We all love best-of lists, but what if people around the NFL created their own? To preview the 2022 NFL season, we surveyed more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to help us stack the top 10 players at 11 different positions, from edge rusher to interior offensive lineman. This is the third edition of these rankings, and there are several players who moved up or dropped from last year's lists. Today, we focus on the running backs.
Here's how our process worked: Voters gave us their best 10 players at a position, then we compiled the results and ranked candidates based on number of top-10 votes, composite average, hundreds of interviews, research and film-study help from ESPN NFL analyst Matt Bowen. In total, more than 50 voters submitted a ballot on at least one position, and in many cases all positions. We had several ties, so we broke them with the help of additional voting and follow-up calls with our rankers. Each section is packed with quotes and nuggets from the voters on every guy -- even the honorable mentions.
The objective is to identify the best players right now for 2022. This is not a five-year projection or an achievement award. Who are the best players today? Pretty simple.
We rolled out a position per day over 11 days. Here's the schedule: edge rushers (July 5), defensive tackles (July 6), off-ball linebackers (July 7), cornerbacks (July 8), safeties (July 9), interior offensive linemen (July 10), quarterbacks (July 11), running backs (July 12), wide receivers (July 13), tight ends (July 14) and offensive tackles (July 15).
Running backs continue to be great despite facing eight-man boxes, on and off the field.
Career length is getting shorter, even for quality players. Backs who made their NFL debuts in the 2010s -- and are now retired -- averaged 7.1 years in the league, compared to at least nine years from the 1970s to the 2000s. The pay scale remains flat while salaries at other positions have skyrocketed. And in the draft, a running back hasn't been selected in the top 20 since Saquon Barkley went No. 2 overall in 2018. Teams employ committee backfields with higher frequency than ever.
Yet the running backs importance to an NFL offense remains paramount. The best at the position can run, catch and block. This year's top-10 list features many usual suspects but also three new faces -- including two rookies and a brilliant playmaker out of the AFC South. Let's look at some of the game's top ball carriers as ranked by execs, coaches, scouts and players around the NFL.