Recent trends reveal clear evidence that the NFL is a passing league but that doesn’t mean the running game isn’t important or that there aren’t productive running backs.
In 2019, 15 running backs topped 1,000 rushing yards. Of those 15, six accomplished the feat for the first time: Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, Dalvin Cook, Marlon Mack, Aaron Jones and Carlos Hyde.
I believe 2020 will produce seven first-timers. Let’s examine.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon has led the Chargers in rushing yards in every season since 2015 but he’s no longer in the mix and Austin Ekeler is now Anthony Lynn’s lead rusher. While sharing the backfield with Gordon, Ekeler did most of his damage as a receiver but he’s set to get his chance to claim the majority of the rushing attempts in 2020. With Philip Rivers no longer the quarterback, Los Angeles is likely to lean on its rushing attack which should lead to big numbers for Ekeler and his first 1,000-yard season.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
David Montgomery saw his workload increase as his rookie season progressed and he compiled 889 rushing yards on 242 carries. Given the erratic passing offense in Chicago, the run game could become even more of an emphasis and lead to more opportunities for Montgomery to rack up yards. He should be the focal point of the rushing attack and eclipse 1,000 yards as a sophomore.
Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Devin Singletary hit some explosive runs early in his career but between initially serving as Frank Gore’s backup, and logging less than eight carries in five of his first six games in addition to missing four games with a hamstring injury, Singletary only carried the football 151 times as a rookie. He made the most of his rushes and tied with Titans’ Derrick Henry for the highest average per carry (5.1) among running backs with at least 150 attempts. While Zack Moss was drafted to serve as a complementary back and both will see plenty of touches, Singletary should feast carrying the football in 11-personnel packages.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
Kenyan Drake was a flashy runner for the Dolphins since entering the league in 2016 but he truly hit his stride after being traded to the Cardinals before the trade deadline last year. In his first eight games, Drake carried the football 123 times for 643 yards with eight touchdowns. The spacing of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense created runways for Drake to attack and allowed for his athleticism to take over. Playing under the transition tag in 2020, Drake is suddenly the seventh-highest paid running back in the NFL, and it’s time for him to produce to the level of his salary in a full season with Arizona.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
Miles Sanders, a second-round pick in the 2019 draft, spent the first half of his rookie season finding his stride and acclimating to the pro game. His vision was spotty and he wasn’t making great decisions with the football. In Week 8 against the Bills, Sanders ripped off a 65-yard touchdown run which served as the turning point for the season. After racking up just 220 rushing yards in his first eight games, Sanders tallied 598 in the last half of the season. He was a steady contributor as a receiver and finished his rookie year with over 1,300 yards from scrimmage. It won’t take him as long to get going in his sophomore year and Sanders will become the Eagles’ first 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy in 2014.
Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
Raheem Mostert has always created big plays when given opportunities. He averaged six yards per carry on 178 career rushes. Mostert entered the league in 2015 and had only 42 attempts entering 2019 where he produced 772 rushing yards on 137 carries. With Matt Breida no longer in the mix, Mostert is preparing for the heaviest workload of his career and that should lead to his first 1,000-yard season as a lead back in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.
Sony Michel, New England Patriots
Sony Michel, a first-round pick in 2018, has flirted with 1,000 rushing yards in each of his first two seasons in the league and likely would have topped it as a rookie had he not missed three games with injury. While the Patriots employ a committee backfield approach, Michel logged 247 carries in 2019 and he figures to earn at least that next season, especially with the emphasis likely to be on the rushing attack with Jarrett Stidham now the quarterback in New England. If Michel can stay healthy, the opportunity is right in front of him to join the 1,000-yard club.