Inside the Huddle: Who is the best running back in the NFL?

On this week’s episode of Inside the Huddle, Jeff Reinebold and Neil Reynolds picked out their top five NFL running backs.

Continuing with their ‘Best in the Business’ series after covering wide receivers in last week’s podcast, our hosts this time focused on the ground game.

Jeff and Neil’s top five running backs

Despite it becoming commonplace for running backs to be described as ‘devalued’, Jeff stressed the importance of the position in today’s NFL, saying: “When you are trying to close out a game in the fourth quarter, you better have a running back.

“When somebody is giving you a look that you’ve got to be able to exploit with the running game, you better have a running back.”

The teams with these players certainly have that covered, and we begin Jeff’s list with the NFL’s 2019 rushing leader…

1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Why does Jeff have him above the rest of these talented backs?

“Because of his size,” he said on Inside the Huddle. “This is personal preference but I like big backs. I like a guy you can finish the game with, who can grind out yards for you.

“The thing that put him over the top for me is in 15 games, [he had] 16 touchdowns and he averaged 11.4 yards per reception. Nobody talks about him out of the backfield as a pass receiver. I know a lot of that is screen yardage but there are a lot of receivers who would like to finish the year averaging that.

“So I think he is ‘the guy’ right now in the NFL.”

With 1,540 rushing yards last season, he led the pack. Expect the Titans to continue with their Henry-led attack in 2020.

2. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

There was no dispute from the hosts about McCaffrey at No 2, with the fourth-year pro coming off a 1,387 rushing and 1,005 receiving-yard season, in which he added 19 total touchdowns. Had the Panthers finished with a record better than 5-11, perhaps he would have leapfrogged Henry.

Despite having him this high, Jeff did have concerns, citing the number of touches (403 last season) at his size (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) as a potential recipe for disaster.

With a new regime in Carolina, however, McCaffrey is sure to be heavily featured once more in their 2020 attack.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Although he picked Elliott at three, Jeff said: “He is a more well-rounded back than he maybe is given credit for.

“The one part of this we haven’t talked about – and it always gets overlooked when you’re talking about running backs – is Elliot is very, very good in pass protection, he’s a very good blocker, he’s tough and physical.”

Jeff argued his ability in all three phases (running, receiving, blocking) is what sets him apart from the players listed above.

“He had 54 receptions last year and 12 touchdowns on the ground,” Jeff said. “I really think he is a guy that is a true every-down back and there aren’t a lot of those guys.

“Henry is one of those guys you would get out the backfield most of the time and put a third-down back in there. McCaffrey is a tough guy for his size but I just don’t know if he has that pounding ability. I think Elliott can do all those things plus block and that’s why he made number three on my list.”

4. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

After a 2,000-scrimmage-yard rookie campaign, Barkley did not quite provide the encore we were expecting as he fell to 1,441 total yards, and down from 15 touchdowns to eight.

However, this has not deterred both Jeff and Neil from having the 23-year-old in their top five.

In 2020, Barkley will have a new head coach, new opening-day starting quarterback, and improved offensive line to work with – he could be a quick riser up this list once football resumes.

5. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Finally, Green Bay’s Jones managed to sneak into both lists. While Neil cited Jones’ nose for the end zone as impressive, Jeff had his own reasons.

“My knock on Jones in the past has been his ability to play when he’s hurt,” said Jeff. “He’s missed an awful lot of games but I thought last year he put that behind him.

“When you look at 4.6 yards per carry, that to me is more important than yardage. It used to be that a 1,000-yard back was the mark of success. Now we are playing 16 games that’s a different deal. I look at production per carry.

“So you’ve got Derrick Henry who led the League at 5.1. Well, Aaron Jones was 4.6 and scored 16 touchdowns just like Henry did. I felt like he had to be on the list and he’s very, very good out of the backfield with 9.7 yards per reception.

“Jones is not a name that pops into your head but I think when you really sit down and look at the players, this is a guy that’s a very, very good football player.”

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