Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Ranking every RB room in the NFL by tiers: Christian McCaffrey, 49ers headline top backfield group

For those who may not have their finger on the pulse of player movement in the NFL, let me be the first to tell you that it’s been a whirlwind of an offseason at the running back position. Several household names are now with new teams, which not only is poised to shake up your fantasy football drafts later this summer but should have an impact on the league itself in 2024.

As these clubs get together over the next few weeks and months for the offseason workout program including mandatory minicamp, it’s a good time to take stock of all these backfield changes and stack them against one another. Below, we’ve collected every backfield in the league and slotted them into one of seven tiers ranging from the “Thoroughbreds” to the “Work In Progress” section. 

Tier 1: Thoroughbreds

Not only will you find stars in this tier, but what separates these teams is the depth behind their stars as well. While Christian McCaffrey is arguably the top back in the league, the 49ers also have capable backs like Elijah Mitchell Jordan Mason, and rookie Isaac Guerendo in their stable along with fullback Kyle Juszczyk

As for the rest of the teams in this top tier, they’ve all gone through seismic change this offseason with some of the biggest signings in free agency. Baltimore added Derrick Henry to headline a backfield that also sports Justice Hill and Keaton Mitchell (recovering from a torn ACL). On top of their impact out of the backfield. Meanwhile, the Eagles added Saquon Barkley and the Packers signed Josh Jacobs, who are both capable of leading the league in rushing if fully healthy. The Ravens and Eagles also have the luxury of having quarterbacks (Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts) factoring into the rushing attack. 

Tier 2: Quality depth

This is a group that may not have the top-end star power as the group above but possesses plenty of depth to make them a formidable unit. The Lions are knocking on the door of jumping up a tier with the combination of David Montgomery and rising second-year back Jahmyr Gibbs. The Dolphins also have a veteran-youngster duo with Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane, who are arguably the fastest tandem in the league. Miami also drafted Tennessee’s Jaylen Wright in the draft and has veteran Jeff Wilson Jr., who topped a thousand yards from scrimmage back in 2022.

The Steelers are another club that has multiple backs capable of carrying a heavy workload. Najee Harris has gone over 1,000 scrimmage yards in each of his first three seasons in the league, while Jaylen Warren and Cordarrelle Patterson both offer an electric change of pace. New Orleans arguably has the most decorated back in this tier in Alvin Kamara, who has gone over 1,000 scrimmage yards every year he’s been in the league. On top of Kamara, the Saints have Jamaal Williams as a strong veteran backup and an intriguing second-year back in Kendre Miller

Travis Etienne rushed for over 1,000 yards for the second season in a row for the Jaguars and notched a career-high 11 rushing touchdowns in his sophomore season. While he headlines the group, Tank Bigsby and D’Ernest Johnson are capable backups.  

Tier 3: Up-and-comers

This is a group that could be labeled the stars of tomorrow — young backs that have tremendous upside and their career still ahead of them. New York has Breece Hall, who should be in line for a Year 3 breakout after having a full season removed from his torn ACL in his rookie season. James Cook enjoyed a sensational sophomore season in 2023 as he took on the lion’s share of the touches out of Buffalo’s backfield and turned it into 1,567 scrimmage yards. Similar to Cook, Rachaad White made the most of his added opportunity with the Buccaneers last season and also topped 1,500 scrimmage yards. 

Isiah Pacheco is already a two-time Super Bowl champion and a mainstay in Kansas City’s backfield, while Atlanta’s Bijan Robinson has the talent to be the top running back in the league in short order. After being a fifth-round pick in 2022, Kyren Williams took the NFL by storm last season averaging a league-best 95.3 rushing yards per game. His showing last season was good enough to earn him second-team All-Pro honors. Sticking in the NFC West, the Seahawks round out this tier thanks to their two backs Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet.  

Tier 4: Led by a veteran

Some of the headliners of these backfields may be a bit long in the tooth but are more than capable of still making an impact. James Conner is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2023 despite only playing in 13 games. He rushed for a career-high 1,040 yards. On top of Conner, the Cardinals drafted Florida State’s Trey Benson in the third round at the 2024 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, the Commanders, Bears, and Vikings were all involved in the musical chairs of free agency. Washington landed Austin Ekeler to compliment Brian Robinson Jr. while Chicago added D’Andre Swift to a room that has Khalil Herbert and Roschon Johnson. The Vikings were able to poach Aaron Jones after he was cut loose by the Packers and will be the featured back in front of Ty Chandler

Tier 5: Injury concerns

Both of these clubs have some of the most talented running backs in the league, but they are surrounded by health concerns. Jonathan Taylor hasn’t played a full season since his All-Pro campaign in 2021. Indy also let Zack Moss leave in free agency, which puts a dent into their depth behind Taylor. As for the Browns, Nick Chubb is continuing to come back from his knee injury last season. When healthy, he’s among the best pure runners in the NFL, but it remains to be seen what he’ll be able to do in 2024. Cleveland does have Jerome Ford and D’Onta Foreman to help cushion the blow of any limitations Chubb may have. 

Tier 6: More to prove

These teams have quality running backs, but there is still some more that these backfields need to prove in order to move up into the tiers above. Tennessee added Tony Pollard in free agency, but he did struggle a bit as the full-time back in Dallas a season ago. If they click, Pollard and Tyjae Spears should form a nice duo for the Titans. Speaking of duos, Joe Mixon and Dameon Pierce have the potential to be quite the pairing for Houston. That said, Mixon’s efficiency has stumbled in recent seasons and Pierce fell off in his sophomore campaign, so there’s plenty still to be figured out with the Texans backfield. 

The Patriots added Antonio Gibson in free agency to be a change of pace receiving back to Rhamondre Stevenson. As it relates to Stevenson, he’s coming off an injury-shortened season in 2023 but does have the ceiling of being a 1,500 yards from scrimmage back when right. Meanwhile, the Raiders are handing the keys to the backfield to Zamir White after seeing Josh Jacobs depart in free agency. On top of White, Las Vegas has Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah, who are capable of taking on a starter’s workload in a pinch. 

Cincinnati signed Zack Moss in free agency and it’ll be interesting to see how the veteran performs after a stellar season in 2023 with Indy. As for Carolina, they drafted Jonathon Brooks to be their future feature back, but he is coming off a torn ACL at Texas last season. As he works his way back, the Panthers have Chuba Hubbard, Miles Sanders, and Rashaad Penny as veteran options. 

Tier 7: Work in progress

The Giants lost Saquon Barkley to the Eagles in free agency and brought in Devin Singletary to replace him. On top of that downgrade at the starting position, New York doesn’t have much behind Singletary with Eric Gray, Tyrone Tracy Jr., and Gary Brightwell rounding out the position group. There was a sizable amount of fanfare for Javonte Williams heading into last season, but the former second-round pick only averaged 3.6 yards per carry in 2023. Samaje Perine is a solid veteran to have in the backfield, but this position group doesn’t have a ton of high-end upside. 

The Chargers effectively adopted the Ravens backfield after signing Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins in free agency. Dobbins has been plagued with injuries throughout his career, including a torn Achilles last season. Meanwhile, Edwards is a sturdy back but doesn’t have a massive ceiling. Finally, the Cowboys lost Pollard in free agency and brought back Ezekiel Elliott, but the veteran isn’t the same player he was in the early days of his first tenure with Dallas. Outside of Elliott, the Cowboys have Rico Dowdle and Deuce Vaughn. Really, it seems like Dallas’ backfield is in a transition phase at the moment. 

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