The NFL Divisional Round is chock-full of talented playmakers with the ball in their hands, especially when it comes to rushers. After poring over the rosters of remaining playoff teams, I've come up with a ranking of the 10 best ball-carriers set to take the field this weekend.
Amassing just shy of 1,900 scrimmage yards in the regular season, McCaffrey remains among the NFL's elite running backs. In San Francisco's Super Wild Card Weekend victory over the Seahawks, the midseason trade acquisition racked up 119 yards (including this 68-yard sprint) on just 15 carries, with an additional 3-yard receiving score. He can produce in any system, as was already evident in Carolina, but we're really seeing the fruits of McCaffrey's abilities in Kyle Shanahan's offense. He's hitting another level.
Barkley is a big reason why the Giants are back in the postseason for the first time in six years. And after hitting a midseason lull, he appears back to his dominating ways of late. Barkley's had at least 100 scrimmage yards in three of his last four games, including this past week's 109-yard, two-touchdown effort in an upset win at Minnesota. When the Giants needed a big play on Sunday, Barkley repeatedly answered the bell, scoring the Giants' first and last touchdowns of the contest. Not bad for your first postseason game, but a bigger test awaits in the Divisional Round: an Eagles defense that just held Barkley to 28 yards rushing last month.
Pollard is the lightning to Ezekiel Elliott's thunder within Dallas' offense. He is explosive between the tackles and out in space. When Pollard is picking up chunk yards, the Cowboys are rolling, as evidenced by Monday night's romp over Tampa: Pollard picked up 77 of Dallas' 128 rush yards on 15 carries (5.1 yards a pop), opening the door for Dak Prescott and the passing game to feast on the Bucs' defense. If Pollard finds a way to get going early against San Francisco's No. 1 defense, this one could be real interesting.
Averaging 5.1 yards per carry in the regular season, Etienne was even better in the Jaguars' epic wild-card comeback, rushing for 109 yards on 20 attempts (a 5.5-yard average). He was a huge factor in Jacksonville erasing a 27-0 deficit, piling up 72 rushing yards in the second half. His potent running ability and explosiveness in the passing game have been on display all season in Duval, but now that the Jags are one of the four AFC teams remaining, everyone is seeing that Etienne is the real deal.
The dynamic playmaker was at the height of his career (so far) in 2021, when he gained nearly 1,800 scrimmage yards with 365 coming on the ground in an expanded role out of the backfield. Even in a loaded offense with talent at every turn, Samuel's unique ability with the ball in his hands stands out. During an injury-abbreviated 2022 regular season, 504 of his 632 receiving yards came after the catch (79.7 percent) and he led the league in yards after contact over expected (+145), per Next Gen Stats. In Super Wild Card Weekend, Samuel led all players with 112 yards after the catch and 75 YAC over expectation. He's a nightmare to bring down thanks to his physicality, elusiveness in space and desire to always gain the extra yard.
Though quarterback Jalen Hurts has certainly helped fuel the Eagles' fifth-ranked rushing attack, Sanders has been at his best this season with 259 carries for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns (all career highs). The first-time Pro Bowler has made the most of every opportunity, providing Philly with another weapon opposing defenses must account for. For the top-seeded Eagles to get where they want to be in February, Sanders must step up with Hurts not at 100 percent.
It's the Josh Allen Show in Buffalo. As much as the Bills have tried to get their backs (Devin Singletary and James Cook) involved in the run game, it's up to Allen to get this team to the mountaintop -- with good reason. Allen is able to equally utilize his arm in the pass game and legs in the run game to exploit defenses, and he's constantly keeping opponents on their heels. Averaging 47.6 rushing yards per game this season, Allen is clearly the engine that makes this team go.
Mixon is a player I just can't quit. Though he sometimes underperforms -- in fact, he had just one 100-yard rushing game in 2022 -- his abilities are comparable to the NFL's best at the running back position. Injuries to the offensive line haven't helped, but with all of the attention on the passing attack, Mixon is a guy who can give the Bengals' offense an edge. He'll need to get going early and often Sunday in Buffalo to keep these Bengals in the postseason.
We saw what the Eagles' offense looked like without Hurts and his mobility, and it wasn't great. Though he might not be 100 percent Saturday night against the Giants, Hurts' diverse skill set makes Philadelphia so hard to contain, as the young quarterback just stresses the defense in so many ways. It's not just that Hurts can pick up big gains and first downs with his legs -- it's his ability to get into the end zone (13 rush TDs this season). Without Hurts, the Eagles' offense isn't the same. He's the straw that stirs the drink.
Jones has been at the center of the Giants' success this season -- alongside Barkley and first-year head coach Brian Daboll -- with the best campaign of his career. Jones has thrown the ball well, but it's his ability to run that really befuddles the defense. Including the playoffs, Jones ranks in the top five in most rush yards over expected on designed QB runs (+116, fifth) and scrambles (+175, third), per Next Gen Stats. This showed up big time in last Sunday's upset win at Minnesota, with Jones rushing for 78 yards on a career-high 17 carries. Daboll is using Jones in the same way he utilized Josh Allen in Buffalo, and we're seeing the same type of results.