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The toughest running backs to tackle and how they do it

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It isn't easy to stop most of the running backs in the NFL these days, with the incredible talent at the position. But who are the toughest of the tough to bring down?

NFL Next Gen Stats tracks something called "yards gained after close-in." It measures yards gained by a ball carrier after the first defender gets within one yard of him. After expanding that data to the past two seasons (2017-18) and eliminating any running back with fewer than 200 carries over that period, we found the three most evasive rushers in the NFL in picking up extra yards once the defense closes in. Then we asked the trio (and some teammates) what makes them so tough to tackle.

Here's a closer look at the toughest running backs to get on the ground. Stats are from NFL Next Gen Stats and ESPN Stats & Information, and reporting is from NFL Nation's Turron Davenport, Jordan Raanan and Rob Demovsky.

1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

4.6 yards gained after close-in per carry, 2017-18

The former Alabama running back had a breakout season in 2018, recording 1,059 yards and 12 touchdowns on 215 carries (4.9 per tote). He has only one career rushing fumble on 501 carries, and he led NFL rushers in yards after first contact last season with 2.9.

When facing eight or more defenders in the box, Henry posted 5.0 yards per carry, the sixth-best mark in the league among rushers with at least 100 carries, and he was at his best overall when going to the left side, gaining 5.8 per carry on such runs. He also was stuffed (runs resulting in no gain or a loss) on just 13.5% of his carries last season, the fourth-best rate among RBs with at least 100 carries, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

What do you consider your go-to move in avoiding tackles, and why does it work so well?

Henry: "My stiff arm. I always used that as a kid, it's something that just came naturally. I just try to throw them to the ground and give them as much as I can."

What is one word you'd use to describe your running style?

Henry: "That's hard. I'd say relentless because even if it's not going well, I feel like I have to stay with it. As the game goes on -- like I always preach -- I get better. I have to stay relentless and keep coming. If it's not there, eventually it will be."

What makes you so tough to tackle and why?

Henry: "Attitude. Like my stiff arm, I think it's the attitude with it. If you're not aggressive with it, they can just slap your arm and pull you down."

What makes Henry so difficult to bring down?

Titans DE Brent Urban: "I think the size is obviously the first thing that jumps out at you. He has a level of elusiveness that you wouldn't really anticipate just looking at his stature. I think it's kind of that one-two punch that throws you off."

Titans LB Kamalei Correa: "That's a big dude. He runs hard, and he's just a big, good back. Physically there is nothing like him out there. He's special. A lot of people really don't know his speed, especially for his size. He's actually a lot faster than people think he is. He's all around, overall, just a great back."

2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants

4.5 yards gained after close-in per carry, 2017-18

In a phenomenal rookie campaign, the 2018 No. 2 pick rushed for 1,307 yards and 11 scores on 261 carries. That 5.0 average was 10th best in the NFL, despite playing behind a makeshift offensive line. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, only Lamar Jackson had more runs reaching 15 mph than his 59, and he tied Denver's Phillip Lindsay for the most 20-plus mph runs (seven).

Barkley averaged 2.3 yards per carry after first contact (sixth), 2.7 before (17th) and 5.7 when facing eight or more defenders in the box (third). He excelled most when going to the right side, where he picked up a ridiculous 6.9 yards per carry, the best mark in the league.

What do you consider your go-to move in avoiding tackles, and why does it work so well?

Barkley: "Jump cut. It's just something I've been doing since I was a kid. It's my most natural move. To me, it kind of depends on the situation -- if it's a third-and-1, if I'm in the open field. I feel I have a good tool belt where I can spin, jump, power, run through you, stiff-arm and all that stuff. But probably my go-to is just the jump cut because you can set up the defender and set up blocks."

What is one word you'd use to describe your running style?

Barkley: "Versatile. You don't know what's coming. I gotta keep you on your toes, keep you guessing."

What is your favorite evaded tackle from your career?

Barkley: "I got Joey Bosa pretty good in college. Gave him a dead leg, jumped over [Ohio State teammate Tyvis Powell]. And the one against Dallas [safety Kavon Frazier] on the sideline. I did like a spin and I was able to stay in bounds. That was something I had never done before."

What was the hardest tackle you took last season?

Barkley: "J.J. Watt. We had a counter play to the left. He beat his guy, hit me. I kind of clapped it off. I knew it was J.J., though."

What makes Barkley so difficult to bring down?

Giants CB Grant Haley (and former teammate at Penn State): "Trying to tackle Saquon is almost like seeing a car come at you that can jump cut to the next lane. Not the easiest thing to do."

3. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

4.5 yards gained after close-in per carry, 2017-18

No one had a better yards per carry number in 2018 than Jones' 5.5 pace. He had only 133 carries, but was efficient, picking up 728 yards and eight touchdowns. He was second in the NFL in yards gained per carry on runs up the middle (5.8).

According NFL Next Gen Stats, Jones had a successful run 54.9% of the time (running plays resulting in an offensive successful play based on the yards to go by down). But unlike Henry, he won mostly before first contact, averaging 3.7 in that area (fourth best in the NFL). It's a sign that Jones likely gets a good deal of help from his offensive line, too. No matter how he did it, Jones was stuffed just 15% of the time, per NFL Next Gen Stats.

What do you consider your go-to move in avoiding tackles, and why does it work so well?

Jones: "It depends on the position I'm in. I like to use the stiff arm. Or just a little head-and-shoulders wiggle to get past you. Those are my two favorites."

What is one word you'd use to describe your running style?

Jones: "Wavey. I don't stop to do a cut, I keep moving. Being able to change directions without stopping. Honestly, I think it's God-given."

What is your favorite evaded tackle from your career?

Jones: "Against the Bills last year, there were two guys [safety Jordan Poyer and cornerback Ryan Lewis] in the hole and I did a spin move and got by both of them. Or when we played Dallas my rookie year, I had a cutback and a little wiggly and saw someone [cornerback Chidobe Awuzie] fly by."

What was the hardest tackle you took last season?

Jones: "Ndamukong Suh. He laid on me. He fell all of his 300 pounds on me -- I felt all of it."

What makes Jones so difficult to bring down?

Packers DT Kenny Clark: "He has great vision. I mean he has all the attributes as far as speed and everything, but the thing that sets him apart from other running backs is his balance. You can hit him, and I've seen so many times where he had cut into a hole and he'd be under a defensive lineman's arm or someone would hit him, and he'd bounce off and get four more yards. His balance is crazy."