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NFL running back rankings Week 18: Christian McCaffrey narrowing the gap

Our final regular-season NFL running back rankings are here with Week 18 of the schedule about to get going.

San Francisco 49ers star Christian McCaffrey put up a dazzling effort against Josh Jacobs and the Las Vegas Raiders on New Year’s Day. Is that enough for CMC to surpass Jacobs in our most-recent rankings?

Meanwhile, three NFL East running backs continue to make their impact en route to leading their teams to playoff football. Below, we look at our NFL running back rankings for Week 18.

Related: Sportsnaut’s NFL wide receiver rankings for Week 18

10. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles' Miles Sanders
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  • Miles Sanders: 248 attempts, 1,236 rushing yards, 5.0 average, 20 receptions, 78 yards, 1,314 total yards, 11 TD

Sanders has been in and out of our NFL running back rankings pretty much all season. He rejoined the cast after a stellar 144-yard, two-touchdown outing in a blowout Week 14 win over the New York Giants before struggling a tad in Philadelphia’s win over the Chicago Bears in Week 15. He also hasn’t provided a ton in the two games Jalen Hurts has missed to injury.

All said, Sanders has attempted 15 or fewer rushes nine times through 16 games. He also adds very little value in the passing game, which impacts the Penn State product’s stock heading into free agency.

9. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

nfl running back rankings: tony pollard, dallas cowboys
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  • Tony Pollard stats: 186 attempts, 988 rushing yards, 5.3 average, 39 receptions, 371 yards, 1,359 total yards, 12 TD

An impending free agent, Pollard has upped his stock big time with his performance in 2022. During a four-game span earlier this season, the former mid-round pick from Memphis gained 573 total yards and six touchdowns. That helped keep Dallas afloat as Ezekiel Elliott was dealing with injuries.

Despite missing last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans to injury, Pollard remains in our NFL running back rankings. Put it this way. Elliott put up just 37 yards in 19 attempts with Pollard sidelined in Week 17. That just goes to show us how important Pollard is to Dallas’ offense.

Related: Sportsnaut’s Week 18 NFL offense rankings

8. Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

nfl running back rankings: travis etienne
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  • Travis Etienne stats: 213 attempts, 1,108 rushing yards, 5.2 average, 33 receptions, 299 yards, 1,407 total yards, 5 TD

After missing his rookie season to injury, Etienne has stepped up big time to help Jacksonville battle for the AFC South division title as a sophomore. After struggling through a three-game stretch, he’s picked it up recently for an upstart Jags team.

The former first-round pick from Clemson has tallied 379 total yards on 58 touches over the past two weeks. In last Sunday’s win over the Houston Texans, he went for 140 total yards on just 12 touches. It has Etienne ascending our NFL running back rankings heading into Week 18 against the Tennessee Titans.

7. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

nfl running back rankings: aaron jones
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  • Aaron Jones stats: 201 attempts, 1,073 rushing yards, 5.3 average, 56 receptions, 375 yards, 1,448 total yards, 7 TD

Jones has been absolutely sensational at times this season. The Packers have also forgot about him at times. It really is a strange situation. When this former mid-round pick actually sees touches, he’s darn good. Last week’s 111-yard performance on 14 rush attempts in a blowout win over the Minnesota Vikings was a primary example of this.

Unfortunately, Jones has seen single-digit rush attempts in six outings through the first 16 games. When he has 10 or more attempts, the Pro Bowler has put up 100 yards five times. It has Jones on pace for his second season with north of 1,500 total yards.

Related: Sportsnaut’s Week 18 NFL QB rankings

6. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

nfl running back rankings week 17; dalvin cook
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  • Dalvin Cook stats: 253 attempts, 1,136 rushing yards, 4.5 average, 38 receptions, 295 yards, 1,431 total yards, 10 TD

Pretty darn good. That’s been the name of the game for Cook since Minnesota made him a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The Florida State product tallied north of 1,300 total yards in each of the past three seasons. He’s already hit that mark this season with one game remaining.

At issue here is a lack of consistency on the part of the Pro Bowler. Putting up 27 yards on nine attempts in a blowout loss to Green Bay last week was a primary example of this. In fact, Cook has gone for under 50 rushing yards in nearly one-third of his appearances on the season.

Related: Week 18 NFL power rankings

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5. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

nfl running back rankings week 16: saquon barkley
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  • Saquon Barkley stats: 295 attempts, 1,312 rushing yards, 4.4 average, 57 receptions, 338 yards, 1,650 total yards, 10 TD

To say that Barkley is one of the primary reasons for New York’s surprising playoff appearance would be a major understatement. He’s put up north of 100 total yards eight times this season, including a 194-yard outing in the opener. The Penn State product is also now on pace for his second-highest yardage season since New York made him the No. 2 pick back in 2018.

With that said, there has to be some concern for New York heading into the playoffs. Barkley has not eclipsed the 100 rushing yards plateau since Week 10. Over the past seven games, he’s averaging less than four yards per rush. That’s not great.

4. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

nfl running back rankings week 17: nick chubb
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  • Nick Chubb stats: 290 attempts, 1,448 rushing yards, 5.0 average, 22 receptions, 194 yards, 1,642 total yards, 12 TD

Speaking of our NFL running back rankings, Chubb could very well be higher if it weren’t for the others listed below. After all, we’re talking about a dude who has put up north of 100 rushing yards seven times in 16 games this season and is coming off a brilliant performance in a win over Washington

After averaging nearly 1,400 total yards in each of his first four seasons, Chubb is in the midst of a career-best performance. He’s among the leaders in rushing touchdowns with 12 and is averaging 2.3 yards after contact. That’s some elite-level stuff.

Related: Top 100 NFL players of 2022

3. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

nfl running back rankings: week 16, derrick henry
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  • Derrick Henry stats: 319 attempts, 1,429 rushing yards, 4.5 average, 32 receptions, 379 yards, 1,808 total yards, 13 TD

We still marvel at what King Henry is able to do despite the Titans’ struggles on offense. Without much of a threat in the passing game, the two-time rushing champion continues to do his thing.

After some struggles in November and early December, Henry is back to being one of the most dominating offensive players in the league. Over the course of the past three games, he’s gained 444 total yards and has topped the 100-yard rushing plateau each outing. Unfortunately, Henry has also lost three fumbles during that span.

2. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers

nfl running back rankings week 16: christian mccaffrey
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Christian McCaffrey stats: 234 attempts, 1,094 rushing yards, 4.7 average, 82 receptions, 707 yards, 1,801 total yards, 12 TD

Despite being an obvious Pro Bowl snub, McCaffrey is the best all-around running back in the NFL. It’s not necessarily that close. Since being acquired from the Carolina Panthers back in October, he’s put up 1,131 total yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games.

Last week’s performance against the Las Vegas Raiders stands out big time. McCaffrey tallied 193 total yards on 25 touches. That included catching six passes for 72 yards from Brock Purdy. if CMC continues to play like this in Week 18 and moving forward, San Francisco could be destined for a Super Bowl appearance.

1. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

nfl running back rankings: josh jacobs
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
  • Josh Jacobs stats: 323 attempts, 1,608 rushing yards, 5.0 average, 51 receptions, 395 yards, 2,003 total yards, 12 TD

Yet another impending free agent, Jacobs also couldn’t have picked a better time to enjoy a career-best performance. He’s also one of the only feel-good stories for a disappointing Raiders team this season. That includes six 100-yard rushing performances through 15 games.

Jacobs, 24, is averaging a resounding 3.1 yards after contact, up from 2.0 a season ago. He’s also coming off an absolutely insane 303 total-yard outing in a Week 12 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks that included a walk-off touchdown. Jacobs is now just the second Raiders back to go for north of 2,000 total yards, joining Marcus Allen. It has him No. 1 in our NFL running back rankings heading into Week 18.

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