Running Backs in the NFL and Top College Running Backs, All Time and 2023
The position of running back is one that has undergone many evolutions. From the large bodied rushers of the 1940’s to muscular speedsters like Barry Sanders and the pass catching hybrids of today, it’s safe to say that the position has seen some change.
With the passing game at a premium, less and less running backs are being taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. But safe to say, there are still some generation players in the backfield for many college football teams. The NFL has huge stars like Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and more. So let’s take a look at the best running backs in the NFL, College football, and of all time.
Top College Football Running Backs 2023
The running back position is as talented as ever in college football, so let's take a look at the top five players at the position going into the 2023 season.
1. Blake Corum, University of Michigan
Blake Corum is one of the most talented players in the country, regardless of position, heading into the 2023 season. Totaling 1,463 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns last season, Corum will look to build upon his incredible collegiate legacy alongside fellow Michigan star running back Donovan Edwards.
2. Quinshon Judkins, Ole Miss
Judkins played in all 13 games for the Rebels as a freshman and ended the season with 1,567 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. His 1,567 rushing yards are second to only Herschel Walker (1,616 yards) for a freshman in SEC history, and he will again be leaned upon heavily by Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss offense in 2023.
3. Raheim Sanders, University of Arkansas
Sanders started all 13 games for the Razorbacks last season and quickly emerged as one of the nation's best ball carriers. He finished the 2022 campaign with 1,443 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, earning him one of the top spots on this list going into 2023.
4. Bucky Irving, University of Oregon
Irving made an appearance in all 13 games for the Ducks in 2022, finishing the season with 1,058 yards on 156 carries with five touchdowns. His 1,000 rushing yard season was just the 27th in Oregon history, and all signs point towards an even better showing for the running back in 2023.
5. Braelon Allen, University of Wisconsin
Allen started all 12 games for the Badgers in 2022 and ranked fourth in the Big Ten with 1,242 rushing yards. He rushed for at least 100 yards in seven games, helping him become the fifth-fastest running back to reach the career 2,000-yard mark in Wisconsin football history.
What RBs were drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft?
After no running backs were selected in the First Round of the 2022 NFL Draft, two were selected in the first 12 picks in April. Here's the full list of running backs selected in the 2023 NFL Draft.
- Round 1 Pick 8: Bijan Robinson, Atlanta Falcons
- Round 1 Pick 12: Jahmyr Gibbs, Detroit Lions
- Round 2 Pick 52: Zach Charbonnet, Seattle Seahawks
- Round 3 Pick 71: Kendre Miller, New Orleans Saints
- Round 3 Pick 81: Tyjae Spears, Tennessee Titans
- Round 3 Pick 84: Devon Achane, Miami Dolphins
- Round 3 Pick 88: Tank Bigsby, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Round 4 Pick 115: Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears
- Round 5 Pick 143: Israel Abanikanda, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Round 5 Pick 163: Chase Brown, Cincinnati Bengals
- Round 5 Pick 172: Eric Gray, New York Giants
- Round 5 Pick 176: Evan Hull, Indianapolis Colts
- Round 5 Pick 193: Chris Rodriguez Jr., Washington Commanders
- Round 6 Pick 212: Deuce Vaughn, Dallas Cowboys
- Round 6 Pick 215: Zach Evans, Los Angeles Rams
- Round 7 Pick 222: DeWayne McBride, Minnesota Vikings
- Round 7 Pick 235: Lew Nichols, Green Bay Packers
- Round 7 Pick 237: Kenny McIntosh, Seattle Seahawks
2022 NFL Rushing Leaders
Despite many offenses building their strategy around the passing game, 2022 was still a big year for NFL running backs. Let’s take a look at some of the rushing leaders from 2022.
1. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
2022-23 Stats: 340 CAR, 1,653 YDS, 12 TD
2. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
2022-23 Stats: 349 CAR, 1,538 YDS, 13 TD
3. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
2022-23 Stats: 302 CAR, 1,525 YDS, 12 TD
4. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
2022-23 Stats: 295 CAR, 1,312 YDS, 10 TD
5. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
2022-23 Stats: 259 CAR, 1,269 YDS, 11 TD
6. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
2022-23 Stats: 264 CAR, 1,173 YDS, 8 TD
7. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers/San Francisco 49ers
2022-23 Stats: 244 CAR, 1,139 YDS, 8 TD
8. Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars
2022-23 Stats: 220 CAR, 1,125 YDS, 5 TD
9. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
2022-23 Stats: 213 CAR, 1,121 YDS, 2 TD
10. Jamaal Williams, Detroit Lions
2022-23 Stats: 262 CAR, 1,066 YDS, 17 TD
Top NFL Running Backs 2023
Going into the 2023 season, let's take a look at our projected top-ten running backs in the National Football League.
1. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Nick Chubb is one of the most physically gifted backs in the NFL. Coming off of his 1,525 YDS (third most in NFL) and 12 TD last season, the running back will play a huge role in Cleveland's offensive scheme in 2023.
2. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
Henry ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards last season (1,538 YDS). With the addition of DeAndre Hopkins to the Tennessee offense, look for even more openings and even more productions for Henry.
3. Christian McCaffrey, San Francisco 49ers
Christian McCaffrey is about as good as it gets when it comes to production at the running back position. In 2022, he totaled 1,139 rushing yards and 741 receiving yards for a total of 13 touchdowns. Expect another big year for the playmaker in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
4. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
Jacobs led the league with an incredible 1,653 rushing yards last season, and with new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo under center for the Raiders, expect another season of outstanding production.
5. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Taylor had a bit of a down year in 2022 after an outstanding 2021, as he failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his young career. With a rookie quarterback under center in Anthony Richardson, look for the Colts to rely heavily on Taylor- helping bump his numbers back near the top the league.
6. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Barkley had an incredible bounce-back year in 2022, totaling 1,312 yards rushing and ten rushing touchdowns. After reminding everyone that he is one of the most talented backs in football, look for Barkley to continue to build off of his success and have another huge year in 2023.
7. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
Coming off of a career year in which he totaled 1,121 rushing yards in 2022, look for the Packers to rely heavily on Jones with new quarterback Jordan Love under center in 2023.
8. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
If Pollard can remain healthy, there is no doubt he will be one of the top backs in the NFL in 2023. One of the most exciting players in all of football, Pollard totaled a career-high 1,007 rushing yards in 2022.
9. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Another one of the top dual-threat playmakers in the league, Ekeler's numbers speak for themselves: 915 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, 722 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. Look for another huge year production-wise for the back.
10. Dalvin Cook, Free Agent
Dalvin Cook is one of the most exciting players in all of football, and his production remained high in 2022 with 1,173 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns. As Cook continues to look for a landing spot with training camp approaching, expect another productive season for the former Vikings star in 2023.
Who are the best running backs of all time?
There have been so many talented running backs ever since the NFL started in the early 1900’s. The position has evolved over time, thanks to the many talented athletes who played the position. These are the guys who changed the game forever with their performances- the five greatest running backs in NFL history.
1. Jim Brown
- Cleveland Browns (1957-1965)
- Accolades: Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, NFL Champion (1964), 3X NFL MVP, 8X First Team All-Pro, 9X Pro Bowl, NFL 50th, 75th, 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams
“Yardage isn’t the big thing. Having your team win the championship is… that’s what I work for, winning the championship, and this requires a certain standard of performance.” For nine years, Jim Brown absolutely dominated the National Football League. He was a Pro Bowler in every single season he played, and never missed a single game in his 9-year career. He retired with his name everywhere in the record books, and while some have been broken over the years, he is still regarded by many as the greatest running back to ever play the game of football.
2. Walter Payton
- Chicago Bears (1975-1987)
- Accolades: Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, Super Bowl Champion, NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, 5X First Team All-Pro, 9X Pro Bowl, NFL 75th, 100th Anniversary All-Time Teams
At the time of his retirement, he had recorded the most total yards of any player in NFL history (16,726), most seasons with 1,000 or more rushing yards (10), most rushing yards in a single game (275), most games with more than 100 rushing yards (77), and most rushing touchdowns (110). Payton missed one game in his rookie season and went on to play 186 consecutive games in the regular season and NFL playoffs combined.
3. Barry Sanders
- Detroit Lions (1989-1998)
- Accolades: Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, NFL MVP, 2X NFL Offensive Player of the Year, 6X First Team All-Pro, 10X Pro Bowl, 4X NFL Rushing Leader
Barry Sanders rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his ten seasons with the Lions, and became just the third person to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season when he totaled 2,053 in 1997. In just his rookie season, he set a-then Lions record with 1,470 rushing yards, and would go on to put together one of the most electrifying careers in NFL history.
4. Emmitt Smith
- Dallas Cowboys (1990-2002), Arizona Cardinals (2003-2004)
- Accolades: 3X Super Bowl Champion, Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, Super Bowl MVP, NFL MVP, 4X First Team All-Pro, 8X Pro Bowl, 4X NFL Rushing Yards Leader, 3X NFL Rushing Touchdowns Leader, NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
Smith made an immediate impact on the Cowboys, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after rushing for 937 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. His best season came in 1995, when he rushed for 1,773 yards and scored 25 touchdowns.
5. LaDainian Tomlinson
- San Diego Chargers (2001-2009), New York Jets (2010-2011)
- Accolades: Pro Football Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, NFL MVP, NFL Offensive Player of the Year, 3X First Team All-Pro, 5X Pro Bowl, 2X NFL Rushing Yards Leader, 3X NFL Rushing Touchdowns Leader
In just his first four NFL games, Tomlinson rushed for 412 yards and six touchdowns- a sign of the legendary career he was about to have. He finished his rookie season with over 1,000 rushing yards, a mark he would cross in eight straight seasons to begin his career. Important in the passing game, Tomlinson racked up 50 or more receptions in nine of his 11 NFL seasons.
Blaise is a Freshman at the University of Missouri, studying Journalism at the world-renowned J school. He is the host of the Fast Five Podcast with his Childhood friend Sam Sinclair and interns with the Sports AI platform Pine Sports. He is a huge fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and the St Louis. Cardinals and hopes to cover them professionally in his near future.