Through Week 6 of the 2022 season, D’Onta Foreman had compiled just 37 rush yards while backing up Christian McCaffrey in Carolina. But after McCaffrey was traded to San Francisco, Foreman stepped up with a couple of 100-yard games, and I saw the potential for him to really take off. So I named him one of four backs primed for second-half breakouts.
Needless to say, Foreman made me look good, rumbling for 130 yards on the day that article was posted and compiling 618 rush yards over his final eight games of the season, eventually earning a contract with the Bears.
Who will follow Foreman’s trajectory in 2023? Several running backs seem poised for greater production as we head into the second half of 2023. Here are four players I expect to run wild over the next couple months:
If and when the Bills get Fournette up to speed after signing him to the practice squad last week, he could steal some of the carries away from second-year back James Cook and snipe goal-line and short-yardage opportunities from Latavius Murray. It appears the Bills still don’t want to run the ball to take some of the offensive load off Josh Allen’s plate, as they rank 18th in the league in rushing attempts per game. Cook has playmaking ability, but his carries have decreased from 14 carries per game in Weeks 1-4 (when the Bills went 3-1) to 10.4 attempts per game in the last five weeks (when the Bills went 2-3). Fournette has experience and is the kind of bruiser suited for wearing down defenses in snowy Buffalo.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are built to bully teams late in the season, with this 6-foot-1, 242-pound running back spearheading the ground attack. Last season, the Steelers rushed for at least 140 yards in six of nine games after their Week 9 bye — and they won all six, going 1-2 in games where they failed to reach that mark. Harris, meanwhile, more than doubled his first-half output in the second half of the regular season. I know Jaylen Warren has been more efficient than Harris of late, but Harris has a physical style and showed tenacious effort shown in last week’s prime-time victory over Tennessee — helped, in part, by a simplified run game and improved play from the offensive line, as tackle Dan Moore Jr. told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this week. The third-year back looks poised to lead this offense down the stretch in an effort to alleviate pressure off an up-and-down Kenny Pickett.
While Derrick Henry ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards through nine weeks, his total (601 yards) feels very underwhelming for the king. But he’s heating up now, especially in games with rookie quarterback Will Levis under center. Henry has had 100-plus scrimmage yards in three straight games after posting two such games in the first five contests of 2023.
The second half of the season is typically when Henry makes his money. From 2018 to 2022, the two-time NFL rushing champion has averaged 664.2 rush yards per season and 4.3 yards per carry in Weeks 1-8, with 31 rush touchdowns. From Week 9 on in those seasons (excluding 2021, when he missed those games with an injury), Henry has averaged 945 rush yards per season and 5.5 yards per carry, with 37 touchdowns. And now, with Levis’ big arm stretching the field and keeping defenses honest, running lanes should open slightly wider for the physical running back, whom opponents are loath to tackle late in the season. Henry is currently averaging 4.4 yards per attempt, but that number should jump significantly, if history tells us anything.
The Chiefs’ offense is as balanced as it’s ever been in the Patrick Mahomes era, with the passing offense struggling to find its rhythm. Kansas City also boasts the best defense it’s had in a long time. That’s all great news for Isiah Pacheco, who is the sure-fire favorite in a backfield featuring other talented players (Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon). Averaging 4.2 yards per carry this season, Pacheco has an angry running style that bodes well for a team that is suddenly not scoring at will and is instead looking to drain the clock in the second half of games. He thrived down the stretch as a rookie, gaining 633 rush yards on 126 carries for 5.0 yards per attempt in Weeks 10-18, and I suspect we’ll see him get more opportunities late in 2023 than he did a year ago. Pacheco has the confidence and talent to be yet another offensive star in K.C.
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 10.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 9’s rankings.
2023 stats: 8 games | 137 att | 652 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 9 rush TD | 32 rec | 292 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost
Christian McCaffrey holds onto his No. 1 spot after the 49ers’ much-needed Week 9 bye. Whether it’s on the ground or through the air, CMC finds a way to get it done. Can he continue his touchdown streak against the Jaguars? I have the utmost confidence in the star back.
2023 stats: 8 games | 151 att | 583 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 7 rush TD | 27 rec | 266 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Another player coming off a bye week, the 24-year-old will look to build off his last four outings, in which he scored seven touchdowns, including six on the ground. Will Travis Etienne help Jacksonville extend a five-game winning streak on Sunday by beating a tenacious 49ers team that is eager to get back in the W column?
2023 stats: 9 games | 135 att | 614 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 3 rush TD | 30 rec | 166 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
The Eagles improved their record to an NFL-best 8-1 after surviving a nail-biter over the Cowboys. Even setting aside his two fumbles (both of which were recovered by Philly), D’Andre Swift didn’t exactly have a day to remember, logging just 74 scrimmage yards on 20 touches — the lowest total when he has at least 20 touches in a game. But it wasn’t all that surprising against a Dallas defense that ranks third in yards allowed.
2023 stats: 9 games | 109 att | 605 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 11 rush TD | 19 rec | 151 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Credit the Dolphins for being a different team over the final two quarters after being shut out in the first half against the Chiefs in Germany. Raheem Mostert scored the team’s second touchdown from 13 yards out late in the third quarter, extending his rush TD lead over Christian McCaffrey for the season. Mostert finished the 21-14 loss with 12 carries for 85 yards and the score.
2023 stats: 8 games | 137 att | 601 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 4 rush TD | 18 rec | 165 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Derrick Henry played a massive role in Tennessee’s narrow loss to the Steelers, logging 75 rush yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while adding three catches from Will Levis for 27 yards. As mentioned above, Henry imposed his will — and topped 100 scrimmage yards — for a third straight game. The Bucs’ defense could give him fits, though, as Todd Bowles’ unit hasn’t allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards since Week 3.
2023 stats: 6 games | 95 att | 346 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 2 rush TD | 43 rec | 272 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumble lost
Alvin Kamara had a more productive day as a receiver than he did taking handoffs in Sunday’s win over the Bears, catching four targets for 44 yards and rushing for 26 yards on nine carries. The 28-year-old has carved out a big role in the pass game; he ranks second on the team in receptions despite missing the first three weeks of the season.
2023 stats: 5 games | 62 att | 254 rush yds | 4.1 ypc | 1 rush TD | 15 rec | 131 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Jonathan Taylor had a pedestrian day, logging 69 scrimmage yards, but he managed to score the Colts’ lone offensive touchdown in the win – a 10-yard reception from Gardner Minshew. It was Taylor’s first receiving score of the year.
2023 stats: 8 games | 126 att | 532 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 6 rush TD | 15 rec | 111 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Ravens destroyed Seattle and prevented them from getting into the end zone all game long. Walker and the Seahawks’ rushing attack were held to a total of 28 yards, 16 of which Walker contributed. This was easily the 23-year-old’s worst game of the season.
2023 stats: 8 games | 94 att | 493 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 2 rush TD | 23 rec | 199 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
In Monday’s loss to the Chargers, the Jets were held without an offensive touchdown for the first time this season. Breece Hall led New York’s backfield with 16 carries for 50 yards and posted four receptions for 10 yards. The young back hasn’t had a game with over 50 rushing yards since Week 5.
2023 stats: 8 games | 132 att | 615 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 5 rush TD | 16 rec | 123 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Zack Moss had his lowest output of the season in Sunday’s win over the Panthers, finishing with seven carries and 26 rush yards, while Jonathan Taylor received more work. Moss must make the most of his limited opportunities to stay on this list down the stretch.
2023 stats: 9 games | 1259 att | 506 rush yds | 3.2 ypc | 5 rush TD | 28 rec | 242 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Josh Jacobs enters my list for the first time this season after being a reliable playmaker out of the backfield over the last few weeks. The first game after the Raiders made many organizational changes was also Jacobs’ best of the season, featuring a pair of second-quarter touchdowns. He finished with a season-high 98 rush yards in the victory over the Giants.
2023 stats: 9 games | 1110 att | 478 rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 7 rush TD | 6 rec | 107 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Gus Edwards and the Ravens blew out another opponent in Week 9 — this time, it was Seattle. Edwards scored back-to-back second-quarter touchdowns, scores of 4 and 3 yards. His five rushing attempts were a season low, but he made his opportunities count. Baltimore got others involved, Keaton Mitchell among them, while playing with a two-score lead for much of the game.
2023 stats: 9 games | 124 att | 525 rush yds | 4.2 ypc | 3 rush TD | 24 rec | 160 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Isiah Pacheco bounced back from Week 8’s ugly loss to the Broncos by doubling his rushing attempts in the win over Miami. He rushed 16 times for 66 yards and missed his lone target.
2023 stats: 6 games | 126 att | 502 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 1 rush TD | 22 rec | 110 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
After battling a few injuries, Saquon Barkley has once again become a bright spot in New York’s shaky offense. Barkley finished with 90 yards on 16 carries and added 23 more receiving yards in the loss to Las Vegas. Barkley leads all NFL players in the last three weeks in carries (73) and rush yards (295). With Daniel Jones out for the season, Barkley must be superman for the Giants’ offense.
2023 stats: 9 games | 113 att | 447 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 5 rush TD | 14 rec | 137 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Brian Robinson played an essential role in Sunday’s close win over the Patriots, surpassing 60 rush yards in a game for the first time since Week 3. He also scored from 9 yards out in the second quarter but had a costly lost fumble on the following drive, which set up a Patriots touchdown.
DROPPED OUT: Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (previously No. 11); James Cook, Buffalo Bills (No. 15).
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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