The fear all NFL front offices have when it comes to running backs is fragility. GMs tend to shy away from players in their 30s, and sometimes even from draft prospects who handled too heavy of an offensive responsibility in college. The shelf life at RB is short, relative to other spots on the field.
The NFL’s best running backs are a mix of versatility and strength, many of them capable of doing far more than just taking handoffs in the backfield. All of them can turn minimal gains into something special, and have proven they can do so despite the brutal wear and tear of their position. But even the best are not immune to the risks mentioned above—the top five RBs on our list have all dealt (or are currently dealing) with substantial leg or knee injuries. So let’s enjoy watching these guys play while we can.
Just missed the cut
Thomas Rawls, Seahawks:Rawls came out of nowhere, and it remains to be seen how he fares after his ‘15 season ended on a broken ankle. With the Seahawks in need of a Marshawn Lynch fill-in before that, though, Rawls played the role with aplomb—he averaged a whopping 5.6 yards per attempt (tops in the NFL).
Next big thing
David Johnson, Cardinals:If Johnson had produced a larger sample size as a No. 1 back last season, he probably would be ranked. Once the Arizona rookie took over for an injured Chris Johnson, he blew up, averaging 126 yards rushing and 157.3 total yards from scrimmage from Weeks 13-15. He is a dynamic force for Bruce Arians’s offense.