Today, we’re going over our top ten running backs in the NFL for 2018. With so many great young runners in the league, this is probably the second most difficult position to rank, behind only quarterbacks. You can check out our 2018 quarterback rankings here.
The rankings could be vastly different, but our composite rankings were put together by people that actually watch them play—they are not just some random rankings from looking at stats or highlights. There are many other opinions out there, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Keep in mind, these are not fantasy football rankings, which would be very different from these; but you can get all the fantasy football advice you need, including groundbreaking fantasy football analytics, right here.
10. Tevin Coleman, Falcons
A lot of great players were left off the list, but Tevin Coleman is so talented that he belongs on it. The fourth-year running back has yet to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards in a season, but he’s been behind Devonta Freeman in Atlanta; he would easily hit that mark if he was a clear number one back for a team. In 2016, Coleman averaged 13.6 yards per reception, which is a higher yards per reception than any running back in the last 15 years. He’s 6’1”, 205 pounds with sub-4.40 speed and truly elite, all-world acceleration, and he doesn’t look like a normal running back. Coleman could probably play wide receiver full-time and have a very successful career there, so he’s a major weapon out of the backfield and can be split out for big mismatches. The 25-year-old has touchdown totals of 11 and 8 the last two seasons.
9. Alvin Kamara, Saints
Most of this list is guys that have played at least a couple of seasons in the NFL, but Alvin Kamara’s ability and spectacular rookie season are hard to ignore—and enough to get him in the top ten. The 2017 third-round pick from Tennessee averaged an NFL-record 7.7 yards per touch last season, working as an electric dual-threat for Sean Payton and the Saints. Kamara has superb vision and the toughness to run inside effectively, along with the speed and acceleration to have a “home-run play” whenever he touches the ball. His core strength really stands out, as he brushes off arm tackles and keeps moving with ease. Kamara didn’t run below 4.50 on his 40-yard-dash last year, but he plays faster than he timed.
8. Jordan Howard, Bears
Jordan Howard has been one of the most productive runners in the NFL through his first two seasons, carrying 528 times for 2,435 yards and 15 touchdowns despite playing on a Bears team that has struggled in that span. Howard is the first player in Chicago Bears history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons, which is quite the feat when you think about the history of that franchise. As a pure runner, Howard is arguably near the elite tier; and he’s worked hard on improving his hands leading up to this season, so he should be improved in that area. Howard isn’t quite as explosive as some of the other guys on the list, but he’s an all-around running back that can fit in any offense.
7. Derrick Henry, Titans
There simply are not many people out there like Derrick Henry, who is an absolute freak at 6’3” and probably around 245-250 pounds with 4.50 speed. Basically, he’s built like a video-game character—and he’s shown he can play like one, too. Henry is probably the last person defenders want to see in the open field, and he has the speed to run away from people. Also, Henry is more than capable as a receiver and can make huge plays in the passing game. It’s a mystery as to why he dropped to the second round of the 2016 draft, and we think he could’ve had similar success to other guys on this list if he was in a similar situation in his first two seasons. Henry still might not be a bonafide workhorse for the Titans after they added Dion Lewis, but he’s likely to be a big-time factor for them and should hit 1,000 yards rushing in 2018.
6. Melvin Gordon, Chargers
Some people might point to Melvin Gordon’s 3.8 career yards per carry and say he belongs nowhere near the NFL’s top-five running backs heading into this season—but they are simply wrong. Gordon has carried the load for the Chargers the last two years, but the offensive line has struggled with consistency and health—Gordon still totaled 12 touchdowns in each of those seasons, showing he has a knack for getting the ball into the end zone. He has emerged as a trusted weapon for Philip Rivers, dealing with last-second adjustments and audibles as often and as well as any running back in the league, and he excels as a pass protector and is a very reliable receiver out of the backfield. The former Wisconsin great is one of the best all-around backs in football.
5. Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys
There’s no question Ezekiel Elliott landed in an ideal situation with the Cowboys behind one of the league’s best offensive lines in an offense that feed him the rock, but there’s also no question he’s a tremendously talented player that many coaches would have as their first choice of running back to build an offense around. Zeke averages over 100 rushing yards per game in his career, and he has 25 total touchdowns in 25 games played through two seasons. Everyone knows about his ability as a runner, but he’s underrated and underutilized as a receiver, and he’s a very smart player that might be the best pass-blocking running back in the NFL.
4. Saquon Barkley, Giants
Saquon Barkley hasn’t played a snap in the NFL, but he belongs on the top-ten running backs for 2018 because he’s that good. First and foremost, he’s an amazing team player that sets an example for everyone to follow. Talent-wise, Barkley has everything you want from a running back—elite speed, elite strength, elite acceleration, elite ability as a receiver. There’s a reason Barkley was taken with the No. 2 pick in the draft. He’s a generational-type of player, and the only reason we don’t have him higher is because he’s a rookie.
3. Le’Veon Bell, Steelers
Playing with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and company helps, but Le’Veon Bell plays at an exceptionally-high level every single week—he’s been consistently great for longer than anyone on this list. Bell has three seasons with at least 1,200 yards rushing and 75+ receptions, and like a few other guys in the top ten, he could probably switch to wide receiver and remain a Pro Bowl-level player. The All-Pro’s unique patient running style isn’t easy to duplicate, but it certainly works for him; that patience should not be confused with a lack of toughness, though, as Bell can deliver punishment to defenders when needed, and he is not easy to bring down.
2. Todd Gurley, Rams
If not for a torn ACL in his final college season at Georgia in 2015, Todd Gurley would have been a top-five pick in the NFL draft like Ezekiel Elliott and Saquon Barkley. Gurley was very good his first two NFL seasons, including a spectacular 13 games as a rookie that people seemingly forgot about when declaring him a bust after a disappointing 2016 season; but Sean McVay really helped unlock his potential last year, allowing the former track star to excel as both a runner and receiver for the Rams. Gurley has outstanding burst and acceleration that separates him from most NFL players. When he’s on the field, he often looks like the clear best player on the field.
1. David Johnson, Cardinals
Our number one running back entering 2018 is David Johnson, who basically missed the entire 2017 season with a broken wrist but is back to 100% and ready to go this season. In terms of athleticism, David Johnson profiles similarly to Saquon Barkley, but he has a couple years of NFL production under his belt. DJ had 13 touchdowns as a non-full-time player in his rookie season, and it had people in the Cardinals building declaring that he was a Hall of Fame type of player. In 2016, he had a monster season with 1,239 rushing yards, 16 rushing touchdowns, 879 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns, showing that Hall of Fame potential. Given his skill, a 1,500-yard-rushing, 1,000-yard-receiving season—a big goal of Johnson’s—is attainable.