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Ranking the best 8 running back groups in the NFL: Who’s No. 1?

Andrew Buller-Russ

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While the NFL is more of a passing league, an offense can’t dominate if it doesn’t have a running threat. There are several great running back groups in the league, but which team is set up best for ground-and-pound football based on their stable of ball carriers?

Most would expect the Tennessee Titans to be No. 1 on a list of best NFL running back groups, but there isn’t much depth behind Derrick Henry. Christian McCaffrey is amazing, but the Carolina Panthers have seven different unproven backs behind him on the roster. Lamar Jackson is a quarterback, thus not part of the backfield.

With that said, here are my top-ranked running back groups in football.

Honorable mentions: Jacksonville Jaguars, Denver Broncos

8. Green Bay Packers – Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon

Leading the NFL with 16 rushing touchdowns in 2019, Aaron Jones has the potential to be one of the best running backs in football. Backup AJ Dillon is the perfect complement to Jones, though.

Quadzilla or Quadfather, whatever you want to call him, the dude’s out here cracking watermelons with his quads. Like who does that? Better yet, who can do that? The 6-foot, 247-pound back is a load to bring down. After Aaron Rodgers and Jones tire out the defense, Dillon can run over them.

7. Dallas Cowboys – Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard

Ranking the best 8 running back groups in the NFL
Sep 15, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) hugs Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) during warmups prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Fighting through injuries, the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack struggled in 2020. Ezekiel Elliott should be able to return to gaining over 1,500 yards from scrimmage back at full force. Even if Zeke missed a game or two, backup Tony Pollard can still get it done.

Averaging 4.8 yards per attempt in his young career, fans have yet to see the full capabilities of Dallas’ RB group.

6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette

Not long ago Leonard Fournette was among the most feared running backs in the league. A bowling ball with top-end speed, Fournette’s not one to shy away from contact. While he may play second fiddle to Ronald Jones, either one is capable of topping 1,000 yards if given the opportunity. Being able to rotate in fresh legs while Tom Brady dissects the defense is a match made in heaven.

5. Las Vegas Raiders – Josh Jacobs and Kenyan Drake

Kenyan Drake was brought in this offseason to help spell Josh Jacobs on passing downs. Now, the Las Vegas Raiders have two different former Alabama running backs capable of topping 100 yards on the day. Jacobs is still the bellcow and after finishing with the eighth-most rushing yards in the NFL last year, he should be. Having Drake on hand gives coach Jon Gruden the option of relying on the running game a lot more on Sundays.

4. New Orleans Saints – Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray

Ranking the best 8 running back groups in the NFL
Nov 29, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Latavius Murray (28) celebrates his touchdown with running back Alvin Kamara (41) in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncosat Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

While Alvin Kamara has never reached 1,000 yards on the ground in a season, the extra yards gained through the air are what makes him special. When the New Orleans Saints need a first down on 3rd and short, they can bring in the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Latavius Murray to get the job done. Together, they form possibly the best thunder and lightning backfield combination in football.

3. Indianapolis Colts – Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack

The Indianapolis Colts may have the most underrated running back group in the NFL, when in actuality, it may be one of the best from top to bottom. When Marlon Mack tore his Achilles in Week 1, rookie Jonathan Taylor grabbed a hold of the starting job and never looked back.

Aren’t first-year players supposed to hit a rookie wall? Taylor smashed through any doubts of him finishing the year strong by averaging 123.5 rushing yards over his last six games. Mack himself is no slouch, topping 1,000 yards in 2019. Backup RB Nyheim Hines has speed to burn, giving the Colts a three-headed monster.

2. Minnesota Vikings – Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison

Dalvin Cook is like a magician when it comes to making defenders miss. The Great Dalvini, one moment he’s there and the next he’s not. Equally as good after the catch, thanks to his elusiveness and quick feet, Cook is a true three-down back.

The other runner in this backfield is Alexander Mattison. When Mattison’s not leaping over defenders, he’s lowering his shoulder and running through them. Along with fullback C.J. Ham, together the trio combine to form one of the best rushing attacks in the league.

1. Cleveland Browns – Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt

Ranking the best 8 running back groups in the NFL
May 15, 2019; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens (left) and running back Kareem Hunt (27) and running back Nick Chubb (24) during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This one’s hard to argue. Individually, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are pretty good on their own, but together they form the best running back group in the NFL. Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie in 2017. While he’s option No. 2 in this offense, Hunt still racked up over 1,100 yards from scrimmage in 2020.

Chubb needed just 12 games to reach 1,000 on the ground last year, but in 2019, Chubb finished second in the NFL with 1,494 rushing yards. Another year of Chubb and Hunt behind what may be the best offensive line in the league will lead to big numbers yet again.

Ranking the top fullbacks in the NFL today

Fullbacks are a bit of a dying breed. Nowadays coaches like to find a big-bodied athlete with good feet who can take out defenders, sometimes even taking a defensive tackle and plugging him in at the goal line a la William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

But there are still some teams that utilize a traditional fullback that can block, catch and run with the football. Here we highlight the best fullbacks in the NFL today.

6. Keith Smith, Atlanta Falcons

Converting from linebacker, Keith Smith has turned into one of the better fullbacks in the NFL. In 2020, Pro Football Focus graded Smith as the best in the league. Best as a blocker, Smith will open up holes for free agency signee Mike Davis and the rest of the backs in Atlanta in 2021.

5. Andy Janovich, Cleveland Browns

Ranking the top fullbacks in the NFL today
Sep 27, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) runs the ball as running back Andy Janovich (31) blocks for him against the Washington Football Team during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the best rushing teams in the NFL also happens to have a good fullback in Andy Janovich.

Although he may not see as many snaps as some others on this list, the Browns have two great running backs who they put on the field at the same time, robbing some playing time from Janovich. Since selected in the sixth round in 2016, Janovich has been one of the more consistent fullbacks in the game, being used primarily as a blocker. 

4. Alec Ingold, Las Vegas Raiders

In 2019, Alec Ingold was the only fullback invited to the Scouting Combine. He still went undrafted. Such is the life of a fullback in the modern era. It all worked out for Ingold, landing with the Raiders and playing in all 32 games the past two seasons.

Ingold helps pick up first downs in short-yardage situations as both a runner and receiver when he’s not acting as a battering ram, making life easier for Josh Jacobs.

3. Patrick Ricard, Baltimore Ravens

Ranking the top fullbacks in the NFL today
Jan 11, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens fullback Patrick Ricard (42) carries the Ravens shield onto the field during player introductions prior to the Ravens’ game against the Tennessee Titans in a AFC Divisional Round playoff football game at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Ricard is not your everyday fullback. He played 402 snaps on offense in 2020, but he was originally on the other side of the ball. That’s right. At 6-foot-3 and 311 pounds, it’s not hard to imagine why Project Pat was originally a defensive lineman.

Since the Lamar Jackson era, Ricard has played 744 offensive snaps. While he’s never gained more than 42 yards or scored more than two touchdowns in a season, Ricard has made two Pro Bowls paving the way for the league’s best rushing offense.

2. C.J. Ham, Minnesota Vikings

Fullback C.J. Ham is a perfect fit for the Minnesota Vikings. Paving the way for Dalvin Cook, Ham has reliable hands, runs well for a fullback, and can throw some mean blocks. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, The Hammer is a fan-favorite. After making the roster as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Ham’s excellence earned him a Pro Bowl bid in 2019.

1. Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco 49ers

Ranking the top fullbacks in the NFL today
Dec 26, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) dives for a touchdown against Arizona Cardinals strong safety Budda Baker (32) during the second half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no fullback in football today who brings the juice like Kyle Juszczyk. We may not ever see another fullback as good as Mike Alstott when it comes to toting the rock, but Juice is one of the best receiving fullbacks of our time.

Not only does Juszczyk have great hands, he’s also a great lead blocker. Juice led all fullbacks in rushing and receiving first downs in 2020. Considered the Swiss Army knife of fullbacks, there’s a reason the five-time Pro Bowl player is the highest-paid at his position.

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