The Carolina Panthers put on a rushing clinic last week, gashing the Detroit Lions for a franchise-record 320 rush yards in the win. It was also the seventh 300-yard rush game by any NFL team since 2015.
D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard led the charge with 165 and 125 rush yards, respectively, with each player racking up more than 100 rush yards in the first half. The last time a team had two running backs accomplish that feat was in 2006, when my guy Fred Taylor (113) and I (118) did it against the Colts. Now that was fun!
Back to present day, when Foreman and Hubbard are rocking as one of the hottest running back duos in the league, helping the Panthers win three of their last four games ahead of Sunday’s huge showdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that could end up deciding the division.
But that’s not the only formidable ground partnership in the NFL. Here are my top five running back tandems in the league this season:
The Cowboys are at their best when leaning on Elliott and Pollard, who force the defense to honor the run and take immense pressure off Dak Prescott. Last month, I delved into their combination of styles, with Zeke thriving in short-yardage and goal-line situations as a physical ball-carrier and Pollard making explosive plays between the tackles and in the pass game. For proof, look no further than the duo’s production in 2022. After Thursday night’s win over Tennessee, Zeke has now scored a rush touchdown in nine straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL and second-longest streak in Cowboys history (Emmitt Smith, 11 games in 1995). Pollard, who missed Thursday night with a thigh injury, has 988 rush yards and 1,359 scrimmage yards this season, both marks ranking him in the top 10 in the league coming into Week 17. This reliable duo has helped Dallas become a dangerous team — one that’s still in contention to win the NFC East.
Both Jones and Dillon are used as versatile weapons in the run and pass games in 2022; the Packers are one of two teams (joining Dallas) with multiple running backs with 900-plus scrimmage yards this season. Jones, who leads the team in scrimmage yards (1,335), rush yards (962) and receptions (54), continues to be an explosive playmaker between the tackles and in space as a mismatch against linebackers on the second level. Dillon, who has 902 scrimmage yards and a team-high six rush TDs, is still that punishing runner that constantly wears down defenses, especially late in the year. With the back-to-back reigning MVP (Aaron Rodgers) still posing a threat to opponents under center despite a down year statistically, Green Bay running backs have taken advantage of light boxes in 2022, racking up a league-high 912 rush yards against them, per Next Gen Stats. Things are clicking at the right time for the Packers, and having a dynamic backfield duo has been essential to their late-season success.
The Panthers have a combination of thunder and lightning at their disposal. Foreman’s hard-nosed, physical style wears down the defense, while Hubbard is able to hit the hole quickly and has the potential to break a big gain any time he gets the rock. Since Christian McCaffrey was traded prior to Week 7, Foreman has the third-most rush yards (774) in the league. He has also logged five games with at least 110 rush yards this season, tied for second-most behind Derrick Henry. Hubbard, who missed several games midseason with an ankle injury, is averaging 5.4 yards per carry this season, fifth-most among running backs (minimum 70 carries) — a major improvement from his rookie season output of 3.6 yards per tote in 2021. The duo has played a major role in the Panthers’ turnaround, taking the pressure off Sam Darnold — who’s enjoying one of the best four-game stretches of his career — and the defense by helping regularly move the chains and control the clock.
After getting an inside look at the Lions’ running backs room via HBO’s Hard Knocks, it was easy to root for this pair in 2022. Swift started the season strong before shoulder and ankle injuries limited his playing time. That’s when Williams, who leads Detroit with 850 rush yards, got the bulk of his production this season. Though this duo is one of nine RB tandems with 700 scrimmage yards each, that’s not where they’ve made their money. The Lions are tied for the third-most rush TDs (19) this season behind the Eagles and Cowboys, and Williams has logged an NFL-high 14 of them. Detroit’s ability to punch the ball into the end zone has helped it become the fifth-best scoring offense in the league and given it an opportunity to make the postseason for the first time since 2016.
With Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle) going on injured reserve in November, Pacheco and McKinnon have really stepped up. Pacheco, a rookie selected in the seventh round, has been a breath of fresh air, leading the Chiefs in rush yards in each game since Week 10 — he’s averaged 4.9 yards per attempt in that span — and bringing a more physical element to the explosive offense. The 30-year-old McKinnon has provided Andy Reid’s unit with another wrinkle as a dynamic pass-catching weapon out of the backfield and reliable target in the red zone. He’s recorded at least one receiving touchdown in four straight games, tied for the longest streak by a running back since the 1970 merger, per NFL Research, and recorded six scrimmage TDs in December. Look for these two to play an instrumental role in the postseason.
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 17.
Las Vegas Raiders · Year 4
2022 stats: 15 games | 306 att | 1,539 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 11 rush TD | 47 rec | 369 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Jacobs expressed his frustration in a forthright post-game scrum after the Raiders’ last-minute loss to the Steelers, the latest setback in a season that has not gone as planned for Las Vegas. Jacobs’ frustrations stemmed not only from the loss but his performance — 44 rush yards on 15 carries. It was his worst output since Week 8 and the fewest rushing yards of his career in a game where he had at least 15 carries.
San Francisco 49ers · Year 6
2022 stats: 15 games | 215 att | 973 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 7 rush TD | 76 rec | 635 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The 49ers just keep on winning, and the acquisition of McCaffrey is paying more dividends as the weeks go on. His late fourth-quarter score from a yard out was the icing on the cake in the 49ers’ latest victory. It wasn’t all sweet for him, though, as the sturdy Commanders D limited him to 3.1 yards per carry, fewest since Week 12.
Tennessee Titans · Year 7
2022 stats: 15 games | 319 att | 1,429 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 13 rush TD | 32 rec | 379 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 3 fumbles lost
Henry did not play against the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football, but these rankings do not take into account the events of Week 17, anyway. The last time we saw him, against the Texans in Week 16, Henry was tallying up 23 carries for 126 yards and a 48-yard TD scamper; however, a momentum-swinging fumble was costly in the loss, and Henry knew it. In other news, Henry surpassed yours truly on the NFL’s all-time rushing yards leaderboard and for most rushing TDs against the Texans with 12.
Los Angeles Chargers · Year 6
2022 stats: 15 games | 183 att | 759 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 11 rush TD | 99 rec | 647 rec yds | 5 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost
Ekeler scored a pair of TDs on the ground in what was a relatively easy win for the Chargers that clinched the team’s first playoff berth since 2018. With two weeks to go in the season, Ekeler leads the NFL with 16 scrimmage touchdowns.
Cleveland Browns · Year 5
2022 stats: 15 games | 276 att | 1,344 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 12 rush TD | 21 rec | 182 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Chubb has yet to log 100 yards or score in a game with Deshaun Watson. Even on a terribly cold and windy Christmas Eve in Cleveland in which the game plan was feed No. 24, he still only grinded out 92 yards on 24 carries (3.8 yards per attempt). This offense is not clicking.
2022 stats: 15 games | 186 att | 988 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 9 rush TD | 39 rec | 371 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Pollard had just 19 yards on nine totes in Dallas’ win over Philadelphia (the game that counts for these rankings), but did most of his damage through the air, catching six passes for 61 yards (both second-most on the team). Battling a thigh injury that sidelined him Thursday against Tennessee, Pollard should return before too long.
Minnesota Vikings · Year 6
2022 stats: 15 games | 244 att | 1,109 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 8 rush TD | 36 rec | 278 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 3 fumbles lost
Cook started the game off strong for Minnesota, but the Giants made adjustments, and he finished with 64 yards on 14 carries in the Vikings’ last-second win. All eyes will be on Cook and the Vikings when they attempt to end Green Bay’s season on the road.
2022 stats: 15 games | 283 att | 1,254 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 10 rush TD | 55 rec | 343 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Barkley looked good in New York’s loss to Minnesota as he recorded 84 yards on 14 carries (6.0 yards per carry) and nearly 50 yards through the air — marking his seventh game this season with 120-plus scrimmage yards. He showed again why he’s considered the face of this franchise with a 27-yard touchdown sprint late in the fourth that tied the game before Minnesota hit a field goal as time expired. Barkley has a chance to be the hero again in Week 17 with a postseason berth on the line.
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 4
2022 stats: 15 games | 236 att | 1,175 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 11 rush TD | 20 rec | 78 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost
Sanders hasn’t been at his best over the last two games, averaging 3.3 yards per carry. In last week’s loss to Dallas, Sanders coughed up the rock on the Eagles’ second-to-last drive, putting them in a disadvantageous situation late in the contest. He took “full responsibility” for the mistake, and I fully expect him to bounce back Sunday in a game where Philly can wrap up the division and No. 1 seed.
2022 stats: 13 games | 204 att | 829 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 11 rush TD | 17 rec | 92 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
As with Henry and Pollard, I am not taking Week 17 into account when determining the ranking for Elliott, whose exploits against the Titans on Thursday Night Football are covered above. In looking back at Week 16’s win over the Eagles, Elliott rushed 16 times for 55 yards and easily scored on a 1-yard run to get Dallas on the board. This is the player Dallas hopes will show up in the playoffs.
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 2
2022 stats: 15 games | 204 att | 1,000 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 4 rush TD | 30 rec | 267 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 3 fumbles lost
Last Thursday’s rainy and windy night at MetLife Stadium gave Etienne plenty of opportunities to run the ball. In fact, Etienne’s 83 rush yards against the Jets gave him 1,000 for the year, making him the fifth player in team history to reach the mark in a single season, joining Fred Taylor, myself, Leonard Fournette and James Robinson. Congrats, young man.
New England Patriots · Year 2
2022 stats: 15 games | 196 att | 944 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 5 rush TD | 62 rec | 384 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Stevenson had only 30 rush yards in yet another Patriots loss in Week 16. Adding insult to injury, the second-year back fumbled the ball late in the fourth quarter on first-and-goal. That makes two straight games where Stevenson made a mistake late.
Green Bay Packers · Year 6
2022 stats: 15 games | 187 att | 962 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 2 rush TD | 54 rec | 373 rec yds | 5 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost
Jones did not have much of a Christmas feast on the field, with eight touches for 34 yards. AJ Dillon was the more featured back against Miami, but then, Green Bay looked to the pass game for most of its yards, with Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball nearly 40 times. The Packers’ playoff hopes are on the line, and they’ll need Jones to be at his best Saturday when he gets his opportunities against the Vikings.
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 9
2022 stats: 15 games | 68 att | 281 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 49 rec | 460 rec yds | 6 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
McKinnon had a smaller role in Week 16 with eight touches, but he still managed to score on a crafty 9-yard TD reception from Patrick Mahomes — his sixth TD this month.
Carolina Panthers · Year 6
2022 stats: 15 games | 178 att | 811 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 5 rush TD | 5 rec | 26 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Foreman replaces Detroit’s Jamaal Williams in this list, with the NFL’s rush TD leader cooling off in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Foreman has had a strong second half of the season, with two 110-yard rushing games in the last four weeks. On Sunday, he’ll be asked to replicate his 118-yard outing from the Panthers’ first meeting with the Bucs in Week 7.
DROPPED OUT: Jamaal Williams, Lions (Previously No. 12).
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