The most challenging part of creating superlatives for NFC North running backs is the immense amount of talent at the running back position that the NFC North has to offer.
Players like David Montgomery and Aaron Jones are incredibly good running backs by themselves, however in the NFC North they may fall short of the greatness that surrounds them. This list is an attempt to incorporate the contract these players currently play-on, the general consensus around the NFL community regarding these players, and my beliefs of what a running back should be.
Here’s an attempt at balancing all of these factors — Superlatives for running backs in the NFC North. Players who rarely see the field were not included for this exercise.
Best – Dalvin Cook
In 2020, Dalvin Cook seemingly erased the once prominent injury concerns and established himself as one of the NFL’s best Running Backs. Cook’s 2021 campaign was no different. Behind a sub-par offensive line, Cook rushed for over 1159 yards and averaged 4.6 yards a carry. Additionally, Cook finished the year with 224 receiving yards, earning 1383 All-Purpose Yards (Rushing + Receiving). Cook’s elite speed (4.4 40 Yard Dash) paired with his elusiveness in open field make him a terror for any defense to stop on Sunday.
Compared to Deandre Swift’s 1069 All-Purpose Yards, David Montgomery’s 1147 All-Purpose Yards, and Aaron Jones’s 1190 All-Purpose Yards, Cook is head and shoulders above his competitors. As for now, there should be no debate that Dalvin Cook is the best Running Back in the NFC North.
Worst – David Montgomery
Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that I am NOT saying David Montgomery is bad at football, in fact he’s quite good. The issue for Montgomery is he was drafted into one of the best Running Backs division in the NFL. In 2021, Montgomery was on the field for 75% of his teams offensive snaps, which is higher than any other NFC North Running Back. Despite this, Montgomery was only able to rush for 800 yards. Furthermore, Montgomery lacks the breakaway speed to be an elite level running back. As an every down back in today’s NFL, one must be one of the fastest (if not the fastest) players on the field. Instead, Montgomery is one of the slowest. Matt Nagy’s conservative offense, paired with Montgomery’s incredibly high snap-share, should have allowed the 3rd year player from Iowa State to thrive, instead, he floundered.
I’d like to once again reiterate that in no way am I calling Montgomery a bad player, only that out of the running backs in the North, he’s the worst. With that being said, I think Montgomery will be a valuable asset for the Bears new regime in 2022, and will be an even more valuable asset in fantasy football.
Overrated – Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones is quite good, the problem is he’s being paid 12 million dollars a year and isn’t the best running back on his team. Jones is a good player, yet when I watch him every Sunday I cannot find an area upon which he excels. Jones is undersized, standing at 5’9,” is not shockingly fast, running a 4.5 40 yard dash, and does not have stellar vision (such as prime Le’Veon Bell). With all of these things being said, I do not understand how the Packers landed on the decision to keep Jones on the payroll at an annual 12 million dollars, while he takes snaps away from AJ Dillion.
The combination of his lack of excellence, paired with his hefty contract lands him as the “overrated” running back on this list. If I were Brian Gutekunst and the Packers, I would much rather give snaps to AJ Dillion and let another team pay Jones a ridiculous amount of money.
Underrated – AJ Dillon
Now to the other side of the Packers backfield — AJ Dillon. Drafted in 2020, Dillon was the supposed successor to Aaron Jones… until the Packers paid Jones 48 million dollars. Unlike Jones, Dillon has exceptional strength. Much like a younger Derrick Henry, Jones can plow through anyone in the NFL and gain 2-3 more yards than any other running back in the NFL, which is proven by his 4.3 yards per carry and 2.8 yards after contact. Considering he weighs 250 pounds, Dillon’s speed is shockingly impressive, running a faster 40-time than his counterpart Aaron Jones at 4.53 seconds. Finally, Dillon caught every single pass Rodgers threw his way in the 2021 season, which makes him an incredibly underrated receiving back.
He’s a freak of nature, with impressively good vision, who can catch the ball. If AJ Dillon is given a chance to be a teams number one rushing option, expect him to become one of the best running backs in the NFL.
Receiving – AJ Dillon
Originally, I gave this superlative to Lions running back D’Andre Swift, however, after more consideration, I’ve decided to give AJ Dillon the title of the best receiving back in the NFC North. During his 2021 campaign, Dillon had a drop rate of ZERO percent, and averaged 9.4 yards after the catch. It’s impossible not to award Dillon this title considering his incredibly impressive receiving performance during the 2021 season.
While Dillon was only targeted on a route 18.7% of the time, I would expect this number to go up if he was awarded the starting job in an NFL backfield.
Goal Line – AJ Dillon
Once again, Packers running back AJ Dillon takes home another Superlative as the “best goal line back” in the NFC North. Weighing in at 250 pounds of pure muscle, averaging 2.8 yards after contact, and breaking opponents tackles 66.3% of the time, Dillon is a menace on the goal line for opposing defenses. From inside the 5-yard line, Dillon is able to score 41.7% of the time, which an absurd conversion percentage for any NFL player.
No other NFC North running back matches Dillons resume, making this an easy decision.
Speed – D’Andre Swift
Clocking in at 4.4 seconds, second-year Lions running back, D’Andre Swift, ran the fastest 40 yard dash out of NFC North running backs. Additionally Swift’s speed when in the open field is impressive as there have been multiple occasions, both in college and the NFL (see Week 9 2020 game against Washington), where Swift has been able to blow by defenders using sheer speed to award his team 6 points.
The combination of Swift’s statistical speed in the NFL combine, paired with his breakaway speed seen every Sunday, awards him the title of the “speediest” running back in the NFL.
Elusiveness – D’Andre Swift
Prior to digging deep into Advanced Analytics, I had always thought that Dalvin Cook was the most elusive running back in the NFC North. I was wrong. It’s D’Andre Swift. According to Fantasy Data, Swift led all NFL running backs with at least 100 carries in yards created per attempt last season with 4.07 yards.
To address the question of what “yards created” exactly means, here’s Fantasy Data’s
definition: All yards above and beyond what was blocked. Yards created are generated by the runner after the first evaded tackle.
Yards Created is a great reflection of how elusive a running back is, and with Swift leading the NFL in this stat, it’s only right to award him the “most elusive” running back in the NFC North.
Potential – AJ Dillon