Critics say that the running back position is not as important as it used to be in the NFL.
Running backs used to regularly be picked in the top spots in the NFL Draft, win league MVP awards and get paid among the highest-paid players in the league. In recent years, things have changed for running backs, from draft position to accolades to salary. For running backs, it's not the same league as it was when Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton played.
But here we have a group of five players that have proven that the position is still very valuable.
5. Saquon Barkley (New York Giants)
The New York Giants made a bold pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. They drafted the big playmaking running back Saquon Barkley out of Penn State with the No. 2 overall pick.
We all know how New York Giants and New York Jets fans are on draft day. They're very outspoken when it comes to their team's pick. The pick of Saquon Barkley had a different ring to it. The Giants fan base loved the selection and felt good about the pick.
Barkley would give the Giants fans something to cheer about in his NFL rookie season. Saquon would rack up 1,307 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in his rookie year. He would follow the rushing yards up with 721 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns.
Some people thought that this was first-year luck and there is no way he could do it next season when teams have film on him. Barkley came back in his second year in the NFL and went over a 1,000 rushing yards again. He would add 6 rushing touchdowns and 2 receiving touchdowns as well.
In 2020, the New York Giants lost their star running back to a torn ACL in Week 2. Their offense has struggled without him, especially on the ground. Since Barkley's injury the New York Giants have been led by quarterback Daniel Jones in rushing yards. To say that the Giants need Barkley back at 100% is an understatement at this point.
4. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers)
The Carolina Panthers drafted the dynamic Christian McCaffrey with the eighth pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. McCaffrey was a running back that could do everything in college. Christian McCaffrey would run, catch, and return punts and kicks for the Stanford Cardinal in college.
The Carolina Panthers were looking for a running back that could do more than just run the football. McCaffrey was their guy for the job right away. McCaffrey was a different style of running back though, he was more of a jack of all trades running back.
The Panthers would take advantage of McCaffrey's ability to catch the football in his rookie season. McCaffrey would tally up 5 receiving touchdowns in his first year. The Carolina Panthers made it known that they drafted McCaffrey because he was a guy that they could put anywhere on offense and he would make an impact.
McCaffrey would have a 2019 season that will be remembered for a long time. The Panthers running back would rush for 1,387 yards and would rack up 1,005 yards receiving. McCaffrey would be joining an elite group of running backs in history by going 1,000 rushing and receiving yards. Only two other backs have done it and those two are Roger Craig (1985 San Francisco 49ers) and Marshall Faulk (1999 St. Louis Rams). Christian McCaffrey has engraved his name in record books early in his career and is on his way to adding more records.
3. Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys)
The Dallas Cowboys would make the running back position their main focus in the 2016 NFL Draft when they selected Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. The former Buckeye had an amazing college career. Elliott brought size and speed to Ohio State and broke a National Championship game record in 2014 with 36 carries and 246 rushing yards.
The Dallas Cowboys were looking for a running back that could help them the way Emmitt Smith helped them in the 1990's. Zeke would come out in his rookie year and prove that he was a good selection. In his NFL rookie season Ezekiel Elliott had 1,631 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
Since joining the Cowboys the former Buckeyes running back has not missed a single game due to injury. He has also went over 200 yards receiving in every season of his career. The Dallas Cowboys were getting everything they asked for in Elliott.
Zeke has rushed for over 1,000 yards three different times in his pro career. He has also rushed for double-digit touchdowns in two different seasons. Some may say that Ezekiel Elliott is falling off and he is robbing the Dallas Cowboys of his big contract, but he is worth every penny.
The Cowboys offensive line needs work and the success of the Cowboys sits on his shoulders with Dak Prescott being out with an injury. Elliott will continue his great career and potentially have a spot in the NFL Hall of Fame when it's all over.
2. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings)
The Minnesota Vikings are looking like they got a steal in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The Vikings would select former Florida State running back Dalvin Cook with their 41st pick. Cook was not an immediate impact on the Vikings offense, but the past few years in his NFL career he has come out of his shell.
Dalvin Cook finally went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark last season for the Minnesota Vikings. He would rush for 1,135 yards and add 13 touchdowns for the Vikings offense. The Minnesota running back began to make a name as a key contributor to the success the Vikings had on the offensive side of the football.
Cook has continued his success in the 2019 season. He is off to a great start in 2020 where he has rushed for 858 yards and 12 touchdowns through Week 9 of the NFL season. Dalvin Cook has notched back-to-back seasons with double digit touchdowns and is on his way to back-to-back seasons with a 1,000 yards rushing.
The Minnesota Vikings have to feel good about the young running back. He has had back-to-back huge games for the Vikings offense. Cook has carried the football 52 times for 369 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns in the last two weeks. The Minnesota Vikings have a young wide receiver and they have Dalvin Cook to start building around to turn around their rough 2020 NFL season.
1. Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans)
The Tennessee Titans would select former Alabama running back Derrick Henry with the 45th pick in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Coming out of college Derrick Henry looked like a stud running back. He dominated the college football scene with his size and power.
Like Dalvin Cook it took Henry a couple years to mold into a great NFL running back. It took Derrick Henry time to understand how to use his power. When you see Derrick Henry in the backfield looking like a character from Transformers, defensive backs don't want to get in his way.
Henry single-handedly carried Tennessee through the playoffs last season. The Titans running back has notched back-to-back seasons with over 1,000 yards in rushing and double digit rushing touchdowns. He is on his way this year for the three peat.
Derrick Henry has the opportunity to do something this year that has not been done since 2014. Henry could win the NFL MVP award as a running back. The last running back to win the award is Adrian Peterson in 2014 for the Minnesota Vikings.
If the NFL is basing the award on the Most Valuable Player, Henry should win it. The Titans offense needs Henry to set the tone of the game for them. When Derrick Henry is on the Titans know they are going to have a great shot at winning football games.