We fully expect running backs to play huge roles during NFL Championship Sunday. The slate starts with Philadelphia Eagles ball-carrier Miles Sanders attempting to do his thing against the San Francisco 49ers’ league-best run defense.
On the other side of the ball, one of the NFL’s best dual-threat running backs in that of Christian McCaffrey will look to overcome a minor calf injury while continuing his dominant play.
In the AFC, Joe Mixon was especially good during his Cincinnati Bengals win over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round. How will he fair against the Kansas City Chiefs? Below, we rank the top-seven running backs set to take part in NFC Championship Sunday as they look to help their teams punch a ticket to Super Bowl LVII.
7. Samaje Perine, Cincinnati Bengals
- Samaje Perine stats (2022): 95 attempts, 394 rushing yards, 4.1 average, 38 receptions, 287 receiving yards, 681 total yards, 6 TD
A former mid-round pick of Washington, this Oklahoma product has carved out a solid role in Cincinnati after struggling in his D.C. stint. In the two seasons prior to 2022, Perine tallied 809 total yards at a clip of 5.2 yards per touch.
He’s been even better heading into NFL Championship Sunday. That included putting up 155 total yards on 27 touches with Joe Mixon sidelined during Cincinnati’s Week 13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Even with limited touches Sunday, Perine could make a major impact for the Bengals.
6. Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers
- Elijah Mitchell stats (2022): 45 attempts, 279 rushing yards, 6.2 average, 2 TD
When he’s actually been on the field since entering the league as a sixth-round pick of the 49ers back in 2021, Mitchell has been among the most-dynamic running backs in the NFL. Unfortunately, he’s also missed 18 of a possible 34 games during this span.
The good news? Mitchell is back and ready to make an impact heading into NFL Championship Sunday. He averaged a resounding 6.2 yards per run in five regular-season games. This came after a rookie season back in 2021 that saw the Louisiana product gain 1,100 total yards at a clip of 4.9 yards per touch. He’ll join Christian McCaffrey in helping provide balance for Brock Purdy Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
5. Jerick McKinnon, Kansas City Chiefs
- Jerick McKinnnon stats (2022): 72 attempts, 291 rushing yards, 4.0 average, 56 receptions, 512 receiving yards, 803 total yards, 10 TD
A big-money free-agent signing of the San Francisco 49ers back in 2018 with San Francisco, McKinnon never panned out in Northern California. In fact, he missed the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons to injury.
Kansas City signed him back in 2021. The small-school product struggled to an extent in his first season, but he has picked it up big time since. That included catching 56-of-71 targets from Patrick Mahomes during the regular season. Despite tallying just 17 rushing yards in his past three games, McKinnon could be a real threat against Cincinnati come NFL Championship Sunday. He gained 60 yards and a touchdown on 10 touches in the Chiefs’ Week 12 loss to Cincy.
4. Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs
Isiah Pacheco stats (2022): 170 attempts, 830 rushing yards, 4.9 average, 13 receptions, 130 yards, 960 total yards, 5 TD
A rookie seventh-round pick out of Rutgers, Pacheco took the Chiefs’ lead ball-carrier role back in Week 10 and has run with it. Over the course of his final nine regular-season games, the youngster put up 750 total yards and four touchdowns. That equates to north of 1,400 total yards during a 17-game slate.
As Kansas City prepares for its AFC Championship Game matchup with Cincinnati, a lot of the focus is going to be on Pacheco due to Patrick Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain. Simply put, the Chiefs are going to rely more on their running game than during the regular year. The good news? Pacheco tallied 95 rushing yards on just 12 attempts against Jacksonville last week.
3. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
- Joe Mixon stats (2022): 210 attempts, 814 rushing yards, 3.9 average, 60 receptions, 441 yards, 1,255 total yards, 9 TD
Dating back to his days with Oklahoma, Mixon has been underrated. It’s one of the several reasons he fell to the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft to Cincinnati. Since then, he’s produced at an extremely high level.
This past regular season saw Mixon tally north of 1,200 total yards for the fourth time in six seasons. He averaged 4.6 yards per touch and caught a career-high 60 passes. He then played a major role in Cincinnati upsetting the Buffalo Bills last weekend. Mixon tallied 105 yards and a touchdown on 20 attempts in the 27-10 win. The Bengals are going to need similar production if they’re going to beat Kansas City during NFL Championship Sunday for a second consecutive season.
2. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Whether it’s NFL free agent rankings or NFL Playoff rankings, Sanders finds himself as one of the top figures. Set to hit the open market in roughly two months, he can prove himself as a franchise back with a solid postseason performance.
There’s two issues here. Sanders saw inconsistent touches with Philadelphia during the regular season. He’s also not a receiving threat out of the backfield (124 catches in 57 career games). If Philly is to advance to Super Bowl LVII, it will need more consistency from Sanders. This continues in the NFC Championship Game against a 49ers defense that finished No. 1 in the NFL stopping the run during the regular season.
1. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers
Christian McCaffrey stats (2022): 244 attempts, 1,139 rushing yards, 4.7 average, 85 receptions, 741 yards, 1,880 total yards, 13 TD
CMC continued his dominant recent play in the NFL Wild Card round with 136 total yards in San Francisco’s blowout win over the Seattle Seahawks. That included a career-long 68-yard run to help facilitate the 49ers’ first touchdown of the game.
Unfortunately, a minor calf injury impacted him some in last week’s win over the Dallas Cowboys. McCaffrey tallied just 57 total yards on 16 touches. If San Francisco is going to come out on top against Philadelphia on NFL Championship Sunday, it will need one of the game’s best running backs to perform at a high level.