On Wednesday, the football analytics site Pro Football Focus released another of its offseason position rankings. In it, Ben Linsey ranked the NFL’s running back units.
Earlier this offseason, I ranked the top-20 starting running backs in the NFL. There’s going to be some similarity between these rankings and that list, but the league is shifting more and more toward a running-back-by-committee approach, as just one running back — Najee Harris — played on over 70% of his team’s offensive snaps in 2021. That makes running back units a better way of evaluating a team’s backfield contributions than merely looking at where its starters stack up.
Because that’s the way things are now done, Linsey broke his ranking into four tiers: Elite Backfield, Good Backfield, Gets the Job Done and Potential Weakness. It was in this final tier where he ranked the Kansas City Chiefs’ running backs at 30th.
30. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs were another team that struggled to capitalize on favorable rushing situations — light boxes and quality run blocking — in 2021. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has earned a first down or touchdown on just 20% of his rushing attempts since he was drafted in 2020, ranking 28th among 32 running backs with at least 250 carries. His impact as a receiver (426 total receiving yards in two years) hasn’t been what was anticipated coming out of LSU, either.
The Ronald Jones addition gives the Chiefs another option to turn to on the ground, but Jones saw his role diminish in Tampa Bay due largely to his receiving ability and putting the ball on the ground.
It’s not a news flash that Edwards-Helaire’s production for the Chiefs has been a disappointment. But Linsey’s take suggests that Jones had a very similar year at Tampa Bay in 2021 — albeit in more limited use. That’s also borne out by traditional statistics. Edwards-Healire rushed for 4.3 yards per attempt in 2021. Jones produced 4.1. Linsey suggests that Jones’ propensity for fumbling helped keep him on the bench for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — but both he and Edwards-Helaire had two in 2021, along with four rushing touchdowns each.
If you’re hoping for an improved Kansas City rushing attack, this isn’t good news. But it’s also true that with its new, beefier offensive line (and with Tyreek Hill now in Miami) we’re hoping for the Chiefs to have a somewhat greater emphasis on the running game in 2022 — which could be reflected in improved production from both backs. Then there are the wildcards: the presence of seventh round-pick Isiah Pacheco and undrafted free agents Jerrion Ealy and Tayon Fleet-Davis — not to mention to return of Derrick Gore.
How do you feel about PFF’s ranking of the Kansas City running backs?
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