Twice a week this offseason Blaine Grisak and Jake Ellenbogen will share their top-10 players from each position in the NFL. We’ll the discuss our lists and why we ranked players where we did as well as the position in general.
We also asked the rest of the Downtown Rams staff who their top-10’s were and will have a poll and its results at the end.
In this edition, Blaine and Jake unveil their top-10 running backs in the NFL heading into the 2019 season and who is ready to take that next step.
1. Saquon Barkley – NYG
5. Christian McCaffrey – CAR
3. Todd Gurley – LAR
4. Alvin Kamara – NO
5. Le’Veon Bell – NJ
6. Melvin Gordon – LAC
7. Ezekiel Elliott – DAL
8. Nick Chubb – CLE
9. Aaron Jones – GB
8. James Conner – PIT
1. Todd Gurley – LAR
2. Saquon Barkley – NYG
3. Alvin Kamara – NO
4. Ezekiel Elliott – DAL
5. Christian McCaffrey – CAR
6. Le’Veon Bell – NYJ
7. Melvin Gordon – LAC
8. James Conner – PIT
9. Philip Lindsay – DEN
10. Nick Chubb – CLE
Blaine: I know he was just a rookie last year, but I have Saquon Barkley as my top running back. That New York Giants team doesn’t win six games last year without Barkley. He simply took over games. This is a guy that can run inside, outside, has breakaway speed, and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s the full package.
Christian McCaffrey took that next step last year without Jonathan Stewart in Carolina and that very well could be Alvin Kamara this year without Mark Ingram. Nick Chubb started the year as a backup but moved his way up to the starting role. The Browns were simply a better team with Chubb in the lineup. Finally, wrapping up my list is James Connor at No. 10 who had the Steelers running game not miss a beat with the absence of Le’Veon Bell.
Jake: Yeah Blaine, I can’t disagree with you on Saquon, my issue is I still think Todd Gurley is the best running back in the NFL. After that Alvin Kamara could be argued as well, I’ve been the one saying Mark Ingram does more harm than good for Kamara who has proven to be a bell cow. It will be interesting to see Le’Veon Bell in action and on a new team in New York. There is no denying his ability, but James Conner certainly didn’t miss a beat as you mentioned, which should maybe worry Jets fans a little bit.
After that, guys like Christian McCaffrey continue to rise on the positional tier chart and to me, he cracked the top five. Melvin Gordon was my top running back in the 2015 NFL Draft and while he has been overshadowed by Gurley, Gordon is still a top running back.
The two rookies who were drafted lower than Sony Michel or in Lindsay’s case not drafted at all both outperformed the talented Georgia running back. To me, like you mentioned, the Browns were just better with Chubb in the lineup. As for Lindsay, he made it big over a rookie running back in Royce Freeman that the Broncos actually drafted. Impressive stuff all the way around.
Blaine: There’s a lot to unfold here and a lot I want to touch on. Because this is Downtown Rams, I suppose I’ll start with the Rams. Gurley can certainly be argued as the NFL’s top back. He was on pace for LaDanian Tomlinson’s touchdown record last season and it’s obvious how much the Rams need him in the lineup. My question for you is, how much are you putting into his knee injury and do you think that will force his stock to drop when we do this list again heading into 2020?
Jake: Good question. As we know, Todd Gurley was seriously injured week one against Oakland in the Monday Night opener. He reportedly “felt like giving back my contract” I mean, he only improved from last year and he was injured pretty much all season. In this case, injured Gurley is still the best running back in football. That, however, could be questioned after the season if Saquon really builds off his first year or Kamara shows out now that he’s the feature back and not splitting time. Overall, Gurley’s injury worries me more long term, but I still expect him to have a fantastic season in 2019.
Blaine: I’m in the same boat. At the end of the day we don’t know what’s going on with Gurley’s knee. I do expect the Rams to cut back his workload and I do worry about him long term, but going forward and looking 2-3 years down the line, I’m very optimistic about Gurley. He’s a perfect fit in Sean McVay’s scheme and when he is going the rest of the offense is going. Very similar to the early 2000’s Rams when Marshall Faulk was the main focal point for defenses, Gurley has been that for the Rams.
Another guy I want to talk about though is Le’Veon Bell. This is a guy that sat out the entirety of last season while paying fines for each game he missed. A running back’s career is short as is and Bell gave up a year in his prime for a large contract. What are your thoughts on that decision to sit out an entire year and how do you think he fits in with the Jets? Another guy we both have in our top-10 is James Connor and he replaced Bell in Pittsburgh. I’m not saying Bell isn’t talented – I loved him coming out of Michigan State – but how much of his success was the system and how much was talent and do you think his success transfers to New York?
Jake: Well, I think all of that is valid. I mean when you look at Le’Veon Bell, his big thing was that no one was catching passes out of the backfield as much as him. Long gone are the days of Marshall Faulk right? Wrong. That’s the thing – now that you see Gurley, Saquon, and guys like honorable mention Tarik Cohen catching passes out of the backfield. It makes what Bell did seem less exclusive. Then, you look at what Conner did and you start to wonder how important being around a Ben Roethlisberger or just a very good and consistent offensive line was to his success. Bell will be fine but will he end up staying in the elite tier of running backs? That’s cause for concern.
To answer your question, I hated his decision to sit out and he basically got nothing accomplished, just basically wasted a year of his precious football career that he will never get back. I love Conner, I think he was underrated at Pittsburgh. The Steelers knew what they had in him and they saw first hand what a difference he can make on the ground.
Blaine: I think that’s the perfect answer. I loved Bell coming out of Michigan State because of his dual threat capability, but as you mentioned, when it comes to the elite running backs, it’s not as rare as it once was. He got paid and got his money, but I also am not sure it was worth sitting out an entire year of his prime.
Looking at both of our lists we both have Nick Chubb, but you also include Lindsay. I won’t argue with that as he was fantastic and he had some guts to wear Terrell Davis’ number 30 in Denver. However, do you think he’ll be a one-hit wonder for lack of a better phrase, or do you think he can stay at that level?
That brings me to two points as well: 1) Teams get a lot of flack for drafting running backs early especially when you can find the Phillip Lindsay’s of the world late in the draft. Where do you stand on that? 2) This year’s running backs weren’t as top-heavy as some years in the past and I don’t forsee someone like Josh Jacobs breaking into the top-10 next year, but in terms of the 2019 running back class, who do you think is going to be the “leader” of the class per se?
Jake: It’s hilarious because the Steelers offered him a one-year deal for $14.5 million essentially with the franchise tag and he got paid around that same price tag with the Jets. It clearly was all about making his stand and getting a long-term deal which he got.
As far as Lindsay goes, that’s also a fair question but at the same time it is unfair we don’t say this about Chubb or the other rookie running backs. The problem with Linsday is that he went undrafted so many will likely not take last year as serious but the fact is: We all just missed the evaluation. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry, hit the 1,000-yard mark and guess what? His offensive line from last year just got better! Garett Bolles, Ron Leary, Connor McGovern, Dalton Risner and Ja’Wuan James. I think the only one who lost here was Royce Freeman and it’s not his fault entirely.
As far as your next thoughts, well I think you nailed it there because with the way guys like Lindsay come up, it does cause people to question drafting a running back high. For every Trent Richardson there is an Adrian Peterson. You have to trust your evaluation at the end of the day though. I stand on the idea that you always no matter what go by your board. If you aren’t sticking to your board then why are you making a board to begin with? Yeah with Josh Jacobs, I don’t foresee him getting into the top ten or anyone this year in year one.
As far as the leader of the class, it’s Rams running back Darrell Henderson. I don’t care if Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown and John Kelly are in that backfield. I’ll tell you right now – Henderson is the best back in the draft and will be a star if given the opportunity. It’s funny, I already see many complaining about him being compared to Alvin Kamara. Well, who would you rather have us compare him to? His game translates into a Kamara or even Jamaal Charles. Henderson could end up spelling Gurley early due to the injury we discussed. Henderson is bound to become a star and I think he will get his “start” as the super luxury change-of-pace back to the best back in the league Todd Gurley.
Blaine: Ya, I agree on everything you just said. I think at the end of the day, you have to trust your evaluation. If there’s a difference maker at running back like Barkley atop the draft, you have to take him. That player can still make a difference on an NFL roster. Before we wind down, there’s one guy I do want to touch on and it’s somebody that would have been on this list had he not made a poor life decision and that’s Kareem Hunt. He goes from being a top-10 running back in one of the top-3 offenses in the NFL to being released and now he will share a backfield with another guy on our lists, Nick Chubb. How much does he cut into Chubb’s touches do you think, what will his role be in Cleveland, and will he ever get the opportunity to be a featured back in the NFL again? I’m not going to sit here and feel sorry for the guy after what he did, but I do think all are legitimate questions.
Jake: It’s really a tough situation that I don’t think has a right or wrong answer. I think when you look at what Kareem Hunt has done in the NFL in his short career, it’s hard to imagine no one ever gives him a feature role again. I will say that Nick Chubb is slightly below Kareem Hunt pre-suspension. If Chubb is barely behind him in his rookie year, wouldn’t that make him on projection to surpass him? For me, it would. I think Hunt will get some opportunities for sure but I think this is more so a trampoline for Hunt to propel himself from and focus on the latter half of his career than it is about someone coming in and becoming a starter again.
I think Chubb is the guy. The thing is now, once they get rid of Duke Johnson, Hunt will have a serious opportunity to be the Mark Ingram of that backfield. I’m intrigued but would lean towards the notion that Chubb is the guy for sure moving forward and this is a reclamation project for Hunt.
Blaine: Ya, that’s kind of how I feel as well. Chubb is definitely ‘the guy’ there with Hunt as more of the complimentary piece. At the very least, they have a good two-headed monster there in the backfield. Everybody I think deserves a second chance and I hope Hunt takes advantage of his and gets his life turned around.
Lastly, before we wrap up. Who just missed the cut on this list for you aka who were your honorable mentions? I think for me, Lindsay is in the that discussion along with Joe Mixon and Chris Carson. It really feels like once you get out of that top-10 there is a definite drop in talent. That’s not that I don’t like those guys, but the players in my top-10 are the guys that I really feel transform an offense.
Jake: Great question! For me, the honorable mentions in order were: David Johnson, Chris Carson, Kerryon Johnson, Leonard Fournette, Tarik Cohen and then guys like Kenyan Drake and Aaron Jones deserve super honorable mentions. The reason for that with me is I have not given up on Johnson and I’m excited to see him in Kingsbury’s offense with Kyler Murray. Chris Carson is laughingly better than their 2018 first-round running back and 2018 rookie running back Kerryon Johnson is as well. After that Leonard Fournette who I once called a generational running back, has had his ups and downs but I still believe he’s supremely talented and the Jaguars really just don’t have anything on the offensive line or on the offensive side of the ball at all. Tarik Cohen made everyone forget how good Jordan Howard was and then guys like Drake and Jones are just really good starting running backs. The league is littered with talented running backs but those are my honorable mentions.
Thanks again guys for checking out another fun-filled DTR Top-10 series. Be sure to tune in next week for our wide receiver and tight end top tens.
DTR Top-10 Running Backs (First Place Votes)
1. Todd Gurley – LAR (3)
2. Saquon Barkley – NYG (2)
3. Alvin Kamara – NO
4. Christian McCaffrey
5. Ezekiel Elliott – DAL
6. Melvin Gordon – LAC
7. Le’Veon Bell – NYJ
8. David Johnson – ARI
9. Nick Chubb – CLE
10. James Connor – PIT
Others Receiving Votes: Jordan Howard, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Derrick Henry, Aaron Jones, Phillip Lindsay
Dan Gleason: 1. Saquon Barkley, 2. Christian McCaffrey, 3. Ezekiel Elliott, 4. Todd Gurley, 5. Alvin Kamara, 6. Melvin Gordon, 7. Le’Veon Bell, 8. Joe Mixon, 9. David Johnson, 10. Derrick Henry
Alex Washburn: 1. Todd Gurley, 2. Alvin Kamara, 3. Saquon Barkley, 4. David Johnson, 5. Ezekiel Ellott, 6. Le’Veon Bell, 7. Christian McCaffrey, 8. Mevlin Gordon, 9. Nick Chubb, 10. James Connor
Ricky Marnell: 1. Todd Gurley, 2. Alvin Kamara, 3. Saquon Barkley, 4. Melvin Gordon, 5. Jordan Howard, 6. Dalvin Cook, 7. Le’Veon Bell, 8. Christian McCaffrey, 9. Derrick Henry, 10. James Conner