What Running Back Is the Hardest to Tackle in the NFL?

The position of running back is one of the most physically demanding in the NFL. It requires quickness, vision, and strength all at once. The better a player can combine these skills, the more successful they’ll be at the position. 

Another skill needed to make it as a running back? Being hard to tackle. It begs the question: what running back is the hardest to tackle in the NFL? Here are the top four. 

4. Adrian Peterson, Washington Redskins 

Yes, he’s ancient by the typical standards of an NFL running back. And yes, he’s seen better days. But Adrian Peterson is one of the most difficult to tackle backs of the modern era. He’ll probably remain that way as long as he’s in the NFL, even as his athleticism declines. 

A testament to this was then-Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz’s comments regarding Peterson in 2015. When an NFL defense knows a team plans to run or has a running back that’s particularly effective, they’ll set up their defense with an eight-man front. That means that only three players are dedicated to pass coverage while the rest focus on stopping the running back. It’s a defense Peterson is no stranger to facing. 

According to Schwartz, it didn’t matter

“You’re talking about a running back…Adrian Peterson’s a guy that you have a hard time stopping just with an eight-man front.” 

Peterson may never be the same running back as he was in his prime — after all, time catches up to everyone. But his strength and toughness indicate he’ll probably always be a hard player to bring down. 

3. Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens

This University of Alabama product and former New Orleans Saint has always been difficult to take down. This is in large part due to Mark Ingram’s size and power.

To get an idea of how hard a time defenses have tackling Ingram, take a look at his yards after contact totals. Earlier this season, ESPN compiled yards after contact numbers for NFL running backs. Through two weeks of the NFL season, Ingram averaged three yards per carry after first contact with a defensive player. 

Three yards doesn’t sound like much, but it must feel like a lot to the defenders Ingram is dragging along for the ride. This stat means that Ingram can absorb punishment and keep his legs churning for extra yardage. While three yards may not seem to be a difference-maker, that’s only what Ingram got after contact. It doesn’t account for his yardage totals prior to being hit. 

2. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry doesn’t make sense. 

Henry is 6’3″ and 250 pounds, yet he still managed to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. His size and athleticism make for an inexplicable combination. Rarely has an NFL back the size of Henry played with the grace and speed he shows. 

That makes Henry very tough to take down. The best comparison came last January. New England Patriots’ defender Ricky Jean Francois compared tackling Henry to being like taking down a defensive end. Marquise Flowers said it was like tackling Cam Newton. 

Whether it’s a defensive end or Newton, neither one is an easy tackle. Henry is a nightmare for defensive players to stop. 

1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants 

Saquon Barkley hasn’t played much in 2019 due to injury, but in 2018 he had a phenomenal season. His combination of speed and elusiveness makes him a deadly threat out of the backfield for the New York Giants

But speed isn’t the only skill Barkley has. He’s also incredibly hard to take down. While Barkley’s overall numbers were solid, one area in which he was particularly good was his yards after contact.

During his rookie year, Barkley broke 56 tackles for 835 yards after contact and 11 touchdowns. That means that it takes multiple efforts for defenses to bring down the talented star. Plus, unlike some of the other players on this list, Barkley has his best years in front of him.