My editor asked me to construct the perfect NFL running back, and naturally, my immediate reaction was ...
That's easy. It's yours truly.
The task got a little tougher when she insisted I only consider active players, but I think I came up with one hell of a running back when mixing and matching the best traits of the players below. Let's dive in.
The perfect running back would have ...
... the size of Derrick Henry.
It's not surprising that Henry led the NFL in rushing yards in his last two fully healthy campaigns. He's fast, explosive, physical and everything you want in a running back. But the thing that takes everything to another level is his size. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound running back is feared for a reason: He's built like a linebacker. Henry is a bruiser with a mean stiff-arm and requires a number of defenders to tackle him on any given play. He's known as one of the best closers in the NFL due to his big-bodied frame and ability to wear down opponents late in games.
... the speed of Jonathan Taylor.
It doesn't get more explosive than Jonathan Taylor -- at least in 2021. The All-Pro running back had a league-high 54 explosive runs (that is, runs of 10-plus yards), per Pro Football Focus. He reached the fastest speed by a ball-carrier this season, according to Next Gen Stats, hitting 22.13 miles per hour on his game-securing 67-yard sprint to the end zone against the New England Patriots in Week 15. He also recorded the fourth- and fifth-fastest speeds on the season, reaching 22.05 mph on a 78-yard touchdown in Week 9 and 21.83 mph on a 32-yard run that was called back due to an offensive holding penalty in Week 8. Taylor brings so much versatility to Frank Reich's offense as a rusher and playmaker in the pass game, but one of his absolute best qualities is that he's a scoring threat from anywhere on the field, thanks to his track speed.
... the durability of Frank Gore.
Gore didn't play a single snap in 2021, despite three attempts by teams to sign him last offseason. But I'm including him here because he hasn't closed the door on his NFL career just yet. In his 16 seasons, Gore never missed more than five games in a single season. That's incredible. Especially when you consider the position he played. There is rarely a play in which RBs don't make some sort of contact, whether as a ball-carrier, pass-catcher or blocker. Gore's durability over the course of his career allowed him to rack up 16,000 rushing yards (third-most all time), and it's a big reason why he'll end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday.
... the contact balance of Nick Chubb.
Having balance at the point of contact is one of the most important qualities for a running back, and the player that immediately comes to mind when weighing this quality is Cleveland's Nick Chubb. On film, Chubb is an absolute menace for defenders to bring down, as he routinely drags multiple players for extra yardage and almost always falls forward. This checks out with PFF, which credits Chubb with a league-high average of 4.2 yards after contact per attempt (min. 150 attempts) in 2021. It's no wonder that Cleveland boasts one of the NFL's top rushing attacks when Chubb is in the backfield.
... the vision of Dalvin Cook.
Cook's vision is vital to his success, and it's why he's been able to rack up three straight seasons with 1,100-plus rushing yards, including a 2020 campaign that saw him amass 1,557 rushing yards for Minnesota. He rarely makes a bad cut in the Vikings' outside zone scheme and routinely sees a hole and hits it -- evidenced by his 4.7 yards per carry over the course of his five pro seasons.
... the agility and elusiveness of Devin Singletary.
Singletary reminds me of LeSean McCoy with the way he cuts in space to avoid defenders. At 5-7, 203 pounds, he doesn't have a big-bodied physique, but he's surprisingly physical at the line of scrimmage and shifty as all get out on the second level. I'll take him all day in open space but would like to see him be more consistent.
... the hands of Christian McCaffrey.
You had to see this coming. McCaffrey is one of just three players in NFL history to have 1,000-plus rushing and receiving yards in a single season (a feat he accomplished in 2019), along with Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (1999) and three-time Super Bowl Champion Roger Craig (1985). He's one of the biggest threats in the NFL out of the backfield as he's able to provide Carolina passers with a viable check-down option or on screens and bootlegs. He's dynamic with the ball in his hands and is able to gain plenty of yards after contact with his elusiveness and vision. Get this guy healthy, and the Panthers' offense immediately improves.
... the pass protection of James Conner.
Many casual fans often forget just how important a running back is to protecting the quarterback. Being able to pick up blitzes and stave off defensive linemen is critical to how much a running back is used within the offense. It could be the difference between playing on just first down or all three. In 2021, Conner received a pass-blocking grade of 88.5 from PFF, highest by any running back in the regular season (min. 50 pass-blocking snaps). He was one of four backs with a grade over 70 -- along with Mark Ingram (85.2), David Montgomery (76.6) and Josh Jacobs (74.6) -- while all other qualifying RBs routinely struggled in the area. Conner excelled in pass pro and helped Arizona's front keep Kyler Murray clean; he allowed just three total pressures on 82 pass-blocking snaps.