(Image Credit: AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Written By: Matt Di Domenico
Entering the 2021 NFL season, these RBs all have something to prove. Many argue that the RB position does not have incredible value in today's pass-happy NFL. However, these RBs are considered difference-makers for their teams, and some can even be an asset in the passing game. Below are the rankings for the top RBs entering the 2021 NFL season.
10. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
198 ATT, 4.2 AVG, 841 Rush Yards, 6 Rush TDs, 38 REC, 304 REC Yards, 5 REC TDs, 2 FUM
Even though Kareem Hunt is not the starting RB for the Cleveland Browns, he has to be on this list because of the type of role he had in the Browns offense this past season. Many thought Hunt's career was over, but he was able to turn it around when he landed in Cleveland. Hunt and his fellow RB teammate Nick Chubb make a dynamic one-two punch coming out of the Browns backfield. With arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, expect Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski to utilize Hunt as much as possible in 2021. Expect Hunt to get around the same number of touches that he did in 2020 and be even more of an asset in passing situations. Hunt has breakaway speed and is a good one-cut runner that can take any rush attempt the distance.
9. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
273 ATT, 3.9 AVG, 1,065 Rush Yards, 12 Rush TDs, 33 REC, 238 REC Yards, 0 REC TDs, 2 FUM
Josh Jacobs was a solid starting RB for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2020. Jacobs only missed 1 game as well which is critical to stay healthy in his young career. The problem was Jacobs played many games banged up and it affected the results of his play. Improvement in Jacobs' skills in the receiving game would go a long way for this Las Vegas offense. The Raiders need Jacobs to be that dual-threat RB that defenses hate to face. The offensive line for the Raiders did change a bit in the offseason. Because of the shuffle of the offensive line, expect Jacobs to face scenarios where he will not have a clear running lane and must break extra tackles for positive yardage in 2021. The average yards per attempt for Jacobs was at 3.9 which is solid, but the Raiders need to get more production out of him every single carry. Expect Jon Gruden and offensive coordinator Greg Olson to run Jacobs all day if he remains healthy in 2021.
8. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
244 ATT, 4.0 AVG, 979 Rush Yards, 6 Rush TDs, 52 REC, 338 REC Yards, 2 REC TDs, 6 FUM
You could make the argument that Ezekiel Elliott should not be this high on the list after his disappointing season performance in 2020. However, we all know how talented of an RB Elliott is and he could have a huge year for the Dallas Cowboys in 2021. If a big year is to happen for Elliott, he needs to cut down on the fumbles. 6 fumbles are just way too high and a starting RB of his caliber cannot be coughing up the football that much. You could see that fumbling the football killed Elliott’s confidence level when running with the football. This Cowboys team is looking to have a bounce-back year under Mike McCarthy in his second season as head coach. Dak Prescott will be returning after his devastating ankle injury, so expect Elliott to be relied on more in this offense. There are still some talented and dominant offensive linemen on this Dallas team so running lanes will be created for Elliott to explode into in 2021.
7. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
19 ATT, 1.8 AVG, 34 Rush Yards, 0 Rush TDs, 6 REC, 60 REC Yards, 0 REC TDs, 0 FUM
A torn ACL is what caused RB Saquon Barkley to be lost for the New York Giants in week #2 of the 2020 NFL season. When healthy, Barkley is one of the best RBs in the NFL and he has proved that since being selected 2nd overall in 2018. Talent alone is the reason why Barkley has to be on this list. Many RBs have been able to bounce back from an ACL injury in the past. Barkley is a very hard-working football player and many expect him to bounce back in a big way for big blue in 2021. This Giants team has improved in all areas of the roster and has a football team that is capable of winning the NFC East. Barkley is that difference maker that can make explosive plays for this offense in 2021. We do not know if Giants QB Daniel Jones is still the answer for the team moving forward and how much the Giants will rely on Barkley being the focal point of the offense coming off a serious injury. If Barkley is in top shape and looks to be healthy, then expect a big year for #26 running the football.
6. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
201 ATT, 5.5 AVG, 1,104 Rush Yards, 9 Rush TDs, 47 REC, 355 REC Yards, 2 REC TDs, 2 FUM
Aaron Jones proved in 2020 that he is one of the top RBs in the NFL. Jones even missed 2 games for the Green Bay Packers and still put up some monster numbers. Having a 5.5 average yard per carry will improve any offense and did so for the Packers. Since Jones had such a big year in 2020, he was rewarded with a 4-year, $48 million dollar contract to stay with the Packers. Jones will continue to share carries with 2nd year RB AJ Dillon to make an electric one-two punch. Jones is a one-cut runner that makes electric plays when finding an open running lane to exploit. Luckily for Jones, the Packers have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and it will allow him to continue to break off big runs. The big question is if the reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodges will be playing for the Packers as the starting QB. If Rodgers is not there for Green Bay, then expect Jones’ workload to increase a lot more in 2021.
5. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
190 ATT, 5.6 AVG, 1,067 Rush Yards, 12 Rush TDs, 16 REC, 150 REC Yards, 0 REC TDs, 1 FUM
The other Cleveland Browns RB places here on this list at the #5 spot. Nick Chubb simply is a runaway train that fights for extra yardage consistently when carrying the football. The majority of the time, defenders just bounce right off of Chubb. Chubb has a very balanced and strong frame that allows him to average such a high number of yards per carry. There is no doubt that the Browns are going to get Chubb as many carries as possible but also keep him very fresh in 2021. Splitting time with fellow RB Kareem Hunt will only benefit the Browns for a deep playoff run. It would certainly help more if Chubb improved his receiving skills but that is what Kareem Hunt is for on third downs. Chubb is one of the most underrated RBs in the NFL and deserves more credit to his name. Even when he was not splitting as many carries with Hunt in 2019, Chubb was still able to rush for almost 1,500 yards on 298 attempts. The Browns are going to be a run-first team and will rely on Chubb being the RB1 early and late in games to wear defenses out.
4. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
59 ATT, 3.8 AVG, 225 Rush Yards, 5 Rush TDs, 17 REC, 149 REC Yards, 1 REC TD, 0 FUM
The dual-threat RB that can do it all for the Carolina Panthers is Christian McCaffrey. In 2020, McCaffrey only played in 3 games because of a number of injuries that kept him sidelined. The Panthers deeply missed McCaffrey and finished with a record of 5-11. Carolina hopes their superstar RB returns to form in 2021 and remains healthy for the entire season. McCaffrey simply can do it all as a runner. This is an RB that can run between tackles and be a super effective weapon in the passing game. For the Panthers and McCaffrey, they will have a new starting QB in Sam Darnold. Darnold must utilize McCaffrey as much as possible because #22 will make plays for this team if he gets the football in his hands. The backup RB for Carolina is Chuba Hubbard so McCaffrey needs to stay healthy for this Panthers team. This is a RB that can produce 1,000 yards in both the passing and rushing game. When you have a weapon like McCaffrey on offense, it opens up opportunities for the rest of the offensive weapons.
3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
187 ATT, 5.0 AVG, 932 Rush Yards, 16 Rush TDs, 83 REC, 756 REC Yards, 5 REC TDs, 1 FUM
Going from one dual-threat RB to another dual-threat RB is always a galvanizing feeling. Alvin Kamara was able to put on a show in 2020 for the New Orleans Saints. In one game, Kamara was able to have 6 total TDs against the Minnesota Vikings. This is an RB that even ended the season with a total of 21 TDs. Kamara even missed a game and still put up crazy numbers which is just insane to think about. In 2021, Kamara will look to have an even bigger role in the Saints offense with the loss of QB Drew Brees to retirement. This is a patient and smooth runner with the football in his hands. The ability to find the open hole and glide into it with quick acceleration is present in his game. Even in the receiving game, Kamara has the ability to run clean and crisp routes like an elite receiver. Whoever the starting QB is for the Saints in 2021, they will have to utilize and get the ball to Kamara as much as possible. Many plays will be drawn up for #41 and defenses must know where he is lined up on every single play.
2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
312 ATT, 5.0 AVG, 1,557 Rush Yards, 16 Rush TDs, 44 REC, 361 REC Yards, 1 REC TD, 5 FUM
One of the most thrilling RBs in the NFL is Dalvin Cook on the Minnesota Vikings. Cook is simply a workhorse RB for this Vikings team. Cook had a crazy total of 312 carries for 1,557 rushing yards in 2020. This is a RB that can simply take over a game if he gets hot and did so in several games throughout this past season. Cook has all the moves an RB could have and simply can take off in a flash when an open hole is present. Expect the same large amount of usage out of Cook in 2021 from this Vikings team. However, we do have to keep in mind that Cook missed two games this past season and seemed to look worn down the last two regular-season games. Cook needs to hang onto the football better as well this season because his 5 fumbles were too much last year. The Vikings did miss the playoffs in 2020 and will look to have a better year in 2021 with their superstar RB.
1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
378 ATT, 5.4 AVG, 2,027 Rush Yards, 17 Rush TDs, 19 REC, 114 REC Yards, 0 REC TDs, 3 FUM
You better believe that King Henry is going to be the top RB entering the 2021 NFL season. Derrick Henry simply is a monster that defenders are afraid to tackle in the open field. What this RB can do to defenders with his powerful stiff-arm simply is insane to watch. Henry may not be the most effective RB in the receiving game but in the ground game, he is a runaway bulldozer that is very hard to stop. A total of 378 carries for 2,027 rush yards is not easy to do. Every NFL season now, there is always a highlight game or play that Henry makes that blows you away. What is even scarier is that the Titans offense improved even more with the addition of Julio Jones. Keep in mind that Jones is one of the best run-blocking WRs in the NFL. Jones also draws a lot of attention from defenses. More opportunities will be present for Henry. You better believe that the Titans are still going to run Henry all game long and will have him as the player that closes out tight games for the Titans in 2021.