting. He became the Seahawks’ full-time back following an injury to Rashaad Penny and subsequently posted 1,050 yards on 228 carries.

MORE: Highest-Paid Runnings Backs in the NFL

Receiving work may never be a significant part of Walker’s game, but his strength and balance as a runner will make him a focal point of Seattle’s offense. However, Walker will now have to contend with the presence of rookie second-round back Zach Charbonnet, who could cut into his snap rate next year.

14) Dameon Pierce, Houston Texans

The Texans appear to have hit on several of their 2022 draft selections, adding Derek Stingley Jr., Jalen Pitre, and Dameon Pierce to their rebuilding efforts. Despite being a fourth-round pick, Pierce seized Houston’s RB1 job by the horns and proved difficult to bring down, finishing sixth in yards after contact per attempt.

Had he not suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 13, Pierce could have won the OROY award. He proved elite at forcing missed tackles last season and could be set up to dominate behind an underrated Texans offensive line.

15) Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

Mixon, who lost two games to a concussion last year, had to contend with a revamped Bengals offensive line that took a while to figure things out in 2022. Cincinnati rarely went under center, and they fielded one of the pass-happiest offenses in the league, so Mixon didn’t receive as many opportunities as in seasons past.

But we only have to look back to 2021 to find Mixon — whom Bill Belichick called “the best back in the league” as recently as 2019 — finishing third in attempts, third in yardage, and fourth in rushing TDs. A release candidate heading into the offseason, Mixon is on pace to return as the Bengals’ lead back next season after the club failed to use an early-round draft pick on an RB.

16) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara’s receiving numbers have fallen off in recent years — instead of clearing 80 catches per season as he did from 2017-20, he’s totaled only 14 receptions over the past two years. 

With Sean Payton gone, the Saints’ offensive structure crumbled, and it remains to be seen if Kamara can return to his previous highs. He’s also in danger of being suspended after allegedly punching a man after the 2022 Pro Bowl.

17) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Although Dalvin Cook played the most snaps of his career last season, that workload may have negatively affected his production, as he posted the worst yards per carry of his NFL tenure. After the Vikings failed to trade him this offseason, Cook appears poised to be released, but he’s still effective enough to land another role.

18) James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

Injuries will always be a problem for James Conner, who has never completed a full slate of games in his six-year career. But when he’s on the field, Conner’s dominated touches for the Cardinals. His 18-touchdown campaign in 2021 was an outlier, but he should remain a steady backfield option in the desert for at least one more season.

19) Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

The 24th overall pick in 2021, Najee Harris is tied with Josh Jacobs as the NFL’s highest-drafted running back since the Giants selected Saquon Barkley in 2018. A physical back with a decisive running style, Harris hasn’t been very efficient over two seasons with the Steelers, but it’s fair to wonder how much Pittsburgh’s lacking offensive environment is holding him back.

20) Miles Sanders, Carolina Panthers

2022 marked the best season of Miles Sanders’ career, as he teamed with Jalen Hurts to give the Eagles the best rushing attack in the NFL. Sanders is explosive in the open field, and while he hasn’t been much of a pass catcher recently, he hauled in 50 receptions during his rookie season.

Durability has been a consistent question, but Sanders stayed healthy for all 17 games last year. The bigger concern will be how he fares as he downgrades from Philadelphia’s elite offense to Carolina’s promising but unproven unit.

21) Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons used the eighth overall pick on Bijan Robinson in this year’s draft, but they already had a talented young running back on their roster. Tyler Allgeier, Atlanta’s fifth-round selection in 2023, surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground in his rookie season while displaying excellent vision and tackle-breaking ability. He probably won’t see 200+ carries again now that Robinson is around, but Allgeier should still have a role for the Falcons.

22) Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City’s 2022 draft class could go down as an all-timer. Isiah Pacheco was the 251st pick in the draft but usurped Clyde Edwards-Helaire to become the Chiefs’ top running back by midseason.

A high-energy runner who tends to initiate contact, Pacheco could post outstanding numbers in a Patrick Mahomes-led offense next season, especially if he increases his receiving work. Jerick McKinnon is back, but Pacheco should see the lion’s share of the backfield snaps in Kansas City.

23) David Montgomery, Detroit Lions

David Montgomery is a jack of all trades but a master of none. He’s a powerful back who can break tackles, but he wasn’t necessarily enough of a cutback runner for Chicago’s outside-zone scheme.

MORE: 2023 NFL Offense Rankings 

Montgomery shifted from one NFC North team to another by signing a three-year deal with the Lions offseason. While Montgomery looked like the favorite to lead Detroit in touches, the Lions subsequently used the 12th overall pick on fellow RB Jahmyr Gibbs, complicating Montgomery’s outlook in the Motor City.

24) Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears

Herbert has never been a full-time starter, and he might not be in 2022 after the Bears signed D’Onta Foreman and drafted Roschon Johnson. But he’s been incredibly impressive on a per-touch basis.

Among RBs with at least 100 carries last season, Herbert ranked second behind only Pollard in yards after contact per attempt (2.5). The ability to generate your own rushing yardage is arguably the most important trait a running back can possess, and Herbert has it.

25) D’Onta Foreman, Chicago Bears

The Panthers’ running game somehow became more efficient after they traded Christian McCaffrey, and D’Onta Foreman was a central part of that effort. Foreman topped 110 yards five times and managed 914 yards on the season despite not receiving more than five carries until Week 7. After signing a cheap deal with the Bears, Foreman will battle Herbert for carries in 2023.

26) D’Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles

By all accounts, D’Andre Swift is a talented and versatile enough back to be the star of an offense, but injuries have held him back. He’s never finished a full season, and he’s averaged just 450 snaps per year over three NFL seasons.

The Lions gave up on Swift after drafting Gibbs, shipping him to the Eagles for future draft capital. He’ll have a better shot at contributing as a pass catcher in Philadelphia’s offense, but his ability to hold up over a 17-game slate will remain a concern.

27) Jamaal Williams, New Orleans Saints

Swift was outplayed last season by Jamaal Williams, who came out of nowhere to lead the league with 17 rushing scores. Williams ranked first in carries inside the 20 and inside the 10 and repeatedly converted touchdowns.

Williams is now in New Orleans, where he will have a substantial role even if Kamara returns to his usual form. If Kamara is suspended, Williams and third-round rookie Kendre Miller will share the Saints’ workload.

28) J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

Talent isn’t a problem for J.K. Dobbins. Over 226 NFL totes, the former second-round pick has averaged 5.9 yards per carry. However, a torn ACL forced Dobbins to miss the entire 2021 season, while another knee issue cost him time in 2022.

The Ravens didn’t add any competition to their running back room this offseason, a signal that they’re ready to roll with Dobbins as their lead option.

29) Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos

Javonte Williams split carries with Melvin Gordon III during his rookie season, then tore his ACL and LCL in Week 4 of the 2022 campaign. Thus, his ranking is more of a projection than anything.

Williams, strong enough to squat 600 pounds in college, garnered nearly 1,500 scrimmage yards in his final collegiate season. If and when he’s healthy, he’ll be an intriguing addition to Sean Payton’s new Broncos offense.

30) AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers

AJ Dillon isn’t the most explosive back in the league, but when the Packers need three or four yards for a first down, Dillon is the man they call on. At nearly 250 pounds, Dillon is an outstanding complement to Aaron Jones — but he can catch the ball, too. Dillon may never be a 1A back, but he’ll always have a role as a grinding, sustaining runner.

31) Brian Robinson, Washington Commanders

Recovering from a gunshot wound to post nearly 800 yards over 12 games is a pretty amazing way to begin your NFL career. Brian Robinson stole Washington’s RB once he hit the field, relegating former starter Antonio Gibson to a backup role by season’s end.

Robinson may never be much of a receiver (just nine catches in 2022), but he’s a bruising back who could put up better results behind an improved Commanders offensive line.

32) Ezekiel Elliott, Free Agent

The Cowboys released Ezekiel Elliott this offseason, but owner Jerry Jones said the “ship hasn’t sailed” on re-signing the veteran back. Although Zeke is incredibly durable, he probably doesn’t need to be handling 230+ carries at this point in his career. Still, he could provide a much-needed power option in Dallas’ backfield if he comes back.


About the Author

Dallas Robinson
Dallas Robinson
Dallas Robinson is an NFL analyst for Pro Football Network. His work has previously appeared on a variety of outlets, including Pro Football Rumors, Digg, and USA Today's NFL Wire. He is based in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife and Shih Tzu.

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