For the third straight year, Le'Veon Bell leads off this lsit
Thanks to an infusion of youth and talent, the NFL is enjoying some semblance of a renaissance when it comes to running back. Consider that among Athlon Sports' top 10 at the position entering the 2018 season, half were drafted in either '16 (Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard) or '17 (Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette).
And that's nothing to take anything away from the "old" veterans either, as Le'Veon Bell heads up this list for a third straight year. He's followed by Todd Gurley, then Ezekiel Elliott, with David Johnson and the elder statesmen of this group, LeSean McCoy (turns 30 in July), rounding out the top five.
Saquon Barkley, the second overall pick of this year's draft, could be the next running back to make his mark as a rookie; but because he has yet to play a single down in the NFL you won't find him listed below.
Athlon's player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2018 NFL Preview magazine.
2018 NFL Running Back Rankings
1. Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh
Didn't let the drama involving his contract holdout and inability to strike a long-term deal with the Steelers in 2017 affect his play when he finally reported just before Week 1. Led the AFC in scrimmage yards (129.7 per game) and set a franchise record for running backs with 85 receptions to complement his 1,291 rushing yards.
2. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
Got back on track under new Rams head coach Sean McVay with career highs in rushing yards (1,305) and touchdowns (13). Also became a major part of Los Angeles' passing game -- an area in which he was grossly underutilized the previous two seasons under McVay's predecessor, Jeff Fisher.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas
The NFL's 2016 rushing leader had zero chance to repeat thanks to a six-game suspension under the league's domestic violence policy. Should be primed for a major rebound now that the situation is behind him.
4. David Johnson, Arizona
Unable to follow through on a breakthrough 2016 campaign after suffering a season-ending wrist injury in Week 1. Will be expected to carry the Cardinals offense with Arizona's quarterbacking situation among the NFL's shakiest following Carson Palmer's offseason retirement.
5. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo
"Shady" continues to throw shade at the opposition and Father Time. Only seven backs in NFL history have ever gained more yards from scrimmage (13,476) while in their 20s than McCoy, who turns 30 in July. Six of them are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with the seventh, Edgerrin James, a finalist the past two years.
6. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans
Big plays separated Kamara from other impressive newcomers in the race for the NFL's 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Set a New Orleans rookie record with 14 touchdowns, scoring as a running back, receiver and kick returner.
7. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City
His rookie season began against New England with the highest yardage total (246) ever gained by a debuting player. It ended with an NFL rushing title after a 1,327-yard campaign.
8. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville
The Jaguars didn't hesitate giving their 2017 first-round pick the football as reflected by his franchise rookie-record 268 carries despite missing three games. Finished with 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns as Jacksonville led the NFL in rushing.
9. Mark Ingram, New Orleans
Teamed with Alvin Kamara to become the first pair of NFL running backs each with 1,500-plus yards from scrimmage in the same season. Showcased his receiving skills with a career-high 58 catches along with 1,124 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. Ingram is set to miss the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
10. Jordan Howard, Chicago
Broke Walter Payton's franchise record by recording his 10th 100-yard rushing game in just his 23rd career outing. With 12 drops on 82 targets the past two seasons, he needs to improve pass catching now that he is set to become the feature back in new coach Matt Nagy's offense.
11. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta
12. Derrick Henry, Tennessee
13. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
14. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina
15. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota
16. Alex Collins, Baltimore
17. Carlos Hyde, Cleveland
18. Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco
19. Dion Lewis, Tennessee
20. Isaiah Crowell, New York Jets
21. Jay Ajayi, Philadelphia
22. LeGarrette Blount, Detroit
23. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland
24. Kenyan Drake, Miami
25. Lamar Miller, Houston
26. Duke Johnson, Cleveland
27. Frank Gore, Miami
28. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta
29. Adrian Peterson, Free Agent
30. C.J. Anderson, Carolina