Many have already penciled in Bijan Robinson as one of the best running backs in the NFL after the Falcons selected him with the No. 8 pick in April’s draft.

Robinson starred in college as a running back who can both block and receive, so that projection might come true. But the incoming rookie will have to prove his all-around skill set transfers to the NFL, and it won’t be easy in a league where many running backs delivered breakout seasons in 2022.

Teams are running more nowadays to counter the trendy defensive schemes limiting downfield plays, which could explain why two running backs were drafted in the top 12 this year (Robinson at No. 8 and Jahmyr Gibbs going to the Lions at No. 12).

But those two rookie running backs shouldn’t be considered top 10 at the position just because of draft status. They’ll need to earn it, just like Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara did during their memorable rookie season in 2017.

But now Cook and Kamara might be on the decline. (The two wouldn’t be happy to read this list.) It was tough to narrow down, but here are the 10 best running backs heading into the 2023 season.


Travis Etienne, Jaguars

Etienne, 24, emerged as a dynamic running back in 2022 after missing all of his rookie season with a foot injury. He rushed for 1,125 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry, tying with Nick Chubb for second among running backs with at least 200 carries and ranking only behind Aaron Jones’s 5.3 yards per carry. Etienne also flashed as a pass catcher, recording 35 catches for 316 yards. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the ’21 first-round pick surpasses what he did in his second season.


Aaron Jones, Packers

Jones, 28, is one of the most underrated running backs in the league. He has recorded more than 1,000 rushing yards in three of the past four seasons, along with more than 350 receiving yards in each season during that span. Jones, who rushed for 16 touchdowns in 2019, is often forgotten when it comes to position rankings, but he’s near the top when it comes to advanced stats. Last season he ranked fourth in DVOA with a 16.5% among running backs with a minimum of 100 carries, according to Football Outsiders.


Jonathan Taylor, Colts

Taylor is coming off a disappointing season in which he played only 11 games due to injury and failed to crack 900 yards—the year after winning the rushing title with more than double that number. But Taylor gets a pass due to the Colts’ offensive line also having a down year, which was one of the biggest surprises of the 2022 season. At 24, Taylor could have a bounce-back year with a few more Pro Bowl selections down the line. Not many can rival what Taylor did in his first two seasons in the league, rushing for a combined 29 touchdowns and 2,980 yards. Taylor has also rushed for 214 first downs, the most in the league since he was selected by the Colts in the second round of the ’20 draft.

The 5’10”, 226-pound running back scored a career-high 18 touchdowns in 2021.

IndyStar Staff/USA TODAY Sports


Austin Ekeler, Chargers

Ekeler’s prolific back-to-back seasons have put him in rare territory as he recorded at least 20 total touchdowns in each season, including the postseason game in Jacksonville. He’s only the seventh player in NFL history to accomplish that feat, a list that includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, Terrell Davis and Emmitt Smith. Ekeler, 28, is productive on the ground, and he’s one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league—perhaps only Christian McCaffrey can say he’s a better receiver out of the backfield. Ekeler, however, might have a case as the most efficient running back in the league: The Los Angeles star once topped 100 yards in rushing and receiving with only 12 touches against the Jaguars in 2019. 


Saquon Barkley, Giants

Barkley’s bounce-back season in 2022 reestablished him as an elite playmaker. The two-way threat rushed for 1,312 yards and 10 touchdowns while also contributing 57 catches for 338 yards. That was Barkley’s best season since his memorable rookie year in ’18, when he amassed 2,028 total yards. But the 26-year-old who overcame multiple injury-riddled seasons will need to prove himself again if he doesn’t get a long-term contract extension from the Giants before the July 17 deadline to negotiate with players under the franchise tag. 


Derrick Henry, Titans

Henry is one of the best offensive weapons of the past decade, and he hasn’t shown signs of slowing heading into his age-29 season. In 2022, Henry recorded a league-high 349 carries for 13 touchdowns and 1,538 yards, his most in a season since rushing for 2,027 in ’20. If the bruising running back didn’t get hurt in ’21, he likely would have had a five-year streak of reaching at least 1,000 rushing yards. The ’16 second-round pick is also known for being an exceptional blocker. Henry has a strong case to make the Hall of Fame with 8,335 rushing yards and 78 touchdowns on the ground. 


Tony Pollard, Cowboys

Some might say that it’s too soon to rank Pollard this high after one breakout season, but the Cowboys star showed enough as the backup to Ezekiel Elliott in previous seasons to argue last year was no fluke. In 2022, Pollard recorded 193 carries for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. If those numbers aren’t impressive enough, he received an offensive grade of 90.2 and a rushing grade of 90.0, according to Pro Football Focus. Pollard, 26, is a legit No. 1 back and will continue to ascend now that he doesn’t have to split the workload with Elliott.


Josh Jacobs, Raiders
Jacobs's average run after contact was 3.0 yards in 2022.

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of breakout seasons, no running back had a better statistical 2022 season than Jacobs, who had a league-high 1,653 yards with 12 touchdowns, while also contributing 53 catches for 400 yards. Jacobs, 25, earned a 91.6 offensive grade for his memorable season, the highest among running backs, according to Pro Football Focus. It might have been a career year, but Jacobs has been a consistent workhorse with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons since entering the league as first-round pick in ’19.


Nick Chubb, Browns

Some may view Henry as the most physical running back in the league, but not many would dare to collide with Chubb in open space. The 27-year-old has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons, making him a four-time Pro Bowler. He also ranked first in rushing DVOA last season with a 19.3%, according to Football Outsiders. Chubb doesn’t offer much in the passing game, but he’s a rushing specialist, and not many pound the rock better than the Georgia product. 


Christian McCaffrey, 49ers

The bidding war that broke out between the 49ers and Rams near the trade deadline last season proved just how the league views McCaffrey’s vast skill set, despite his coming off two consecutive injury-riddled seasons. After being traded to San Francisco by the Panthers, McCaffrey reclaimed his spot atop the running back rankings by simply being the best offensive player on the field on a weekly basis (which is not easy to do with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle as teammates). Last season McCaffrey, 26, rushed for 1,139 yards and eight touchdowns, and added 85 receptions for 741 yards and five touchdowns. The two-time Pro Bowler also earned a receiving grade of 92.4 from Pro Football Focus, which is by far the highest grade among running backs. (Antonio Gibson ranks second at 80.5.) McCaffrey’s best season came in 2019, when he recorded a ridiculous 2,392 total yards, including 1,0005 receiving yards.