The collapse of the running back market has been one of the dominant storylines of the 2023 NFL offseason. Franchise-tagged RBs like Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs have been forced to decide on take-it-or-leave-it offers from their respective clubs, while Jonathan Taylor has requested a trade out of Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, viable running backs — some of whom were clear-cut starters during the 2022 season — are still available on the free agent market. Let’s run through the list of the best remaining NFL RBs and find their best potential landing spots.
Projecting Landing Spots for Free Agent NFL RBs
Dalvin Cook | New York Jets
Dalvin Cook met with the Jets over the weekend but emerged from his visit without a contract in hand. Both sides retain “mutual interest” in getting a deal done, according to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, but New York doesn’t feel an “immediate rush” from Cook or his agent to work out an agreement immediately, per Josina Anderson of CBS Sports.
Aaron Rodgers recently suggested that his new contract — which includes a $35 million pay cut over the next two years — should enable the Jets to make moves at the NFL trade deadline. But New York could strike now by adding Cook to their roster.
The Jets undoubtedly have a running back need. Breece Hall is still several weeks away from returning from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he works his way back from an October ACL tear. Cook would represent an upgrade over Gang Green’s current No. 2 options, including Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight, and rookie Israel Abanikanda.
Cook was not at his best with the Vikings in 2023. Among 42 running backs with at least 100 carries last season, Cook ranked just 34th in rushing success rate and 38th in first downs per rush, per TruMedia. But the Jets can envision Cook becoming more productive with a lighter workload and hope he can carry them through any potential Hall absence.
Ezekiel Elliott | New England Patriots
After losing Damien Harris to the Bills in free agency, the Patriots seem intent on adding another running back to complement Rhamondre Stevenson. They’ve hosted a number of free agents in recent weeks, including Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, and Darrell Henderson.
We’re sending Elliott to New England, usurping 2022 draft picks Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris on the Patriots’ running back depth chart. Strong and Harris combined for just 18 attempts last season. If New England were confident in either player to back up Stevenson, they likely wouldn’t be meeting with veteran backs.
Zeke comes with obvious negatives attached. He’s 28 years old, has nearly 1,900 NFL carries under his belt, and posted career-worst marks in yards per carry (3.8) and receptions (17) last year.
But Elliott can still get it done in short-yardage situations. Last season, on third and fourth downs with 1-2 yards to go, Elliott ranked 10th in the league with a 73.1% success rate, per TruMedia. He could play that role in New England, allowing Stevenson to remain free of the grind in short-yardage or goal-line conditions.
Leonard Fournette | Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers got next to no production from their cadre of backup running backs last season, but they’re planning to bring back the same group behind Austin Ekeler in 2022. Joshua Kelly, Isaiah Spiller, and Larry Rountree III are next up on Los Angeles’ depth chart after the Bolts failed to add a free agent this offseason.
Fournette struggled to gain any traction with the Buccaneers last season, but at least part of his limited production can be attributed to Tampa Bay’s woeful offensive line performance. The Chargers, 12th in PFN’s offensive line rankings, would represent a significant upgrade.
Fournette would give L.A. a one-two punch alongside Ekeler, and he’s also capable of playing as a three-down back were Ekeler to go down with an injury. Over the past four seasons, Fournette ranks fourth among running backs in receptions, trailing only Ekeler, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey.
Kareem Hunt | Indianapolis Colts
While Kareem Hunt will likely never match his 1,110+ yard rookie campaign with the Chiefs, the soon-to-be 28-year-old carved out a solid role with the Browns over the past four years. Playing behind Nick Chubb, Hunt averaged 468 yards, four touchdowns, and 33 receptions per season with Cleveland.
Still, he hasn’t garnered much interest this offseason. The Commanders were reportedly eyeing Hunt in the middle of June, but they haven’t hosted him for a visit since.
Hunt could become a perfect solution for the Colts, who have Taylor on the PUP list, as they attempt to determine if he will play this season. Indy has said they don’t plan to trade Taylor, but it’s unclear how his situation with the Colts will play out.
Backup Zack Moss broke his arm this week and is unlikely to be ready for Week 1, leaving Deon Jackson, fifth-round rookie Evan Hull, Jake Funk, and UDFA Toriano Clinton Jr. as the Colts’ remaining RBs. Hunt would lend veteran experience to Indianapolis’ roster and serve as a checkdown option for first-round rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson.
J.D. McKissic | Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys have continuously left the door open for Elliott to return to the roster this offseason. But with no deal in place thus far, Dallas might start looking in other directions.
While the Cowboys don’t necessarily have to add another running back, they could stand to add more experience behind new starter Tony Pollard. With Ronald Jones suspended for the first two games of the season, Dallas’ top options behind Pollard are Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, and fifth-round rookie Deuce Vaughn.
Those three backs have combined for 45 career NFL carries. J.D. McKissic is more of a receiver than a runner, but he could help take some of the passing-game workload off Pollard’s plate. Limited by a neck injury last season, McKissic posted 123 receptions for the Commanders from 2020-21.
Darrell Henderson | Las Vegas Raiders
Anyone who says they know how the Josh Jacobs situation will play out in Las Vegas is probably lying. The Raiders reportedly offered Jacobs $12 million annually before the franchise tag extension deadline passed in mid-July, although it’s unclear how Vegas would have structured the guaranteed money in that proposal.
Jacobs has threatened to sit out regular-season games and could be more willing to follow through on that plan than Saquon Barkley, who eventually agreed to a tweaked one-year deal with the Giants last week.
With Jacobs still holding out, the Raiders are staring at a running back room that includes journeymen such as Ameer Abdullah and Brandon Bolden and 2022 rookies like Zamir White and Brittain Brown. White was a fourth-round pick last year; the Raiders might view him as a potential starter, but they could add another body to their backfield.
Darrell Henderson topped 600 yards for the Rams in 2020 and 2021 before Los Angeles waived him last November. The Jaguars claimed him, but he spent only two weeks in Jacksonville — and didn’t see the field — before being cut again. Henderson wouldn’t be anything close to a cure-all in Las Vegas, but he’d give the Raiders another option if they don’t want to roll with their existing depth chart.