NFL Medalists

Best NFL running backs heading into 2021 season? Analysts reveal gold, silver, bronze picks

In honor of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, we're highlighting the best of the best across the NFL. Heading into the 2021 season, who are the premium players in five marquee areas: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, pass rusher and cornerback? Twenty-five analysts individually ranked their top three in each category, and then we tallied all of the votes via this simple formula:

Each first-place vote: 3 points
Each second-place vote: 2 points
Each third-place vote: 1 point

Below, you'll find the running back podium -- highlighting the gold, silver and bronze medalists from our accumulated ballots -- as well as additional intel on the position. Check back all week as this series continues.


Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · RB

Total points: 66 (1st: 18; 2nd: 6; 3rd: 0)

Maurice Jones-Drew: Henry is quite literally the gold standard at the running back position and has been for two seasons. He knocked his 2019 career-best performance (303 carries, 1,540 rushing yards, 16 rushing TDs) out of the water last season, racking up 2,027 yards and 17 TDs on 378 carries. There's not much the reigning Offensive Player of the Year can't do with the ball in his hands. 

Dalvin Cook
Minnesota Vikings · RB

Total points: 26 (1st: 0; 2nd: 8; 3rd: 10)

LaDainian Tomlinson: There's no doubt Henry is the NFL's best right now, but I give Cook the slight edge over Alvin Kamara, because Cook is utilized more often and is the engine that makes the Vikings' offense go. Cook is coming off his best season to date, racking up just under 2,000 scrimmage yards and 17 total touchdowns. With the way the 25-year-old performed last season, I expect to see an equally productive 2021 campaign from a guy who looks like he's just getting started.

Nick Chubb
Cleveland Browns · RB

Total points: 23 (1st: 4; 2nd: 3; 3rd: 5)

Marc Ross: Despite his overall production being limited by the fact he shares carries with another top-10 caliber RB (Kareem Hunt), Chubb has posted very impressive numbers in his first three seasons. In 12 games last year, he was third in the NFL in rushing yards per game (88.9) and was second in yards per carry (5.6) among qualified RBs, per NFL Research. In 2019, his most recent fully healthy season, he had over 100 more carries than last year, and he ranked second in rushing yards behind Henry. Chubb is only 25 years old, and I view him as having the best combination of vision, balance and explosiveness of any RB -- which could catapult him to leading the NFL in rushing this season. 

Also receiving votes: Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (19 total points); Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (14); Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (2).





  • Rushing yards: 18,355, Emmitt Smith
  • Rushing TDs: 164, Emmitt Smith


  • The 2020 season featured 532 rushing touchdowns among all positions (most in NFL history). RBs had 385 rushing TDs (third-most in a season in NFL history).
  • RBs combined for 486 scrimmage TDs in 2020 (most since 2008 and tied for the fifth-most in NFL history).
  • Derrick Henry (17), Alvin Kamara (16) and Dalvin Cook (16) each had more than 15 rushing TDs, marking the third time in NFL history that three RBs surpassed that mark in a season (it also happened in 2002, 2005).
  • The 2020 season was the first in which multiple RBs -- Henry (126.7) and Cook (111.2) -- averaged at least 110 rushing yards per game since 2006, when LaDainian Tomlinson (113.4) and Larry Johnson (111.8) did it.
  • NFL running backs combined for a yards-per-carry mark of 4.38 in 2020, second-most in a season, behind 1980's mark of 4.45. Baltimore's J.K. Dobbins led all RBs with 6.01 yards per carry (among those with a minimum of 125 carries), while 10 RBs averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry last season (tied for most such RBs in a season in NFL history, among those with a minimum of 100 carries).
  • All seven RBs who recorded 1,400-plus scrimmage yards in 2020 were drafted outside of the first round: Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara, David Montgomery, Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Jones and James Robinson.
  • Each of the top five RBs in Next Gen Stats' rushing yards over expectation in 2020 was drafted in the second round: Derrick Henry (+412), Nick Chubb (+327), Dalvin Cook (+252), J.K. Dobbins (+222) and Ronald Jones (+219).
  • Top speed reached by a running back since 2018 (Next Gen Stats): 23.09 mph, Raheem Mostert (80-yard TD run vs. New York Jets in Week 2 of 2020)


Table inside Article
Judy BattistaDerrick HenryDalvin CookNick Chubb
Jeremy BergmanNick ChubbDerrick HenryDalvin Cook
Ali BhanpuriDerrick HenryDalvin CookChristian McCaffrey
Tom BlairDerrick HenryNick ChubbChristian McCaffrey
Gil BrandtDerrick HenryDalvin CookChristian McCaffrey
Kyle BrandtDerrick HenrySaquon BarkleyAlvin Kamara
Nate BurlesonDerrick HenryAlvin KamaraDalvin Cook
David CarrDerrick HenryDalvin CookChristian McCaffrey
Brooke CersosimoChristian McCaffreyDerrick HenryAlvin Kamara
Jeffri ChadihaDerrick HenryChristian McCaffreyDalvin Cook
Gennaro FiliceDerrick HenryAlvin KamaraDalvin Cook
Cynthia FrelundChristian McCaffreyNick ChubbAlvin Kamara
Chase GoodbreadDerrick HenryDalvin CookNick Chubb
Marcas GrantDerrick HenryChristian McCaffreyDalvin Cook
Maurice Jones-DrewDerrick HenryChristian McCaffreyAlvin Kamara
Dan ParrDerrick HenryDalvin CookNick Chubb
Kevin PatraNick ChubbDerrick HenryDalvin Cook
Adam RankChristian McCaffreyDerrick HenryDalvin Cook
Marc RossDerrick HenryAlvin KamaraNick Chubb
Marc SesslerNick ChubbDerrick HenryDalvin Cook
Nick ShookDerrick HenryAlvin KamaraDalvin Cook
Joe ThomasNick ChubbDerrick HenryDalvin Cook
LaDainian TomlinsonDerrick HenryDalvin CookAlvin Kamara
Jim TrotterDerrick HenryNick ChubbAlvin Kamara
Lance ZierleinDerrick HenryDalvin CookNick Chubb

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