Jim Brown once won five NFL rushing titles in a row. But that was back in the 1950s and ’60s when running games mattered.
With NFL rules now heavily favoring the passing game, runners have become second-class citizens on Sunday afternoons. There are only three backs currently in the NFL who have won rushing titles and they all have one apiece – Kareem Hunt, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy.
But that could be changing. As recently as 2014, there wasn’t a running back selected in the first round. But in each of the last three drafts a running back has been selected in the Top 5 and ground games appear to be making a comeback. So that’s the subject of our weekly Talk of Fame Network poll – who will win the NFL rushing title in 2018? Here are your options:
Saquon Barkley, NY Giants. A rookie has led the NFL in rushing each of the last two seasons, Kareem Hunt in 2017 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016. As the second overall pick of the 2018 draft, Barkley becomes the highest drafted running back since Reggie Bush in 2006. He’s coming off an All-America season at Penn State during which he rushed for 1,271 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 54 passes for 632 yards and three touchdowns, averaged 27.3 yards on kickoff returns with two more touchdowns and threw for another TD on an option pass.
Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh. Considered the most complete back in the NFL today and he’ll be playing another season on the franchise tag for the Steelers. Bell carried the ball a career-high 321 times in 2017 for 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns and also caught a career-high 85 passes for 655 more yards and two touchdowns. He won an AFC rushing crown with a career-best 1,361 yards in 2014. He finished third in the league in rushing last season behind Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley. He already holds the franchise record for career receptions by a running back with 312.
Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas. The 2016 NFL rushing champion. A six-game suspension by the NFL prevented Elliott from defending that rushing title in 2017. Despite playing only 10 games, he still almost reached 1,000 yards on the season, finishing with 983 yards and seven touchdowns. Elliott has rushed for 100 yards in half of his 26 career NFL games and the Cowboys have won 10 of those games. Elliott benefits from running behind an offensive line that features three perennial Pro Bowlers.
Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville. The fourth overall pick of the 2017 draft, Fournette finished eighth in the league in rushing with 1,040 yards for the AFC South champion Jaguars despite sitting out three games with injuries and a team suspension. He rushed for 100 yards in his NFL debut against Houston and hit 100 four more times, including a 181-yard performance on the road at Pittsburgh. He had long touchdown runs of 90 yards against the Steelers and 75 yards against the Rams.
Melvin Gordon, LA Chargers. Todd Gurley isn’t the other Pro Bowl back calling Los Angeles home these days. A former first-round draft pick, Gordon rushed for 641 yards as a rookie in 2015, 997 in 2016 and finally 1,105 in 2017. His arrow is pointing up and for good reason – the talent is there. Gordon was a 2,500-yard rusher as a senior at Wisconsin on his way to Big Ten MVP honors. He also holds the NCAA record for running backs with an average of 7.79 yards per career carry. His best NFL game was 196 yards against Tennessee in 2016.
Todd Gurley, LA Rams. The Rams made Gurley the richest running back in NFL history this offseason with a four-year contract extension worth $60 million, including $45 million guaranteed. With two years left on his rookie deal, the Rams have locked up Gurley’s services for the next six seasons. Based on his 2017 season, Gurley is worth every penny. He was the offensive catalyst that catapulted the Rams from a four-win team in 2016 to NFC West champion in 2017. He rushed for an NFC-leading 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns and also caught 64 passes for 788 yards and six more scores.
Jordan Howard, Chicago. A former fifth-round pick, Howard rushed for 1,313 yards as a rookie in 2016 to finish third in the NFL in rushing and followed that up with a 1,122 yards in 2017 to finish sixth. And he’s done it pretty much on his own with five different starting quarterbacks in his 32-game career. The quarterbacking seemed to have stabilized this season with former first-round draft pick Mitch Trubisky, which will benefit Howard, who has 16 touchdowns in his two seasons. He has 12 100-yard games, highlighted by a 167-yard outing last season against the Ravens.
Kareem Hunt, Kansas City. The 2017 NFL rushing champion. You might say Hunt is a fast starter – and his fast start as a rookie last season paved the way for a rushing crown. Hunt rushed for 148 yards in his NFL debut in a shocking upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots – then rushed for 172 yards against the Chargers, 101 against Washington and 107 against Houston in his first five games. He would only rush for 100 yards in two of his final 11 games – but his 1,327 yards still wound up leading the league. A third-round draft pick, Hunt rushed for eight touchdowns and scored three more times on receptions.