RB Index, Week 5: Alvin Kamara headlines RB rankings at quarter mark

Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2020 season. His rankings are based on this season’s efforts alone. Here is MJD’s list heading into Week 5.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week’s rankings.

2020 stats: 4 games | 50 att | 236 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 30 rec | 321 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

People say running backs don’t have much value anymore. Ask the New Orleans Saints how they feel about that. Without Kamara, they might be O-fer this season. With Michael Thomas sidelined and Drew Brees showing his age, the star running back has done everything — and then some — for Sean Payton’s offense, with seven scrimmage TDs this season (the most through the first four weeks of a season in franchise history). Making every move look effortless, Kamara is the man right now. 

2020 stats: 4 games | 65 att | 374 rush yds | 5.8 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 15 rec | 135 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

I gotta bring up my prospect scouting report on Jones once per season, and now is the time in this 2020 campaign. Before the 2017 NFL Draft, I spotlighted the versatile UTEP product as my sleeper in the class, lauding his tackle-breaking ability, route-running savvy and open-field skills. I called him a well-rounded back who’s “good at everything, but not great at one thing.” Not bad for a pre-draft assessment, no? The fourth-year back has indeed been a jack of all trades for the 2020 Packers. Jones has been so critical to the team’s passing attack of late, with injuries to what feels like every receiver on the depth chart. The fact that Jones can efficiently run through the tackles or catch a deep ball on a go route vs. Cover 2 tells you everything you need to know.

2020 stats: 3 games | 82 att | 319 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 5 rec | 26 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Henry continues to be a workhorse for Arthur Smith’s unit with 82 carries in just three games. The 2019 rushing champion is coming off his best game of the season (119 rush yards, two rush TDs vs. Minnesota in Week 3) and — per usual — he’ll get better and better as the campaign progresses. The Titans sit atop the AFC South at 3-0 thanks in large part to Henry’s presence in the backfield. Defenses commit to stopping him each week — it rarely works for an entire game — and if he they succeed, the passing game is still wide open for Ryan Tannehill. This unit will only get more dangerous as it gets colder.

2020 stats: 4 games | 75 att | 424 rush yds | 5.7 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 7 rec | 40 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

I was thinking maybe Cook should swap salaries with Kirk Cousins. (Hey, it was just a thought.) Everyone on the offense — especially the quarterback — plays better when Cook is in a groove, and that was apparent last week. Cook was a mad man out there Sunday (29 touches, 146 scrimmage yards, two rush TDs), leading Minnesota to its first victory of the season. With Cook and the offensive line really beginning to jell — a great sign for a team that struggled in every aspect early in the season — the Vikings hope to continue adding to the win column. It’ll be a tall task doing so this week, though, with Minnesota traveling to Seattle. Cook will have to go off if the Vikes want a chance to come home with a win.

2020 stats: 4 games | 70 att | 273 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 23 rec | 159 rec yds | 1 rec TD

It’s great that Dak Prescott is playing well and all, but it’s hard to simply outscore opponents in this league with a horrible defense. Drew Brees and the Saints tried that for years and it resulted in a slew of 7-9 records. Dallas needs to get back to handing the ball off to Zeke in the run game to control the clock. Sure, he’s still making plays, but they’re in the pass game. That’s not where he shines brightest. Hand off the ball and let the back do what he does best.

2020 stats: 4 games | 71 att | 304 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 1 rush TD | 14 rec | 129 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

The Chiefs’ offense has improved with Edwards-Helaire in the backfield, as the rookie has displayed his impact in the run and pass games. He’s forcing defenses to respect the rushing attack — like they did when Kareem Hunt was with the Chiefs — and showcasing his versatility by being a great target in a unit that’s full of them for Patrick Mahomes. Four games into his NFL career, CEH is on pace to exceed 1,200 rushing and 500 receiving yards in his rookie campaign. 

2020 stats: 4 games | 77 att | 315 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 13 rec | 88 rec yds | 1 rec TD

Now this is the Joe Mixon we all know and love. Zac Taylor did a great job getting Mixon involved early and often against the Jacksonville Jaguars and it paid off, as the Bengals earned their first win of the season. The star running back had yet to score a touchdown entering Week 4, then he hit pay dirt three times (two rushing, one receiving). Mixon is the key to the Bengals’ offensive success; leaning on him will only help rookie quarterback Joe Burrow continue to develop. 

2020 stats: 4 games | 53 att | 237 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 15 rec | 113 rec yds | 3 rec TDs

Carson slid out of my rankings last week because I was nervous about that knee injury the previous week. Well, he showed me with an 80-yard, two-TD rushing performance against the Dolphins. Carson is a big weapon for Seattle and will end up being a top back in this league by the end of the year due to sheer opportunity and playing with the MVP front-runner.

2020 stats: 4 games | 60 att | 285 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 3 rush TD | 14 rec | 161 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Robinson has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2020 campaign, as there’s been zero drop-off in Jacksonville’s run game after the departure of Leonard Fournette. The undrafted rookie ranks eighth in the league in rushing yards a quarter of the way through the season and has taken a ton of pressure off Gardner Minshew in a crucial year for the QB. Robinson has been a shining star for a unit that’s searching for consistency.

2020 stats: 4 games | 50 att | 275 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 8 rec | 42 rec yds | 2 rec TDs

With Nick Chubb sidelined by a knee injury suffered in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys, Hunt has a chance to be the featured back again. He’s been Chubb’s backup since coming to Cleveland as a third-down specialist, but we’re about to remember why Hunt was a Pro Bowler as a rookie. He’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands, possessing great contact balance and vision, and a dynamic pass catcher. Perfect for Kevin Stefanski’s offense.

2020 stats: 4 games | 83 att | 300 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 13 rec | 100 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

After averaging 4.8 yards per carry in his rookie season, the second-year back has posted a figure under 4.0 in three of his four games in 2020. Injuries to the offensive line are part of the reason why Jacobs’ production has dropped, but Jon Gruden must figure out how to get the O-line jelling and Jacobs going again because that’s when the Raiders are at their best. This team is talented enough to play in the postseason, but it won’t get a shot if the run game remains stagnant.

2020 stats: 4 games | 67 att | 254 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 1 rush TD | 5 rec | 20 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Kyler Murray has taken over the rushing attack, much like Lamar Jackson in Baltimore, so Kenyan Drake has struggled to find the same rhythm he had late last season. Drake had just 13 carries for 35 yards (2.69 ypc) in Sunday’s loss to Carolina. The Cardinals’ offense has struggled when relying heavily on Murray’s talents the last two weeks, so Kliff Kingsbury might want to revert to what worked in Weeks 1-2 and let the explosive running back go to work. 

2020 stats: 3 games | 40 att | 224 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 8 rec | 63 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Conner is averaging 97.5 scrimmage yards per game in 2020, up from 71.5 last season. He’s shown in spurts that he’s still the RB1 we saw in 2018 when Le’Veon Bell held out, but Conner is already a little banged up. Health was his No. 1 nemesis last season as he struggled to stay on the field. A week off should help him heading into Sunday’s clash with the Eagles, and the Steelers need him to keep their balanced attack strong moving forward.

2020 stats: 4 games | 65 att | 281 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 3 rush TDs | 11 rec | 45 rec yds | 1 rec TD

With Phillip Lindsay out, Gordon has done everything for this injury-riddled Broncos’ offense, including this 43-yard hard-fought TD run late in the fourth to help secure the victory over the Jets last week. Gordon looks strong as a contributor in the run and pass games, and he’s going to need to elevate his game to help the Broncos continue to climb the ranks while fighting the injury bug.

2020 stats: 4 games | 43 att | 223 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 4 rec | 62 rec yds | 0 rec TDs

Injuries to some of the league’s top running backs has made room for young guys like Henderson. He’s great when the Rams are rolling and has the goods to be an every-down back. But against the Giants, Henderson struggled to get anything going leading Sean McVay to turn to bigger back Malcolm Brown. It’s essential that Henderson plays well right out of the gate because he’ll continue to slide down the rankings if he’s not the Rams’ hot hand.

DROPPED OUT: Nick Chubb, Browns (previously No. 4); Austin Ekeler, Chargers (No. 8). Obviously, both of these backs provided fine production over the first quarter of the season, but seeing how they’re now on injured reserve and expected to miss a month-plus, Chubb and Ekeler fall out of this running ranking. Don’t be surprised if they hop right back into the mix upon return.

Follow Maurice Jones-Drew on Twitter @MJD.

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