A new NFL season means one thing for running backs: The rushing title is back up for grabs.
Derrick Henry enters 2020 as the reigning champion after a crazy campaign that saw him gain 1,540 yards on 303 carries and lead the Tennessee Titans all the way to the AFC Championship Game. This season Henry will attempt to become the first player to win consecutive rushing titles since my NFL Network colleague, Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson, did it in 2006 and '07.
Henry will definitely make a push for the title, but I don't think he'll get it done this year. Here's my prediction for the league's top 10 leading rushers in 2020:
Welcome back to the top, Zeke!
The Cowboys' RB1 will return to the throne and earn his third career rushing title in 2020. He's due for another monster season, as Elliott has rushed for more than 1,300 yards in three of his four seasons (he had 983 yards in 2017, the year in which he served a six-game suspension). He has the potential to post a career year in 2020, which would mean he'd rush for more yards than he did as a rookie (1,631), because of the attention the Cowboys' talented receiving corps will receive. Having Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb running around downfield should free up the box somewhat for Zeke, and he won't let those big-play opportunities pass him by.
Looking at the rest of the list, it shouldn't be a surprise to see most of those names included. If anything, Mostert landing at No. 9 might give you pause, along with Ravens QB Lamar Jackson earning a top-10 spot for the second straight season. The thing is, Mostert was so effective last season, when he gained 5.6 yards per carry. He finished the year with 772 yards on 137 carries. At that pace, give the man just 40 more carries and he's nearly at 1,000 yards. While Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon are also in the mix for carries, Mostert's big-play ability could be too good to ignore and force Kyle Shanahan to ride the hot hand. Remember, Mostert broke off 220 yards rushing against the Packers in the NFC title game last season.
As for Jackson, he finished sixth in the rushing ranks in his MVP season, setting the record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,206. Ravens OC Greg Roman has constructed a perfect offensive scheme to maximize Jackson's ability, and I'd expect the young QB to be equally as involved in the run game this year -- even with a deeper running back group. He's effective as all get-out, so why move away from what's working?
Entering the 2020 NFL season, former All-Pro running back and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew examines all RBs and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the Ground Index rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2020 season.
2) Weekly performances, while considering strength of opponent.
Rankings will be based solely on this season's efforts following Week 4. Now, let's get to it. Entering Week 1, here is MJD's pecking order:
2019 stats: 16 games | 287 att | 1,387 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 15 rush TDs | 116 rec | 1,005 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
There's a reason why McCaffrey will be the top pick in 99.9 percent of fantasy drafts this year. He had a record-setting 2019 campaign (third player in NFL history to log both 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in a season) and became the league's highest-paid running back in April. With Teddy Bridgewater as the Panthers' QB1 -- after a year in which Carolina cycled through three different QBs -- McCaffrey is set up to duplicate his production from a season ago.
2019 stats: 15 games | 303 att | 1,540 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 16 rush TDs | 18 rec | 206 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
I was happy to see Henry get paid this offseason after what he's done for the franchise over the last two seasons (1,059 rush yards in 2018, 1,540 in 2019). The reigning rushing champion took the the Titans' offense to another level last season as a bruiser who averaged 4.2 yards after contact (most in the NFL, min. 100 carries). More impressive, on Henry's 107 carries with at least eight defenders in the box, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry and had 12 TDs. He's in the prime of his career and, boy, is it fun to watch.
2019 stats: 16 games | 301 att | 1,357 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 54 rec | 420 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
As I mentioned back in July, Zeke been the most consistent back since he was drafted in 2016. In each of the three seasons in which Zeke has played at least 15 games, he's run for more than 1,300 yards and the Cowboys' rushing attack has ranked in the league's top five. He's done a good job expanding his game as a pass catcher out of the backfield but he'll face his greatest test this season with changes to his O-line (Travis Frederick's retirement and La'el Collins was just placed on IR).
2019 stats: 16 games | 298 att | 1,494 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 36 rec | 278 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Chubb was thisclose to being the 2019 NFL rushing leader, but Derrick Henry's massive second half helped him edge the Browns' RB1. Chubb should have a lot of confidence as the feature back in Kevin Stefanski's offense. He has a good chance to be even better in 2020 with a reconstructed offensive line that features one-time All-Pro Jack Conklin and first-round draft pick Jedrick Wills Jr. at the tackle positions.
2019 stats: 14 games | 171 att | 797 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 81 rec | 533 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Still without a contract extension, Kamara has no plan to sit out and that's great news for the Saints. The fourth-year running back ranks in the top five in the NFL in scrimmage yards (4,476) and scrimmage TDs (37) since 2017. A natural with the ball in his hands, Sean Payton and Drew Brees are going to get him the rock any way they can and let Kamara make plays. New Orleans' RB1 is in line for big money and his play should show it.
2019 stats: 16 games | 278 att | 1,137 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 35 rec | 287 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
Mixon has been one of the few bright spots in the Bengals' offense over the last few seasons, recording back-to-back seasons with 1,100-plus rushing yards. The Bengals' offseason moves should boost this offense immensely, but make no mistake, Mixon will still be the centerpiece. Not Joe Burrow. Not A.J. Green. Mixon is the player that will make life easier for the rookie QB and the passing game, which in turn should help Mixon have his best year yet.
2019 stats: 13 games | 217 att | 1,003 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 52 rec | 438 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
Barkley is the first player in Giants history with at least 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons. He should easily exceed that mark under new offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, who rode the legs of Elliott in Dallas. Don't be surprised when Barkley has a career year (as long as he can stay healthy).
2019 stats: 14 games | 250 att | 1,135 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 13 rush TDs | 53 rec | 519 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
If the Vikings want to reclaim the North, they're going to have to lean on Cook. I guarantee they will do just that with Gary Kubiak as the offensive coordinator, which is why I picked Cook to be this season's Offensive Player of the Year. Come on, Minny. Don't let me down.
2019 stats: 14 games | 170 att | 817 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 50 rec | 345 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Kenyan Drake's production skyrocketed once he arrived in Arizona at last year's trade deadline. After having an offseason (albeit an unusual one) to get more comfortable in Kliff Kingsbury's offense, Drake has the potential to record career marks in every category.
2019 stats: 13 games | 242 att | 1,150 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 20 rec | 166 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Jacobs was a stud for the Raiders last season and made a real push for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He forced a league-high 69 missed tackles on carries, per Pro Football Focus. With Jacobs as the focal point, the Raiders' offense should take another step forward under Jon Gruden in 2020.
2019 stats: 16 games | 236 att | 1,084 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 16 rush TDs | 49 rec | 474 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
I'm a big fan of Jones, who takes some pressure off Aaron Rodgers. He surprised as a touchdown phenom in 2019 and though he may not hit pay dirt as often this year, the Packers will continue to lean on him to set up the pass game.
2019 stats: 16 games | 132 att | 557 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 92 rec | 993 rec yds | 8 rec TDs
Ekeler is going to get a ton of love from the Bolts' new QB1, Tyrod Taylor, who tends to throw more short passes than deep shots. Ekeler is in line to have a career year in his first full season as the RB1.
2019 stats: 16 games | 137 att | 772 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 14 rec | 180 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
As mentioned above, Mostert is a big-play opportunist in the 49ers' offense and, to me, he's separated himself from the rest of the team's RBs with his regular-season and postseason performances. The Niners adjusted his contract and added new incentives to it after he requested a trade this offseason, so I expect Mostert to ball out to ensure his place in the offense.
I know what some readers must be thinking: How can you rank a player who hasn't played an NFL snap? Well, let me tell you. CEH was an absolute force for the national champion LSU Tigers to establish himself as the best running back in his draft class. He was the only RB selected in the first round -- by the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs no less -- AND the team's leading rusher from last season (Damien Williams) opted out of the season. This guy is about to feast and quickly climb the charts.
UPDATE: In his NFL debut, CEH toted the ball 25 times for 138 yards and one touchdown in Kansas City's win over Houston on Thursday night.
2019 stats: 15 games | 245 att | 789 rush yds | 3.2 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 66 rec | 461 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Bell needed a better O-line to run behind this year, and that's what he got. The additions of tackles Mekhi Becton (the team's first-round pick this year) and George Fant and center Connor McGovern will help the veteran back get to the next level. Despite some recent drama between Bell and head coach Adam Gase, we should see a much-improved rushing attack from Gang Green in 2020 (that's my hope, at least).