The NFL may value running backs less than in the past, but having an elite RB certainly doesn’t hurt teams. This year’s free agent class contains plenty of solid starters, including 2 Pro Bowlers. Here are the ten best.
10. Jordan Howard, Philadelphia Eagles
A fifth-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 2016, Howard had three productive seasons in the Windy City, before being traded to the Eagles for a sixth-round pick. Injuries limited him to ten games, and he rushed for only 525 yards and six touchdowns, but Howard is still a solid runner and a good pass protector. He likely won’t get too much cash on the open market, and may end up in an RB committee for his new team, but Howard certainly has value.
9. Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Miller has put together a solid NFL career since being drafted in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2012. Over seven seasons, he’s totaled 5,864 yards and 32 TDs on 1,354 carries, and has added 209 catches for 1,565 yards and eight scores through the air, in addition to being a solid pass protector. Prior to the 2016 season, Miller signed a four-year $26 million deal with Houston.
During the 2019 NFL preseason, Miller suffered a torn ACL and was placed on injured reserve. He will attempt to come back strong from his injury, and should be able to find at least a committee job with a contender.
8. Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
Ever since he entered the league back in 2013, he’s been used primarily as a receiving back. For his career, he has 250 carries and 215 receptions. It’s possible that Thompson will seek out a larger role this offseason, and the Kansas City Chiefs seem like a perfect fit for his skillset.
7. Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco has arguably the deadliest ground game in the NFL, and Breida has been a huge part of that. He missed some time in 2019, but was still productive. Breida went undrafted out of Georgia Southern in 2017, and is a restricted free agent now. As long as his price doesn’t become unreasonable, the Niners will almost certainly try to bring him back. Breida may want to be a featured back, and he won’t have that opportunity in Kyle Shanahan’s multi-headed system.
6. Carlos Hyde, Houston Texans
Hyde may not provide much in the passing game, but he’s a solid throwback runner who loves contact. He signed a one-year deal worth $2.8 million with the Texans prior to last season, and ended up starting 14 games due to the Lamar Miller injury.
He put one of the better seasons of his career, gaining a career-high 1,070 yards on 245 carries, scoring six touchdowns. He won’t get the $15.25 million over three years the Cleveland Browns gave him in 2018, but Hyde can certainly be a productive member of a backfield on a playoff team.
5. Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
A playoff hero this past NFL season, Williams could have easily been named Super Bowl MVP; against the 49ers, he carried the ball 17 times for 104 yards and a score, and added 29 yards and another TD on four grabs. He scored six times in three postseason games, and endeared himself to the Kansas City fanbase.
The Chiefs have a club option for 2020 worth $2.8 million that they must exercise by March 18th, otherwise Williams becomes an unrestricted free agent. It’s hard to see the team not exercising the option, but stranger things have happened.
4. Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
Drake had a few decent seasons in Miami, but when he was dealt to Arizona for a conditional sixth-rounder at the 2019 deadline, it was as if he changed into a completely different player. In his eight games for the Cardinals, Drake carried the ball 123 times for 643 yards and eight TDs, as well as 28 catches for 171 yards out of the backfield. If Drake can keep up that level of play (or at least something close to it), he has quite a bit of value.
The issue is that Arizona is already paying David Johnson $16.2 million in 2020, along with a $3 million cap hit when he is cut after next year. Drake may end up on his third team in the past calendar year.
3. Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
As a rookie for Kansas City in 2017, Hunt was a top-five RB. He was an excellent runner, receiver, and pass blocker. He continued his strong play in 2018, but the Chiefs cut him after 11 games after a video released showing him kicking a woman in the face at a Cleveland hotel. Hunt reportedly lied to the team about what had happened.
Last offseason, John Dorsey, who drafted Hunt in KC and was at the time Cleveland’s general manager, signed Hunt, a move which caused some backlash. Hunt was suspended for the first eight games, and when he returned, he played very well. He played RB, fullback, and slot receiver, doing everything from running jet sweeps to lead blocking for Nick Chubb. He touched the ball 80 times, gaining 464 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
In January, Hunt was pulled over for speeding while on his way to Cleveland-Hopkins Airport, and the officer involved found an open container of alcohol along with a bag of marijuana in Hunt’s car. He was not charged with possession however, but it’s another example of Hunt exercising poor judgement. He is a restricted free agent, so any interested team will have to part with draft capital in addition to paying him more than the Browns would be willing to. Given Hunt’s off-field history, it’s unlikely he plays elsewhere in 2020.
2. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
Gordon had a good first four years in the NFL. Good, not great. This made his decision to holdout prior to the 2019 season rather puzzling. He gave the Chargers an ultimatum; either pay him what players like Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Le’Veon Bell were making, or trade him. Of course, neither ended up happening, and Gordon reported to the team after sitting out four games, determined to prove his worth to the rest of the NFL. What followed was the worst season of his career. He did score eight rushing touchdowns, but averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and fumbled four times.
Gordon may want to be paid like an elite back, but his performance doesn’t indicate that. He’s likely to be disappointed in his market this offseason, and Los Angeles will not be one of the teams pursing him, especially after giving Gordon’s backup, Austin Ekeler, a four-year contract worth $24.5 million.
1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
It took him a few years, but Henry has finally become the dominant player the Titans were envisioning when they drafted him 45th overall in 2016. Over his first two seasons, Henry carried the ball 286 times for 1,234 yards and ten scores. He beat all of those numbers in 2019 alone, winning the NFL rushing title with 1,540 yards and 16 TDs on 303 carries. And he did all that in 15 games. Tennessee rode Henry to a 9-7 record and then all the way to the AFC Championship game, stunning the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs.
Henry knows his value to the Titans and will be seeking a huge deal. Historically it’s not been a good idea to pay RBs big money, but Tennessee may not have a choice. The franchise tag is an option as well. Henry’s free agency situation will be very interesting to watch next week.