It seemed not too long ago that all dual-threat quarterbacks were basically funneled into one category, as if they all did the same things. That wasn't fair then, and it certainly isn't now.
Not every dual-threat QB in the league this season -- and there are a lot of them -- is the same. Let's divide these players into tiers to add some needed nuance to this conversation.
These are the Michael Vicks of today's NFL. The only quarterbacks who truly belong in this tier are the guys who lead their teams in rushing yards. Yeah, I hear you Ryan Fitzpatrick (the Dolphins' leading rusher in 2019) but I can't reward a QB for his "accomplishment" when his running backs were so bad. (Sorry, not sorry.) In all seriousness, Jackson and Murray are phenomenal runners, whether they're making plays on designed runs or scrambles. Jackson took the league by storm in 2019 with his dynamic running style and ultimately was a unanimous selection for league MVP. He broke Vick's single-season QB rushing record with 1,206 yards. Now it looks like Murray is well on his way to his own 1,000-yard season. In fact, with an average of 79 rushing yards through two games, Murray is on pace (1,264) to break Jackson's record. It will be no easy task to continue producing at that rate, of course, but these two players are a big reason their respective teams are undefeated heading into Week 3.
Newton (6-foot-5, 245 pounds) and Allen (6-5, 237) have the size and ability to simply run defenders over. While injuries set Newton back in the previous two seasons, he has been one of the best short-yardage and red-zone runners in the league for a long time. Look at Sunday night's Patriots-Seahawks game, when Newton got the call on the final play with the game on the line and the ball at Seattle's 1-yard line. He came up short, but like he said on Tuesday: "We ran the play four times and we were successful three of the four times and the last time was the fourth play." It's not just these short-yardage situations where Newton and Allen excel, though. Their speed, body control and instincts allow them to make big gains from anywhere on the field.
Highly efficient runners
All three players are extremely dangerous as runners but they don't use their legs to pick up yards as often as Jackson and Murray do. Wilson, Mahomes and Watson have made themselves a ton of moola by eluding defenders in the pocket, looking downfield for a target, choosing to scramble while still looking to pass, then finally making the decision to run for the chains when there are no other options. For example, the Chiefs trailed the Chargers by three in Week 2 and faced third-and-20 with 54 seconds left in regulation. Mahomes took matters into his own hands when he couldn't find an open target, scrambling for 21 yards and a first down. The game was looking like it might have been out of reach for Kansas City and just like that, Mahomes' running ability kept his offense on the field -- ultimately, the Chiefs went on to win in overtime.
Side note: All three of these QBs are exceptional in this way, but Wilson's ability to extend plays is on another level and it's what makes him one of the most-feared and best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Big and mobile
These guys are a cross between the bruisers and efficient runners. Coaches often tell big quarterbacks with good mobility to "run when they have to" since they're capable of keeping plays alive with their legs. Coordinators might call a designed run or two for them, but coaches tend to keep these QBs out of harm's way -- unless you're Carson Wentz because it's like a magnet to you. All of these passers are effective as ball-carriers and can get it done if called upon.
Don't sleep on their rushing ability
This might come as a surprise to some, but Minshew ranks sixth in rushing yards (382) among quarterbacks since the start of 2019. That's why he's really the epitome of this category. Defenses might not spend a lot of time worrying about these quarterbacks running the ball, but each of them can make big plays on the ground. It can be crushing for a defense to do everything right in coverage, only to have the QB scramble for a first down, especially when it's not a player in one of the top tiers.
Mourning the loss of a legendary RB
Before we move on to my rankings, I wanted to take a moment to share my appreciation for Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 77. From a football standpoint, the Chicago Bears running back was an incredible playmaker who did everything from running between tackles, catching the ball out of the backfield and returning kicks. His NFL career, shortened by injury, lasted just seven seasons, but Sayers made a massive impact on the game with the time he had, which is why he was named to the 1960s All-Decade Team, the 50th anniversary All-Time Team, the 75th anniversary All-Time Team and the NFL 100th anniversary All-Time Team. As a Black man in America whose career coincided with the height of the civil rights movement, Sayers paved the way for people like me to live out our dreams. For that, I wish I got the chance to thank him in person.
Top 15 Running Backs
Entering the 2020 NFL season, former All-Pro running back and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew examines all RBs and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the Ground Index rankings are based on a combination of:
1) Player accomplishments prior to the 2020 season.
2) Weekly performances, factoring in strength of opponent.
Rankings will be based solely on this season's efforts following Week 4. Now, let's get to it. Entering Week 3, here is MJD's pecking order:
2020 stats: 2 games | 25 att | 95 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 14 rec | 146 rec yds | 1 rec TD
While Drew Brees struggled without favorite target Michael Thomas on Monday night, Kamara carried a bulk of the offensive load with 174 scrimmage yards and two TDs on 22 touches. I gotta say, it's great to see a healthy Kamara on the field for the Saints after he battled injuries in 2019.
2020 stats: 2 games | 34 att | 234 rush yds | 6.9 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 8 rec | 78 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Even after tying for the league lead with 19 scrimmage TDs in 2019, Jones still tends to fly under the radar at his position. Those days might be over soon given his latest performance: 18 carries, 168 rush yards, two rush TDs, four receptions, 68 receiving yards, one receiving TD against the Lions. Jones' career day was one for the books and has this Packers offense looking dominant -- scoring 40-plus points in back-to-back games -- heading into a clash with the Saints in Week 3.
2020 stats: 2 games | 44 att | 185 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 9 rec | 64 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Zeke tends to the be headliner any time the Cowboys take the field but not this week. After a four-TD day, that honor goes to Dak Prescott (and Dan Quinn for an epic collapse). Make no mistake, though, Zeke did his part in Dallas' comeback victory with 122 scrimmage yards and a rushing TD. I'm guessing he'll be back in the driver's seat on Sunday against the Seahawks as the Cowboys look to notch their second straight win.
2020 stats: 2 games | 56 att | 200 rush yds | 3.57 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 3 rec | 15 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Defenses have done a good job limiting Henry so far this season, as the reigning league rushing champion has had consecutive games with zero rushing TDs and fewer than 4.0 ypc for the first time since Weeks 1-4 of the 2018 campaign. Despite Henry's struggles, the Titans are 2-0 heading into a road contest with a struggling Vikings group.
2020 stats: 2 games | 32 att | 184 rush yds | 5.8 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 2 rec | 15 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
The Browns' run game took over in Week 2 with Chubb and Kareem Hunt toying with the Bengals' defense for a majority of the game. Chubb finished the game with 124 yards and two TDs on 22 totes, good for 5.6 yards per carry on the night. If Thursday's performance is any indication of what we'll see out of Kevin Stefanski's offense, I want a front-row seat.
2020 stats: 2 games | 26 att | 113 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 3 rec | 6 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Every year there is a team that doesn't utilize its star running back correctly early in the season. Last year it was the New York Giants. This year? Step right up, Minnesota Vikings. Cook is averaging 14.5 touches per game -- that's seven fewer than his 2019 average. The Vikings must turn their season around quickly or they'll get left in the dust. Giving Cook the rock is a good starting point.
2020 stats: 2 games | 52 att | 181 rush yds | 3.5 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 7 rec | 63 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Jacobs might not have scored three touchdowns like he did in Week 1, but he was just as effective in the Raiders' first game in Allegiant Stadium. The second-year back's punishing running style wore down the Saints' defense and helped his team win the time of possession by nearly 13 minutes. This offense is finally starting to click and I love it.
2020 stats: 2 games | 23 att | 148 rush yds | 6.4 ypc | 1 rush TD | 6 rec | 110 rec yds | 1 rec TD
Mostert has started the 2020 season with a bang, becoming the first player in NFL history with a scrimmage touchdown of 75-plus yards in each of the first two weeks of a season. That's why the MCL sprain he suffered in Week 2 is such a bummer. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero said there's optimism that the injury won't lead to an extended absence but still ... it's another blow to a team that's losing players left and right.
2020 stats: 2 games | 35 att | 176 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 1 rush TD | 6 rec | 32 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
After having zero catches on two targets in Week 1, the rookie got involved in the Chiefs' passing game in Week 2 with six receptions for 32 yards on eight targets. I expect his role as a pass catcher to only grow as the season progresses.
2020 stats: 2 games | 35 att | 115 rush yds | 3.3 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 5 rec | 42 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Mixon is off to a slow start, averaging 3.3 yards per carry through two games, but I expect that to change soon. Looking back over Thursday's game, what was Bengals coach Zac Taylor thinking having Joe Burrow throw it 61 times?! Like, what is that? Sure, the rookie has shown promise, but 61 pass attempts? I know Mixon wasn't finding a lot of room to run against the Browns (46 yards on 16 carries), but I still believe the result of the game might have been different if Cincinnati had leaned on its running back a little more.
2020 stats: 2 games | 23 att | 93 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 9 rec | 81 rec yds | 3 rec TDs
Carson has been sneaky good this season with three receiving touchdowns (already a career high), including an 18-yard TD reception late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the New England Patriots. Along with Carson's effectiveness in the run game, his increased productivity in the passing game has been a game-changer for early MVP candidate Russell Wilson.
2020 stats: 2 games | 35 att | 177 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 0 rush TDs | 5 rec | 58 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
The Chargers' offense looked much more explosive with Justin Herbert starting at quarterback in Week 2. Ekeler was certainly more productive in the passing game (thanks for listening, Chargers) with four receptions on as many targets for 55 yards (13.8 yards per catch). That's a nice chunk of yardage, which Ekeler will routinely provide as long as the team gets him involved.
2020 stats: 2 games | 36 att | 146 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 4 rec | 14 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
Drake continues to be a playmaker for the Cardinals, registering 86 rush yards in last week's win over Washington. The Cardinals have hit the ground running this season with Drake and quarterback Kyler Murray leading the charge for the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing offense. This is a tough pair for defenses to defend, as both guys are effective with the ball in their hands.
2020 stats: 2 games | 32 att | 164 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 4 rec | 46 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
The undrafted rookie fits well in the Jaguars' scheme as a versatile player who can contribute in the run and pass games. Robinson, who has good vision and is creative in the open field, is the back the Jags have been looking for -- and a reason for the release of Leonard Fournette before the season.
2020 stats: 2 games | 35 att | 123 rush yds | 3.5 ypc | 1 rush TD | 8 rec | 76 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
I'm generally skeptical of Wisconsin running backs as they enter the league because the Badgers' offensive line is routinely so good. Luckily for Taylor, he went from one great offensive line to another when transitioning to the NFL. The rookie rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 26 totes in his first game as the Colts' RB1. He showed he has the talent to take some of the pressure off Philip Rivers and help this football team win games.
DROPPED OUT: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers (previously No. 1); Saquon Barkley, Giants (No. 14).