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NFL RB Index, Week 16: 3 fresh running backs who could impact playoff race; updated top-15 rankings

It's Week 16 in the NFL regular season, so you can bet that hardly any player taking the field feels 100 percent. The length of the campaign wears on these guys -- trust me.

That's why having depth is so important at this point in the season. Players get injured and others must step up. In other instances, teams are trying to lighten a starter's load to allow him to be at full strength in the playoffs.

Today, I'm looking at fresh-legged running backs who could greatly impact this year's postseason field, with divisional and wild-card races heating up as we head down the stretch. Here are three candidates, listed in alphabetical order.

Chase Brown
Cincinnati Bengals · Rookie

Joe Mixon has logged a lot of miles this season, accounting for 69 percent of his team’s rushing yards and 80 percent of ground touchdowns (both tops among backs across the league, per NFL Research). That’s why the Bengals giving Brown more opportunities in recent weeks feels significant. During the three-game win streak, the rookie has logged 30 touches and 217 scrimmage yards. Prior to that, he had just five touches for 13 yards in six career games. Two of the Bengals' four 100-yard rushing games this season have come in the last three weeks, with Mixon and Brown splitting carries. Brown is also an asset in the passing game, as evidenced by his catch-and-run for a 54-yard touchdown in which he displayed long speed and elusiveness in the open field. This rushing attack will be key to Cincy's success, especially now that the offense will be without star WR Ja’Marr Chase for at least this week's game in Pittsburgh. 

Ty Chandler
Minnesota Vikings · Year 2

The Vikings really struggled to run the football in the first half of the season, averaging just 73.3 rush yards per contest through Week 8 (31st in the NFL) when heavily leaning on Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers (prior to his season-ending injury). Production has picked up over the last six games, with Minnesota eclipsing 100 yards five times. The best individual outing of the season -- by far -- came this past Saturday in the overtime loss at Cincinnati. Chandler, replacing an injured Mattison (ankle), set career highs with 23 carries and 132 rush yards while adding a touchdown -- one of just three on the season by Vikings RBs. It was the second-year back’s first career start, and he made the most of the opportunity, showing his quickness, burst and contact balance. Averaging 4.7 yards per carry on 72 attempts this season, Chandler has played in at least 30 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in each of the last five games, providing splash plays when given the chance. With so many question marks surrounding the quarterback position in Minnesota, Chandler could be what steadies -- and perhaps lifts -- the Vikings’ offense in their final three games against the Lions (twice) and Packers.

Jonathan Taylor
Indianapolis Colts · Year 4

Having won five of their past six games, the Colts are surging -- and now they get Jonathan Taylor back "at full speed"! If Indianapolis beats Atlanta on Sunday, the team will have a 72 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to our friends at Next Gen Stats. That’s huge! Plus, Zack Moss got banged up last week and has missed practice. So while Taylor has missed significant time this season due to his own health issues, he’s been a key contributor when on the field. In his last game prior to injuring his thumb, which has sidelined him the last month, Taylor had 91 rush yards and a pair of touchdowns. That’s the kind of production this offense needs from him. Taylor is as good as any running back in the league -- remember, he was the rushing champion in 2021 with 1,811 yards -- so his healthy return could make Indy that dangerous team that hits its stride at the perfect time.

Top 15 running backs

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 2023 season. His rankings are primarily based on this season's efforts. Here is MJD's list in Week 16.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 15's rankings.

Christian McCaffrey
San Francisco 49ers · Year 7

2023 stats: 14 games | 244 att | 1,292 rush yds | 5.3 ypc | 13 rush TD | 57 rec | 509 rec yds | 7 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

Another week, another dominant outing from McCaffrey. Behind his season-high 187 scrimmage yards (115 rushing, 72 receiving) and three touchdowns, the 49ers’ clinched the NFC West for the second straight season. He’s a walking highlight reel, especially against the Cardinals, having scored seven TDs in two games against them this season. Sunday’s TDs came on 5- and 41-yard passes from Brock Purdy and a one-yard run

Raheem Mostert
Miami Dolphins · Year 9

2023 stats: 14 games | 198 att | 966 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 18 rush TD | 24 rec | 171 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

With another two-TD performance in Miami’s easy win over the Jets, Mostert set a franchise record for most scrimmage touchdowns (20), surpassing WR Mark Clayton (18 in 1984). In addition, he became the third undrafted player in the common draft era (since 1967) to have at least 20 scrimmage TDs in a season, joining Priest Holmes (2002 and '03) and Austin Ekeler (2021). He stepped up in a major way on Sunday for a Miami offense without its top playmaker in Tyreek Hill, helping the Dolphins keep their lead over the resurgent Bills in the division race.

Kyren Williams
Los Angeles Rams · Year 2

2023 stats: 10 games | 186 att | 953 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 8 rush TD | 30 rec | 192 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Rams' game against the Saints on Thursday is not being factored into Williams' ranking or the following analysis, which are solely meant to reflect Williams' play heading into Week 16.

Williams has come on strong in December and added another big-time performance to his budding résumé in last Sunday’s win over Washington. Finishing with 152 rush yards on 27 carries with a 1-yard TD run late in the second quarter, Williams joined Miami’s De’Von Achane as the only players boasting two games with at least 150 rushing yards in 2023. He is also averaging the third-most scrimmage yards in the league this season with 114.5, behind only Christian McCaffrey and Tyreek Hill, both of whom are in the MVP conversation. 

James Cook
Buffalo Bills · Year 2

2023 stats: 14 games | 188 att | 968 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 2 rush TD | 40 rec | 433 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Cook looked like a man possessed against Dallas’ defensive sieve on Sunday night, rushing for a career-high 179 yards and finishing with 221 scrimmage yards. It marked the first time the Cowboys allowed a player to have 200-plus scrimmage yards against them in a game since Dan Quinn was hired as defensive coordinator in 2021. It’s great to see the Bills finally leaning on their running back.

David Montgomery
Detroit Lions · Year 5

2023 stats: 11 games | 178 att | 855 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 10 rush TD | 14 rec | 103 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

The Lions thumped the Broncos to put some separation between them and the Vikings in the NFC North. Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs combined for 185 rushing yards in the win. While Gibbs is getting more play in the passing game, Montgomery remains the go-to ball-carrier, leading the team in rush yards and rush TDs through 16 weeks.

Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · Year 8

2023 stats: 14 games | 230 att | 884 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 10 rush TD | 27 rec | 203 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Henry ran into a wall that was the Texans’ defense for much of the day Sunday. He was held to just 9 yards(!) on 16 carries and had a team-high four catches for 1 yard. That’s a rough day. Plus, the Titans got eliminated from the postseason after giving up a late lead. 

Jahmyr Gibbs
Detroit Lions · Rookie

2023 stats: 12 games | 139 att | 792 rush yds | 5.7 ypc | 7 rush TD | 47 rec | 296 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Gibbs has turned it on since returning from injury in Week 7, scoring all eight of his scrimmage touchdowns in that span. Gibbs logged his second 100-yard rushing performance in Saturday night’s win -- highlighted by the 34-yard run up the middle -- lifting him above 1,000 scrimmage yards on the season.

Travis Etienne
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 3

2023 stats: 14 games | 229 att | 837 rush yds | 3.7 ypc | 9 rush TD | 48 rec | 411 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Etienne had his worst outing in over a month against the Ravens, rushing for just 31 yards on 10 attempts. The Jags’ rushing attack is averaging 78.7 yards per game since Week 10 and has had fewer than 85 yards in five of the last six games. Etienne must become a bigger playmaker if the Jags intend on keeping their place atop the division. 

Rachaad White
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 2

2023 stats: 14 games | 222 att | 834 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 5 rush TD | 50 rec | 469 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

White has been on fire over the last month, helping the Buccaneers win three straight to get to the top of the NFC South. He led the Bucs with 89 rush yards and added several big plays in the pass game, including a 26-yard TD reception, in the 34-20 win over the Packers to lift him over 100 scrimmage yards for the fourth consecutive game -- the longest streak by a Bucs running back since Doug Martin in 2012. The Bucs would be wise to keep feeding White, who’ll set up the play-action pass for Baker Mayfield and company.

D'Andre Swift
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 4

2023 stats: 14 games | 196 att | 896 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TD | 38 rec | 209 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Swift had a respectable game against the Seahawks with 74 yards on 18 carries (4.1 yards per attempt). The thing with Swift is he’s never going to get the goal-line opportunities (SEE: The Brotherly Shove), so he has to find other ways to keep producing.

Saquon Barkley
New York Giants · Year 6

2023 stats: 11 games | 194 att | 797 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 3 rush TD | 33 rec | 206 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

Tommy DeVito’s magic ran dry Sunday -- and the rest of the Giants’ offense followed suit. Barkley had his fewest rush yards (14) in a game with at least five carries since Week 1 of the 2020 season. The 5-9 Giants aren’t technically eliminated from the postseason, but it's a real long shot. Can Barkley eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight season? That's something he hasn’t done since 2018 and '19.  

Tony Pollard
Dallas Cowboys · Year 5

2023 stats: 14 games | 207 att | 848 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 5 rush TD | 51 rec | 290 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

The Cowboys got behind early and were at the mercy of a motivated Bills defense for much of Sunday's road loss. Pollard finished with 11 carries for 52 yards (4.7 yards per attempt) and two receptions for 5 yards. It was Pollard’s fewest number of carries in a game since the Week 5 loss at San Francisco, another instance when the Cowboys played from behind for a majority of the game. If Dallas has to hit the road in the playoffs, it could mean trouble, as the 'Boys are just 3-4 outside of Jerry World this season.

Joe Mixon
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 7

2023 stats: 14 games | 211 att | 815 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 8 rush TD | 45 rec | 341 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

As much as Chase Brown has provided a boost during Cincinnati's three-game win streak, Mixon has been steady all season long for the offense. He’s scored a touchdown in eight straight games, with the latest coming on the game-tying, 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter against the Vikings. He is one TD away from his second career season with 10 scores.

Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints · Year 7

2023 stats: 11 games | 161 att | 630 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 5 rush TD | 68 rec | 446 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Saints' game against the Rams on Thursday is not being factored into Kamara's ranking or the following analysis, which are solely meant to reflect Kamara's play heading into Week 16.

With 110 scrimmage yards in the Saints’ win over the Giants, Kamara became the 17th running back in NFL history to have 1,000-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first seven seasons. The last three to accomplish that feat? LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte. I’d say that’s pretty good company.

Bijan Robinson
Atlanta Falcons · Rookie

2023 stats: 14 games | 176 att | 801 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TD | 41 rec | 323 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 3 fumbles lost

These Falcons are a tough watch. In Sunday's loss at Carolina, Robinson had his second-lowest number of carries (seven) and rush yards (11) -- despite the game being played in a monsoon. That’s pretty shocking. The Colts could present a get-right opportunity for the rookie, as they rank 26th against the run. Atlanta is still in the division race, but there is no room for error.

DROPPED OUT: Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders (previously No. 9); Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City Chiefs (No. 13); De'Von Achane, Miami Dolphins (No. 14).

The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.

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