Much to the chagrin of plenty of experts, running backs tend to matter in the NFL. The NFC North backfields are impressively strong for most of the division. With playmaking receivers and legendary quarterbacks, the running backs can often be overlooked.
Ranking the NFC North Backfields Heading into the 2022 Season
Green Bay Packers
Aaron Jones Is About His Business
4107 total yards and 40 total touchdowns over the past 3 seasons yet SLEPT ON pic.twitter.com/rIMgW1kLeu
— IKE Packers Podcast (@IKE_Packers) August 24, 2022
Truth be told, the gap between the top three NFC North backfields is thinner than in other divisions. The Packers have had a pair of solid running backs over the years and will have another strong one-two punch in 2022. Despite seemingly taking a step back in 2021, Aaron Jones is still a very good running back in Green Bay. He’s run for over 1,000 yards twice, led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2019 with 16, and is averaging 5.6 yards per touch. He’s a great RB1 for the Packers and will likely benefit from the 169-target-sized hole left behind by the departure of Davante Adams.
Behind Jones is the “Quadfather” himself, AJ Dillon. The drop from Jones to Dillon is not very steep as Dillon, as a second-year player, ran for 803 yards and five touchdowns. He’s also a receiving threat and averaged 8.5 yards per touch. As the offense gets used to the new receiving corps with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, Jones and Dillon may be tasked with more receiving out of the backfield. Along with the reigning back-to-back MVP, the Packers are favored to take the division thanks to these two.
The top running back in the NFC is Dalvin Cook. Cook has earned three Pro Bowl nods over the past three seasons. This 2020 season was his best, posting career-highs in just about every statistical category that matters. He’s rushed for over 1,100 yards in each of the last three years despite missing two games in 2019, two in 2020, and four in 2021. He’s projected to be a top-five back yet again.
Behind Cook is another running back who could find success if traded, Alexander Mattison. In his three years in the NFL, Mattison has been the Robin to Cook’s Batman. He’s been a reliable RB2 for Minnesota and has been able to step in for those games missed by Cook. In his career, Mattison has amassed 1,387 yards and six touchdowns and averages 4.7 yards per touch.
Third of the three solid NFC North backfields belongs to the Lions. The Packers have a pair of stars, which is why they get the nod, but this Lions duo is not one to sleep on. D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams are a solid duo. Between the two, they rushed for 1,218 yards and eight touchdowns.
Williams started 11 of the team’s 17 games last year and has taken the world by storm in this year’s HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” In his first year away from Green Bay where he spend the first four years of his career, Williams posted career-bests in rushing yards with 601. Swift has shown tremendous upside in his two years in Detroit. He looks to take another step forward in 2022 to make this NFC North backfields debate even more fun.
Pulling up the rear, the Chicago Bears have struggled just about everywhere. In terms of rushing yards, fourth-year back David Montgomery is one of the better ones in the division. He’s run for 2,808 yards and 21 touchdowns in his three years. However, he averages just under four yards per carry, which is why he’s fourth of four starting backs here.
Behind Montgomery, Khalil Herbert was a decent RB2 as a rookie in 2021. The former Kansas Jayhawk and Virginia Tech Hokie, Herbert ran for 433 yards and two touchdowns off of 103 rushing attempts. The best ability is availability and Herbert appeared in all 17 games for the Bears last year. He should take a step forward this year, but unless he and Montgomery get significantly better on a seemingly inept offense for a team that refused to help out its young quarterback, they’ll remain at the bottom of the NFC North backfields.