Several running backs seem poised to step into bigger roles as we head into the second half of the 2022 NFL season. Here are four guys I expect to break out over the next couple months:
As a rookie in 2021, Carter led the Jets with 964 scrimmage yards. Yet, while he was listed as the starter for the first five weeks of 2022, rookie Breece Hall emerged as a star in the Jets' backfield. But a season-ending injury to Hall in Week 7 forced Carter back into the spotlight (alongside newly acquired James Robinson, who's battling a knee injury and still getting up to speed with his new team). The second-year pro has made the most of this development so far, averaging 6.1 yards per touch in Weeks 8 and 9 -- including rushing for 76 yards and a TD on 12 carries in last week's win over Buffalo -- after recording 4.4 yards per touch in Weeks 1 through 7. I don't expect his impact to change moving forward. In fact, because Carter fits nicely into Mike LaFleur's zone system as a tough, versatile runner who's an asset in both the run and pass games, he should become an even bigger focal point of the offense down the stretch. The opportunity's there -- he just needs to keep seizing it.
The Panthers' run game has actually been more productive since trading away Christian McCaffrey, averaging 45 more ground yards per game in Weeks 7 through 9 than in Weeks 1 through 6. Foreman is averaging 86.3 rushing yards per game over the last three weeks with a physical style. He might not break the long run, but the 6-foot-1, 236-pound back will punish the defense over time to help put his team in good positions. Expect the Panthers to be one of the more physical teams over the next couple months, led by a running back looking to prove his worth as an RB1.
Patrick Mahomes threw the ball 68 times in Sunday night's overtime win vs. Tennessee. I know the star quarterback was the main reason the Chiefs were able to come back and win that game, but 68 pass attempts -- tied for the third-most by any QB since 1950 -- is way too many. Now, the Chiefs won't face a game-wrecking nose tackle like the Titans' Jeffery Simmons every week. Going forward, they must find balance in their offense. Pacheco could be the solution. The seventh-round rookie -- who's played nearly as many snaps on special teams (85) as offense (96) -- has shown he can be successful as a rusher, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 44 attempts this season. Though he's still splitting snaps with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon, Pacheco took a bigger role as the starter in Week 7, when he logged eight carries for 43 yards in the blowout of San Francisco. He's only going to get more comfortable with more opportunities, which could have Kansas City fielding a more balanced unit come playoff time.
Patterson came into the 2022 NFL season as Atlanta's top back, and it's a credit to how his running style has changed under Arthur Smith. He's doing the little things right to help the Falcons get over the hump, while finishing at goal line and running through defenders. Patterson was back in action last week after missing a month on IR and got his feet wet with 53 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns, with both scores coming on short-yardage runs. Before the injury, he averaged 92 scrimmage yards per game -- a figure he should top with fresh legs in the second half of the season.
UPDATE: In Thursday night's loss to the Panthers, Patterson had just five carries for 18 yards.
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 10.
2022 stats: 8 games | 149 att | 841 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 10 rush TD | 10 rec | 70 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Chubb's having a season for the ages, putting his name right next to Jim Brown's in the franchise record books. According to NFL Research, Chubb is the first Browns player with 800-plus rushing yards and 10-plus rushing TDs over the team's first eight games of a season since the Hall of Famer in 1959. Coming off a well-deserved bye week, Chubb and the run game will be the focal point once again in Week 10, with the Browns attempting to control the clock and keep the ball away from a high-octane Dolphins offense.
2022 stats: 8 games | 183 att | 870 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 9 rush TD | 14 rec | 140 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Is it too late for the Titans to get A.J. Brown back? I'm kidding (sorta), but Tennessee's receivers combined for zero catches Sunday night. Thankfully, King Henry kept the offense somewhat afloat -- like he has all season. He rushed 17 times for 115 yards (a robust 6.8 yards a pop) and two scores, which marked his fifth straight game of 100-plus rushing yards and his second consecutive contest with two scores.
2022 stats: 8 games | 111 att | 525 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 3 rush TD | 43 rec | 356 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Coming off a Week 9 bye, McCaffrey looks for a big performance in prime time, as the 49ers host the Chargers on Sunday Night Football. It will be tough to top his last outing, when he accounted for three scores (one rushing, one receiving and one passing), but an extra week to prepare could lead to even more creativity from Kyle Shanahan with his new toy.
2022 stats: 8 games | 98 att | 427 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 6 rush TD | 60 rec | 381 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Ekeler's fine all-around play continues to be what Justin Herbert and the rest of the offense rely on. He scored the Chargers' first two touchdowns against the Falcons, one on the ground and one through the air. Ekeler is becoming nearly impossible to stop around the goal line and a pain to contain in the passing game. He has scored in five straight games and leads the NFL with 30 scrimmage TDs since the start of 2021.
2022 stats: 8 games | 148 att | 678 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 3 rush TD | 20 rec | 98 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The rookie is the biggest bright spot for the Texans in 2022. Pierce was an "Angry Runs" finalist this week after rushing 27 times for 139 yards (both career highs) against the Eagles. If we're being honest, he could be a finalist for the scepter every week. Per Next Gen Stats, 637 of his 678 rush yards have come after contact this season, third-most in the NFL behind Chubb and Henry. This week's matchup against the Giants will showcase two elite runners.
2022 stats: 9 games | 120 att | 680 rush yds | 5.7 ypc | 4 rush TD | 19 rec | 174 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
In the two games since the team traded James Robinson to the Jets, Etienne has amassed 265 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He was huge in the Jaguars' come-from-behind win over the Raiders on Sunday with 109 rush yards and two TDs. The Jags need another 100-yard outing from Etienne if they want a chance against the Chiefs.
2022 stats: 8 games | 131 att | 608 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 5 rush TD | 19 rec | 119 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
The Vikings are shaping up to be a contender, and Cook's elevated play of late is a driving factor in their 7-1 record. After only scoring once in Minnesota's first four games, he has piled up five touchdowns in the last four.
2022 stats: 8 games | 111 att | 570 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 7 rush TD | 12 rec | 48 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Walker just might be the most impressive young back going right now. The Pro Bowl-caliber rookie has averaged 4.8 yards per carry while scoring six TDs during the Seahawks' four-game win streak. He has a chance to help Seattle win five in a row in a special NFL game in Germany on Sunday. I don't see him wasting this opportunity on the international stage.
2022 stats: 9 games | 129 att | 618 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 4 rush TD | 35 rec | 227 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Stevenson has scored four TDs over the last four games. He may be the only player in the league who wants to skip his team's bye week. Really, he actually said he "wishes" New England didn't have a bye. The week off might help the Patriots revamp their offense, but hopefully, they don't stray from their clear No. 1 back.
2022 stats: 8 games | 131 att | 656 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 6 rush TD | 11 rec | 42 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Sanders has been on fire of late, with 93 yards and a TD on 17 totes against the Texans. In fact, he's tallied five TDs in the last five games. But the 25-year-old will be tested against an improving Commanders front on Monday night.
2022 stats: 8 games | 138 att | 743 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 6 rush TD | 25 rec | 172 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Raiders have quickly come back down to earth after all the offseason hype. Jacobs has, too, in the last two games, failing to top 100 scrimmage yards in either contest. On the bright side, Las Vegas will host the Jeff Saturday-led Colts on Sunday -- a game that feels like a must-win.
2022 stats: 9 games | 107 att | 600 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 1 rush TD | 32 rec | 210 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
The Packers don't look great, and to pile it on, Jones has an ankle injury that forced him to exit last week's game in the third quarter. His status for Week 10 is in question, but Green Bay desperately needs him against Dallas and ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy.
2022 stats: 7 games | 104 att | 443 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 1 rush TD | 36 rec | 319 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost
Kamara regressed to the norm after a fantasy-shattering Week 8 performance. The Ravens contained the Saints star for much of Monday night, as he only accounted for 62 total yards in the loss. On Sunday, he will be going up against a bottom-five Pittsburgh defense, though the Steelers could be getting back T.J. Watt.
2022 stats: 9 games | 151 att | 585 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 6 rush TD | 38 rec | 272 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
There's been a carousel of backs at the bottom of this list, and Mixon rotates in after scoring a franchise-record five TDs in Sunday's win. He also logged 211 scrimmage yards. Might this be the performance that jump-starts the Bengals' ground game? We'll have to wait until Week 11 to find out, with Cincinnati on a bye.