NFL News & Analysis

2022 NFL Free Agency Rankings: Running Backs

Jacksonville, Florida, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84) runs with the ball in the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

NFL free agency is a year-round process, as teams scout opposing players in an effort to defeat them during the year and perhaps sign them in the offseason.

Now we're at the end of the 2021-22 NFL season, the free agency picture is coming into focus and teams are beginning to identify potential targets to improve their roster weaknesses.

Here are the top running backs slated to hit free agency in 2022. Click here for PFF's full list of top 100 free agents.

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1. Cordarrelle Patterson

PFF Free Agency Rank: 34
2021 Snaps: 472
2021 PFF grade: 82.2 (5th of 62)

Patterson attempted to set an NFL record for most positions listed on the depth chart, as he was the Atlanta Falcons’ RB2 (though he became the RB1 in reality), kick returner and fifth-string safety. Patterson enjoyed an incredible breakout year as an offensive weapon, with his 2.23 yards per route run ranking second among running backs. He may not be able to cash in on a huge deal now past 30 years old, but he deserves a healthy raise over his $3 million deal signed this past season.

Projected contract: 2 yrs — $6m avg/yr

2. Leonard Fournette

PFF Free Agency Rank: 68
2021 Snaps685
2021 PFF grade: 75.1 (21st of 62)

Lombardi Lenny bet on himself in 2021 after a market didn’t materialize for him following the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl run. This time around, he took complete command of the backfield over Ronald Jones, and while Giovani Bernard served as the primary pass-catching back, Tom Brady was not afraid to dump it off to Fournette at all. He’s not a dynamic pass-catcher, but a capable one, and he’s shown some of the physical running between the tackles that made him a top-five pick in the first place.

Projected contract: 2 yrs — $8m avg/yr

3. James Conner

PFF Free Agency Rank: 71
2021 Snaps613
2021 PFF grade: 81.9 (7th of 62)

Conner was a workhorse three-down back with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the duration of his rookie contract before ultimately signing an underwhelming one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals this past offseason. If Conner’s 2021 season – namely his 18 touchdowns – are any indication, getting healthy and splitting touches with Chase Edmonds was a better situation for him. However, Conner also stepped up in a major way when Edmonds was injured this season, assuming a larger role and making a handful of highlight-reel catches with several Cardinals pass-catchers sidelined down the stretch.

Projected contract: 2 yrs — $6.4m avg/yr

4. Chase Edmonds

PFF Free Agency Rank: 78
2021 Snaps503
2021 PFF grade: 66.6 (39th of 62)

Edmonds saw his former Cardinals teammate in Las Vegas Raiders running back Kenyan Drake play out the 2020 season on the transition tag before signing a two-year, $11 million contract in the 2021 offseason. Edmonds headlines another underwhelming class at the position and may be looking for a similar deal to cash in when he can.

Projected contract: 2 yrs — $6m avg/yr

5. Sony Michel

PFF Free Agency Rank: 80
2021 Snaps620
2021 PFF grade: 63.8 (50th of 62)

The New England Patriots declined Michel’s fifth-year option for the 2022 season and subsequently traded him to the Rams for a fifth-round pick and a sixth-rounder that will likely convert into a fourth-rounder based on conditions. Michel was solid after taking over the starting job from Darrell Henderson in Week 13, but he offers little more than downhill, north-south running without much ability to break off big gains or factor as a receiver.

Projected contract: 2 yrs — $4.25m avg/yr

6. Melvin Gordon III

PFF Free Agency Rank: 88
2021 Snaps: 514
2021 PFF grade: 77.8 (16th of 62)

Much to fantasy footballers' chagrin, Gordon played too well in 2021 for the Broncos to fully hand the reins to rookie running back Javonte Williams, a prospect PFF was high on months before the 2021 Draft. Gordon earned back-to-back rushing grades of 83.0 or better on his two-year, $16 million deal with Denver and while he may not match that per year average again, he shouldn’t take too much of a paycut. Topping the Kenyan Drake deal from the 2021 offseason — two years, $11 million – should be a floor. The bigger question may be whether Denver works to keep him around or finally passes the torch.

Projected contract: N/A

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7. Rashaad Penny

PFF Free Agency Rank: 146
2021 Snaps253
2021 PFF grade: 80.5 (12th of 62)

Patience is a virtue, and in the final five games of Penny’s rookie contract, he did his best to prove that notion. One of the more highly-critiqued first-round picks of the last several years battled injuries throughout his first four seasons, but from Week 14 through the end of the 2021 season, Penny’s 91.1 rushing grade was, by far, the best mark in the NFL. Penny’s .26 forced missed tackles per rushing attempt were tied for sixth, and he finished first with 5.2 yards after first contact per attempt. Injury questions will always surround Penny, but he was incredibly productive as a starter for a stretch.

Projected contract: N/A

8. Marlon Mack

PFF Free Agency Rank: 173
2021 Snaps58
2021 PFF grade: 56.4 (N/A)

Mack hardly saw the field in 2021 after recovering from the torn Achilles he suffered in Week 1 of 2020. But, from 2018-19, he recorded almost 2,000 rushing yards at over 4.5 yards per carry, earning a rushing grade above 75.0 in the process. He tried to navigate his way to a new club for a larger opportunity this season but nothing materialized.

Projected contract: N/A

9. Justin Jackson

PFF Free Agency Rank: 183
2021 Snaps230
2021 PFF grade: 63.1 (N/A)

Jackson is a capable backup who excels as a rushing and receiving option out of the backfield. However, 2021 was his lowest-graded season in both areas by a good margin.

Projected contract: N/A

10. James White

PFF Free Agency Rank: 184
2021 Snaps63
2021 PFF grade: 78.1 (N/A)

White suffered an unfortunate hip injury that knocked him out for the majority of the 2021 season, but he remained a veteran leader for the Patriots. Even still, White was in the midst of earning his seventh straight receiving grade above 80.0.

Projected contract: N/A


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