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Aerial attacks get most of the attention in the NFL for good reason, but I've got my eyes on three dynamic duos on the ground that could be giving defensive coordinators fits across the league in 2024.

The three duos -- Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry, Jalen Hurts and Saquon Barkley, plus Anthony Richardson and Jonathan Taylor -- all have the ability to put defenses in conflict with read-option plays that open a world of possibilities at the mesh point. Will the quarterback keep and throw, keep and run or hand off?

All three duos feature an electrifying quarterback who is experienced with run-pass options (RPOs) and zone-read options, plus a running back capable of winning a rushing title. They are also capable of breaking this rushing record. The most rush yards by a QB-RB duo in a single season in NFL history is 2,428 by Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris for Washington in 2012. The rookie duo took the league by storm that year becoming the only QB-RB duo all time with 500 rush yards and 1,500 rush yards in a season, respectively. 

Here's an outlook at each duo heading into 2024:

Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry (Ravens)

Just four years ago, this pair combined for over 3,000 rushing yards, but on different teams. Jackson is still just one of three quarterbacks all time with 1,000 rushing yards in a season, while Henry is one of eight players in NFL history with a 2,000-yard rushing season. I don't expect Jackson and Henry to put up those kind of numbers (Ravens OC Todd Monken has already mentioned managing Henry's workload at age 30), but I anticipate a more effective running game that could help Jackson and Henry reach their first Super Bowl. Remember, Baltimore running backs combined for just six carries and 23 yards in the AFC Championship loss to the Chiefs

This is the kind of thunder-and-lightning combination that should strike fear into defenses all season. The Ravens lead the NFL in yards before contact per rush since drafting Jackson and Henry is third in yards after contact in that span. Baltimore led the NFL in option rushes last season (163), which should make both players even more dynamic together. 

Jalen Hurts and Saquon Barkley (Eagles)

The Eagles were second in option rushes (119) and third in RPO plays (211) last season, setting the stage for a rejuvenated Eagles offensive attack with the addition of Saquon Barkley. I could see Barkley winning a rushing title in Philadelphia after going from one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL to one of the best, even with Jason Kelce retiring. Barkley can help the Eagles rediscover their identity after they ranked seventh in EPA per rush last season after they led the league by a wide margin in 2022 on their way to the Super Bowl. 

Anthony Richardson and Jonathan Taylor (Colts)

Anthony Richardson's shoulder injury last year was one of the biggest disappointments of the season because it robbed us of seeing his sky-high potential, especially in the same backfield as Jonathan Taylor. Richardson and Taylor actually never played a single game together as Richardson was hurt in Week 4 and Taylor returned in Week 5. Hopefully that changes in 2024 so we can see the headaches they give defensive coordinators. Remember, Richardson blew up the combine in 2023 with a 4.43 40-yard dash at 244 pounds. He also led all FBS quarterbacks in yards per rush in 2022 (6.3). 

Taylor won a rushing title in 2021 (1,811) while also leading the NFL in touchdown runs (18) before being limited by injuries and contract disputes in 2022 and 2023. He also has breakaway speed.

It'll be up to Richardson, Taylor and head coach Shane Steichen to take the offense to new heights in 2024. The Colts ran the most RPOs (291) in the NFL last year but the offense finished just 16th in both EPA per rush play and EPA per play. They just missed the playoffs after losing a Week 18 win-and-in game vs. the Texans, but Taylor reminded us how dynamic he could be with 188 rushing yards in the losing effort. 

We'll see if any of these three duos can flirt with history in 2024. They could also remind us of these duos throughout NFL history who formed a few rare rushing clubs:

QB-RB rush yardage clubs in NFL history

300 and 1,700

  • David Archer and Gerald Riggs (1985 Falcons)

The 1985 Falcons are the only team in NFL history to feature a quarterback with 300 rushing yards and a running back to reach the 1,700-yard mark. I'll forgive you if David Archer and Gerald Riggs weren't the first QB-RB pair that came to mind for this club. Archer only started 23 games at quarterback in his NFL career, but held down the Atlanta QB1 job while rushing for 347 yards in 1985. You may have heard of Riggs, who ran for 1,719 yards that season and finished 40 yards behind Marcus Allen for the rushing title. 

400 and 1,600

  • Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris (2012 Washington)
  • Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis (1997 Steelers)

You already know what RG III and Morris did as rookies, and their numbers were so gaudy they are in four of these clubs, so let's talk about Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis, one of two duos all time to feature a quarterback with 400 rushing yards and a back with 1,600 rushing yards. They win the award for best nicknames of any duo in these clubs. Can you imagine trying to stop "Slash" and "The Bus"? Good luck. Stewart got the nickname "Slash" because he could play so many different positions (QB/RB/WR) but you could have easily confused it for how fast he was. He ran for 476 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season as Pittsburgh's starting quarterback in 1997. Bettis rumbled his way to a career-high 1,665 yards that year as the Steelers rode "The Bus" and "Slash" to an AFC Championship game. 

500 and 1,500 | 600 and 1,400

  • Griffin and Morris (2012 Washington)

RG III and Morris are the only QB-RB duo in both the 500/1,500 club and 600/1,400 club. Griffin's 815 rushing yards were an NFL rookie-QB record. I don't think I'll ever forget his long run up the sidelines against the Vikings. Morris' 1,613 rushing yards were the most by a rookie since Eric Dickerson in 1983. He also frequented the end zone 13 times, which is great because that meant more of his patented home run celebration. This duo didn't last long as Griffin's ACL tear in the 2012 postseason is one of the bigger "What ifs" in that franchise's history.

700 and 1,300

Jones and Barkley just became the third QB-RB duo in the 700/1,300-yard club in 2022. Jones set a Giants quarterback record with 708 rushing yards and Barkley backed it up with a career-high 1,312 yards. If Barkley and Jones could do that, imagine what Barkley and Hurts can do. 

800 and 1,200

  • Griffin and Morris (2012 Washington)
  • Wilson and Lynch (2014 Seahawks)

Wilson and Lynch are the only duo in these clubs to win a Super Bowl together, although they didn't do it in the season they became members of this very prestigious group. Lynch and Wilson sort of had a thunder and lightning thing going like Bettis and Stewart. Wilson ran for an astounding 849 yards in 2014 (you won't see him putting up those numbers anymore) as Seattle frequently went to the zone-read option. He had three 100-yard rushing games that season. Lynch, who delivered "Beastquake," shook up defenders to the tune of 1,306 yards in 2014. Ironically, neither duo ran the ball at the 1 yard-line in Super XLIX as Seattle opted to pass. The rest is history. 

900 and 1,100

  • Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn (2004 Falcons)

If Lynch and Wilson were thunder and lightning, then Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn delivered a whole lot of electricity. The high voltage group is the only QB-RB duo with 900 rush yards and 1,100 rush yards in a season, respectively. Two of the fastest athletes on the planet lit up defenses in 2004. Vick racked up 902 yards and Dunn scampered for 1,106. 

1,000 and 1,000

  • Vick and Dunn (2006 Falcons)
  • Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram (2019 Ravens)

Two years later Vick and Dunn became the first QB-RB duo to each rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Vick was also the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He was joined by Lamar Jackson in 2019, who joined the 1,000/1,000 club with Mark Ingram. 

Those clubs all have at least one duo, but any of this year's trios could start a new club. There has never been a team with the league's leading running back rusher and leading quarterback rusher in the same season since the NFL and AFL merged in 1970.

If you've enjoyed this exercise, here's a few honorable mentions for QB-RB rushing duos. I promise you'll enjoy at least reading the names. 

There's been 18 instances since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger of a team with even a top-three rusher among both running backs and quarterbacks. It hasn't happened since 2012 with Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris for Washington and Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch for the Seahawks. 

Team with top three QB and RB in terms of rush yards at position since 1970:

  • 2012 Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris (Washington)
  • 2012 Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch (Seahawks)
  • 2009 Vince Young and Chris Johnson (Titans)
  • 2007 Tarvaris Jackson and Adrian Peterson (Vikings)
  • 2007 Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook (Eagles)
  • 2000 Daunte Culpepper and Robert Smith (Vikings)
  • 1998 Steve Young and Garrison Hearst (49ers)
  • 1997 Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)
  • 1990 Rodney Peete and Barry Sanders (Lions)
  • 1988 Steve Pelluer and Herschel Walker (Vikings)
  • 1985 David Archer and Gerald Riggs (Falcons)
  • 1985 Jim McMahon and Walter Payton (Bears)
  • 1984 Jim McMahon and Walter Payton (Bears)
  • 1982 David Woodley and Andra Franklin (Dolphins)
  • 1980 Vince Evans and Walter Payton (Bears)
  • 1975 Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris (Steelers)
  • 1975 Bert Jones & Lydell Mitchell (Colts)
  • 1970 Fran Tarkenton and Ron Johnson (Giants)

Other duos on the list that didn't pop up in the clubs above include Vince Young and Chris Johnson, Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, Steve Young and Garrison Heart and Jim McMahon and Walter Payton. 

I hope you enjoyed a brief trip down memory lane, and maybe we'll be adding to these lists in 2024.