Ezekiel Elliott leads off this list after picking up his second rushing crown last season
The youth movement at running back continued in the NFL last year. Not only did Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, prove to be as good as advertised (league-leading 2,028 yards from scrimmage), but Christian McCaffrey and Joe Mixon, who were first- and second-round picks in the '17 draft respectively, also finished among the rushing leaders.
All three players can be found among Athlon Sports' top 10 running backs entering the 2019 season, along with many names you would expect to see. That doesn't mean there aren't dynamic backs beyond that range either, especially when you consider David Johnson, who led the NFL in both yards from scrimmage (2,118) and touchdowns (20) in 2016, checks in at No. 18.
Athlon's player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2019 NFL Preview magazine.
2019 NFL Running Back Rankings
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas
Became the fifth rusher since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to win rushing titles in two of his first three seasons. Three of those RBs — Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson and Emmitt Smith — are in the Hall of Fame; the fourth (Edgerrin James) was a 2019 finalist.
2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Say what you will about the Giants passing on top QB prospects with the No. 2 overall pick in last year's draft, but Barkley did everything on his part to justify his selection. He capped the greatest rookie season for an RB in franchise history (2,028 scrimmage yards and 15 TDs) by being named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
3. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Voted an All-Pro running back for a second straight year in 2018, but there are legitimate concerns about future production because of knee issues that flared late last season. Rams head coach Sean McVay has said Gurley's workload will be more closely monitored moving forward.
4. Le'Veon Bell, New York Jets
Made the unusual decision of sitting out the entire 2018 season rather than play under a $14.5 million franchise tag while in a contract dispute with Pittsburgh. The Jets are expecting Bell to regain his previous tip-top form after signing him to a four-year, $52 million deal.
5. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans
A red zone nightmare for opposing defenses, having rushed for a franchise-record 14 touchdowns in 2018 while adding four more scores as a receiver. Likely to play an even bigger role in the ground game this season with Mark Ingram having departed for Baltimore.
6. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati
The Bengals lost nine of their final 11 games in 2018, but the running game wasn’t the problem. Even while missing two games with a knee injury, Mixon became the first Bengals running back to lead the conference in rushing (1,168 yards) since Paul Robinson in 1968.
7. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina
Smashed the NFL's single-season receiving record for RBs with 107 catches, but don't underestimate him as a rusher either (1,098 yards and a 5.0-yard average). Joins Herschel Walker and Alvin Kamara as the only players in NFL history with 1,500 rushing and receiving yards through two seasons.
8. Derrick Henry, Tennessee
Lived up to his "King" nickname late in 2018, with 55.2 percent of his 1,059 rushing yards coming in the final four games, including a tour-de-force performance versus Jacksonville. Two highlights — a 99-yard touchdown run, and the 6'3", 247-pound Henry hitting a speed of 21.74 miles per hour on a 54-yard score.
9. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
A late-season knee injury derailed what was becoming the most prolific season of his four-year NFL career. Became the fifth running back in NFL history, and first since Jamaal Charles in 2013, to post five straight games of at least 120 yards from scrimmage along with at least one rushing or receiving touchdown.
10. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland
Will miss the 2019 season's first eight games serving an NFL suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. But based upon his first two years in Kansas City, the NFL’s 2017 rushing champion should make a significant impact in Cleveland upon his return.
11. Sony Michel, New England
12. James Conner, Pittsburgh
13. Phillip Lindsay, Denver
14. Chris Carson, Seattle
15. Nick Chubb, Cleveland
16. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota
17. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo
18. David Johnson, Arizona
19. Adrian Peterson, Washington
20. Lamar Miller, Houston
21. Mark Ingram, Baltimore
22. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville
23. Jordan Howard, Philadelphia
24. Tarik Cohen, Chicago
25. Kerryon Johnson, Detroit
26. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis
27. Frank Gore, Buffalo
28. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta
29. Tevin Coleman, San Francisco
30. James White, New England