Year after year, it becomes increasingly evident that the NFL has become a pass-first league. The rules are angled towards that trend, wide receivers are paid more than running backs, and safeties have gotten smaller to improve coverage across the defense. It has led teams to chew up running backs and spit them out before reaching the age of 30, which leads to near-endless turnover at the position.
That's not to say they've been completely phased out of the offense, though. Running the ball and establishing the ground game has become increasingly important, particularly for opening up the aerial attack. Some teams have elite backfields and others, well, do not.
Let's take a look at every NFL rushing attack, from the best to the worst.
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1. Pittsburgh Steelers
At first glance, it would seem as though the Steelers are undeserving of being pegged as the top rushing attack entering 2016. They were 16th in the league last year, averaging just over 107 yards per game despite posting a strong 4.4 yards per carry. Le'Veon Bell, one of the best backs in the league, played just six games in 2015. Prior to injuring his knee, Bell was averaging a career-high 4.9 yards per attempt and had already racked up 556 yards on the ground. Fortunately, the Steelers had a capable backup in veteran DeAngelo Williams, who rushed for 907 yards in 10 starts. A combination of the two in 2016 will be nearly impossible for opposing defenses to stop, and it would be no surprise to see the Steelers with the most rushing yards at the end of the season.
2. Carolina Panthers
Unlike the Steelers, the Panthers don't have a star running back to lean on. Jonathan Stewart is a hard-nosed back that runs over opposing defenders, but he's not a guy who will average five yards per carry at this point in his career. The Panthers do have something that few other teams boast: a dominant running quarterback. Cam Newton is a big reason why the Panthers were second in the NFL last season, averaging 142.6 yards per game. There's little reason to believe Ron Rivera and the Panthers will dial back on the number of times Newton carries the ball after putting up spectacular numbers in 2015. Cameron Artis-Payne and Fozzy Whittaker figure to carve out more of a role this season to preserve Stewart. The Panthers are a team that will wear opponents down with a ground-and-pound rushing attack.
3. Seattle Seahawks
How is a team that lost Marshawn Lynch to retirement considered one of the best rushing teams in the NFL? Because he was replaced with younger, more dynamic backs. The Seahawks added three running backs in the draft to pair alongside Thomas Rawls and the re-acquired Christine Michael. Rawls figures to be the lead guy in a crowded backfield, and his brief stint as a starter in 2015 shows why he's worthy of that title. In just seven starts (13 games), Rawls rushed for 830 yards, averaging 5.6 per attempt. He'll be backed up by the aforementioned Michael, followed by a combination of C.J. Prosise and Alex Collins. And that's without mentioning Russell Wilson, who rushed for 553 yards himself. They could very well finish higher than they did in rushing yards last season (third).
4. Buffalo Bills
When Rex Ryan signed on with the Bills last offseason, he was expected to bring his ground-and-pound mentality to Buffalo. Well, he did. The Bills led the NFL with 2,432 rushing yards as a team, 150 more than any other team. Unfortunately, that style of offense wasn't enough to get them into the playoffs, but you can rest assured that offensive coordinator Greg Roman will be running the ball consistently again in 2016. LeSean McCoy had a rough first season in Buffalo, dealing with injuries on an all-too-frequent basis. Still, he rushed for 895 yards in just 12 games, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Karlos Williams played well in spot duty with McCoy injured and could very well see his role increased in his second year. A three-headed monster of McCoy, Williams and quarterback Tyrod Taylor will give defenses fits week in and week out, putting them amongst the best rushing attacks in the league.
5. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals will field Johnson and Johnson in their backfield this season -- one veteran and one up-and-coming guy. David Johnson filled in admirably for the injured Chris Johnson last season, rushing for 581 yards and eight touchdowns. Given his age and superior durability, he'll be the No. 1 back entering this season, and rightfully so. He played a huge role in giving the Cardinals the eighth-best rushing attack in the NFL despite being contained in the playoffs. With another year under his belt and the speedy Chris Johnson backing him up, the Cardinals have a great ground game to pair with their explosive aerial attack.
6. Dallas Cowboys
Despite having to deal with injuries and troubled players at the running back position (Joseph Randle), the Cowboys had the ninth-best rushing offense in the league last season. Darren McFadden led the bunch with 1,089 yards. McFadden is now dealing with an elbow injury suffered while dropping his phone, which gives way to the inevitable. Rookie Ezekiel Elliott enters the league with massive expectations running behind Dallas' star-studded offensive line. Furthermore, Lance Dunbar will be back, and the addition of Alfred Morris gives them a bruising back. Thanks to depth, overall talent and a great offensive line, the Cowboys will be one of the best offenses in the NFL.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson is 31 years old and is coming off of a 327-carry season, the third highest season total in his career. He's still undoubtedly one of the greatest backs to step foot on an NFL field, but somewhat of a decline is expected. And his backup, Jerrick McKinnon isn't exactly a workhorse. Still, Minnesota was fourth in the NFL in rushing yards last season, racking up 2,211 as a team. With Teddy Bridgewater under center and a less-than-stellar passing game, the Vikings figure to lean on Peterson, so long as he can stay healthy. Look for them to finish in the top 10 next season.
8. Kansas City Chiefs
When Jamaal Charles tore up his knee in Week 5, it looked as though the Chiefs' season was doomed. All they did was win 10 straight to close out the season behind running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, and their defense, of course. Now, Charles expects to be ready for the start of the season, joining West and Ware in the backfield to give Kansas City more running backs than it knows what to do with. They were sixth in the league in rushing last season and have the potential to finish higher than that this season. Charles just needs to stay healthy because it's not certain West and Ware will be able to follow up their 2015 campaigns in similar fashion.
9. Los Angeles Rams
Next to Peterson, Todd Gurley may very well be the second-best running back in the NFL. He made his first Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2015. In 13 games, he rushed for 1,106 yards, 10 touchdowns and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. One can only wonder what kind of numbers he'll put up in 16 games after a full offseason of work. It wouldn't be surprising to see him surpass 1,500 yards, which automatically makes the Rams one of the best running teams in the league. And with questions at quarterback, you can bet Jeff Fisher will lean heavily on his second-year back.
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin was one of the biggest surprises in 2015, returning to his form as a rookie in 2012. He carried it 288 times in 16 games, rushing for 1,402 yards. He signed a five-year, $37.75 million extension in the offseason, which bodes well for Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston. With Winston still developing and Martin coming off of a fantastic season, the offense will likely go through Martin and his powerful running style. A drop-off in production is to be expected given his injury history, so don't be so sure they'll finish fifth in the league as the Buccaneers did last season.
11. Cincinnati Bengals
Only eight teams in all of football averaged fewer yards per carry than the Bengals in 2015. However, only a handful of teams have more talent at running back than Cincinnati. With Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, the Bengals have a dynamic thunder-and-lightning duo that can beat opponents with varying skill sets. Bernard saw an increased role last season with Hill struggling mightily and did a great job, rushing for 730 yards on just 154 attempts. He's a real weapon in the passing game as well, which opens up things for the bruising Hill between the tackles. In 2014, the Bengals were sixth in rushing, which is about where they could potentially end up in 2016 if Hill returns to his past form.
12. Houston Texans
The Texans made all sorts of moves this offseason, headlined by the signing of Brock Osweiler. However, Lamar Miller will be a valuable addition to their offense. He was underutilized in Miami, but that should change in Houston. Osweiler isn't a quarterback who will drop back 50 times a game, which means Miller should see 20-plus carries on a regular basis. He has home run-hitting ability and the strength to run between the tackles, as well. Alfred Blue and rookie Tyler Ervin should be valuable backups, as well. Ervin is as shifty as they come.
13. Green Bay Packers
Which Eddie Lacy will we see in 2016? The slimmer rookie that rushed for 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014, or the overweight back that only had 758 yards on the ground a year ago? The Packers are hoping for 2014 Lacy, and that's likely who they'll get. He has worked hard this offseason to slim down and regain the little quickness he had to begin with. The Packers retained James Starks to be the No. 2 back in case Lacy falters for a second straight season. Although the backfield and offense as a whole was somewhat of a mess, the Packers were still 12th in rushing last season.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars brought in veteran and former Jets running back Chris Ivory, who had a breakout year in 2015. The hard-nosed back rushed for 1,070 yards in 15 games a year ago while also proving to be a valuable contributor in the passing game. He'll likely take over the top spot on the depth chart, pushing the younger T.J. Yeldon down a bit. A combination of the two should provide a strong rushing attack for Jacksonville to go along with its explosive passing game. Blake Bortles' big arm and talented "Allen Brothers" -- Robinson and Hurns -- should open up the middle of the field for Ivory and Yeldon.
15. Atlanta Falcons
After seven games, it appeared as though Devonta Freeman was on his way towards winning a rushing title. He tallied 100-plus yards in four of his first seven games but didn't surpass 88 in any game thereafter. Tevin Coleman was expected to play a big role on offense, too, but injuries derailed his rookie season. A combination of Freeman and Coleman in 2016 should be much-improved over their 2015 performance, which was just about average. Look for Freeman to get off to a hot start now that he's the certain No. 1 back in Atlanta.
16. Denver Broncos
The Broncos lost both of their starting quarterbacks this offseason, but they retained their two best backs in C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman. Neither were particularly outstanding in 2015 as the Broncos were just 17th in rushing, but both came on late in the season and during their Super Bowl run. Anderson especially had a great postseason, which he hopes to carry into this upcoming season. It's hard to say the passing game will improve with Mark Sanchez likely starting at quarterback, but he should open up the offense more than Manning did last season. Expect Denver to be middle-of-the-road on the ground again in 2016.
17. New Orleans Saints
On paper, the Saints appear to have a great backfield, led by Mark Ingram. C.J. Spiller was once an elite back with game-breaking ability, but he proved to be anything but that last season. And for Ingram, it was much of the same in 2015, dealing with injuries as he has throughout his career. The Saints' rushing attack will come down to health for the most part. If Ingram can stay on the field, he should surpass 1,000 rushing yards. And if Tim Hightower and Spiller can be effective in spot duty when giving Ingram a rest, the Saints should finish higher than 24th in the NFL as they did last season. The potential is there, the backs just need to realize it.
18. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens brought back Justin Forsett last offseason after he put up 1,266 yards on the ground in 2014. Unfortunately, he was unable to replicate that performance, playing just 10 games while rushing for 641 yards last year. Lorenzo Taliaferro is a solid backup, as are Buck Allen and promising rookie Kenneth Dixon, who was a steal in the fourth round. However, when a team has four decent running backs, it doesn't necessarily have a great backfield. The 26th-ranked rushing offense should be better in 2016 with Forsett returning, but it won't be substantially better.
19. New York Giants
For the past few seasons, the Giants have relied heavily on Eli Manning's arm and Odell Beckham Jr.'s playmaking ability. That mantra shouldn't change much in 2016 with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams back as the lead backs. Neither player is notably dynamic, both offering similar running styles, but Shane Vereen offers a different skill set in the passing game. Unfortunately, he doesn't contribute much on the ground. The Giants will need to put up points in bunches in light of their putrid defense from a year ago, although it was improved in free agency and the draft. There remain question marks up front, though, which won't help Williams or Jennings.
20. Tennessee Titans
Had it not been for Marcus Mariota's 252 yards on the ground, the Titans would have had the worst rushing offense in the NFL last season. Even still, they were just 25th. The front office made a concerted effort to change that, trading for DeMarco Murray and drafting Derrick Henry, giving them a "thunder and thunder" duo. The ground game will improve thanks to those additions, but the offensive line still leaves plenty to be desired. Mariota adds another dynamic on offense, which should help -- just not enough to make them dangerous. The Titans will finish towards the bottom of the league in rushing once again as Murray clearly isn't the same player he was in Dallas in 2014.
21. Chicago Bears
Life without Matt Forte begins for the Bears, and it will be Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey doing their best to replace him. Forte was a huge part of the Bears' offense for the past eight years, but with his age and deteriorating effectiveness, it was time to move on. That's not to say the Bears will be better without him, though. Langford and Carey are both lacking experience and the offensive line is among the worst in football. Jay Cutler and the passing game will see plenty of opportunities week in and week out, which will lead to reduced touches for the backs. It will take some time for the young backfield to put up big numbers.
22. New York Jets
Speaking of Forte, he'll be the guy replacing Ivory in New York. The 30-year-old running back still has good years ahead of him, they just won't include the numbers he put up consistently in Chicago. Don't expect the Jets to finish in the top 10 as they did in 2015, mainly because the loss of Ivory and the addition of Forte will result in a drop in production. Yes, the offensive line is good, but Nick Mangold is aging and D'Brickashaw Ferguson is retired, which also hurts the ground game. Without a strong presence at quarterback, even if Ryan Fitzpatrick does return, teams will lean heavily towards stopping the run first.
23. San Francisco 49ers
Carlos Hyde always seems to flash shades of great potential only to have it thwarted by injuries. He played just seven games last season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. Neither are great numbers, nor will the latter improve much in 2016. Like the Jets, the 49ers don't have a real threat at quarterback, which makes it much easier to stop the run. The backs behind him, Mike Davis and rookie Kelvin Taylor, don't provide much of a spark, either, which will lead to lackluster numbers across the board. It's very possible that the 49ers wind up being one of the worst teams overall in 2016, and the lack of a running game will play a role in that.
24. Detroit Lions
Last season, the Lions had the worst rushing offense in the NFL. They averaged just 83.4 yards per game and had seven touchdowns on the ground, and that was with Joique Bell in the backfield. Now, they'll be forced to lean on much smaller backs in Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. That, combined with a poor offensive line, should be troublesome for any rusher attempting to find a hole to run through. On the bright side, Abdullah showed elite elusiveness and quickness in nine starts despite only averaging 4.2 yards per carry. The run game will go through Abdullah, so if he's unable to handle a heavy workload, the Lions will struggle.
25. New England Patriots
Many thought the Patriots would land Forte in free agency, but it was clear New England was content with the running backs on the roster. It will be all of the same names leading the pack in 2016, headed by LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis -- two polar opposites at running back. Blount brings a punishing running style while Lewis will mostly contribute in the passing game. As a result, New England's rushing totals will be underwhelming. That's not to say they don't have talent at running back, it just won't translate to yards on the ground.
26. San Diego Chargers
Who would have thought that the Chargers would finish 31st in rushing after spending a first-round pick on Melvin Gordon -- a guy who rushed for 2,587 yards in his final year at Wisconsin. Well, that's exactly where they ended up, and there is little reason to believe they'll improve substantially in 2016. Sure, Gordon will improve with a year under his belt, but the offensive line still needs work. Gordon is really the only somewhat reliable back to carry the ball on a regular basis, with Danny Woodhead mostly playing on third down. There's a reason why the Chargers had the No. 3 pick in the draft and the anemic offense is a big part of that.
27. Philadelphia Eagles
A year ago, it looked as though the Eagles would have the best rushing offense in the league, having added Murray and Ryan Mathews. They're now left with just Mathews, who's dealt with injury problems throughout his career. He did, however, play well in minimal time last season, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. There is reason to believe he can actually put up better numbers than Murray did in 2015, and the Eagles' offensive line is decent when it wasn't running exclusively out of the shotgun under Chip Kelly. Still, talent is certainly lacking at running back, particularly in short-yardage situations.
28. Washington Redskins
Morris left for Dallas in free agency, leaving the No. 1 running back job to second-year pro Matt Jones. The former Gator had just 490 yards in 13 games, but that wasn't even the most concerning part of his game. Jones fumbled the ball five times and averaged a mere 3.4 yards per carry. That's who the Redskins will be forced to rely heavily on next season. Perhaps an increased role will help him, but he's far from a stable back at this point in his career. The Redskins will almost certainly finish below their 20th-ranked rushing offense from a year ago.
29. Cleveland Browns
The Browns had high hopes for a tandem made up of Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson a year ago, but all they did was lead Cleveland to the 22nd-ranked rushing offense. The same duo will head Cleveland's backfield once again in 2016, hopefully to much better results than they did last season. That's just not very likely. In a tough division that features the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals, the Browns will have a tough time running the ball with any sort of consistency. And without a reliable aerial attack, it will be far too easy for opponents to load the box and stop the run.
30. Indianapolis Colts
Frank Gore is now 33 years old and showed signs of age in 2015, totaling 967 yards on the ground -- just the third time in his career he's failed to reach the thousand-yard mark. Part of that had to do with the Colts' horrendous passing game without Andrew Luck, who will thankfully return this season. However, his presence won't be enough to open up running lanes for Gore and company. The addition of rookie Ryan Kelly should help the interior of the offensive line, though it still ranks below average against the rest of the league. Robert Turbin may see more touches, though he failed to gain much traction running behind Dallas' line in 2015.
31. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders improved in nearly every aspect this offseason, except for running back. Latavius Murray is still the first-string back, and while he's not among the worst in the league, he's certainly not in the top half of the best. He only averaged 4.0 yards per carry on 266 attempts, totaling 1,066 on the ground. This after posting a clip of 5.2 yards per carry in 2014. The offensive line got better with the addition of Kelechi Osemele, however it won't be enough to move the Raiders up the ranks in rushing this season. Don't be shocked to see them finish towards the bottom of the league, particularly with the Chiefs and Broncos in the AFC West.
32. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have shown year after year that running the ball isn't a priority. They were last in attempts last season and finished in the bottom half in both 2014 and 2015. Now, they don't have Lamar Miller to hand the ball to, and instead it'll be Jay Ajayi. The second-year back out of Boise has potential and runs as hard as any back, but he lacks experience. To make matter worse, the offensive line is far from elite and Ajayi's backup, Damien Williams, can't hold onto the ball -- he fumbled twice on just 59 attempts in 2015. It will take an outstanding year-long performance by Ajayi to make up for the loss of Miller, which can't be understated. The only hope Miami has is that new head coach Adam Gase puts more emphasis on running the ball consistently -- something his predecessors never did.