As a feature in the 2023 Sharp Football Preview Book, the Sharp Football Analysis team ranked positional units across the league for the 2023 season.
The ranking guidelines were up to the specific voter with the only requirement that the focus is on the upcoming season only, not the future outlook.
With a combination of numbers, film, and projections, the rankings were averaged for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, offensive line, defensive front seven, defensive secondary, and head coach.
Next up: 2023 NFL running back rankings.
These insights are an excerpt from Warren Sharp’s 500+ page book “2023 Football Preview” which is now available for download.
2023 NFL Running Back Rankings
Score based on average ranks of positional unit (on a 100 point scale) for all 32 teams, from Sharp Football staff voters. If all voters had a team at #1, that score would be 100. Ties are broken by the highest vote on any ballot.
What team has the best running backs in the NFL?
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former third-round pick Rachaad White appears to be in line to lead the 32nd-ranked backfield. White was a liability last year, showing no explosive ability. He ranked 41st out of 42 qualified running backs with just 6.2% of his carries gaining 10 or more yards.
31. Arizona Cardinals
James Conner’s physical running style serves a purpose, but he’s not explosive enough to be an ideal lead back in today’s era. Conner picked up 10 or more yards on just 8.2% of his carries last year, which ranked 33rd out of 42 ball carriers. Keaontay Ingram and Corey Clement provide uninspiring depth.
30. Los Angeles Rams
The Rams’ backfield ranks 30th, though there is some hope for improvement after Cam Akers stayed healthy for 15 games a season ago. Unfortunately, Akers has not proven to be the type of runner who can create for himself behind a shaky offensive line. When Akers was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage, he was stuffed for zero or negative yards on 43% of his carries, which ranked 30th out of 42 qualified ball carriers.
29. Washington Commanders
Washington’s backfield would look a lot better if it were 1990, but the downfield power-running style of Brian Robinson Jr. and rookie Chris Rodriguez Jr. just doesn’t provide much value in this era. Even if we exclude carries on which he was contacted in the backfield, Robinson picked up five or more yards on just 42% of his attempts, which ranked 28th. The lack of an explosive weapon in this backfield will hold back the offense.
28. Houston Texans
Houston landed at the bottom of our backfield rankings a year ago, but a respectable rookie performance from Dameon Pierce plus the addition of Devin Singletary has elevated the unit slightly. If the offensive line improves, perhaps Pierce can exceed expectations. When crossing the line of scrimmage without contact, Pierce gained five or more yards 60% of the time, the league’s seventh-highest rate.
27. Carolina Panthers
The loss of Christian McCaffrey obviously downgrades the Panthers’ backfield from a season ago. Miles Sanders greatly benefitted from a strong offensive line in Philadelphia, but there are signs he may be able to replicate that production in Carolina. When contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage, Sanders gained five or more yards at the league’s highest rate last season (18.3%).
26. Chicago Bears
The Bears’ backfield remains in the bottom third of the rankings with David Montgomery getting swapped out for D’Onta Foreman this offseason. Khalil Herbert took a big step forward in 2022, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and ranking third among running backs in yards after contact per carry. Foreman ranked 10th in that category as a member of the Panthers.
25. Kansas City Chiefs
Since whiffing on the selection of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs appear to be strategically refusing to invest in the backfield, and it has worked out fine. There’s clearly a lack of high-end talent here, but it does not have a meaningful impact on the offense based on their extreme strengths elsewhere.
24. Cincinnati Bengals
The biggest drop for Cincinnati came in the offensive backfield where they fell 13 spots. Joe Mixon averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, and his 2.61 yards after contact per carry ranked 30th out of 32 qualified running backs.
23. Denver Broncos
Denver’s backfield dropped 18 spots in our rankings from a season ago. There’s still immense upside for this unit due to Javonte Williams, but the depth provided by Samaje Perine and others is less than ideal, especially with Williams attempting to return from an ACL injury.
22. Buffalo Bills
Buffalo’s backfield is its lowest-ranked unit, with votes ranging from 18th to 25th. If we’re wrong about this ranking, it will be because James Cook elevates his performance in his second season. Cook gained 15 or more yards on 13% of his carries last season, the league’s highest rate, so there’s some explosive potential for the backfield despite our concerns.
21. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings moved on from Dalvin Cook, handing the reins over to Alexander Mattison to lead the backfield. Mattison has played well in spot starts but averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in 2022. However, 204 of his 283 rushing yards came after contact.
20. Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore’s backfield is headlined by J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, who both averaged over 5.0 yards per carry in 2022. Much like Lamar Jackson, both guys need to figure out how to stay healthy after they combined to miss 17 games due to injury last year. The Ravens brought in some insurance by signing Melvin Gordon to a one-year deal.
19. Miami Dolphins
Miami’s inconsistent backfield remains largely unchanged from a season ago, with Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson returning to carry the load. Dolphins running backs gained five or more yards on 33% of their carries last year, which ranked 26th. Explosive rookie Devon Achane adds a new dynamic to the backfield, though he’ll likely only see action as a gadget weapon.
18. New England Patriots
Rhamondre Stevenson leads a backfield that received votes ranging from 15th to 22nd. Stevenson averaged 3.8 yards after contact per attempt last year, the second-best rate in the league. Unfortunately, the depth behind Stevenson is lacking.
17. Dallas Cowboys
Although Dallas overused Ezekiel Elliott in recent years, the backfield takes a hit without him. This unit dropped from sixth to 17th this year, as there’s no proven depth behind Tony Pollard. Dallas will miss Elliott late in games, as his ability to keep the chains moving was an asset. Elliott ranked fifth in his rate of avoiding getting stopped in the backfield while Pollard ranked 36th.
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh’s backfield lost some ground this year with Najee Harris unable to reach 4.0 yards per carry for the second time in as many seasons. He wasn’t as big of a threat in the passing game either, catching 33 fewer passes than he did as a rookie. Jaylen Warren had a solid rookie season, earning nearly 600 yards from scrimmage and averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
15. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles’ backfield is their lowest-ranked unit, as Howie Roseman has demonstrated a strong understanding of positional value while building this roster. Although the unit lacks a superstar, depth is arguably just as critical. D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott give the Eagles plenty of options to survive the season.
14. New Orleans Saints
New Orleans’ backfield sparked some debate, as votes ranged from fifth to 17th. When everyone is available, Alvin Kamara, Jamaal Williams, and rookie Kendre Miller appear to be a talented crew. However, Kamara is facing a suspension while Miller is returning from a knee injury.
13. New York Jets
Breece Hall played just seven games last year, but we saw enough to buy in. The Jets backfield jumped from 22nd to 13th despite no meaningful changes beyond the addition of fifth-round rookie Israel Abanikanda.
12. Jacksonville Jaguars
Travis Etienne established himself as one of the league’s most explosive ball carriers last year, elevating the Jaguars backfield into our top 10. For Etienne to rise further, he needs to prove he can create for himself. When contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage, Etienne did not have a single play of 10 or more yards and was stuffed for three or fewer yards at the league’s sixth-highest rate.
11. Los Angeles Chargers
Austin Ekeler remains among the most productive playmakers in the backfield, but this unit falls just outside the top 10 due to the lack of depth. Despite drafting a running back for three consecutive years from 2020 through 2022, Los Angeles still does not have a reliable backup for Ekeler, which is becoming increasingly concerning as he enters his age-28 season.
10. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee’s best unit is its backfield 一 not a good look from a team-building perspective 一 but Derrick Henry should allow the Titans to be competitive in certain matchups. Unfortunately, 29-year-old Henry has lost some explosive ability. He generated 10 or more yards on just 10.6% of his carries, slightly below the league average.
9. Detroit Lions
The Lions moved on from D’Andre Swift and drafted Jahmyr Gibbs in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Gibbs averaged 6.1 yards per carry and added 444 receiving yards in his final season at Alabama. Former Bear David Montgomery also signed in free agency to replace Jamaal Williams, and the Lions moved into the top 10 of our rankings.
8. Las Vegas Raiders
Evaluating the Raiders backfield was tough because of the massive discrepancy between the lead back (Josh Jacobs) and the depth (Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, etc.). Jacobs stayed healthy for 17 games, seeing nearly 400 touches, but is that workload repeatable, and what happens if he gets hurt?
7. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle has overinvested in the backfield in recent years, but it has created quality depth. Kenneth Walker III and Zach Charbonnet have the potential to develop into one of the best one-two punches in the league. The key to improving the unit will be avoiding negative plays. Seattle running backs were stuffed for zero or negative yards at the league’s fourth-highest rate last year.
6. Cleveland Browns
Nick Chubb had another special season in 2022, finishing with over 1,000 yards after contact and averaging over five yards per carry for the fifth-consecutive season. The depth behind Chubb could be concerning after Jerome Ford spent his entire rookie season as a returner.
5. New York Giants
Though the backfield depth is bleak, Saquon Barkley alone is enough to give the Giants a top-five unit. Votes ranged from fourth to eighth, with the low end of the spectrum likely accounting for the extreme dropoff should Matt Breida, newly signed James Robinson, or rookie Eric Gray be forced into a larger role.
4. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts’ backfield props up a roster that’s otherwise a complete mess. Jonathan Taylor remains among the best at the position, and Zack Moss and Deon Jackson proved to be capable backups when forced into action last year.
3. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon return to headline a backfield that averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2022. The duo upped their explosiveness last year, breaking off a combined 46 runs of at least 10 yards. After ranking in the top five of every ballot last year, the Packers’ running backs ranged from two to six this time around.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta’s top-ranked unit is its backfield, with votes ranging from first to third. Bijan Robinson should immediately feast in this scheme, though it’s certainly a questionable team-building approach to invest so heavily in a unit that was already producing. Falcons running backs gained five or more yards on a league-best 42% of carries last year.
1. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers’ backfield jumped 25 spots in our rankings from a season ago, thanks to the midseason acquisition of Christian McCaffrey. After acquiring McCaffrey in Week 7, San Francisco running backs gained 10 or more yards at the third-highest rate in the league (14% of carries).
Ranking each NFL Unit for 2023:
For all of the team-by-team unit rankings and full team chapters, including a dozen more visuals & info-graphics, defensive breakdown, and detailed Fantasy football implications — plus all 32 team chapters — pick up a copy of Warren Sharp’s new ‘2023 Football Preview’ book