The Top 10 NFL Running Backs for 2021

Stoney Keeley continues his look at the NFL as the 2021 season approaches. Today, we're looking at the top 10 NFL running backs.

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It’s summertime offseason content time! As the season approaches, I’m going to be taking a look at the landscape of the NFL, position by position, over the course of the next several weeks. We’ll be talking about the who’s who of the NFL in our own little version of the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players” bit they do every year. Up next, we’re talking about the top 10 NFL running backs for 2021!

Down to the nitty gritty, we only have a few more of these top 10s to get through – man, the preseason is starting up and I am all the way fired up for the 2021 season to approach. I can’t believe we’ve just about made it through the whole ass summer. So, let’s get to it – today, I’m diving into a conversation that is nowhere near as difficult as some of the other rankings I’ve done this season. To me, it seems like the top eight running backs in the league are pretty cut and dry – you may have ’em in different orders, but from what I’m seeing, we’re all in agreement that these are the top eight guys, by and large. After that, it gets a little tough, but for me, I leaned on production and value to the team when weighing my options here. Some honorable mentions before we get started: Austin Ekeler is one of the top three pass-catching running backs in the league, I love Chris Carson as a classic thumper, and Washington has a hell of an overall weapon in Antonio Gibson that could break into the top 10 running backs by season’s end. LFG!

The Top 10 NFL Running Backs for 2021

10. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys – Man, I’m usually the guy to go younger when ranking players, and it feels like Elliott’s previous workloads might be starting to catch up to him, but there’s still a highly talented and highly productive player in there. It feels blasphemous to not have him in the top 10 given the numbers he’s posted since entering the league in 2016. Let’s not forget that Elliott earned a Pro Bowl spot in 2020, rushing for 979, which put him just outside the top 10.

9. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts – With 1,169 yards as a rookie, I think it’s safe to say that Taylor has arrived. The way this dude runs is punishing. He’s powerful, yet shifty, and having that Colts offensive line in front of him makes him a threat every time he carries the ball. He finished 2020 ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards.

8. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants – Injuries have put a major damper on Barkley’s potential, and playing for an offense that relies heavily upon the talented back doesn’t help. But, I’m not ready to give up on him just yet. Barkley has a wealth of talent – hell, from a pure talent perspective, I’d put him right up there with Christian McCaffrey. But, we just haven’t seen that come to fruition just yet. He has to get back on track in 2021, but if he’s 100%, I think he can.

7. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders – Jacobs is the traditional bell cow type of running back for the Raiders. They are going to ride him hard – dude’s a virtual lock to get his third consecutive thousand yard season to start his career because of the sheer volume they’re going to work him. I’d love to see the Raiders use him more in the passing game, though. He’s only caught 53 passes so far in his career, and receiving was one of his strong suits at Alabama.

6. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers – Smooth and explosive, Jones seemingly came out of nowhere to become one of the key cogs in that Packers offensive engine alongside Aaron Rodgers. His 1,104 rushing yards were good enough for 4th in the league in 2020, and he’s poised for another strong season in that Matt LaFleur offense.

5. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints – Kamara is set for a heavier workload now that Drew Brees has retired, but let’s be real, Brees’ arm hasn’t been the same for awhile. The Saints have been preparing for this moment with Kamara, and now he’ll be the focal point of the offense. Dude is perfectly capable of having a special season in 2021 – he’s averaged 5.0 YPC on his career, and is coming off of a season during which he scored 21 total touchdowns. He is a dual threat running back that can spark the passing game as well.

4. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns – Running behind the best offensive line in football certainly helps, but I think we sleep on just what a talented pure runner Chubb is. He’s one of the most powerful backs in the league, and can break a damn tackle or two. He absolutely belongs up there in the conversation among the best running backs in the league.

3. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers – McCaffrey is a different class of running back than the top two on this list. No other back is as productive as he’s been running -and- catching the ball. He missed most of 2020 due to injury, but the last time we saw him, he posted 1,387 rushing yards and 1,005 receiving yards in 2019. He is the preeminent overall offensive weapon in the NFL.

2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings – Titans fans won’t want to hear this, but Derrick Henry probably doesn’t have back-to-back rushing titles if Dalvin Cook plays a full season in 2019. It’s easy to lose sight of because of Cook’s injury history, and that’s what clocks him in at #2 on my list, but Cook and Henry are pretty close to neck-and-neck when it comes to the way they play the game, and the impact they have on their respective teams. Cook is coming off a 1,557-yard season, playing in just 14 games. If he gets a full season in, which he’s yet to do in his four years in the NFL, he’s a strong candidate to get that rushing title.

1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans – This one’s easy. I can’t imagine NOT thinking that Derrick Henry is clearly the best running back in the NFL. The main critique of him seems to be that he’s not a threat in the receiving game and is therefore not a complete back. Hogwash – since when did catching the ball mean more than winning games? That’s what Henry does. And, while I’m at it, I’m tired of the narrative that Henry is a “big back.” Yeah, he’s a big dude, but if you watch him play, he’s not this plodding thumper that people think he is because of his size. This dude is fast and elusive in the open field, he has the most vicious stiff arm in the game, and the guy can absolutely put his team on his back and win games. Back-to-back rushing titles. A 2,000-yard season in 2020. Forget the best running back in football – King Henry belongs among the MVP candidates. There, I said it.

OTHER 2021 NFL TOP 10S

Stoney Keeley is the Editor in Chief of The SoBros Network, and a Dogs Playing Poker on velvet connoisseur. He is a strong supporter of Team GSD, #BeBetter, and ‘Minds right, asses tight.’ “Big Natural” covers the Tennessee Titans, Nashville, Yankee Candle, and a whole wealth of nonsense. Follow on Twitter @StoneyKeeley

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