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Best running backs available in the 2022 NFL Draft and free agency

Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) warms up prior to a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Super Bowl is done and dusted, which means all 32 NFL teams are firmly into team-building season. The 2022 NFL offseason is all about 31 teams trying to build a roster capable of winning next year’s Super Bowl while the defending champions make sure they can retain their crown.

The big debate is where teams should invest resources. They can attack positions of need in free agency, the draft and even via trade.

This series will look at each position group and where the strengths lie in each of those areas for any teams in need. Today, we turn our attention to running backs. 

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Best running backs in free agency (Rank among PFF's top 200 free agents)

  1. Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons (34)
  2. Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (68)
  3. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals (71)
  4. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals (78)
  5. Sony Michel, Los Angeles Rams (80)
  6. Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos (88)
  7. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks (146)
  8. Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts (173)
  9. Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers (183)
  10. James White, New England Patriots (184)

Last season, Patterson broke out as one of the most dynamic hybrid weapons in the league. Having toiled as a change-of-pace running back after starting his career as a wide receiver, he finally landed in a spot that had a clear plan to maximize his talents. He dominated, averaging 2.95 yards after contact per carry on the ground and 2.23 yards per route run as a receiver.

The ninth-year pro will be 31 by the time the new season rolls around, so he may not cash in for a big payday. That said, what he was able to do last season will be attractive to the many NFL sides in need of a playmaker.

Fournette improved his stock in Tampa Bay after a disappointing time in Jacksonville to start his career. He may not be a dominant force at all times, but he did show the capacity to deliver big games, particularly behind a good offensive line.

PFF’s 2022 NFL free agency rankings offer three-year player grades, updated contract information, in-depth player analysis and PFF’s newly developed Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric for all of the top NFL free agents.

Once a victim of Pittsburgh's disintegrating offensive line, Conner revived his career with a solid 2021 season in Arizona. He is a solid all-purpose back who can carry a load for any offense.

Gordon has a solid skill set, and as much as Broncos fans were clamoring for Javonte Williams last year, Gordon averaged more per carry (4.5 yards) and earned a higher PFF rushing grade (83.4).

Penny, meanwhile, spent the last half of the 2021 season finally showing the kind of talent that made him a first-round pick after injuries had limited him to fewer than 400 snaps in his first three seasons. The SDSU product averaged 6.3 yards per carry, 4.5 of which came after contact. In all, 19 of his 119 attempts went for 10 or more yards.

Lower down the list, White is still an excellent option as a third-down back, thanks to his excellent receiving skills. He is coming off an injury and is now over 30, but he has averaged over 2.00 yards per route run since the beginning of 2020.

Best running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft (PFF Big Board rank)


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