This chart shows the NFL's main running backs with utilization on first downs versus yards per carry.

Struggling: Fail to secure downs or consistent yardage

This group is a combination of running backs that are banged up, in a sophomore slump, in suboptimal team situations, and on teams with below average QB play. These are starting running backs that are performing like back-ups and if their play does not improve, that is what they will become.

These are my list of running backs in this group:

  • Dameon Pierce (Hou)
  • Miles Sanders(Car)
  • Rhamondre Stevenson (NE)
  • Cam Akers (Min)
  • Saquon Barkley (NYG)


Underutilized: high yards per carry but sidelined on 1st downs

Running backs in this group are producing but are sadly getting their opportunities too far and few between. This group contains rookie backs, back-up’s overperforming and explosive backs not physical enough to be bell cows.

These running backs include:

  • Jaleel McLaughlin (Den)
  • Devon Achane (Mia)
  • Jahmyr Gibbs (Det)
  • Khalil Herbert (Chi)
  • Zach Charbonnet (Sea)

De'Von Achane was averaging over 12 yards per carry before he injured his knee and was move to IR. The rookie was been one of many explosive playmakers on the turbo charged Dolphins offense. Achane’s one weakness is his lack of size that prevents him from earning 1st downs on a consistent basis. In baseball terms, De'Von Achane is a home run hitter who struggles to get on base consistently.

Possession Backs: 1st down backs with low yards per carry

These running backs run the football to help the offense control the clock. Through the teeth of the defense, they deliver down after down while doing a good job of protecting the football. Running backs on this list do not look to make defenders miss with juke moves and elusiveness but rather strength and persistence. 

  • Derrick Henry (Ten)
  • Isiah Pacheco (KC)
  • Kenneth Walker III (Sea)
  • Travis Etienne (Jax) 
  • Alexander Mattison (Min)

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Unexpected Stars: High 1st down utilization and high yards per carry

Star running backs like Christian McCaffrey and other big names usually garner all the attention. Yet season after season a brand new crop of talented running backs emerge - runners who come out of nowhere to bear the team’s offensive burden on their shoulders. The names listed below are surprise production monsters halfway into the season:

  • Zack Moss(Ind)
  • Kyrien Williams(LAR)
  • Joshua Kelly(LAC)
  • James Cook (Buf)
  • James Connor(Ari)