Ranking the Top 5 Running Backs for the 2023 NFL Season

Nick Chubb

Getty Images Running back Nick Chubb of the Cleveland Browns.

The 2023 NFL season will be here before you know it. Along with the quest for the Lombardi Trophy kicking off in earnest, debates over the best players in the NFL will begin anew.

As training camps open and the Detroit Lions vs. Kansas City Chiefs‘ opening night matchup gets closer by the day, Heavy is taking a positional deep dive in an ongoing series ranking the top five NFL players by position for the upcoming 2023 campaign.

Next up: Running backs.

1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Saquon Barkley answered the bell, and his critics, in 2022, during the most prolific season of his career. His spot on this ranking comes with an asterisk, given the risk that he could potentially hold out after failing to reach a long-term agreement with the Giants.

However, if Barkley plays in 2023, all of the factors are in place for him to have a career year.

Finally fully healthy from a torn ACL in his right knee that kept him sidelined for all about five quarters of football in the 2020 season, Barkley regained his place among the most versatile and explosive backs in the NFL.

One year removed from rushing for a career-high 1,312 yards with 10 touchdowns and adding 57 catches for 338 yards, Barkley’s second season in Brian Daboll’s system — which places an emphasis on getting the ball in his hands in space — could be even more prolific.

2. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers

Few running backs proved as capable of impacting the game in all phases as Christian McCaffrey did, once he arrived in San Francisco and head coach Kyle Shanahan’s system, which seems tailored to his best traits.

McCaffrey totaled 1,147 yards from scrimmage with 10 total touchdowns in the 10 games alone since arriving via a trade into the 49ers’ offense. McCaffrey is a matchup nightmare, a versatile Swiss Army knife of a weapon as a runner and pass catcher out of the backfield.

Despite mediocre quarterback play down the stretch, McCaffrey was a focal point of San Francisco’s offense.

Last season, McCaffrey averaged 2.9 yards after contact per carry and rattled off 28 explosive runs of 10 yards or more. Whoever is behind center for San Francisco this season, expect McCaffrey to be the driving force in all phases behind the 49ers’ success on offense.

3. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

If there were ever a running back leading the pack as a possible bounce-back candidate for 2023, it’s Jonathan Taylor.

Taylor fought through nagging injuries for the Indianapolis Colts last season, and for the first time in his career was held below 900 rushing yards. Still, in 11 games, Taylor showed he remains an impact player, rushing for 861 yards with 4 touchdowns.

As Shane Steichen arrives as head coach, fresh off guiding the Philadelphia Eagles to the No. 5-rated rushing offense in 2022, Taylor should be one of the biggest benefactors to Indianapolis adopting a run-heavy scheme. After all, the last time he was healthy, Taylor forced 66 missed tackles and busted out for 50 explosive runs of 10 yards or more.

4. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

All Nick Chubb does is produce at a high level year in and year out.

Chubb came four rushing yards in 2018 shy of surpassing 1,000 yards for five consecutive seasons, and is coming off a career-high 1,525 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns in another stellar 2022 campaign. It’s that sort of production alongside backfield mate Kareem Hunt that is the foundation of the Browns’ offense.

Part of what makes Chubb such a dangerous weapon is that he’s so difficult to bring down. Chubb posted a 3.48 yards after contact average per carry last season while forcing 83 missed tackles. The combination of Chubb’s status as the Browns’ workhorse, logging 302 carries last season and his ability to bulldoze through the front seven make him one of the premier running backs in the game.

5. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry remains the brightest star on the Tennessee Titans‘ offense and one of the more physically imposing backs in the league.

For the third time in his career, Henry surpassed 1,500 yards in 2022, adding 1,538 to his career total, while rushing for 13 touchdowns. At age 29, Henry has shown no signs whatsoever of slowing down.

Whether it is veteran Ryan Tannehill, or second-round pick Will Levis, at quarterback, expect the Titans’ offense to once again funnel through the ground game on Henry’s capable shoulders. It wouldn’t be surprising if Henry pushes for the rushing crown this fall, after coming up 115 yards shy in 2022.