• New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley: On top of Barkley’s well-documented game-breaking abilities, there are many little details that make him worth the investment at a position set to endure another down market this offseason.
• Chicago Bears RB David Montgomery: Montgomery’s durability and prowess as a pass catcher and pass protector could be a really intriguing combination with one of the Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-ups in Kenneth Walker III.
• Las Vegas Raiders RB Josh Jacobs: Jacobs couldn’t have had a better contract year and now enters free agency as a priority re-sign/tag target for the Raiders.
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Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
2023 team prediction: Las Vegas Raiders
Jacobs, the 2022 winner of the newly named Jim Brown Award — given to the league’s rushing leader each season — couldn’t have had a better contract year. The Raiders declining his fifth-year option was a blessing in disguise, and they now have to either place the franchise tag on him or come to terms on a multi-year extension, unless they’re willing to let him test free agency. After Las Vegas lost quarterback Derek Carr for nothing in return, one would surmise they look to work something out here.
Over the past four seasons, no running back has forced more missed tackles on rushes than Jacobs’ 267. His 3.2 yards after contact per attempt is a top-20 mark at the position over the span, and his 118 explosive rushes are the fourth most. While he’s not necessarily a dynamic receiver, he has more than 50 receptions in back-to-back seasons and can certainly be a valuable contributor on third downs. Jacobs had a reception of at least 10 yards in 11 games this season, and he’s a willing blocker if asked to stay in to pass protect on third downs.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
2023 team prediction: New York Giants
The Giants should be working overtime to get a long-term deal done with Barkley so they can free up the franchise tag for quarterback Daniel Jones, who they should feel more inclined to take their time with to ensure an extension is favorable to both parties.
On top of Barkley’s well-documented game-breaking abilities, there are many little details that make him worth the investment at a position set to endure another down market this offseason. Barkley led all qualifying running backs in 2022 with a 75.5 pass-blocking grade, and he has one fumble lost in his career over 1,201 touches. The 2022 season was his fourth year with at least 40 receptions. He also ranked fifth with 32 explosive rushes and posted the lowest stuff rate (6.8%) of his career.
Some of his longest gains looked like plays that would have been house calls in his heyday, but perhaps the last piece of his game he can get back with full health is that top-end speed to sustain home-run shots for six points. If he can continue to limit the negative plays, that’s a decent trade-off for the next few years of his career. The face of the Giants should be back in 2023, ideally with more weapons around him to lighten his workload and bolster his per-touch efficiency even more.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
2023 team prediction: Dallas Cowboys
Pollard’s leg injury sustained in the divisional round against the San Francisco 49ers throws an unfortunate wrench in his offseason, but Dallas seems to want him back regardless as a perfect pairing with the current version of Ezekiel Elliott, which is a short-yardage back who is great on third-and-short and near the goal line.
Pollard’s primary weakness in his game entering 2022 was his pass protection, an area Elliott has long excelled in. Pollard earned a 45.6 grade in that regard in 2021, allowing three sacks and another quarterback hit on just 36 snaps. However, Pollard’s 75.3 pass-blocking grade ranked second this season among running backs with at least 25 pass-blocking reps, and that’s a hugely important development for a dynamic receiving back.
Pollard’s 3.8 yards after contact per rushing attempt this past season was third among backs with at least 50 carries, further illustrating his strength through contact. He is a speed threat first and foremost that wouldn’t be best suited in a workhorse role, which Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has expressed several times, but he is not some scat back that can’t handle the dirty work required at the position on occasion, either.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
2023 team prediction: Denver Broncos
Sanders had a great contract year and now enters free agency, though it was capped off with an underwhelming Super Bowl performance that was close to disastrous if his near-fumble on a target behind the line of scrimmage was ruled a turnover.
Sanders can be a good early-down pairing with 2021 second-round pick running back Javonte Williams as he makes his return from a knee injury that reportedly involved damage to multiple ligaments. New Broncos head coach Sean Payton has always emphasized a diverse skill set in his backfield, with the one-two punch of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II in New Orleans a solid blueprint for what the eventual Williams-Sanders pairing could look like from a usage standpoint.
Among running backs with at least 50 carries on the year, Sanders’ 34 explosive rushes in 2022 ranked fourth and his 82.3 rushing grade ranked 18th.
RB David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
2023 team prediction: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks and head coach Pete Carroll could try to reunite the tandem of rookie sensation Kenneth Walker III and former first-round pick Rashaad Penny once again, but Montgomery’s durability and prowess as a pass catcher and pass protector could be a really intriguing combination with one of the Offensive Rookie of the Year runner-ups in Walker.
Walker had 27 receptions as a rookie after just 19 total during his college career. A lack of usage doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of ability, but Walker’s average depth of target this past season was 2.1 yards behind the line of scrimmage, whereas Montgomery has the ability to run a decent route tree out of the backfield or occasionally in the slot. Furthermore, Montgomery’s 71.7 pass-blocking grade over his first four seasons is a top-10 mark among running backs over the span, whereas Walker’s 32.0 pass-blocking grade in 2022 ranked 54th out of 59 qualifying running backs.
Pass protection and an expanded role in the passing game are both elements to Walker’s game that could develop with time, but for now, the Seahawks could have a great blend of skill sets in their backfield that could provide them with the ability to utilize a ton of different personnel packages and show a lot of looks to opposing defenses.