• Miles Sanders is the top free-agent option: Sanders averaged 3.0 yards after contact per carry on the way to the Super Bowl last season and has averaged 3.1 for his career.
• Bijan Robinson is a difference-maker: The Texas product is the best running back prospect to enter the league since PFF has been grading college football (2014), eclipsing the likes of Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey at the time they were drafted.
• Titans looking to move on from Derrick Henry? Over the last five seasons, Henry has almost 1,000 more yards after contact than any other back, and he has broken 279 tackles.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
With the franchise tag deadline already gone and free agency just days away, all 32 NFL teams are now firmly into the team-building process and will be looking at every option to improve their roster.
NFL teams can address roster needs in three ways — free agency, the 2023 NFL Draft or by trading for a player — so here we will look at how the market looks as we head into what promises to be another fascinating offseason.
We have already looked at several other positions this offseason, and now it’s time to evaluate the available running backs. This is a passing league, but the group of running backs available this offseason is the best the NFL has seen in quite some time.
And while the franchise tag has already removed a couple of the best potential free-agent options, quality backs are still available.
Best Free Agents (rank among PFF’s Top 100 free agents)
- Miles Sanders (73)
- David Montgomery (79)
- Devin Singletary (112)
- Jamaal Williams (114)
- D’Onta Foreman (120)
- Kareem Hunt (124)
- Damien Harris (145)
- Jerick McKinnon (146)
- Jeff Wilson Jr. (148)
- Rashaad Penny (149)
This list looked a lot better before Josh Jacobs, Saquon Barkley and Tony Pollard were slapped with the franchise tag by their teams. All three of those star backs are coming off a career year at the peak of their prime and would have made a marquee signing in free agency.
Their absence leaves Sanders as the best available option, but the first few backs on the list show that plenty of backfield talent is still available.
Sanders averaged 3.0 yards after contact per carry on the way to the Super Bowl last season and has averaged 3.1 for his career. He also notched 11 rushing touchdowns in 2022, showing what an anomaly his scoreless 2021 really was.
Montgomery has been a solid, well-rounded back for the Bears since entering the league. Over four seasons, he has broken 185 tackles across 915 carries.
Perhaps the most interesting name further down the list is that of Kareem Hunt, whose career was sidetracked by an off-the-field incident of violence that has left him to play in the shadow of Nick Chubb in recent seasons. Hunt has the skill set to be a lead back in an NFL offense and can be an every-down force for a team if he still has gas left in the tank.
With the league moving ever more toward running back by committee, plenty of free agents can upgrade backfields and make important contributions.
Best RBs in the 2023 NFL Draft (PFF Big Board rank)
- Bijan Robinson, Texas (27)
- Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama (51)
- Zach Charbonnet, UCLA (60)
- Devon Achane, Texas A&M (72)
- DeWayne McBride, UAB (80)
- Tank Bigsby, Auburn (83)
- Kendre Miller, TCU (96)
- Tyjae Spears, Tulane (98)
- Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State (102)
- Sean Tucker, Syracuse (119)
PFF’s big board is created with positional value already baked into the equation. But if it were simply a list of the highest-graded prospects, Bijan Robinson would potentially be a top-five player in this draft.
The Texas product is the best running back prospect to enter the league since PFF has been grading college football (2014), eclipsing the likes of Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey at the time they were drafted. Robinson is outstanding in all facets of play and broke 104 tackles on 257 carries last season, shattering the previous single-season record.
Robinson is good enough that it will test where the league currently is in terms of valuing the running back position and how highly they should be drafted.
Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs brings elite speed and playmaking ability as a receiver. He is a perfect back for today’s NFL and will immediately be a matchup problem at the next level.
Overall, this is one of the strongest running back classes to enter the league in a long time. Throughout this top 10, there are players who can be immediate starters in the NFL, with players like Tyjae Spears dominating at All-Star games and looking exceptionally fluid during the combine drills in Indianapolis.
It’s also one of the deepest classes to come along, with potential roles there for players all the way through this draft.
It’s a good group of free agents, but the talent available this year in the draft may lead to a pretty slow market for the veteran players.
Best RBs Available via a potential trade
- Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
- Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
The Titans have their finger hovering over the reboot button, internally debating whether this roster needs a complete reset and to be torn apart before it can be built back into a contender. The move that will signify that the button has been pushed is if they trade Derrick Henry away — an option recent reports have suggested.
Henry has been the team’s bell cow and arguably the driving force behind the offense over the last few seasons. He has been the one running back who changes the rules in terms of how important he is to an offense. Over the last five seasons, Henry has almost 1,000 more yards after contact than any other back, and he has broken 279 tackles.