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Christian McCaffrey, Bijan Robinson headline top 10 most complete NFL running backs entering Week 5

Each week of the 2023 NFL season, the Next Gen Stats analytics team will present a different Position Power Ranking, meant to spotlight the top performers among a specific group of players. This week, we've assembled a list of the top 10 most complete running backs heading into Week 5.

Before we dive in, though, a note on our methodology: To help create quantifiable rankings, we have devised a formula that yields a Next Gen Stats percentile score, which measures how a player is performing relative to his peers. The formula uses each player's percentile score across a series of key metrics to create one composite score, indicating which players at that position performed best. We will lean on this formula to inform our rankings when applicable.

NOTE: Player percentiles are based on components representing a player's rushing production, receiving production and pass-blocking prowess over the first four weeks of the 2023 season.

Christian McCaffrey
San Francisco 49ers
  • Rushing score: 99
  • Receiving score: 89
  • Pass-blocking score: 77

The only surprising aspect of McCaffrey's career-high four-touchdown game was that it didn’t happen sooner. Even though he missed 23 of a possible 39 games while with the Panthers from the start of the 2020 season up until he was traded to the 49ers last October, McCaffrey still received top marks in multiple receiving categories among running backs. Furthermore, the former No. 8 overall pick finished top three at his position in receiving yards (2,364), receiving yards over expected (+461) and yards after the catch over expected (+403) from 2018 through 2021. His 3,152 rushing yards were 10th-most in that span.

Kyle Shanahan has taken McCaffrey’s game to a completely different stratosphere since the back relocated to San Francisco ahead of Week 7 last season. From that point through the end of the regular season, McCaffrey led all running backs with 464 receiving yards and once again found himself in the top three in both receiving yards over expected (+74) and yards after catch over expected (+67). This season has been no different, as the 27-year-old leads the league in rushing yards (459) and is tied for the most rushing touchdowns (six) through four games -- both the most through the first four games of a season in his career. McCaffrey also has the second-most receiving yards (141) among RBs, while his +10.2 receiving EPA is the top mark at his position.

In his seventh season, McCaffrey is somehow still getting better.

Bijan Robinson
Atlanta Falcons
  • Rushing score: 94
  • Receiving score: 81
  • Pass-blocking score: 70

The celebrated back out of Texas has been all he was hyped up to be when he was selected with the No. 8 pick by the Falcons back in April. Arthur Smith wasted no time putting Robinson to work, as the rookie went for 83 all-purpose yards and a receiving touchdown on 16 touches against the Panthers in Week 1. Bijan's ability to make defenders miss and break first contact has been exceptional; his +121 rushing yards over expected is second among all running backs, just ahead of McCaffrey's mark of +104.

Robinson had a down game in Week 3 against the Lions, but Smith went right back to him this past week. The rookie went for 105 yards and +48 RYOE on 14 carries in Atlanta’s loss to the Jaguars in London. His additional 32 yards through the air in that game gave him a season total of 134 receiving yards, the most among rookie running backs.

Tony Pollard
Dallas Cowboys
  • Rushing score: 87
  • Receiving score: 64
  • Pass-blocking score: 86

The 2019 fourth-round pick spent most of his first four NFL seasons living in Ezekiel Elliott’s shadow, popping off for a game here and there whenever the coaching staff decided to lean on him or when Elliott was injured. Even with Elliott still present last season, Pollard was used consistently as both a rusher and a receiver. He continues to shoulder that load this season with Elliott having departed, and the results have been stellar. Pollard has now accumulated the second-most rush yards over expected among running backs (+248) since 2022. Dallas is having a tough time getting the run game going this season, resulting in Pollard’s yards-per-attempt figure dipping down to 4.3 from 5.2 last season (the third-best average in the league in 2022 -- min. 100 carries.)

Pollard’s talent out of the backfield is evident. His +79 yards after catch over expected on 39 receptions last season tied for sixth among running backs. But an underrated part of his game is his aptitude for blitz pickup, something Elliott also excelled at. Pollard has yet to allow a pressure on 16 pass-blocking snaps this season and has allowed just 16 on 162 snaps (9.9%) since entering the league in 2019.

James Cook
Buffalo Bills
  • Rushing score: 91
  • Receiving score: 72
  • Pass-blocking score: 73

The younger of the Cook brothers spent his rookie season in a complementary role -- if even that -- receiving double-digit touches in just six games (including the playoffs). Buffalo’s backfield is his this year, and he’s well on his way to following in his brother Dalvin’s footsteps by becoming one of the league’s top backs for years to come. 

Cook has already earned more than 10 touches in each game so far this season, with his best performance production-wise coming in Buffalo’s Week 2 blowout of the Raiders, during which Cook amassed 159 all-purpose yards on 21 touches. His 48.2 percent success rate as a rusher is second-best at his position (min. 40 carries) and his +79 rush yards over expected is fifth-most in the NFL. Josh Allen might not completely stop putting his body in harm’s way, but having Cook as an option out of the backfield at least helps; Cook is in the top 10 among running backs in both receiving yards (115), and yards after catch (117) through four weeks of play. Furthermore, he has yet to allow a pressure on 10 pass-blocking snaps.

Kenneth Walker III
Seattle Seahawks
  • Rushing score: 87
  • Receiving score: 56
  • Pass-blocking score: 82

Walker may not be the same caliber of receiver as some other backs on this list, but his dazzling ability as a rusher and in blitz pickup are enough to propel him to No. 5.

Walker has built up a bit of a “closer” reputation during his time in Seattle. Since the beginning of last season, his 390 rushing yards and +113 rush yards over expected in the fourth quarter are both second-most in the league, both trailing only Nick Chubb. But Walker isn’t only a force in the final stanza of games; of his 19 runs of 10-plus rush yards over expected since the beginning of last season (second-most in the league), 13 have come before the fourth quarter (tied for the most in the NFL). And even if he isn’t used much as a receiver, defenses still have to respect Walker whenever steps on the field due to his improved work in blitz pickup. He’s allowed only one pressure on 15 pass-blocking snaps this season (6.7%) after allowing seven pressures on 53 such snaps last season (11.8%).

D'Andre Swift
Philadelphia Eagles
  • Rushing score: 92
  • Receiving score: 43
  • Pass-blocking score: 85

Swift’s change of scenery from Detroit to Philadelphia has made all the difference thus far for the fourth-year back out of Georgia. While the Lions tried to develop Swift’s skills as a pass catcher to complement his rushing ability, the Eagles have employed the radical idea of having the talented back run behind the ferocious giants who compose their offensive line. After inexplicably giving him just two touches in Week 1, Nick Sirianni featured Swift in Week 2, when he erupted for a career-high 175 yards and +41 RYOE on 28 carries against the Vikings. Philly’s offensive line has paved the way for Swift, as evidenced by his league-leading 361 yards since Week 2.

Swift is also being used in pass protection at a higher rate than ever before in 2023, allowing four pressures on 21 pass-block snaps (19.0%).

James Conner
Arizona Cardinals
  • Rushing score: 87
  • Receiving score: 41
  • Pass-blocking score: 93

The fantasy football demise of Conner was all but written heading into the season, given his status on a rebuilding Cardinals team that had traded for a new starting quarterback just a few weeks before kickoff. But drafters who took the plunge on the 28-year-old back are reaping the benefits.

Since the Steelers let Conner walk in free agency during the 2021 offseason, he has more than outproduced his Pittsburgh numbers. Although he’s never eclipsed 1,000 yards as a rusher, mostly due to injuries, he’s on pace to do just that in 2023. Regardless, Conner has racked up 24 rushing touchdowns since joining Arizona, the third-most among running backs since 2021.

Coaches love players who do the little things, and Conner’s pass-blocking savvy keeps him on the field on throwing downs. He’s allowed an 8.8 percent quarterback pressure rate since 2018, and that figure has dropped to 6.7 percent on 193 pass-blocking snaps since joining the Cardinals. This season, he’s allowed just one pressure on 23 pass-blocking snaps (4.3% -- 13th among RBs, min. 10 such snaps).

Raheem Mostert
Miami Dolphins
  • Rushing score: 82
  • Receiving score: 75
  • Pass-blocking score: 60

Injuries caused Mostert to miss out on his prime earning years early in his career, but he's been a model of productivity since arriving in Miami before the 2022 season. Mostert, of course, had familiarity with Mike McDaniel’s scheme from their time together in San Francisco.

After setting career highs in carries (181) and rushing yards (891) while still averaging 4.9 yards a pop last season, Mostert is already off to the races in 2023, averaging a robust 5.2 ypc. His 249 rushing yards to start the year are his most through four games, and he’s well on pace to shatter his career high in rushing touchdowns (eight in 2019), as he already has six this season, tying him for the league lead.

Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans
  • Rushing score: 83
  • Receiving score: 56
  • Pass-blocking score: 65

Tennessee’s roster turnover had many thinking this would be the year "King Henry" would lose his crown. Mike Vrabel had other plans. While Henry isn’t setting any records, he’s still tied for the second-most carries (73) in the league this year, as the Titans look to control the clock and win games with rushing and defense.

If there’s one aspect of Henry’s game that has remained consistent, it’s this: Given the opportunity, he will bulldoze defenders with prejudice. His 265 yards after contact this season is the second-most in the league. Since 2017, he’s racked up 6,634 yards after contact, by far the most among all players. (Ezekiel Elliott ranks second with 5,002.)

Henry isn’t typically thought of as a receiver, but since 2018, his +104 receiving yards over expected and +95 yards after catch over expected on screen passes both rank in the top 15 among running backs. He’s likewise been a serviceable pass blocker, allowing a 10.5 percent pressure rate since 2018 (with zero pressures allowed on seven pass-blocking snaps this season).

Isiah Pacheco
Kansas City Chiefs
  • Rushing score: 82
  • Receiving score: 66
  • Pass-blocking score: 63

Kansas City’s second-year back rounds out the list.

Pacheco exists in a Chiefs offense that spreads the ball around quite a bit. Consequently, the 2022 seventh-round steal's season-long numbers may never really pop due to the multitude of ways Kansas City attacks defenses from week to week. But he makes the most of his opportunities when a game plan calls for his talents. Case and point: Pacheco ran like a man possessed in this past Sunday night's 23-20 win over the Jets, setting career highs in rushing yards (115) and yards after contact (100).

Pacheco wasn’t used much as a receiver last season (13 catches on 14 targets), but he’s already close to eclipsing those numbers through just four games in 2023 (10 catches on 12 targets). When he is utilized, it’s typically out of the backfield (93.8% of routes this season) on out-breaking routes (73.8% of routes, all from the backfield). He’s also on pace to at least be on the field for more pass plays this season, as his six pass-blocking snaps in 2023 (zero pressures allowed) are already closing in on his 17 total from last season (three pressures allowed, 17.6%).


-- Mike Band, Keegan Abdoo and John Andersen contributed to this story.

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