LeGarrette Blount caught my attention during his appearance on Tuesday’s edition of Good Morning Football, when he said this about Le'Veon Bell:
“He’s one of those special backs that I think will pretty soon take over the reins in Kansas City.”
I’m sure Blount isn’t alone in thinking Bell is on the verge of a second-half breakout in Kansas City, but I disagree.
Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been the Chiefs’ RB1 ever since Damien Williams opted out of the season due to the pandemic. The first-round pick has had a lot on his plate already this season, accumulating the eighth-most carries (126) in the NFL thus far, and I know the Chiefs didn’t envision giving the rookie that big of a role when they drafted him in April. Signing Bell after his release from the New York Jets has allowed the Chiefs to lessen CEH’s load; since Bell’s arrival in Week 7, CEH’s snap count has decreased, dropping from 52.9 percent of offensive snaps in Week 7 to 50 percent in Week 8 and 40.3 percent in Week 9.
However, I don’t expect their roles to change dramatically down the stretch, because even as Bell has made it easier to give CEH occasional breaks, Bell’s snap count has remained consistent at 17-19 snaps per game over his three games in Kansas City. There are no signs that Bell is about to take on the majority of the rushing load; rather, the interchangeable backs will continue to share carries in a way that gives the Chiefs a fresh, effective player at the position on every down.
I do think there are other running backs who are poised to break out in the second half of the season. Here are five guys I expect to heat up as the weather gets colder:
The Ravens leaned on their more experienced running backs in the first half of the season, with third-year pro Gus Edwards and 10th-year pro Mark Ingram getting a majority of the carries behind dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson. Second-round pick J.K. Dobbins, meanwhile, didn’t log more than 10 carries in a game through Week 6. However, Dobbins was given more carries coming out of the team’s Week 7 bye, with Ingram being out the last two games, and the rookie capitalized on his opportunity, highlighted by a breakout performance against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, with 113 yards on 15 carries for a ridiculous 7.53 yards per carry. Though they limited him early in the season, expect the Ravens to let their young, physical running back go in the second half.
Chase Edmonds’ number was called for the start against the Dolphins in Week 9, with Kenyan Drake held back by an ankle that still has him day-to-day. Edmonds had 88 scrimmage yards in the loss, and while he may not be the downhill runner Drake is, the third-year pro fits well into Kliff Kingsbury’s system as a versatile pass-catcher. Midway through the 2020 season, Edmonds has at least matched his total production in each of his first two seasons. Expect him to build on his current numbers (54 carries, 246 rush yards, 35 targets, 29 rec., 240 rec. yards, three total TDs) in a major way down the stretch.
One of the many new faces in New England’s offense, Damien Harris is making his name known. The second-year back has averaged 70 rushing yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry since making his first career start in Week 4. His success in Josh McDaniels’ offense isn’t all that surprising, because I saw his potential back when he played for Alabama. I had Harris slotted as my second-ranked RB in the 2019 NFL Draft class (behind teammate Josh Jacobs) as a player with power, good vision and the ability to perform as an every-down back. Harris has already started to stake his claim as a mainstay in the Patriots’ backfield, and I think they’ll lean on him (if the chest injury he suffered Monday night doesn’t keep him out) as Cam Newton continues to work out the kinks.
Jordan Wilkins is earning the trust of Frank Reich after solid back-to-back performances, in which he rushed for a combined 128 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. Leading the Colts in carries in each game after the Week 7 bye, the third-year pro has taken advantage of his growing opportunities due to Jonathan Taylor’s lackluster and turnover-filled rookie campaign. While Taylor figures out how to reclaim his college form, Wilkins looks poised to be the guy in the Colts’ backfield.
Top 10 Running Backs
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 10 each week of the 2020 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 10.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.
2020 stats: 7 games | 144 att | 858 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 16 rec | 173 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Dalvin Cook is on an absolute tear since returning from a groin injury. A week after nearly single-handedly beating the Green Bay Packers on the road, Cook registered more scrimmage yards (252) than Kirk Cousins did passing yards (220) against the Detroit Lions. The league leader in rushing yards per game (122.6), rushing yards per attempt (6.0) and rushing TDs (12), Cook is on pace for 1,838 rush yards and 25 rushing TDs.
2020 stats: 8 games | 96 att | 471 rush yds | 4.91 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 60 rec | 565 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
For the first time in a long time, Alvin Kamara didn’t have to carry the Saints’ offense — but he did get in on the touchdown-fest by scoring one of their five offensive TDs against the Bucs. The only reason Kamara falls to No. 2 is because Cook is doing historic things in Minnesota.
2020 stats: 8 games | 182 att | 843 rush yds | 4.63 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 10 rec | 81 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Derrick Henry was held to just 68 rushing yards in Sunday’s win over Chicago. The good thing is that he’s gone off in each game following a week when held to less than 100 rush yards this season.
2020 stats: 9 games | 126 att | 586 rush yds | 4.65 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 28 rec | 224 rec yds | 1 rec TD
The rookie has been exceptional through the first nine games of his NFL career in providing the Chiefs a run game that keeps defenses honest. After a bye, CEH and the Chiefs get another crack at the Raiders.
2020 stats: 8 games | 132 att | 580 rush yds | 4.39 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 27 rec | 225 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
A feisty debut from Jake Luton and another good performance from James Robinson nearly put the Jaguars on the winning end of Sunday’s bout with Houston, but a failed two-point conversion sent them home with their seventh loss. Regardless of record, the rookie running back is a bright spot each week. With 99 rushing yards and a TD run, Robinson logged his fourth game this season with at least 90 scrimmage yards, which is the most by a rookie this season — and more than anyone in 2020 besides Tyreek Hill and DK Metcalf.
2020 stats: 8 games | 161 att | 588 rush yds | 3.65 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 19 rec | 125 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
The Raiders put together a balanced offensive effort in their narrow win over the Chargers. Josh Jacobs recorded his sixth rushing touchdown of the season Sunday, but he’s been somewhat inconsistent, with just one 100-yard rushing game this season. The Raiders have a real shot at a playoff spot, but they need Jacobs to up his game over the last two months.
2020 stats: 9 games | 159 att | 584 rush yds | 3.67 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 15 rec | 79 rec yds | 0 rec TD
Todd Gurley continues to be a red-zone god for the Falcons’ offense as he punched in a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth to give the Falcons a sizable lead. And … they were able to hold onto this one for their third win of the season. The bye week’s up next, followed by a showdown with the division-leading Saints.
2020 stats: 8 games | 115 att | 529 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 18 rec | 113 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
There’s a chance Kareem Hunt will once again share the backfield with Nick Chubb, who missed more than a month of action with a knee injury. Whether Chubb plays against the Texans or not, look for Kevin Stefanski to lean heavily on his backfield against a Texans defense that ranks last against the run.
2020 stats: 6 games | 90 att | 447 rush yds | 4.97 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 23 rec | 182 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
It was great to see Aaron Jones back on the field in the Packers’ 34-17 win over San Francisco. His presence alone made the offense so much tougher to defend, because he’s a home-run threat anytime he has the ball in his hands. His solid effort is exactly what the doctor ordered in his return to get back in the swing of the season.
2020 stats: 3 games | 59 att | 225 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 17 rec | 149 rec yds | 1 rec TD
If you didn’t know Christian McCaffrey had missed more than a month with an injury, you wouldn’t have suspected a thing based on his performance against the Chiefs (his first game since Week 2). Racking up 151 yards on 28 touches and scoring twice, McCaffrey’s effort kept the Panthers competitive with the reigning Super Bowl champions until the very end. It’s amazing how much a player of his caliber brings to Matt Rhule’s offense. That’s why it’s so unfortunate that McCaffrey might be back on the sideline in Week 10 after suffering a shoulder injury late in Sunday’s game. Fingers crossed Carolina’s best player is on the field for its big matchup with Tampa.
(UPDATE: McCaffrey has already been ruled out for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday.)
DROPPED OUT: James Conner, Steelers (previously No. 5); Darrell Henderson, Rams (No. 10).
The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.
Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter @MJD.
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