The value of running backs in the NFL has dropped precipitously in recent years as teams more and more rely on the passing game to succeed.
That philosophical change explains why a player like Christian McCaffrey, who is equally as adept at running patterns as he is at running the ball, was voted the top running back in the league by The Associated Press.
A panel of nine AP Pro Football Writers ranked the top five players at running back, making their selections based on current status entering the 2023 season. First-place votes were worth 10 points. Second through fifth-place votes were worth 5, 3, 2 and 1 points.
McCaffrey got four first-place votes, two seconds, a third and a fourth to beat out Derrick Henry for the top spot. Henry got three first-place votes and was the only back named on all nine ballots.
Josh Jacobs got one of the remaining first-place votes and came in third, Nick Chubb was fourth and Saquon Barkley was fifth after getting the other first-place vote. Austin Ekeler and Tony Pollard also got votes.
1. CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, San Francisco 49ers: McCaffrey bounced back from two injury-plagued seasons to get back to his stellar form from 2019 when he topped 1,000 yards rushing and receiving. A midseason deal to San Francisco provided a big spark and McCaffrey’s presence as a runner and receiver helped the Niners score 30.5 points per game in his 10 games as a starter. McCaffrey averaged 114.8 yards from scrimmage per game with 10 TDs in his 10 starts in San Francisco.
2. DERRICK HENRY, Tennessee Titans: Henry is perhaps the most dominant runner in the game with more than 1,500 yards on the ground in three of the past four seasons. Only four players in NFL history have more seasons with at least 1,500 yards rushing than Henry. His 109.9 yards rushing per game the last four seasons are nearly 20 yards better than the next best player.
3. JOSH JACOBS, Las Vegas Raiders: Jacobs was hampered by injuries in 2020 and ’21 but showed how dangerous he can be when healthy last season. He led the NFL with 1,653 yards rushing and 2,053 yards from scrimmage and matched his career high with 12 TDs. Jacobs has always been one of the best backs at breaking tackles, but he had more burst last season, leading to seven runs of at least 20 yards — two more than in the two previous seasons combined.
4. NICK CHUBB, Cleveland Browns: Chubb was the NFL’s best big-play runner last season with a league-leading 13 carries that went for at least 20 yards. His 59 rushes of at least 20 yards since entering the league in 2018 are 17 more than the next highest player. He had a career-high 1,525 yards on the ground last season with 12 TDs but doesn’t offer as much in the passing game as some of the more versatile backs.
5. SAQUON BARKLEY, New York Giants: Barkley showed once again what he can do when healthy, rushing for 1,312 yards and 10 TDs and catching 57 passes as he showed he had completely recovered from a season-ending knee injury in 2020 that still hampered him the following year. Barkley has topped 1,300 yards on the ground in both seasons when he didn’t miss time for injuries.