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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top-15 NFL Seasons by Running Backs in the 2010s

Top-15 NFL Seasons by Running Backs in the 2010s

NFL offenses continue trending toward the passing game, but we witnessed several historic performances from running backs in the past decade.
Publish Date: 05/24/2020
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

While NFL offenses continue trending toward the passing game and removing running backs from prominent roles, we witnessed several historic performances from running backs in the past decade. The 2010s produced some of the most memorable years in the careers of several future Hall of Famers. Today, we’ll look back on the top 15 seasons by running backs in the past decade.

For the sake of diversification, I limited each running back to only one entry. Several backs produced multiple All-Pro seasons in the 2010s, but this way we can relive even more standout performances.

Honorable Mention- Matt Forte (2013)

In the second of his two career Pro Bowl seasons, Forte rushed for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns. He set a career-high with 83.7 rushing yards per game and produced 74 receptions for 594 yards and three touchdowns. Forte set or tied career-highs with 1,933 yards from scrimmage and 12 total touchdowns. He finished third in yards from scrimmage, beating out fourth place by 199 yards.

15. Maurice Jones-Drew (2011)

MJD earned a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2011 when he rushed for a league-leading 1,606 yards and eight touchdowns. With his receiving totals, Jones-Drew tallied 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. After 2011, Jones-Drew never rushed for over 1,000 yards in a single season again.

14. Marshawn Lynch (2014)

Lynch earned the only First-Team All-Pro selection of his career when he rushed for 99.4 yards per game in 2012. However, his 2014 season was even more impressive. That year, Lynch ran for 1,306 yards and led the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns. He also set career-highs with 367 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. The Associated Press selected Lynch as a Second-Team All-Pro.

13. Le’Veon Bell (2014)

The Associated Press selected Bell as a First-Team All-Pro twice during his time with the Pittsburgh Steelers (2014 and 2017). However, the 2014 campaign stands out as Bell’s finest season. That year, he ran for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns while also catching 83 passes for 854 yards and three more scores. Only DeMarco Murray produced more yards from scrimmage than Bell.

12. Ray Rice (2011)

People often forget how good of a player Rice was before a domestic incident with his then-fiancée led to the end of his career. Before becoming the face of the NFL’s campaign against domestic violence, Rice earned Second-Team All-Pro selections in 2009 and 2011. In his final All-Pro campaign, Rice ran for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns. Rice also tallied 76 receptions for 704 yards and three more touchdowns, giving him a league-leading 2,068 yards from scrimmage.

11. Saquon Barkley (2018)

While averaging five yards per attempt, Barkley rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie. He also caught 91 passes for 721 yards and four additional touchdowns. Barkley led the NFL with 2,028 yards from scrimmage and won the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. He did not make an All-Pro team.

10. LeSean McCoy (2013)

The longtime Philadelphia Eagle earned two First-Team All-Pro selections during his first five seasons. The first came in 2011 when he led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns and 20 total touchdowns. However, I think his 2013 campaign was even more impressive. McCoy led the league with 1,607 rushing yards and finished the season with a league-leading 2,146 yards from scrimmage. He produced 11 touchdowns and helped the Eagles to a 10-6 record.

9. Derrick Henry (2019)

Henry captured the rushing triple crown (attempts, yards, and touchdowns) in 2019. As the primary force behind Tennessee’s evolving offense, Henry carried the ball 303 times for 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, he played a minimal role out of the backfield, only catching 18 passes for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Henry earned a Second-Team All-Pro selection and powered Tennessee to the AFC Championship game.

8. Ezekiel Elliott (2016)

As a rookie, Elliott ran for 1,631 yards in only 15 games. He also rushed for 15 touchdowns. Not a very effective receiving back, Elliott only finished the year with 1,994 yards from scrimmage despite his big year on the ground. The Cowboy earned the first and only First-Team All-Pro selection of his career for the breakout season. Since then, Elliott has rushed for fewer yards per game in every season.

7. Jamaal Charles (2013)

The former Kansas City Chief earned two First-Team All-Pro selections during his career, but his 2013 campaign was special. While averaging five yards per attempt, Charles tallied 1,287 rushing yards and a league-leading 12 rushing touchdowns. He also added 70 receptions, 693 receiving yards, and seven receiving touchdowns. Only LeSean McCoy produced more yards from scrimmage that season, but no player came close to Charles’ 19 total touchdowns.

6. DeMarco Murray (2014)

Behind Dallas’ dominant offensive line, Murray led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He finished the year with more touches (449) and yards from scrimmage (2,261) than any other player. Behind Murray and Tony Romo, the Cowboys won 12 games and made it to the Divisional Round. After the season, Murray earned a First-Team All-Pro selection and won the Offensive Player of the Year award.

5. Arian Foster (2010)

In 2010, Foster became Houston’s full-time starter. He immediately impressed, leading the league with 1,616 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Foster also tallied 66 receptions for 604 yards and two more touchdowns, giving him the league lead in touches (393), yards from scrimmage (2,220), and touchdowns (18). For his performance, Foster earned the only First-Team All-Pro selection of his career.

4. David Johnson (2016)

Johnson’s performance in 2016 automatically elevated him into the ranks of the best running backs in the NFL. The second-year pro tallied 1,239 rushing yards, 16 rushing touchdowns, 80 receptions, 879 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns. He led all skill players in touches (373), yards from scrimmage (2,118), and touchdowns (20). The Associated Press selected Johnson as a First-Team All-Pro after the season.

3. Todd Gurley (2017)

Gurley was putting up some historic numbers, before his steep decline toward the end of the 2018 season. In 2017, the Georgia product ran for 1,305 yards and a league-leading 13 touchdowns. He also tallied 788 receiving yards and six touchdown receptions. Gurley led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and won the Offensive Player of the Year award. He also earned the first of two consecutive First-Team All-Pro selections.

2. Christian McCaffrey (2019)

This past season, McCaffrey became the third running back in NFL history to generate over 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in a single season. The Carolina Panther produced 1,387 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns, 116 receptions, 1,005 receiving yards, and four receiving touchdowns. His 403 touches, 2,392 yards from scrimmage, and 19 rushing and receiving touchdowns led the NFL.

While McCaffrey did not win the league MVP or get his team to the playoffs, he did earn a First-Team All-Pro selection.

1. Adrian Peterson (2012)

Coming off of a year shortened by an ACL and MCL tear, Peterson put on one of the greatest displays by a running back in NFL history. He averaged 6.0 yards per attempt and 131.1 rushing yards per game, which translated to 2,097 rushing yards. Only Eric Dickerson ran for more yards in a single season (2,105). Peterson carried Minnesota to a 10-6 record and a Wild Card berth.

Peterson also rushed for 12 touchdowns and finished the season with a league-leading 2,314 yards from scrimmage. He won the league MVP and Offensive Player of the Year awards over Peyton Manning.

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