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As we inch closer to the 2022 NFL Draft, let’s take a spin around the state of the running back position to see which teams have the greatest need at the position.
One thing is pretty clear coming out of this exercise: There aren’t many potential “smash” landing spots for the incoming rookies.
They're not shocking here, considering their entire roster is mostly a mess but the Texans have the weakest running back room by a country mile. Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead currently hold the top-two spots on the depth chart.
That’s not going to work.
If the Texans spend a high-equity pick one a running back there’s a strong chance they could moonwalk into a ton of Year 1 volume. We'll just have to weigh that volume against a likely uninspiring offensive environment.
Arthur Smith unlocking the best of Cordarrelle Patterson was a beautiful albeit random development from last season. It was smart of both sides to extend their marriage after his contract ended in March. Still, the Falcons could stand to add someone to take base-down work from Patterson and free him up as a pass-catcher/slasher. That’s what we should be rooting for from a fantasy football efficiency perspective, at least. Mike Davis didn’t cut it in that role.
If the Bills spend a Round 1 or 2 pick at running back that player will rocket up every fantasy ranking list. It’s clear — after Buffalo was this close to coaxing J.D. McKissic up north for decent money — that it's hunting for a receiving type back to juice up its passing game.
Someone like Breece Hall would be quite fun. If the right guy doesn’t fall to them, they can get by with another season of Devin Singletary, who ended the Bills' regular season and postseason run on a hot streak.
The Seahawks rewarded Rashaad Penny’s strong finish to 2021 with a one-year deal. He’s far from a reliable presence at this stage and Chris Carson is a massive medical question mark. Don’t be shocked if a rookie joins the mix at the end of the month with a harrowing camp battle to follow.
The Jets can probably afford to stand pat with Michael Carter, who climbed to the top of the depth chart at certain points of his rookie season. He’s a solid runner who has passing game chops. Carter averaged 4.4 yards per carry and handled 55 targets in 14 games. The Jets have so many other areas to worry about but it wouldn’t be a total shock if they add another exciting young back simply because the depth behind Carter is not ideal. Tevin Coleman doesn’t move the needle at this point and Ty Johnson isn’t an imposing presence.
Urban Meyer curiously spent a Round 1 pick on a running back who, after spending most of his offseason being deployed at positions besides running back, suffered a season-ending injury before Week 1. Doug Pederson sounds excited to use Travis Ettiene but he certainly doesn’t have the same “vision” for the player as Meyer.
Despite Meyer’s attempts to shelve him, James Robinson has been one of the all-time finds as an undrafted back. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles at the close of last season. Jacksonville is a sneaky candidate to add a running back with a relatively consequential pick again.
The Cardinals opened up the wallet to reward James Conner for his big season after playing well under a one-year deal last season. We know Conner is an injury risk and with Chase Edmonds fleeing the nest for Miami, Arizona should be in the market for a complement. If someone is added on Day 2 or early Day 3, keep an eye on that player as a high-upside later-round fantasy draft pick as soon as this year.
Fine but could add a body or two
The Ravens have J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards returning from 2021 preseason ACL tears. They could add depth but, when healthy, that’s a nice tandem.
Chuba Hubbard didn’t impress in his relief duty for Christian McCaffrey as a rookie. But the Panthers have a bevy of needs and a lack of resources. Can’t see more than a pick in the final few rounds being spent at running back.
Los Angeles Chargers
Austin Ekeler had his best season with 20 combined scores. He’s a perfect figurehead for this backfield and there are some guys who can rotate in behind him.
If Mike McDaniel brings the 49ers way with him to Miami, some Day 3 draft pick will be running ahead of free-agent adds Raheem Mostert and Chase Edmonds by Week 1.
On a serious note, that level of a draft pick is all we should expect them to add here.
New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram gave the team some punch behind Alvin Kamara in his return to the club last October. Kamara has some off-field troubles to deal with this offseason but New Orleans isn’t a candidate to add a significant back.
The Eagles retained Boston Scott, who always fills in nicely for them when called upon. Starter Miles Sanders is still in place despite not scoring a touchdown in 2021.
San Francisco 49ers
We’ll see how much Deebo Samuel plays in the backfield this season. Not counting his role, Elijah Mitchell was one hell of a find for this team as a rookie. Theoretically, Trey Sermon still holds a roster spot for the 49ers.
The Titans certainly didn’t enjoy riding the vagabond running back carousel during life without Derrick Henry last season. The running game is such a huge part of their identity. You’d think they’d want to add an above-average backup to the mix as Henry ages.
There are some whispers Washington wasn’t totally happy with Antonio Gibson last year amid fumbles and constant injuries. Still, he has immense promise as a starter so it’s tough to envision them adding more than light depth. J.D. McKissic has returned to reprise his role as an obvious passing down back.
Little to no need
Starter David Montgomery is a rock-solid three-down player and the Bears hit on Khalil Herbert as a rookie last year. Herbert rushed for 344 yards on 78 carries over a four-game injury absence for Montgomery. This is one of the few positions Chicago can feel good about, entering 2022.
Joe Mixon is one of the top-10 backs in the NFL right now and is coming off a strong season. His college backfield mate, Samaje Perine, has emerged as a solid pro-level compliment to Mixon. Even Chris Evans flashed a bit in the passing game last season.
The Browns have the NFL’s most stacked backfield with Nick Chubb leading the way at RB1. If any team wanted to boost their own running back stable via trade, Cleveland would probably get the first call. D’Ernest Johnson showed he can play last year and could be a reasonable, cheap trade target or even step into Kareem Hunt’s role if the veteran is dealt instead. Odds are the Browns bring all three onto the Week 1 roster.
The Cowboys are still tied to Ezekiel Elliott and his albatross contract. He was good in fantasy last year before suffering a PCL injury and is still a solid player overall. Backup Tony Pollard remains an intriguing change-of-pace option.
Second-year runner Javonte Williams is going to be everyone’s favorite breakout pick this year provided Melvin Gordon doesn’t re-sign. Even if he does, Williams is an explosive talent ready to take the next step. Reserve back Mike Boone is a passable No. 2 guy if Gordon isn’t brought back.
We know D’Andre Swift can ball — we just need him to play for a full 17-game season this year. Swift caught 62 passes in 13 games last year and he could easily clear 80 in 2022. Jamaal Williams is the type of unsexy but solid back that coaches absolutely love. Some of the guys like Craig Reynolds, Godwin Igwebuike and Jermar Jefferson have flashed a bit too.
Green Bay Packers
You can easily make the case that Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are one of the top-three running back duos in the NFL right now. The real question is how the work will be distributed between the two of them this season.
Jonathan Taylor is a mega-star and Nyheim Hines is a fantastic and underrated role player in this offense. Enough said.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs aren’t exactly great at running back but don’t really have a need to add a player with a significant draft asset. Ronald Jones and Clyde Edwards-Helaire will spend 2022 forming one of the weirdest backfield tandems in recent memory. Both players have their strengths but have been NFL letdowns and don’t really complement each other. The Chiefs can get by with this for now.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Raiders have plenty of guys in their backfield. Josh Jacobs is at least a solid starter and Kenyan Drake is a useful guy too, even if the previous Raiders brass seemed to have no plan for him despite paying him big money. Keep an eye out for Brandon Bolden as a utility man after he made the move from New England to Vegas with Josh McDaniels.
Los Angeles Rams
We certainly didn’t get the best version of Cam Akers in the Super Bowl run but it was a minor miracle he was even playing. He should be ready to roll as the RB1 in this backfield and backup Darrell Henderson is a starting-level running back himself.
Fantasy gamers know that Alexander Mattison is a locked-in RB1 any time starter Dalvin Cook — a very good player — misses time. The Vikings are set here.
New England Patriots
The Patriots retained long-time favorite James White to work as the passing down back and have a pair of strong early down bangers in Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. This is a position of strength for New England.
New York Giants
The team seemed open to dealing Saquon Barkley this offseason had the right offer come along. That should tell you they think they can get better, and certainly cheaper, at running back. Some depth competition will at least be considered to go along with veteran Matt Breida, who followed Brian Daboll from Buffalo.
You could argue the Steelers could add some juice behind Najee Harris but the guy basically never leaves the field. He played more than 80 percent of the snaps in 12 games last year. Pittsburgh needs to add some bulk up front if they want their run game to be high-quality.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The grand return of Tom Brady got Leonard Fournette back into the fold after a dynamic season for the Bucs. The former fifth-overall pick has emerged as a target magnet out of the backfield and is a solid rusher. Keyshawn Vaughn looks ready to assume the minor change of pace gig Ronald Jones left behind.