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2021 Preseason Tier One NFL Individual Player Rushing Grades and Rankings

We are getting closer and closer to real football again and that means that it is time to start the player rankings conversations. Today we examine individual rushing grades using our new individual player grade system that we developed in recent months.



How the Grade System Works

The Football Scout 365 process and philosophy are predicated on the connection between advanced metrics and on-field play. The numbers can sometimes tell a different story than the film and that is where our situational analysis plays a pivotal role in how we interpret individual and team performance.



Individual Player Grades For Current NFL Players

Below you will see a list of color-coded tiers followed by a descending grade scale. The grading scale is a 1-10 model with 10 being elite, and <3 as poor to very poor. The grading scale uses variables based on each player's positional focus and uses particularly advanced metrics such as pressure rate and sacks for pass rushers. Each tier carries an average value based on various data points, including the previous season's data. Our rankings are not an indictment of one's career and are more of a projection-based tier system used to identify current players' potential ceilings or floors.


Tier 1

Elite Level, MVP Potential 1 = 10 (A+)

Good Level 2, All Pro Level = 9 (A-)

Above Average Level 3, Pro Bowl Caliber = 8 (B+)


Tier 2

Average Starter Level 1, Starter, Role Player = 7 (B-)

Below Average, Can be Boom Or Bust = 6 (C+)

Developmental Player = 5 (C-)


Tier 3

Poor= 4 (D+)

Very Poor = <3 D- Depth or Replacements Needed


2021 Preseason Tier One Level NFL Individual Player Rushing Grades and Rankings


Tier One, Level One, Elite Level, All-Pro, MVP Level Talent


TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry's workout videos are all the craze this offseason which is good reason to believe he is focused on remaining the top pure RB in the NFL in 2021. Henry rushed for 2000+ (1st) yds on 378 attempts (1st), averaging 5.4 yards per tote. Henry played at an MVP level in 2020; he will look to continue that trend in 2021.


TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

Arguably the best player in the NFL with the ball in his hands, Lamar Jackson is one of, if not the most dynamic, football players we have ever seen. My pet peeve is to place your top athlete behind center regardless of throwing ability because of the pressure it adds to a defense (yes, I know that this is more of a college or high school mindset). His running ability opens larger windows in the passing game, and that is why he grades out as Football Scout 365's 2nd best rusher. Already a top 15 passer, Jackson led the NFL in yards per rush att (6.3), forced missed tackles, and ranked number two to Kyler Murray in first down run rate. Jackson rushed for another 1000 yards in 2020, and there is no reason he cannot duplicate that in 2021.


TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals

Insane to believe that the NFL has evolved into a league where two QB's are in the top three of the NFL's leading rushers. Like Lamar Jackson, Murray had a tremendous sophomore campaign in Arizona where he rushed for 822 yards and 6.2 yards per rush attempt (2nd). He ranked 1st in the NFL in first downs converted with his legs in 2020. Murray possesses more accuracy as a passer than Lamar Jackson, but his durability due to his smaller size is a big concern. He did great avoiding contact in 2020; if he can continue to stay upright, he can ascend into top 5 passer and rusher status moving forward.


TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

The 2nd ranked RB according to the Football Scout 365 grading scale, Dalvin Cook, when healthy, could climb to number one. He possesses great ability both inside and outside of the tackles. He can run behind his pads or make you miss in the open field. Cook averaged 3.3 yards after contact (10th), ranked 10th in forced missed tackle rate, and ranked 7th in 1st down run rate. Cook ranked 2nd in the league in total rush yards and averaged 5 yards per attempt while running behind a below-average offensive line.

TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns

Nick Chubb, like Derrick Henry, is among the few pure RB's in the NFL. Chubb is one of the best inside and outside runners; he can run behind his pads or make defenders miss. His speed is world-class for a RB of his size. A season ago, our expectation was new Head Coach Kevin Stefanski would use the run game to open the play-action pass, which is what he did. Nick Chubb was a big-time factor in Cleveland's ability to execute the intended scheme. Chubb hit the 1000 yard mark in 2020; he did miss a few games in 2020, and if not injured, he paced 253 carries which would have been the 4th highest, and at 5.6 yards per att, he could have amassed 1400 rush yards, on par with our 2020 projection. Regardless, Chubb is part of a dynamic one-two punch in Cleveland and is the key to the success of the Browns offense in 2021.

TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

Barkley has been among the top 5 best RB's in the NFL since his final year at Penn State. The 1st recipient of our highest grade for a rookie player with Jerry Jeudy, who graded out as the next surest thing to enter the NFL, Barkley didn't waste time making a name for himself as a dynamic runner and pass catcher. His injury in 2020 has not deflated our belief that he is a top-five RB. If he can play an entire season in 2021, he could enter top 3 status. Those who are concerned about his ACL injury need not worry. His rehab, according to sources, is on schedule for a week one return, but he does not need to rush back into the lineup with Devontae Booker there to back him up; Barkley could take his time early in 2021 to assure a full recovery. Our early look at 2021 projections shows the potential for 1100 yards on the ground, 700 as a receiver with 15 total TD's.

TIER 1 Level 1 Elite = 10 (A+) Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

This man strategically ate a lot of chili bowls along with cool ranch Doritos and Oreos in the offseason before his historic 2019 season. Do not try this at home; you will get fat unless you are working out relentlessly throughout your day. Like Barkley and Kamara, CMC is what the NFL RB has evolved into, a dynamic runner with explosive playmaking ability who can line up all over your formation as a pass-catcher. Like the evolution of the QB position where players are more dynamic with their legs, having a RB like CMC can also add stress to a defense. CMC is in an offense that fits his skillset even more than in 2019. Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady, a Sean Payton disciple, will be creative in his usage with CMC, and before his injury, CMC's usage was on pace for 400 total touches. Early ceiling-based projections for 2021, 250 rush attempts for 1150 yards, and 100 receptions for an additional 900 yards.


 

Tier One, Level Two, All-Pro Level Talent, High Upside


TIER 1 Level 2 Good =9 (A-) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Feed this dude; he is always hungry. Zeke is in the same stylistic RB tier as both Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. His powerful rushing style is where he makes his hay. Zeke's production dropped off in a significant way a season ago. His 2018 and 2019 production ranked atop the NFL, but in 2020 he watched his total yards, yards per attempt, and yards after contact drop. The COwboys were injury-riddled on the OL, and the loss of Dak Prescott added additional pressure on Zeke to carry the load. Zeke possesses a top 3 RB ceiling in 2021.


TIER 1 Level 2 Good =9 (A-) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

Kamara has not rushed for 1000 yards as a rusher. His 932 rush yards in 2020 are his best since entering the league. He averaged 5 yards per attempt while scoring 16 TD's on the ground. His ability as a receiver is where he has proven to be an elite-level RB. But since we are grading based on rushing ability, Kamara proved that he can be a high-level runner a season ago. He ranked 2nd among NFL RB's in first down run rate. We believe that his usage will increase in the run game in 2021 as the offense evolves to life without Drew Brees. Kamara has not eclipsed 200 rush attempts in his career, we believe he will finally clear 200 attempts in 2021. Early projections for Kamara have his rush attempts at a ceiling of 220, with a rush yards ceiling of 1100 yards. That would be a huge jump for a guy who has been an 800 rush yards, 800 receiving yards type of player. If he hits the projected ceiling, he will enter the level one elite rusher tier.


TIER 1 Level 2 Good =9 (A-) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

One of two critical Aarons in Green Bay, this Aaron signed a deal to remain a Packer while the other is looking to jump ship. Jones is a very good RB while paired with a hall of fame caliber QB in Aaron Rodgers. Jones might see a dip in his rush totals without Rodgers, but that's not due to his ability as a runner. Jones produced the league's 4th highest rush yards total (1100+) at 5.5 yards per attempt (4th).


TIER 1 Good =9 (A-) Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I make jokes about Ronald Jones and his running style. I often say that if he finds an opening, he might avoid it to make contact on purpose. Jones is a deceptively fast player who can turn on the jets once he enters the 2nd and third levels of a defense. His vision improved lt season, and a lot of that had to do with the OL's improvement in the run game. In 14 games, Jones compiled 978 yards rushing and 5.1 yards per attempt. He averaged just under 14 rush att per game in 2020, and had he played the full 16 games; he would have surpassed 1000 rush yards. As mentioned above, Jones is a yards after contact savant; he averaged 3.7 yards after contact in 2020 (3rd).

TIER 1 Level 2 Good =9 (A-) Jonathon Taylor, Indianapolis Colts

Jonathon Taylor and JK Dobbins were the top rookie RB's entering the 2020 NFL season, according to the Football Scout 365 NFL draft big board. Taylor took a little time to establish himself in an offense "tailor" made for his style. In the first ten weeks of the 2020 season, Taylor averaged 51 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. Placed on the covid list in week 11, Taylor returned to finish the remaining five games averaging 130 rush yards and 6.4 yards per rush attempt. Taylor rose from a poor level to an elite level payer late in the season, and that is what you are looking for out of an elite-level talent like Jonathon Taylor.

 

Tier One, Level Three, Above Average Level 3, Pro Bowl Caliber


TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

J.K. all day (Gus Johnson reference). Dobbins was not the full-time player for the Ravens in 2020 that he was while at Ohio State, but he flashed his ability as the season progressed. Before the 2020 NFL draft, we highlighted that Dobbins has a knack of showing up big when the lights shine bright and he did the same as a rookie for the Ravens, who were clearly looking for an Ingram replacement. Dobbins rushed for 800 yards and averaged elite level yards per attempt (6.0), leading all NFL RB's in 2020. Dobbins is known as a good stretch zone style RB, and it showed in 2020. His ability to improve his rushing between the tackles will be paramount. J.K. Dobbins average 3.6 yards per rush between tackles in 2020, vs. 7.2 yds per rush outside of the tackles. The Ravens will have a one, two, three punch of Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins with Lamar Jackson in 2021.


TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks

Chris Carson, I remember his fumbles being a massive issue; he has cleaned up the problem with his fumbles. His health is also a big question mark. But when healthy, Carson plays a significant role in the Seahawk's ability to use play-action. Russell Wilson's passer rating (107.0) in games with Chris Carson at RB (45 total games) is 10 points higher (97.4) than games without Carson. Whatever you want to believe about the significance of analytics in sports, the passer rating is a very good indicator of offensive efficiency. Carson being available makes the Seahawk's offense a lot more efficient. In 2020, Carson played in 12 games. He averaged 4.8 yards per run and amassed 680 yards on the ground with five TD's. Carson was on pace to amass 900 rush yards. When healthy, he is a 1000 yard rusher who is solid in pass pro.


TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) James Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

Out of left field is where James Robinson entered the 2020 season. Some scouts recognized the talents of Robinson early. I did not get the opportunity to evaluate Robinson until after he was drafted. It became apparent that he possesses high-level vision as a runner and the receiving chops needed in today's NFL. His 4.64 forty might have been the defining factor in his stock falling in the 2020 draft. Robinson proved to be a bell cow for the Jags in 2020, where he picked up 1000 yards on 4.5 yards per attempt.


TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) Antonio Gibson, Washington FT

The three-down back in the NFL has to be a good receiver. Gibson proved he could play that three-down role in 2020. As a rusher, he amassed 795 yards, 4.7 yards per attempt. He has 1000 yards potential as a runner in 2021 in a backfield where he should be the lead man.


TIER 1 Level 3 Above Average = 8 (B+) Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos

Melvin Gordon has competition that could easily unseat him as the starter with the Broncos drafting rookie RB Javonte Williams from North Carolina. If Gordon is the starter come September in Denver, he should maintain his current status in tier one, level three of the Football Scout 365 NFL player grades. We might be looking at the last season where Gordon is in this tier as we expect he may regress in the coming years, but he still has enough in the tank to remain at the bottom of the top tier of NFL RB's. Gordon fell just shy of eclipsing the 1000 yard barrier in 2020. He averaged 4.7 yards per rush attempt. If Gordon loses his projected lead back status to Javonte Williams in 2021, we might see Williams in or above this tier post-2021.


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