- Cleveland Browns
- Denver Broncos
- New England Patriots
- Baltimore Ravens
- Dallas Cowboys
- Indianapolis Colts
The NFL is a passing league and running backs are not as valuable anymore. At least, that’s what the league is seemingly telling us. And yet, 14 of the league’s 32 teams rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season – they just used multiple backs instead of a true bellcow in most cases.
There are plenty of talented backfields in the NFL, but what makes one good or great? In short: running backs that complement each other’s skill sets.
Think about the early tandem of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in New Orleans. Or an older tandem in LaDanian Tomlinson and Michael Turner for the once San Diego Chargers. Both were productive, even if they weren’t the same. There are plenty of different ways two running backs can complement each other. S
o after surveying the backfield landscape across the league heading into 2022, which teams have the best tandem? I have narrowed it down to five teams and an honorable mention by matching skill sets, talent and projecting into this coming season.
Honorable mention: Baltimore Ravens: J.K. Dobbins & Gus Edwards
This tandem did not see the field in 2021 as both backs were sidelined with torn ACL injuries, but when healthy, they add physicality and explosiveness to the Ravens’ rushing attack. Gus “The Bus” Edwards is the downhill presence. Dobbins adds explosiveness and big-play/homerun potential. Therefore, a healthy 2022 can catapult them into the top five at the end of the season.
5. New England Patriots: Damien Harris & Rhamondre Stevenson
These two are one of the more physical rushing tandems in the league on an offense with the appropriate mindset. Neither Harris nor Stevenson offer high value as a receiver out of the backfield but Stevenson is a functional screen option with a good open-field burst to gain yards after the catch.
They accounted for 1,535 rushing yards combined last season and offer flexibility with play-calling. Their contact balance, strength and patience make them difficult to bring down on the first attempt and short-yardage and goal-line situations are a strength. Overall, they ended up accounting for 20 rushing touchdowns for the Patriots’ offense and could replicate that success again this season.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott & Tony Pollard
The Cowboys finished the 2021 season ranking ninth in the league in rushing yards and a large part of that success lands on the shoulders of both Elliott and Pollard. The two backs combined for 1,721 yards on 367 total carries, even though it seems Elliott may have lost a step in terms of pure explosion and long speed.
Pollard steps into that explosive slasher role well, though. As a result, Elliott can work more efficiently between the tackles. Pollard is dangerous in space as a receiving option out of the backfield, too, making these two running backs a near-perfect pairing for this Cowboys’ offense. Dallas will need this rushing attack to keep defenses honest and allow quarterback Dak Prescott more opportunities against single coverage in the passing game.
3. Indianapolis Colts: Jonathan Taylor & Nyheim Hines
The Colts’ backfield combined for 2,087 rushing yards in 2021 and over 80% of that production came from the league’s leading rusher, Jonathan Taylor. That being said, Taylor and Hines’ skill sets mesh well together. Taylor is the explosive, yet bruising bell cow and the straw that stirs the Colts’ offense. Hines is the space player. His burst and speed in the open field create mismatches in the passing game.
Despite the lopsided production, both backs can share the field in different spots in the formation to create pre-snap communication defensively. Quarterback Matt Ryan does not mind dumping the ball to his pass-catching backs either, which could spell a more productive 2022 for Hines.
2. Denver Broncos: Javonte Williams & Melvin Gordon
The Broncos’ rushing attack was one of the most consistent and balanced in the league. Their two-head attack combined for 1,821 rushing yards with both eclipsing 900 yards rushing last season. Denver relied heavily on the running game due to the offense being held back by sub-par quarterbacking, too.
Quarterback Russell Wilson will now throw the pigskin all over the field with a healthy and talented receiving corps, which should remove those extra defenders out of the box and free up space to run for the Denver ground game. I expect a solid split in terms of carries again this season, but Gordon is the more natural receiver of the two.
1. Cleveland Browns: Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt
Last but not least, my favorite backfield in the NFL resides in the Dawg Pound. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the total package and the Browns are a run-first offense. Their run concepts are versatile and fluid and both backs are interchangeable on handoffs. If your defense defends power/gap principles, Cleveland will force them to defend outside zone and vice versa.
Hunt can be deployed as a true receiver aligned in the backfield, in the slot, and out wide, too and the combo of the two brings a level of physicality that wears defenses down as the game progresses. Essentially, the Browns have two ‘RB1’s in their backfield and that makes them the most dangerous of all these tandems when healthy.