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RB Index, Week 9: NFL's superstar running backs reinforce position's value; Travis Etienne has arrived

The run game is too often an afterthought in today's pass-happy NFL, but if Week 8 taught us anything, it's that great running backs are invaluable.

Just look at the performances of five of the six top-paid players at the position (with the exception being Ezekiel Elliott, who did not play in Dallas' win over Chicago due to a knee injury):

  1. In his second game with San Francisco, Christian McCaffrey became the third RB since the 1970 NFL merger to log a touchdown passing, rushing and receiving in a single contest, joining Hall of Famers LaDainian Tomlinson (who accomplished the feat in 2005) and Walter Payton (1979). The performance led a 49ers team missing star playmaker Deebo Samuel to a statement road win over the division rival Rams.
  2. In New Orleans, Alvin Kamara gashed the Raiders' defense for an impressive 158 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns to help the injury-riddled Saints light up the scoreboard in a 24-0 win that snapped a two-game skid.
  3. With the Vikings transitioning to more of a pass-first offense under Kevin O'Connell this season, Dalvin Cook hasn't had the number of opportunities he's enjoyed in the past. But in Sunday's victory over Arizona -- Minnesota's fifth consecutive win -- Cook led the Vikings with a season-high 111 rushing yards and a score.
  4. The Titans entered Sunday's game against the Texans with rookie QB Malik Willis replacing the injured Ryan Tannehill in his first NFL start. Naturally, Derrick Henry put the team on his back, as Willis recorded just 10 pass attempts in the game. Henry ran all over Houston's defense for 219 yards and a pair of TDs on 32 carries. That was his sixth career 200-yard rushing performance -- remarkably, he has four straight against the Texans.
  5. Monday night felt like a routine performance for Nick Chubb, the NFL leader in rush yards and rush TDs this season. He had 23 carries for 101 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Cleveland's 32-13 beatdown of Cincinnati.

It's not a coincidence that every one of those running backs' respective teams won in Week 8. Running the ball well wears down the defense and controls the clock. That's the same approach we take on the youth football team that I'm coaching. Last week, the East County Lions won 60-0. You know why? Because we pounded the rock. Vince Lombardi would be proud of those kids.

Back in the NFL, these backs routinely show up for their teams. Week 8 really reinforced the importance of having a star player in the backfield, simultaneously underscoring why running backs of this caliber deserve to get PAID.

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 9.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.

Nick Chubb
Cleveland Browns · Year 5

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 led the Browns to victory on Halloween night -- a win that snapped Cleveland's four-game skid -- gashing the Bengals for two scores and more than 100 rushing yards. The NFL's rushing leader has carried this offense through the first couple months of the season and deserves the rest of this week's bye.

Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · Year 7

2022 stats: 7 games | 166 att | 755 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TD | 14 rec | 140 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Henry was simply unstoppable Sunday against the Texans, but what's new? He rushed 32 times for 219 yards, averaging an eye-opening 6.8 yards per carry, and notched two scores. Tennessee has now won five straight behind Henry's stellar play, and he'll have to be equally great this Sunday night if the Titans are to knock off the Chiefs at Arrowhead.

Christian McCaffrey
San Francisco 49ers · Year 6

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

We've come to expect McCaffrey to score as a rusher and receiver, but throwing a touchdown pass, too? And doing all three in the same game?! The monstrous effort vaulted McCaffrey up four spots on this list. At this rate, he could ascend even further -- though he'll need Chubb and Henry's production to dip. 

Saquon Barkley
New York Giants · Year 5

2022 stats: 8 games | 163 att | 779 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 5 rush TD | 28 rec | 189 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Barkley was bottled up by the Seahawks' defense for most of the game, as he rushed for 53 yards (while scoring the Giants' only TD) on 20 attempts. Now in a much-deserved off week, Barkley's averaging a career-best 97.4 rush yards per game.

Josh Jacobs
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 4

2022 stats: 7 games | 121 att | 676 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 6 rush TD | 22 rec | 152 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Jacobs cooled off in Week 8 after three straight monster performances, but it wasn't just him. The Raiders' offense was ice cold, getting completely shut out in New Orleans. The fourth-year back looks to turn things around against an above-average Jaguars run defense in Week 9.

Austin Ekeler
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 6

2022 stats: 7 games | 84 att | 380 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 5 rush TD | 53 rec | 357 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Ekeler has been crushing it as a pass catcher for a Chargers team that seems to be losing receivers to injury by the minute. With nearly as many yards receiving as rushing this season, Ekeler has a chance to significantly add to both totals this Sunday. Fresh off a bye, the Bolts face a struggling Falcons defense that ranks 31st in the NFL.

Dameon Pierce
Houston Texans · Rookie

2022 stats: 7 games | 121 att | 539 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 3 rush TD | 20 rec | 98 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

While he notched his first receiving touchdown in quasi-garbage time, Pierce was held to 35 rushing yards by the Titans' stout run defense. The good news: He has a quick turnaround to forget about that underwhelming effort, with the Texans hosting Thursday Night Football. The bad news: The Texans face the undefeated Eagles, who routinely win the time-of-possession battle and force opponents to pass in catch-up mode.

UPDATE: In Thursday night's loss to the Eagles, Pierce had career-highs 27 carries and 139 rush yards (5.1 yards per carry).

Travis Etienne
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 2

2022 stats: 8 games | 92 att | 571 rush yds | 6.2 ypc | 2 rush TD | 17 rec | 157 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Etienne climbs all the way to No. 8 after another strong performance on the ground. He gashed the Broncos for 156 rush yards (at 6.5 yards per carry) and a TD in a loss at Wembley Stadium. Sunday will be a nice test for the young runner, as the Jaguars host a Raiders D that ranks 10th against the run. If he can put together another impressive outing, there's a chance Jacksonville gets back in the win column for the first time since Week 3.

Dalvin Cook
Minnesota Vikings · Year 6

2022 stats: 7 games | 114 att | 561 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 5 rush TD | 17 rec | 110 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Like Etienne, Cook moves up in my rankings after a fine Week 8 performance, in which the Vikings back averaged more than 5 yards per carry for the third straight game. Cook can build off last week in Sunday's game against a Commanders defense that's allowing more than 120 rush yards per game.

Kenneth Walker III
Seattle Seahawks · Rookie

2022 stats: 7 games | 85 att | 461 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 5 rush TD | 9 rec | 28 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Walker was kept in check last week, carrying the ball 18 times for just 51 yards -- easily the lowest total of his three starts. More importantly, though, Walker scored on a dynamic 16-yard run with 5 minutes left in the game to help Seattle slam the door on the Giants and secure its place atop the NFC West.

Rhamondre Stevenson
New England Patriots · Year 2

2022 stats: 8 games | 114 att | 558 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 4 rush TD | 32 rec | 217 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Despite Damien Harris' return from a hamstring issue, Stevenson continues to rock steady. He had 16 carries for 71 yards against the Jets and led the Patriots with a career-high 72 receiving yards on seven grabs. I love seeing Stevenson's role expand in his second season.

Miles Sanders
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 4

2022 stats: 7 games | 114 att | 563 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 5 rush TD | 11 rec | 42 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Even with Jalen Hurts dominating for Philly as both a passer and rusher, Sanders is still tied for seventh in rushing yards and has the opportunity to climb back into the top 10 of this list with the Eagles facing the NFL's worst run defense in Houston on Thursday night.

UPDATE: In Thursday night's win over the Texans, Sanders had 17 carries for 93 yards (5.5 yards per carry), including a fourth-down, 2-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Aaron Jones
Green Bay Packers · Year 6

2022 stats: 8 games | 98 att | 575 rush yds | 5.9 ypc | 1 rush TD | 30 rec | 190 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Despite a large deficit, the Packers stayed true to their game plan against the Bills and allowed Jones to rush for 143 yards on 20 carries (both season highs). He, like Sanders, will face a putrid run defense when the Packers visit the Lions on Sunday, setting up a perfect opportunity to help Green Bay get back in the win column after four straight losses.

Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints · Year 6

2022 stats: 6 games | 95 att | 413 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 1 rush TD | 33 rec | 287 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

I have to apologize for sleeping on Kamara, who enters these rankings for the first time this season. As I mentioned at the top of this space, he balled in last week's big win over Las Vegas, but he's now logged four straight games with 100-plus scrimmage yards. With so many injuries plaguing the Saints' offense, Kamara has been a bright spot, quietly leading all running backs in touches (99) and scrimmage yards (581) since Week 5.

Khalil Herbert
Chicago Bears · Year 2

2022 stats: 8 games | 91 att | 563 rush yds | 6.2 ypc | 4 rush TD | 6 rec | 62 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Tied for seventh in the NFL in rushing yards this season, Herbert re-enters this list after being absent from it for the past three weeks. Against the Cowboys, Herbert was explosive and powerful in averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Though David Montgomery has received one more carry than Herbert this season, the latter is outgaining the former by 2.3 yards per attempt and has two more rush TDs.

DROPPED OUT: Breece Hall, Jets (previously No. 9); Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys (No. 15).

Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter.

The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.

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