RB Index, Week 13: Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott rises to No. 1 spot

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There were plenty of questions surrounding Christian McCaffrey's durability and ability to be a three-down back coming out of the 2017 NFL Draft. The biggest question, though, was can you build an offense around a running back of his size (5-foot-11, 205 pounds)?

He's made the answer pretty clear in his first two seasons in Carolina. You absolutely can.

Look no further than his Week 12 performance against the Seattle Seahawks. McCaffrey did it all: 17 carries, 125 rushing yards, one rushing TD; 11 receptions, 112 receiving yards, one receiving TD. He became the fifth player since 2000 to post both 100 rushing and receiving yards and score both a rushing and receiving touchdown in a game, joining Arian Foster (2011), Brian Westbrook (2007), Steven Jackson (2006) and Priest Holmes (2001 and 2002). I can say from experience that gaining 100 yards rushing in a game is difficult -- it requires the back to hit holes, shake off tacklers and rely on offensive linemen and receivers to make their blocks. In the pass game, most of the yards gained by a running back are five-yard checkdowns or screens, in which the player must make defenders miss and create on the perimeter. Trust me, McCaffrey's Sunday feat is no easy task.

McCaffrey, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 draft, was productive as a rookie, splitting carries with Jonathan Stewart and making flash plays as a receiver in 16 games (10 starts). But a year after he averaged 12.3 touches per game, McCaffrey has taken on a much greater workload out of the Panthers backfield. Averaging 20.4 touches per game and logging 19-plus touches in seven of 11 games this season, McCaffrey has established himself as a bell-cow back, helping clear the way for the recent release of veteran back C.J. Anderson.

Remarkably, McCaffrey has been on the field for 96.9 percent of Carolina's offensive snaps, per Next Gen Stats. He has a comfortable lead among backs for the highest percentage of offensive snaps played, as the next closest back is Ezekiel Elliott (89.1) -- other notable RBs: Alvin Kamara (66.3), Saquon Barkley (84.9), Todd Gurley (84.5), David Johnson (81.3), Kareem Hunt (70.8) and Melvin Gordon (66.1).

The numbers show that McCaffrey is one of the most valuable running backs in the NFL. They also help tell the story of how Carolina is taking pressure off Cam Newton by giving him better protection and transitioning to a passing attack that emphasizes shorter throws. Thus, McCaffrey has not just developed into a modern bell-cow for the Panthers but the focal point of the offense.

Former NFL rushing leader and current NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2018 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 13.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 12's rankings.

1
Ezekiel Elliott
RB
Cowboys
2

Previous rank: No. 3

Well aware that the top spot in the NFC East was up for the taking, Zeke balled on Thanksgiving with 143 scrimmage yards (121 rushing) and a rushing TD. Since 2016, the Cowboys are 15-0 when their young running back has at least 140 scrimmage yards in a game. They'll need that -- and more -- against the Saints on Thursday.

2018 stats: 11 games | 217 att | 1,074 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 47 rec | 363 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

2
Alvin Kamara
RB
Saints
1

Previous rank: No. 1

Kamara had a middle-of-the-road performance, by his standards, against the Falcons with 14 carries for 89 yards and one catch for a season-low nine receiving yards. With some new faces getting some love from Drew Brees in Week 12, don't expect this to be the norm for Kamara, who has 15 total touchdowns heading into Week 13.

2018 stats: 11 games | 150 att | 706 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 11 rush TDs | 57 rec | 519 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

3
Kareem Hunt
RB
Chiefs
1

Previous rank: No. 2

With 14 scrimmage touchdowns already, Hunt could add a few more to that total against a poor Raiders defense this week. Not to mention, he has fresh legs coming out of the bye week.

2018 stats: 11 games | 181 att | 824 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 26 rec | 378 rec yds | 7 rec TDs

4
Saquon Barkley
RB
Giants
2

Previous rank: No. 6

After tearing up the Eagles in the first half on Sunday with nine carries for 94 yards and a TD, Barkley's production decreased significantly in the second half. Why he had just four carries (for seven yards) the rest of the way is beyond me -- and a major reason the Giants let this game get away.

2018 stats: 11 games | 171 att | 829 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 71 rec | 581 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

5
Todd Gurley
RB
Rams

Previous rank: No. 5

Coming off a bye week, Gurley will look to get back into the end zone after failing to do so against the Chiefs in Week 11. I like his chances against the Lions' 24th-ranked scoring defense.

2018 stats: 11 games | 210 att | 1,043 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 13 rush TDs | 43 rec | 441 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

6
Christian McCaffrey
RB
Panthers
2

Previous rank: No. 8

Gaining both 100 rushing and 100 receiving yards in a game, as McCaffrey did on Sunday, is admirable, but adding in a pair of touchdowns is just crazy. The scary thing is I wouldn't be surprised if McCaffrey does this again at some point in his career.

2018 stats: 11 games | 153 att | 757 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 71 rec | 608 rec yds | 5 rec TDs

7
Melvin Gordon
RB
Chargers
3

Previous rank: No. 4

Gordon played extremely well before suffering an MCL sprain last week. The Chargers' RB1 is out for this weekend's clash with Pittsburgh and is week-to-week moving forward.

2018 stats: 10 games | 153 att | 802 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 44 rec | 453 rec yds | 4 rec TDs

8
Aaron Jones
RB
Packers
2

Previous rank: No. 10

Jones is taking advantage of his opportunities of late, rushing for four TDs in the last three games. His six rushing TDs this season are the most by a Packers player since 2014, when Eddie Lacy had nine.

2018 stats: 9 games | 101 att | 606 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 19 rec | 162 rec yds | 1 rec TDs

9
Mark Ingram
RB
Saints

Previous rank: No. 9

Although quiet in New Orleans' Thanksgiving Day victory, Ingram is on Deuce McAllister's heels for a couple Saints records. Ingram needs two rushing TDs and 295 rushing yards to pass McAllister in each category.

2018 stats: 7 games | 90 att | 440 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 13 rec | 134 rec yds | 1 rec TD

10
Joe Mixon
RB
Bengals
3

Previous rank: No. 13

Despite the loss to Cleveland, Mixon amassed a season-high 155 scrimmage yards (89 rushing, 66 receiving). With A.J. Green battling injury and Andy Dalton now on injured reserve, Mixon must come to play against the Broncos to keep Cincy's playoff hopes alive.

2018 stats: 9 games | 142 att | 673 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 31 rec | 243 rec yds | 1 rec TD

11
Phillip Lindsay
RB
Broncos
3

Previous rank: No. 14

Lindsay played a huge role in the Broncos' upset win over the Steelers, finishing with 14 carries for 110 yards and a rushing touchdown. Lindsay has the most rushing yards (780) by an undrafted rookie through 11 games since 1970, per NFL Research.

2018 stats: 11 games | 135 att | 780 rush yds | 5.8 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 24 rec | 187 rec yds | 1 rec TDs

12
Adrian Peterson
RB
Redskins
5

Previous rank: No. 7

Peterson was outplayed by Ezekiel Elliott in their Thanksgiving Day clash, as Peterson dealt with shoulder problems in the game and finished with 12 carries for just 35 yards. The Redskins hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC, and they'll need Peterson to do more if they're going to hang on and make the playoffs.

2018 stats: 11 games | 183 att | 758 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 16 rec | 177 rec yds | 1 rec TD

13
James Conner
RB
Steelers
2

Previous rank: No. 11

After running all over defenses (10 scrimmage TDs) in his first eight games, Conner's production has dipped the last three times out. Since Week 10, Conner has averaged 15.3 touches, 47.7 rush yards and 72.3 scrimmage yards per game and has scored only one TD.

2018 stats: 11 games | 186 att | 849 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 10 rush TDs | 49 rec | 453 rec yds | 1 rec TD

14
Nick Chubb
RB
Browns
NR

Previous rank: Not ranked

Sunday against the Bengals, Chubb became one of four rookies in NFL history with both a rushing and receiving touchdown in consecutive games, joining Kink Richards (1933), Rodney Culver (1992) and Saquon Barkley (2018). As the starting back in Cleveland, Chubb has averaged 22 carries, 23.8 touches and 126.8 scrimmage yards per game.

2018 stats: 11 games | 122 att | 663 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 9 rec | 92 rec yds | 2 rec TD

15
Matt Breida
RB
49ers
NR

Previous rank: Not ranked

With a big day against the Bucs (14 carries for 106 yards; three catches for 34 yards), Breida put up back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances. In the first quarter Sunday, Breida reached 22.09 miles per hour on his 33-yard rush, the fastest speed reached by a ball carrier this season, according to Next Gen Stats. In an underwhelming season for the 49ers, Breida is a bright spot.

2018 stats: 11 games | 127 att | 738 rush yds | 5.8 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 18 rec | 158 rec yds | 2 rec TD

Dropped out: Kerryon Johnson, Lions (previously No. 12); James White, Patriots (No. 15).

The Ground Index delivered by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote.

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