Home NFL Lists Best Running Backs in the NFL Rankings Hierarchy Tier-By-Tier

Best Running Backs in the NFL Rankings Hierarchy Tier-By-Tier

by Riley Baines
Best Running Backs in the NFL 2021 Hierarchy List




Best Running Backs in the NFL Rankings Hierarchy Tier-By-Tier

This is my prediction for the best running backs in the NFL based off both talent and projected production. Keep in mind that this means I consider opportunity when doing these NFL Rankings tier-by-tier.

TIER 1:

Dalvin Cook – As talented as any Running Back in the NFL, but has yet to play a full season. Making a 17 game season doesn’t help.

Nick Chubb – Yes… Kareem Hunt is great, but Nick Chubb is the lead dog on this defense first Browns team.

Christian McCaffrey – One injury plagued season doesn’t make a player injury prone. McCaffrey is still the best dual-threat RB in the NFL.

Derrick Henry – Will all of these carries catch up to Derrick Henry? Maybe, but not enough to move this beast of a man leave the tier 1 of RBs.

Ezekiel Elliott – From being touted as elite to everyone hating him. I still buy in to the talent of Zeke. With Dak at the helm and the o-line more healthy he will bounce back.

Saquon Barkley – When healthy, you could argue Saquon is the most talented RB in the NFL. He is a monster and I think his mamba mentality will be on display over his recovery.

Alvin Kamara – Drew Brees loved to target the RB and Kamara was a beneficiary. Jameis will not target him as much, but Kamara is good enough to make the most of his touches.

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TIER 2:

Antonio Gibson – It’s wild to see a college receiver transition so seamlessly to an NFL running back. He will get all the touches in the world behind this stacked Washington defense.

Austin Ekeler – Has yet to prove he can take on a full workload. That being said his pass catching prowess will continue to be put on display.

Joe Mixon – No more Giovani Bernard. Joe Mixon could end up receiving the largest workload of his career on a very young offense.

Jonathan Taylor – The Jonathan Taylor hype is getting a little out of hand. This is a very crowded backfield, but he will eat behind this stacked offensive line.

J.K. Dobbins – Gus Edwards caps his ceiling, but he is the clear best RB on this team. The Lamar rushing threat will open things up for another 5+ yards per carry season.

Miles Sanders – One of the most exciting RBs to watch when on his game. His inconsistency has capped his ability to be put in the elite category.

Aaron Jones – Was very tough leaving him off the top tier. With Aaron Rodgers back, he should have another great season.

Najee Harris – The Steelers love to ride one RB. Najee Harris is that guy. The offensive line has me worried, but he will get all the carries in the world to produce.

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TIER 3:

Chris Carson – I love the talent of Chris Carson, but he can never stay healthy. Him not finishing a full season is the norm.

Raheem Mostert – I love the speed and the talent, but he needs to finish a full season. That being said he does not have too much tread on the tires for his age.

David Montgomery – I applaud Montgomery for the great season last year, but I think he’s a bit overrated. There are a few tier 3 players I would move up before him.

Darrelle Henderson – This is an opportunity ranking. The Rams have a phenomenal offensive line and defense and will ride the rushing attack. Henderson is the most experienced RB on this team by far.

Myles Gaskin – Much like Gibson, playing on a team with a great defense opens up opportunity. Myles Gaskin may suffer from an RBBC, but he looks to be the lead dog in the pack.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire – I was very close to moving him up to tier 2. Very close. The Chiefs offensive line got a lot better and he now has a full off-season with Andy Reid and this Chiefs offense.

D’Andre Swift – I love the talent of Swift, but not the situation. Very solid Lions Offensive Line to run behind, but Goff’s inabilities will lead to stacked boxes.

Kareem Hunt – If he was an RB1 for a team, he would be a tier 2, potentially tier 1 RB. That being said, Nick Chubb is the guy.

Josh Jacobs – Another player who hasn’t finished a season that I believe is a little overrated. The Raiders offensive line got a little worse and they brought in Kenyan Drake on a generous contract to handle most of the pass catching work.

Mike Davis – From being an unknown backup running back to an RB1 for the Falcons. He is an every-down back on a Falcons team that will be behind a  lot this season.

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TIER 4:

Michael Carter – Will be the lead back for the Jets, but they are in re-build mode. I like him as a prospect, but not too much this season.

Melvin Gordon – Gordon is the more proven RB in a good situation, but will likely be in a committee with Javonte Williams.

James Conner – Will likely be the short yardage running back for the Cardinals. The problem is that Kyler Murray will get his share of rushing touchdowns and Chase Edmonds is the clear pass catching RB.

Damien Harris – The best running back in New England, but another guy who can’t stay healthy. Now with two great TEs, expect a heavy run approach for the Patriots who have a very crowded backfield.

Ronald Jones – Another 90+ yard run on the way? Will have to compete with Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard for touches.

David Johnson – Most reliable RB for his team, but in a very crowded backfield. Who knows what to expect from the downward trending Texans.

Chase Edmonds – No more Kenyan Drake means more touches for Edmonds. He is elusive and a great pass catching back.

Kenyan Drake – The Raiders paid him for a reason. He won’t be in line for more touches than Jacobs, but an injury could change that very quickly.

Zack Moss – Josh Allen will likely be the rushing touchdown leader for the Bills. That being said Moss should be in line for the bulk of the carries. He is better than his counterpart.

Leonard Fournette – A playoff hero for the Bucs, but Giovani Bernard should take some pass catching work. And he will compete with Ronald Jones for the carries.

Travis Etienne – I never fully buy into coach speak. When Urban Meyer says he will be a receiver I believe him, but I also think he will take a good portion of carries away from James Robinson.

James Robinson – All the respect in the world for what Robinson did last season. That being said you don’t draft an RB in the first not to give him a big chance.

Javonte Williams – I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get more touches than Melvin Gordon, but more likely to be a healthy rotation.

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TIER 5: 

James White – Still an elite pass catcher, but that doesn’t fit well for a Cam Newton led offense. Patriots will be a heavy in between the tackles running team and James White isn’t that type of RB.

Latavius Murray – One of the best backup running backs in the NFL. If Alvin Kamara goes down, Murray’s value sky rockets upwards.

Tarik Cohen – Runs like he’s shot out of a cannon. The pass catching specialist is back for the Bears.

Tony Pollard – One of the best kept secrets and most underrated in the NFL. One day he will be a lead back, but that isn’t next season.

Devin Singletary – He will be the backup to Zack Moss on one of the best teams and offenses in the NFL.

Gus Edwards – No more Mark Ingram, but J.K. Dobbins is the clear better talent. John Harbaugh will still give him his chances.

A.J. Dillon – Another player that I think will be an RB1 at some point in their career. As long as Aaron Jones is healthy, he will be nothing more than a change of pace guy for the Packers.

Phillip Lindsay – Joined the very crowded backfield of the Texans. He isn’t an every down player and will likely get less workload than the heavily paid David Johnson.

Trey Surmon – Very deep RB core for the 49ers, but on one of the most RB friendly systems in the NFL. Knowing Kyle Shanahan, I would not be shocked to see Surmon get the start at least once this season.

Jamaal Williams – Very talented pass catcher for a Lions team that will be down a lot this season. Swift is far better though.

J.D. McKissic – Elite pass catcher, but I’m a big fan of Antonio Gibson. Barring injury, he will just be an occasional 3rd down back.

Nyheim Hines – Best pass catching running back for the Colts. He showed out a few times last season leading me to believe he’ll get his this season.

Rashaad Penny – This man was drafted in the first round, but can’t stay healthy. Neither can Carson. After sitting out all last season he should be healthy.

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TIER 6:

Darrel Williams – If Clyde Edwards-Helaire goes down this is the next man in charge. Given the chance, this Chiefs offense will produce points with whoever in the backfield.

Darrynton Evans – Why put out anyone other than Derrick Henry? Darrynton Evans is a solid RB behind the best pure rusher in the NFL.

Malcolm Brown – Reports have shown that the Dolphins like what they got in Malcolm Brown. He could be the next in line behind Myles Gaskin.

Joshua Kelley – He’s no Austin Ekeler, but most likely the next in line if he gets hurt.

Giovani Bernard – What a bargain. The Bucs signed pass catching specialist Gio for next to nothing and Bruce Arians has been raving about his ability.

Boston Scott – Whatever value you thought he had is gone. Kerryon Johnson and Kenneth Gainwell will take some of his work away.

Rhamondre Stevenson – Has been impressive in the pre-season. Could see him getting more touches than Sony Michel.

Tevin Coleman – Can see him getting some sort of role for the Jets. But again, the Jets are in re-build mode.

Damien Williams – Behind Montgomery and Cohen. We haven’t seen him in two years, but the last time we did he was a Super Bowl hero.

Chuba Hubbard – If you truly believe Christian McCaffrey is injury prone, this is someone who should be on your radar.

Sony Michel – His knees are shot. I don’t think he will ever be the main RB for a team ever again.

Marlon Mack – Was a 1k yard rusher before getting injured. Very crowded Colts backfield now.

Anthony McFarland – Has emerged as the 2nd RB on this team. He has 4.4 speed and is undervalued after an underwhelming rookie season.

Alexander Mattison – Looked great at times last season, but Dalvin Cook is the guy.

Salvon Ahmed – Came out of nowhere last season. If Myles Gaskin goes down, it will be interesting to see who is next in line vs Ahmed and Brown.

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