It was a chaotic Week 1, no doubt, but it felt real good to watch real football. And while it wasn’t the best week for running backs — with injuries and costly fumbles here and there — it was great to see a select few individuals turn back the clock. For instance, we saw a finally healthy Saquon Barkley run the Giants to a comeback win over the favored Titans.
It’s still very early in the season, but it’s the perfect time to discuss which RBs are truly BACK.
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Two RBs who are BACK!
Barkley preached all preseason long about how good he felt after being plagued by injuries over the last three seasons, missing 21 games since the start of the 2019 campaign. I was skeptical at first, ranking him in the bottom half of my annual RB1 rankings at the beginning of August, but started to come around and believe in the fifth-year back again by September. And boy, did he make good on his word in Week 1.
Barkley put on a clinic in Sunday’s win and ran to the tune of 164 yards, a Giants’ season-opening record and the most rushing yards of any player in Week 1. Despite never having the lead until the final minute, this pesky New York team hung around and chipped away at Tennessee’s lead in the second half, thanks in large part to Barkley’s 12-carry, 122-yard effort over the final two quarters. Barkley also put the cherry on top of the Giants’ late-game rally by converting a Daniel Jones shovel pass when first-year head coach Brian Daboll elected to go for two and the lead late.
Barkley outshined Tennessee’s two-time rushing champion, Derrick Henry, doubling Henry’s output and outgaining him by more than 5 yards per carry. What’s even more impressive is Barkley did it behind an awful offensive line, which earned Pro Football Focus’ lowest run-blocking grade (48.5) in Week 1.
Barkley is back in every way, shape or form. He ran with tenacity, continued to drive his legs through contact — recording a league-most 123 rush yards after contact — and trusted his preparation, vision and elite abilities when the game was on the line. This performance was no fluke, and we can all expect more of this on Sunday against a Panthers defense that allowed 217 yards on the ground in Week 1.
With all of the injuries and uncertainty around the Bucs’ offensive line, I had hoped that Fournette would step up — even if the Bucs do have Tom Brady under center. That’s exactly what happened Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys, as Lenny racked up 127 yards on 21 carries in the win. In his best performance as a Buc, the 2017 No. 4 overall draft pick ran with great confidence and patience, while also controlling the clock for an offense that was clearly working out the kinks.
I get that this was one game, but Fournette’s in a position to continually provide performances like he did in Week 1. In the last two seasons, Fournette had just three 100-yard rushing games due to constantly splitting carries with the likes of Ronald Jones II, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, LeSean McCoy, Le’Veon Bell and Giovani Bernard. The 2022 season is Fournette’s time to prove he can be The Guy — he can look at his No. 19 ranking in my RB1 list from early August as motivation — and I think he will after signing a three-year, $21 million deal in the offseason.
He has a massive test in Week 2 against a Saints team that has given him fits his entire career. In five regular-season games vs. New Orleans, Fournette has averaged just 27.4 rush yards per game and hasn’t seen the end zone at all. He’ll likely experience better results this time around based on what I saw from him against the Cowboys.
Top 15 running backs
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2022 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 2.
2022 stats: 1 game | 18 att | 164 rush yds | 9.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 6 rec | 30 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
In case you already forgot: Barkley is back, baby! He accounted for nearly half of the Giants’ total offensive yards in their stunning win over the Titans and looked like the electric back we all fell in love with during his 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. This is the dynamic Barkley I expect to see each week.
2022 stats: 1 game | 31 att | 161 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 1 rush TD | 4 rec | 14 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Year 3 started right where Year 2 left off: with Taylor running all over his opponents. The 2021 Offensive Player of the Year runner-up gashed the Texans for 161 yards on his 31 carries — usage we’ve come to expect in the Colts’ run-first offense. Taylor should have plenty of games like this in 2022.
2022 stats: 1 game | 15 att | 144 rush yds | 9.6 ypc | 1 rush TD | 3 rec | 31 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Is this the year Swift becomes one of the league’s elite backs? We know Duce Staley wants this. Jamaal Williams got majority of the goal-line work, but Swift put on a show with the ball in his hands, averaging an absurd 9.6 yards per carry against an Eagles defensive front that’s pretty damn stout on paper.
2022 stats: 1 game | 22 att | 141 rush yds | 6.4 ypc | 0 rush TD | 1 rec | 2 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Chubb quietly had one of the most effective rushing games in Week 1. He dominated the Panthers early on, helping the Browns build a two-score lead at halftime. Cleveland boasts one of the best running back tandems in the NFL. Chubb’s backfield mate, Kareem Hunt, will likely spend time on this list going forward.
2022 stats: 1 game | 27 att | 82 rush yds | 3.0 ypc | 0 rush TD | 7 rec | 63 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Due to ALL the turnovers, the Bengals were essentially playing from behind the entire game, but that didn’t prevent Cincy from feeding Mixon 27 carries against the Steelers. He was also a sneaky dual-threat player with 63 receiving yards, the second-most on the team in Week 1.
2022 stats: 1 game | 21 att | 127 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 0 rush TD | 2 rec | 10 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Given Fournette’s ability to control the clock with his physical running style, it’s no wonder Tom Brady and the Bucs wanted him back in Tampa this offseason. The bruising back’s performance was a highlight in a lopsided game, as he averaged a robust 6 yards per carry.
2022 stats: 1 game | 22 att | 120 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 1 rush TD | 3 rec | 16 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Patterson always seems to rise to the occasion and get the job done. After Damien Williams’ early exit with a rib injury, Patterson’s usage immediately skyrocketed — and his production followed suit. We’ll see if he can stay this efficient week to week.
2022 stats: 1 game | 14 att | 58 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 0 rush TD | 7 rec | 72 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Gibson had an OK game on the ground, but thrived in the passing game by totaling a team-leading 72 receiving yards on seven receptions. Carson Wentz got Gibson involved early in the win over Jacksonville, and the third-year back made the most of the opportunity with his big-play potential while rookie Brian Robinson works his way back onto the field.
2022 stats: 1 game | 13 att | 96 rush yds | 7.4 ypc | 1 rush TD | 2 rec | 9 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Sanders continues to be dangerous in open space and scored his first touchdown since 2020 — despite playing in 12 games last season. But that’s the rub for the fourth-year back: Philadelphia really spreads the ball around. In fact, the Eagles had four different players score a rushing touchdown in the win over Detroit, making them just the second team in the Super Bowl era to accomplish that feat, per NFL Research. Really, Philly’s run game goes through quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is one of the most dynamic ball-carriers under center in the game right now. Limited touches in a loaded offense might prevent Sanders from racking up big-time production in a contract year.
2022 stats: 1 game | 20 att | 90 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 0 rush TD | 3 rec | 18 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Having Cook spearhead an effective ground attack — just like in Sunday’s win over the rival Packers — should be a huge component in Minnesota’s quest to get back to the top of the NFC North. Cook’s health seems to be the only thing that could keep him from enjoying another season of 1,100-plus yards.
2022 stats: 1 game | 21 att | 82 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 0 rush TD | 0 rec | 0 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Giants did a good job of limiting Henry and the Titans’ rushing attack. He had fewer carries in Week 1 than his season averages over the last two years, but this offense definitely still runs through Henry, who’ll have to be more effective against a Bills defense that held the defending Super Bowl champs to just 52 rush yards last week.
2022 stats: 1 game | 10 att | 60 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 0 rush TD | 7 rec | 40 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Carter started his sophomore season strong with an even 100 yards from scrimmage. Rookie Breece Hall is looming, but Carter made the most of his limited carries with the Jets playing catch-up for most of Week 1’s loss.
2022 stats: 1 game | 11 att | 66 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 1 rush TD | 1 rec | 3 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Robinson scored a pair of touchdowns in the Jaguars’ opener — pretty remarkable, considering he tore his Achilles less than nine months ago! He’ll remain the lead back if he can keep this production up, especially if Travis Etienne can’t capitalize on his opportunities.
2022 stats: 1 game | 10 att | 45 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 1 rush TD | 5 rec | 46 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Dillon still produced on a day when nothing — and I mean nothing — was going right for the Packers offensively. He scored Green Bay’s only touchdown and led the team in carries (10), targets (six) and receptions (five). If the offense can get back on track — which it almost certainly will, seeing how Aaron Rodgers and Co. rebounded from a dismal Week 1 last season — Dillon is in for huge year.
2022 stats: 1 game | 7 att | 43 rush yds | 6.1 ypc | 0 rush TD | 11 rec | 65 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Other than a costly goal-line fumble in the second half, Williams had an efficient outing against the Seahawks. The explosive tackle-breaker was able to rush for more than 6.0 yards per carry and piled up 65 receiving yards while leading the team in targets (12) and receptions (11). His dual-threat ability will be huge for the Broncos’ offense this season, but he must take care of the ball.
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