For some, running the football is a lost art. The multitude of recent 5,000-yard passing seasons work as solid evidence of that statement. The Chiefs' Super Bowl win behind quarterback extraordinaire Patrick Mahomes can help to support that thought.
But the record-breaking performance of the 2019 Ravens, the mind-blowing numbers of Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry, and the emergence of studs like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs suggest that the ground game is still alive and well.
For this list, I'm not only looking at the talent in the running back corps. I'm looking at the depth and quality of a team's running backs, the ability of a team's quarterback to make something happen on the ground, versatile wide receivers who can do damage on end-arounds, the run blocking prowess of that team's offensive line and fullbacks/tight ends, the coach's scheme, recent production and every other facet of an NFL rushing attack.
And before the inevitable attacks begin: no, I don't mean general impact players in the "other impact players" section of each team. I know Julio Jones and Michael Thomas and Tom Brady are impact players. I'm well aware. But, when I say impact players, I mean those who directly impact the ground game with their legs or with their blocking abilities. Now that that's out of the way, let's begin.
2019 statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference. 2019 offensive line run-blocking rankings courtesy of Football Outsiders.
Nos. 32 to 28
32. Chicago Bears
Primary RBs: David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen
Other impact players: Cordarrelle Patterson
2019 rankings: No. 27 in rushing yards, No. 28 in rushing TDs, No. 29 in yards per carry, No. 29 in O-line run blocking
Cordarrelle Patterson may have been the most exciting rusher for the abysmal Bears' ground game in 2019. Rookie David Montgomery was underwhelming and Tarik Cohen failed to build upon an exciting 2018 season. The offensive line lost Cornelius Lucas but gained Germain Ifedi, but doesn't look to fare much better than it did last year. The offense also lost run-blocking specialist Trey Burton from its large stock of tight ends.
31. Miami Dolphins
Primary RBs: Jordan Howard, Matt Breida, Kalen Ballage, Patrick Laird
Other impact players: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tua Tagovailoa
2019 rankings: No. 32 in rushing yards, No. 25 in rushing TDs, No. 31 in yards per carry, No. 32 in O-line run blocking
Jordan Howard and Matt Breida are two faces that should be a sight for sore eyes after the Kalen Ballage train failed to even get out of the station, chugging to the tune of 1.8 yards per carry. Both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa possess some mobility in their game, and the offensive line is restocked with new talent, young and old. Still, neither Howard nor Breida are elite backs, so don't expect much from the Miami ground game in 2020.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Primary RBs: Ronald Jones II, Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Dare Ogunbowale
Other impact players: Rob Gronkowski
2019 rankings: No. 24 in rushing yards, No. 17 in rushing TDs, No. 28 in yards per carry, No. 23 in O-line run blocking
I'm still not sure what Ronald Jones really is. We've seen flashes of brilliance from the 2018 second rounder, including a 106-yard game in the 2019 regular season finale. But he still hasn't emerged as the star that his draft value would indicate. Perhaps an added benefit of selecting Ke'Shawn Vaughn in this year's draft was to provide some more backfield competition for Jones, but Vaughn's presence is exciting in itself. Combine that with the draft addition of Tristan Wirfs, and there could be some sort of turnaround from the 2019 ground game.
29. Los Angeles Rams
Primary RBs: Daryll Henderson, Cam Akers, Malcolm Brown
Other impact players: Robert Woods
2019 rankings: No. 26 in rushing yards, No. 5 in rushing TDs, No. 27 in yards per carry, No. 19 in O-line run blocking
The Todd Gurley era is officially over in Los Angeles, and you can expect the solid scoring production from the ground to go with it. Fortunately, the Rams have versatile wideout Robert Woods (36 carries, 272 yards, 14 first downs, 7.6 yards per carry) to keep defenses off-balance in McVay's offensive scheme. Rookie Cam Akers, a second round selection, could prove to be a great NFL back in due time, but I'm not ready to move them much higher until I see evidence that this running back group can make things happen. The offensive line remains the same in 2020.
Nos. 28 to 25
28. Washington Redskins
Primary RBs: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Antonio Gibson
Other impact players: Dwayne Haskins, Steven Sims
2019 rankings: No. 22 in rushing yards, No. 26 in rushing TDs, No. 15 in yards per carry, No. 18 in O-line run blocking
The departure of Trent Williams would ordinarily hurt the Redskins' standing, but he didn't play for them in all of 2019, anyway. They also lost Ereck Flowers but gained Wes Schweitzer, who will likely start on the line after three years in Atlanta. The running back group -- and it's a big one, as I intentionally chose not to list Peyton Barber, JD McKissic and Bryce Love -- is what makes this team intriguing. There are so many question marks that make me simultaneously want to believe the group can make something happen and highly doubt that everything will fit together. I'm leaning toward the latter here. Adrian Peterson has got to break down eventually. Derrius Guice's health is about as unreliable as any running back in the league. There's a lot of unproven, unexciting and just unknown throughout the rest of the corps. Steven Sims, whose 65 yard end-around score was the first rushing touchdown the Patriots ceded all season in 2019, should see double-digit carries of a similar fashion.
27. New York Jets
Primary RBs: Le'Veon Bell, Frank Gore
Other impact players: N/A
2019 rankings: No. 31 in rushing yards, No. 31 in rushing TDs, No. 32 in yards per carry, No. 31 in O-line run blocking
This ground game can't possibly be as bad as it was last year, right? It was just a down year from Bell, and Gore's veteran presence will have to help turn things around, right? The line, with first-round draft pick Mekhi Becton and several new pieces has to provide some sort of boost for Adam Gase so that the Jets don't remain at the bottom of the offensive barrel... right??
26. Pittsburgh Steelers
Primary RBs: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell
Other impact players: N/A
2019 rankings: No. 29 in rushing yards, No. 30 in rushing TDs, No. 30 in yards per carry, No. 30 in O-line run blocking
It's kind of hard to evaluate Mike Tomlin's rushing attack after an injury-marred 2019 campaign at pretty much every offensive skill position. But it's also kind of hard not to say that it wasn't impressive in the slightest. James Conner went from a dominant force to a constantly hurt, less impressive version of his 2018 Pro Bowl self. Perhaps adding Stefen Wisniewski to the offensive line can help open up some lanes on the inside, but the rest of the offensive line is largely the same. The Steelers' best bet is to hope that Big Ben's return is a successful one and that it spurs the offense back into working order.
25. Atlanta Falcons
Primary RBs: Todd Gurley, Ito Smith, Brian Hill
Other impact players: N/A
2019 rankings: No. 30 in rushing yards, No. 24 in rushing TDs, No. 26 in yards per carry, No. 24 in O-line run blocking
The Falcons replaced an injury-prone running back who seems to be past his prime in Devonta Freeman and got something that's eerily similar to replace him, albeit with a much higher ceiling. Still, Todd Gurley's health has already come into question far too often considering how long he's been with the team, and the hope is that it's not a sign of things to come. The line lost Wes Schweitzer from last year's unit but drafted Matt Hennessey in the third round of the draft to rebuild the interior line.
Nos. 24 to 21
24. Jacksonville Jaguars
Primary RBs: Leonard Fournette, Chris Thompson, Ryquell Armstead
Other impact players: Gardner Minshew, Laviska Shenault
2019 rankings: No. 17 in rushing yards, No. 32 in rushing touchdowns, No. 16 in yards per carry, No. 27 in O-line run blocking
Fournette's stats seemed to be boosted by a few huge gains, which isn't really a knock so much as it is a way to clearly think about his and the Jaguars' overall ground game production. Only Sony Michel had more rushes for exactly zero yards (30) than Fournette's 29, and while this stat isn't a tell-all figure (Christian McCaffrey is in the top 10, too), it's somewhat indicative of the frustration that fans can sometimes feel toward Fournette. Let's put it this way... there's a reason that the former top-five draft pick was (and still is) on the trading black. The offensive line didn't make any major changes, and so the newest changes to this team's running game are twofold: 1) Gardner Minshew and his mobility will be at the helm of the offense as opposed to Nick Foles, and 2) draft addition Laviska Shenault, should he stay healthy, is as versatile a threat as any.
23. New England Patriots
Primary RBs: Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, Damien Harris
Other impact players: James Develin (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 18 in rushing yards, No. 12 in rushing TDs, No. 25 in yards per carry, No. 9 in O-line run blocking
This is probably too low for the Patriots, but I feel like the running game is going to show its true colors this season without Tom Brady at the helm. Bill Belichick should be mentioned as an impact player up there as well, as he's going to find some way to make the running game effective. Even as the stats above show that it wasn't an efficient unit, it still got the job done in terms of producing yardage, points and, most importantly, victories. David Andrews will hopefully have a smooth return after a frightening encounter with blood clots in his lungs and anchor a line that has long been a successful one. I can't imagine that Sony Michel's leash is too long this season, as he wasn't anything exceptional last year (3.7 yards per carry) and Damien Harris could very well be the guy if Michel's foot surgery keeps him from going at full speed.
22. Los Angeles Chargers
Primary RBs: Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelley
Other impact players: Tyrod Taylor
2019 rankings: No. 28 in rushing yards, No. 21 in rushing TDs, No. 23 in yards per carry, No. 13 in O-line run blocking
Philip Rivers may be the better quarterback -- he may be in 2020 -- but Tyrod Taylor's legs are certainly better for the overall rushing attack of a team. Even at 31 years old, he should provide the Chargers with a dual-threat quarterback approach that the team hasn't had to deploy in quite some time. Losing Melvin Gordon hurts, but Austin Ekeler was fine and analytics put them quite close to each other -- Gordon was No. 32 in 2019 in Football Outsiders' all-encompassing rushing metric, while Ekeler was No. 35. Justin Jackson has been fine as the third stringer and averaged nearly seven yards per carry in a small sample size last year, but 2020 selection Joshua Kelley was drafted over 120 picks earlier than Jackson was a few years ago. Bryan Bulaga bolsters the offensive line (especially in the run game), the Russell Okung-Trai Turner swap doesn't change things too much, and a healthy Mike Pouncey helps complete the Chargers' formidable front.
21. Kansas City Chiefs
Primary RBs: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Damien Williams, Darwin Thompson, Darrel Williams
Other impact players: Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Anthony Sherman (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 23 in rushing yards, No. 14 in rushing TDs, No. 20 in yards per carry, No. 28 in O-line run blocking
The Chiefs lost two occasional starters from their line (Stefen Wisniewski and Cameron Erving) but have the majority of the starting pieces in order, with an additional project piece to boot in TCU's hulking Lucas Niang. But the most important draft addition for Kansas City is Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the first Chiefs first-round pick to man the backfield since Larry Johnson, and we know how good he was (never mind what he's tweeting nowadays). I really don't understand why Andy Reid wouldn't make Edwards-Helaire a prominent piece of the offense right away if not the main guy in the backfield over Damien Williams. Tyreek Hill wasn't used all too often as a runner last season, but he was effective in other years (24 rushes, 267 yards in 2016; 22 rushes, 151 yards in 2018). Mahomes isn't Lamar Jackson, but he's showed off his wheels on a number of occasions. Anthony Sherman will continue to pave the way on inside runs better than most fullbacks.
Nos. 20 to 17
20. Detroit Lions
Primary RBs: Kerryon Johnson, D'Andre Swift, Bo Scarbrough
Other impact players: N/A
2019 rankings: No. 21 in rushing yards, No. 29 in rushing TDs, No. 22 in yards per carry, No. 20 in O-line run blocking
Two new additions to the line -- former Eagle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and third-round selection Jonah Jackson -- make for a slight improvement from 2019, though Graham Glasgow was lost to free agency. The primary addition here is D'Andre Swift, and Lions fans have a real reason to be excited about the Georgia product. Kerryon Johnson is nothing to shrug off, either, but he would surprise many fans and analysts should he retain the starting job over Swift throughout the 2020 season.
19. Cincinnati Bengals
Primary RBs: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard
Other impact players: Joe Burrow, Cethan Carter (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 25 in rushing yards, No. 27 in rushing TDs, No. 19 in yards per carry, No. 26 in O-line run blocking
Joe Mixon is probably more excited than most to be playing alongside Joe Burrow. Because even in a horrible offense led by a duo of underachieving quarterbacks in 2019, Mixon found a way to post another successful and productive season toward the end of the season for 494 yards in the final four weeks. The line lost Cordy Glenn but added two potential starters through free agency (Xavier Su'a-Filo and John Miller) while hoping for the smooth return of Jonah Williams. Joe Burrow isn't a prolific runner, but he's not a tin man in the backfield. Cethan Carter is one of the better blocking fullbacks in the league.
18. Philadelphia Eagles
RBs: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott
Other impact players: Carson Wentz, Dallas Goedert (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 11 in rushing yards, No. 13 in rushing TDs, No. 17 in yards per carry, No. 14 in O-line run blocking
Brandon Brooks' season-ending achilles tear is just devastating for the Birds, and there's no point in sugarcoating it. The team also said goodbye to Jordan Howard and is currently rolling with a relatively shallow stable of useful running backs, though another addition through free agency isn't out of the question. Even without Brandon Brooks against the Seahawks in the Wild Card game -- the only game he missed in the past three seasons -- the Eagles had success on the ground. But now you take Brooks out of the equation, you take out Halapoulivaati Vaitai, you potentially take away Jason Peters, and you're looking at a whole different unit here. Still, Doug Pederson breeds running success in Philly even in otherwise dire situations, and Miles Sanders is truly a star in the making.
17. Houston Texans
Primary RBs: David Johnson, Duke Johnson
Other impact players: Deshaun Watson, Brandin Cooks
2019 rankings: No. 9 in rushing yards, No. 11 in rushing TDs, No. 9 in yards per carry, No. 21 in O-line run blocking
Deshaun Watson boosts this squad from an otherwise unspectacular unit to one that can keep any defense completely off-balance. He followed up on a brilliant 2018 (99 rushes, 551 yards, 5 TDs) with a similarly captivating 2019 (82 rushes, 413 yards, 7 TDs) while Bill O'Brien's scheme worked to make Carlos Hyde (1,070 yards) a relevant runner again after years of mediocrity. David Johnson's health is more likely to be a problem than it is to be a bright spot, but the Texans offense is one where I can really see him returning to form. Brandin Cooks' speed has been used every so often on end-arounds (16 carries, 120 yards, 7.5 yards per carry since 2018).
Nos. 16 to 13
16. Green Bay Packers
Primary RBs: Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams, A.J. Dillon
Other impact players: Marcedes Lewis (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 15 in rushing yards, No. 9 in rushing TDs, No. 13 in yards per carry, No. 5 in O-line run blocking
Aaron Jones is truly something special, making something out of nothing on several plays, finding the end zone with relative ease and ranking as 2019's fourth-most effective running back according to the Football Outsiders metric. But the loss of Bryan Bulaga hurts significantly, as he was one of the best run blockers at his position in the whole league, and Aaron Rodgers' rushing production took a pretty big statistical drop off last season. The Pack stays in the middle of the pack of NFL rushing attacks.
15. Denver Broncos
Primary RBs: Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay, Royce Freeman
Other impact players: KJ Hamler, Andy Janovich (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 20 in rushing yards, No. 23 in rushing TDs, No. 21 in yards per carry, No. 11 in O-line run blocking
The Broncos offense is more complete in practically every aspect this season, though the O-line didn't make any marked improvements. They'll potentially be starting rookie selection Lloyd Cushenberry (R3, P83), though that's not a definite. But more exciting than offensive line changes is the acquisition of Melvin Gordon. Whether or not he'll be an improvement over Phillip Lindsay remains to be seen, which is surprising considering Gordon was the 15th overall pick in the 2015 draft, while Lindsay was not drafted at all. Gordon has only gone above four yards per carry once in his career, so it shouldn't be assumed that he'll be the lead back over Lindsay at any point in the season. KJ Hamler is another new addition to the offense that could make an impact on the ground, as he features break-neck speed that was included in Penn State's rushing attack on occasion.
14. Las Vegas Raiders
Primary RBs: Josh Jacobs, Jalen Richard, Lynn Bowden Jr., Devontae Booker
Other impact players: Marcus Mariota
2019 rankings: No. 13 in rushing yards, No. 19 in rushing TDs, No. 18 in yards per carry, No. 6 in O-line run blocking
The very good offensive line in Las Vegas stays in tact and added fourth rounder John Simpson through the draft. A draft addition that could make an even bigger difference is jack-of-all-trades Lynn Bowden. His professional career took an unexpected turn after a DEA raid of his home, but nothing ever came of it that would seem to have an impact on his rookie season, and he's a versatile threat that Jon Gruden should have fun deploying all over the field. There's also Marcus Mariota, who is obviously more mobile than QB competitor Derek Carr. However, the heart of this rushing attack is the talented Josh Jacobs who surpassed expectations in his 2019 debut (1,150 yards, 4.8 yards per carry).
13. Buffalo Bills
Primary RBs: Devin Singletary, Zack Moss, T.J. Yeldon
Other impact players: Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, Lee Smith (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 8 in rushing yards, No. 18 in rushing TDs, No. 14 in yards per carry, No. 15 in O-line run blocking
I really like Devin Singletary and think that he'll take a step up as the lead running back in 2020. Zack Moss certainly doesn't act as a downgrade from old man Frank Gore, and his hard style of running should mesh well with the rest of the Bills ground-pounding offense. Of course, there's also Josh Allen, whose role on the ground would be more prolific if not for a certain quarterback in the AFC North. Allen's production was still strong (109 rushes, 510 yards, 9 TDs) but was not as explosive as in his rookie year (89 rushes, 631 yards, 8 TDs), and it looks like they're really trying to sharpen his abilities as a reliable passing quarterback, as they should. Stefon Diggs, though not a major rushing component in Minnesota's offense, did receive some carries and was good at generating big gains when he got the chance.
Nos. 12 to 9
12. Indianapolis Colts
Primary RBs: Marlon Mack, Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins
Other impact players: Parris Campbell, Jack Doyle (blocking), Trey Burton (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 7 in rushing yards, No. 10 in rushing TDs, No. 12 in yards per carry, No. 12 in O-line run blocking
Should Jonathan Taylor live up to his draft hype, the Colts could blow this ranking out of the water. But he still has to compete with Marlon Mack for touches out of the gate, and Mack is nothing more than a solid running back. Still, because of the strong offensive line and a pair of sturdy blocking tight ends -- one returning, and one a new addition -- the Colts' ground game is a force to be reckoned with. Last season, Jacoby Brissett's mobility helped to lead that charge, but this year, with Philip Rivers, the quarterback won't play much of a role at all.
11. New Orleans Saints
Primary RBs: Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Ty Montgomery
Other impact players: Taysom Hill, Zach Line (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 16 in rushing yards, No. 20 in rushing TDs, No. 19 in yards per carry, No. 1 in O-line run blocking
The Saints decided to release veteran Larry Warford on the offensive line, but made a big-time draft addition with Cesar Ruiz, who should make an immediate impact on the interior. Though Alvin Kamara hasn't been able to reclaim that explosiveness that made him so amazing his rookie season, 2020 offers a clean slate and a healthy start to return to prominence. Latavius Murray played well in his NOLA debut, as well, and could become the new Mark Ingram in Sean Payton's consistently effective run game. Additionally, I expect Taysom Hill to be more involved in the scheme this season, and his insane athleticism should benefit this aspect of the Saints offense immeasurably over Drew Brees.
10. Minnesota Vikings
Primary RBs: Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison, Mike Boone, Ameer Abdullah
Other impact players: N/A
2019 rankings: No. 6 in rushing yards, No. 6 in rushing TDs, No. 11 in yards per carry, No. 7 in run blocking
Dalvin Cook finally stayed healthy and had the breakout season we've been waiting for, cementing himself as one of the best young running backs in the league. Furthermore, he cemented himself as a guy who wants to get paid, and a holdout is a possibility if his demands aren't met. However, for the sake of this list, we're going to include him at the top of the board and rank the Vikings within the top 10. The offense is going to lean on the run heavily, especially after Stefon Diggs was sent to Buffalo, and adding Ezra Cleveland to the line with a late-second-round steal was a great move.
9. New York Giants
Primary RBs: Saquon Barkley, Dion Lewis, Wayne Gallman
Other impact players: Daniel Jones, Sterling Shepard
2019 rankings: No. 19 in rushing yards, No. 22 in rushing TDs, No. 7 in yards per carry, No. 25 in O-line run blocking
The offensive line still may not be very good, though choosing Andrew Thomas through the draft provides them with a high-floor, start-now commodity on the line after the team lost a couple of 2019 starters (Jon Halapio, Mike Remmers) in free agency. But let's be real. No matter who is on the offensive line, Saquon Barkley is going to make things happen.
A healthy Saquon means a top rushing unit, period.
Nos. 8 to 5
8. Arizona Cardinals
Primary RBs: Kenyan Drake, Chase Edmonds, Eno Benjamin
Other impact players: Kyler Murray, Christian Kirk, Maxx Williams (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 10 in rushing yards, No. 8 in rushing TDs, No. 3 in yards per carry, No. 22 in O-line run blocking
See what happens when you actually use Kenyan Drake, Dolphins? The Cardinals did, watching the Alabama alum run wild for eight TDs and 5.2 yards per carry over eight weeks. In fact, despite only playing half of a season in Arizona, Drake was ranked as the fifth most-effective RB on Football Outsiders metric. Add his impact with the potential showcased by Chase Edmonds, and you have a real solid backfield. And then there's Kyler Murray, a popular MVP bet this season not only because of the addition of DeAndre Hopkins, but his proven ability to use his legs for big chunks and break defenses wide open. Christian Kirk received 10 carries last year and turned them into 93 yards, adding yet another weapon on the ground.
7. Seattle Seahawks
Primary RBs: Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, Carlos Hyde
Other impact players: Russell Wilson
2019 rankings: No. 4 in rushing yards, No. 15 in rushing TDs, No. 10 in yards per carry, No. 16 in O-line run blocking
The three-headed monster in Seattle's backfield is filled with three viable candidates for the lead back role. If not for Chris Carson's fumbling issues, he would seem to be an obvious candidate. But Rashaad Penny, when healthy, has posted very strong numbers (career 5.3 yards per carry) and Carlos Hyde is coming off a 1,000-yard season in Houston. Pete Carroll is going to be wise in how he uses each one to their strengths, as usual. And though Russell Wilson may never run for 800 yards (2014) or even 500 yards (2017) again, he's still a deadly weapon when he decides to pull down the pigskin and explode from the pocket. The offensive line lost a couple pieces, including released center Justin Britt, but gained Brandon Shell from the Jets, B.J. Finney from the Steelers and Damien Lewis (R3, P69) from the draft.
6. Carolina Panthers
Primary RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Reggie Bonnafon, Mike Davis
Other impact players: Curtis Samuel
2019 rankings: No. 14 in rushing yards, No. 4 in rushing TDs, No. 6 in yards per carry, No. 17 in O-line run blocking
Christian McCaffrey is one of the rare running backs that truly deserves MVP consideration. Most running backs can be justifiably placed as cogs within a larger system; Christian McCaffrey is the system. What are the Panthers without him? He's that good, and for that, the Panthers are among the top rushing attacks despite a pretty bleak overall outlook. Curtis Samuel is also among the league's best rushing wide receivers, turning end-arounds for big gains and establishing himself as a normal factor in the ground game. Teddy Bridgewater isn't necessarily mobile, but neither was Kyle Allen, and this team should once again be hard to stop when CMC shoulders the load.
5. Cleveland Browns
Primary RBs: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Dontrell Hilliard
Other impact players: Baker Mayfield
2019 rankings: No. 12 in rushing yards, No. 16 in rushing TDs, No. 5 in yards per carry, No. 10 in O-line run blocking
I'm not going to lie. I bought in on the Browns hype train last season, to an extent. I wasn't going ahead and placing any Super Bowl bets, but I really did think they could be a 10-win team. But this year, the hype is real. The difference between Kevin Stefanski and Freddie Kitchens is going to be a stark one. Having the monstrous Jedrick Wills and the proven top-caliber talent of Jack Conklin on the line is going to make a difference. Having Kareem Hunt for a full 16 games is going to really help. Nick Chubb is going to continue to do big things. The sky's the limit for the Cleveland rushing attack.
Nos. 4 to 1
4. Dallas Cowboys
Primary RBs: Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard,
Other impact players: Dak Prescott
2019 rankings: No. 5 in rushing yards, No. 7 in rushing TDs, No. 4 in yards per carry, No. 2 in O-line run blocking
The only difference between the rushing unit this year and last year is that longtime stalwart Travis Frederick decided to retire after an impressive six-year career. The 2019 Pro Bowler isn't easy to replace, but luckily, the Cowboys line is incredibly strong as it is. Besides, a certain stud in the backfield makes all the right cuts and finds all the right holes behind that line and is showing no signs of slowing down. Ezekiel Elliott should further benefit from the added pressure that the revamped passing game will place upon defenses. Dallas is going to be really, really hard to stop.
3. Tennessee Titans
Primary RBs: Derrick Henry, Darrynton Evans
Other impact players: A.J. Brown
2019 rankings: No. 3 in rushing yards, No. 3 in rushing TDs, No. 2 in yards per carry, No. 4 in O-line run blocking
The Titans scooped up their replacement for Jack Conklin by selecting tackle Isaiah Wilson in the first round of the 2020 draft, and though he may not perform up to Conklin's level right away, he keeps the Titans line a strong one. Similarly to Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry is the Titans offense at times. I don't think there are any other running backs in the league that could do what Henry was able to do in the playoffs this year (34 carries, 182 yards in win over the Patriots; 30 carries, 195 yards in win over the Ravens). You figure he has to eventually show some signs of fatigue after this heavy a workload, but until then, there's no reason the Titans should stop letting Henry shoulder the load, and then some.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Primary RBs: Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson Jr.
Other notable players: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle (blocking), Kyle Juszczyk (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 2 in rushing yards, No. 1 in rushing TDs, No. 8 in yards per carry, No. 8 in O-line run blocking
The rich got richer, adding perennial Pro Bowler Trent Williams to the end of an already impressive offensive line. Kyle Shanahan's scheme has made it so talented individuals like Matt Breida are expendable, and any of the four running backs on the roster could easily explode for big games. It certainly doesn't hurt that the Niners also have the league's best rushing receiver (Deebo Samuel), a new versatile threat on the outside (Brandon Aiyuk), and a pair of incredible run blockers ready to pave the way up field and in the trenches (George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk). Expect this well-oiled machine to keep out churning out results.
1. Baltimore Ravens
Primary RBs: Mark Ingram, J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill, Gus Edwards
Other impact players: Lamar Jackson, Patrick Ricard (blocking), Nick Boyle (blocking)
2019 rankings: No. 1 in rushing yards, No. 2 in rushing TDs, No. 1 in yards per carry, No. 3 in O-line run blocking
It feels almost criminal not to include Lamar Jackson in the "primary RB" category, but his role is the same either way. It couldn't be anyone but the Ravens, who broke the record for team rushing yards in the modern era (technically, the 1948 49ers had more) with 3,296, and they also rank first in yards per carry for a whole season in the past 50 years (5.53). Mark Ingram's brilliance was almost lost in the action, but he's behind only Zeke and CMC in Football Outsiders' metrics, and the unfairness grows larger by adding Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins. Offensive line rebuilding? They can do that, too, adding D.J. Fluker and drafting two more (Tyre Phillips in the third, Ben Bredeson in the fourth) to help replace Marshal Yanda.