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2022 NFL preview: Ranking the NFC North running backs

Which team has the best backfield in the NFC North?

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The running back position may not be as coveted as it once was in the NFL, but it still plays a significant role in establishing a competent and effective offense. Whether your running back is a bruiser, a pass catcher, or a speedster, there is a role for them in an NFL offense. Many teams have transitioned to a running back by committee approach, opting instead for varying playstyles and fresh legs over a bell cow.

The NFC North has a broad mix of backfields—which team takes the spot as best in the division?


Note: Fullbacks are being included as running backs. Players on each team are listed alphabetically.

1. Green Bay Packers

B.J. Baylor, A.J. Dillon, Tyler Goodson, Kylin Hill, Aaron Jones, Patrick Taylor

The Packers have quietly boasted one of the better rushing attacks in recent years. Although Aaron Jones came just a yard shy of 800 rushing yards on the season, he is still one of the more dangerous backs in the league. With six receiving touchdowns to boot, Jones has proven himself to be a dynamic weapon on offense. His days of being an uncontested lead back may be over, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing given how good the other guy splitting carries is.

A.J. Dillon led the team in rushing last season, serving as a perfect pairing with Jones. The Packers caught some flak when Dillon was originally drafted, but his 803 yard campaign in 2022 showcased why a committee approach can be effective. Both he and Jones exceeded 4.0 yards per carry, providing some much-needed efficiency for the Packers offense. The depth behind Dillon is questionable, so Green Bay is hoping their top duo can remain healthy.

2. Minnesota Vikings

Jake Bargas, Ty Chandler, Dalvin Cook, C.J. Ham, Bryant Koback, Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu

It was another 1000-yard season for Dalvin Cook as he continues to cement himself as one of the best running backs in the league. Unfortunately for the Vikings, it was yet another season where Cook missed time with injury. Cook has never played a full slate of games in his NFL career. We’ll have to wait and see if 2022 can be an outlier for Cook, but at least the Vikings have one of the better pure backups in the league in Alexander Mattison. Mattison handled the occasional spot start last season, but otherwise sees minimal carries while Cook is healthy.

Given Cook’s injury history, perhaps this is the year Minnesota opts to split carries. Youngsters Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler may also see an uptick in snaps to lighten Cook’s carries. Nwangwu is a dangerous kick returner, having returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2021, while Chandler is a 2022 fifth-round draft pick.

It was a difficult choice between the Vikings and Packers, but I give Green Bay the edge. I would rather have two very good running backs than one elite but oft-injured running back. When Cook is healthy, he can be a workhorse back, but I’m not sure you can rely on him to do so.

3. Detroit Lions

Greg Bell, Jason Cabinda, Godwin Igwebuike, Jermar Jefferson, Craig Reynolds, D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams

Given how often the Lions were playing from behind, it’s a wonder how their rushing numbers were as good as they were in 2021. Jamaal Williams, the between-the-tackles back, ran fairly well, but his lack of explosive plays and pass catching meant he fell out of favor when the Lions faced a deficit. Inversely, D’Andre Swift saw a significant uptick in snaps when the Lions started to trail. Although Swift struggled running inside, he did a fair amount of damage outside the tackles and as a receiver. Together, they are great complementary pieces, but it seemed like Detroit could never get them going at the same time. Playing with the lead should help Detroit lean on their run game a bit more in 2022.

Cabinda rounds out the starting backfield, and he seems unchallenged as the superback of the team. The backup trio of Igwebuike, Jefferson, and Reynolds each had their flashes last season, though their roles on offense were fairly small as a whole. With a tough roster crunch ahead, the Lions might not opt to keep a full stable of running backs. Keep an eye on this battle come preseason—even Bell could earn a spot.

4. Chicago Bears

Khari Blasingame, Trestan Ebner, Darrynton Evans, Khalil Herbert, David Montgomery, De’Montre Tuggle

Is David Montgomery a great running back? I’m still not sure, and with 2022 being his final season under contract, the Bears might have to decide as well. He posted a pair of 100-yard games early in 2021, but an injury forced him to miss four games, and he never quite returned to that level the rest of the season—he would finish with an average of 3.8 yards per carry. A transition to an outside zone rushing scheme should play into Montgomery’s strengths, but a poor offensive line could result in some tough sledding.

In those four games missed by Montgomery, Khalil Herbert stepped up and wowed. 344 yards over a four game period showed that Herbert can serve well as a starting NFL running back. Upon Montgomery’s return to the lineup, however, Herbert was relegated to clean up duty. He would record a mere 82 yards on 22 carries from Week 9 onward. If the Bears are smart, they’ll get Herbert more involved. As for backups, rookie Trestan Ebner may evolve into a pass catcher, but there isn’t much in terms of reliable depth.


Where do the Lions rank in the division at RB?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    (110 votes)
  • 34%
    (339 votes)
  • 47%
    (459 votes)
  • 6%
    (68 votes)
976 votes total Vote Now

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