The 2021 season is finally just around the corner for the Minnesota Vikings as training camp kicks off in earnest on July 28 and the coaching staff will see a squad that has a lot more ability than the one that ended the last year.
Danielle Hunter’s return is probably the biggest improvement, as he’s a game-changing passer – something the team missed in a big way due to Hunter’s absence due to a herniated disc. The defense was putrid last year and couldn’t stop the run or reach the quarterback. The addition of defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce as well as cornerback Patrick Peterson could help reverse the team’s defensive fortunes.
While inconsistency has been one of the squad’s most glaring issues over the past two years, it hasn’t been the running back. Dalvin Cook gave the Vikings a remarkably productive and explosive racing game. When the Vikings decide to run football, they are clearly one of the best teams in the league at it. The Tennessee Titans may have a slight advantage with powerful back Derrick Henry, but the other 30 teams in the league are all watching the Minnesota race game.
In this article, we take a look at the top five running backs in the league and what each of those backs means for their teams.
1. Derrick Henry, Titans of Tennessee. The 27-year-old power back gets better every season, and he’s a ram of a runner who has dominated like few have in his NFL career. 6-3, 247-pound Henry can find the hole and accelerate, but the key to his game is his ability to lower his shoulder and push the tackles back. He also has one of the greatest stiff arm movements in NFL history.
Henry announced his presence as a game-changer in 2018 when he rushed for 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns averaging 4.9 yards per carry. It was a season of confidence for Henry, who followed it with 1,540 yards, 16 rushing touchdowns and 5.1 yards per carry. It was enough to hoist Henry to the top of the RB standings, but it was not enough for him.
He had one of the best seasons for any running back last year as he rushed for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns with a catchy 5.4 yards per carry. While Henry’s power and ferocity are two of his most notable assets, he can also pick up huge chunks of footage once he’s in the clear. As long as Henry is healthy, the Titans will remain a contender or favorite in the AFC South.
2. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings. Cook will be 26 when training camp begins, and he is set to tackle the best seasons of his career as he prepares for his performance in 2021.
Cook is entering his fifth season in the NFL and has just had some back-to-back sensational years. He ran for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 and he also contributed 53 receptions for 519 yards. Cook followed with 1,557 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in 2020 with 44 catches for 361 yards and one touchdown.
Almost as remarkable as his ability to play big is his versatility as a runner and catcher. He’s had runs of 70 yards or more in each of the past three seasons, and he’s also had a reception of 50 yards. Cook has the kind of brilliant moves that make you miss out on threatening defense in almost any game, and he’s the Vikings’ best and most consistent offensive asset.
3. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns. Chubb is one of the main reasons the Browns have progressed so significantly over the past two seasons. The 5-11, 227-pound Chubb is one of the most instinctive runners in the league.
The former Georgia Bulldog ran for 1,494 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 and followed it with 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Once Chubb has the ball in his hands, he’s one of the league’s biggest threats. In addition to running away from tacklers, he is one of the best after contact.
He only caught 16 assists last season and the Browns would love to see more in that area. However, he’s relieved quarterback Baker Mayfield and he’s a game-changing presence for the Browns.
4. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers. Few running backs in recent years have been as versatile as McCaffrey, who excels as a running back and wide receiver. McCaffrey has the quickness to break through the opening and the great speed to make big plays out of the backfield. He also has sensational moves as a receiver and perhaps the most reliable hands in the league when it comes to catching the ball out of the backfield.
McCaffrey has only played three games in 2020 due to a high ankle sprain early in the season and a shoulder injury later. He ran for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2019, and he also added 116 receptions for 1,005 yards and four touchdowns in 2019.
If McCaffrey can stay healthy in 2021, he should be able to come close to those numbers and the Panthers will become a much more dangerous team.
5. Saquon Barkley, Giants of New York. Observers might raise an eyebrow at Barkley’s placement on New Orleans Saints’ Alvin Kamara, but the fourth-year running back is expected to return with a huge season.
Barkley amassed 1,307 and 1,003 yards in his first two seasons, but he tore up his ACL last year and only played two games.
Barkley and the Giants have kept a relatively low profile as he recovers from his injury, and he won’t return to action until he’s hit 100%. Once that happens, the belief here is that Barkley will be among the best running backs in the league and give the Giants a game-changing presence outside the backfield.