NFL Draft News & Analysis

Most improved running back rooms following free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft

New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jahmyr Gibbs (1) runs the ball against the Kansas State Wildcats during the second half in the 2022 Sugar Bowl at Caesars Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia EaglesRashaad Penny and D’Andre Swift should give Philadelphia even more backfield production this year after already producing well in that department in 2022.

Detroit Lions: Whether it was good value for the Lions to draft a running back that early in the draft can be up for debate; however, Jahmyr Gibbs‘ talent cannot be questioned. While Gibbs presents an improvement as a runner as well, his receiving ability out of the backfield is something that Detroit has been missing in recent years.

Atlanta FalconsBijan Robinson‘s presence should only make Atlanta's already impressive backfield even better in 2023.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Several teams prioritized getting better at the running back position this offseason — highlighted by two running backs being top-15 selections in the 2023 NFL Draft for the first time since 2017.

With the draft behind us, let's take a look at which teams managed to improve the most at the position so far this offseason.

Philadelphia Eagles

Even though the 2022 Eagles roster was stacked, there was actually room for improvement at the running back position. Starting running back Miles Sanders earned just a 74.0 PFF grade, which ranked 30th out of 89 backs who played at least 100 snaps last season. In addition, teammates Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell ranked 70th and 83rd respectively.

Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Eagles found a smart way to strengthen the position this offseason, as they signed former Seattle Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny to a team-friendly one-year deal in March. While Penny has been injury prone and struggled to stay on the field, he has been very productive when he managed to stay healthy. Out of 73 running backs with at least 100 carries over the last two seasons, Penny ranks 17th in PFF rushing grade and leads all backs by a significant margin with an average of 4.3 yards after contact, which is better than the yards per carry figure of 34 of the 73 players.

Finally, Philadelphia acquired D’Andre Swift from the Lions via a trade in which they essentially only had to give up a 2025 fourth-round pick. While Swift struggled to get playing time in Detroit, he still had a career year as his PFF grade of 78.1 ranked 20th among running backs.

Detroit Lions

The Lions moved on from their top two running backs in Jamaal Williams and Swift. While Williams led the league with 17 rushing touchdowns last season, he averaged just 4.1 yards per carry, which ranked only 32nd in the league, and also had limitations in the passing game, as he ranked 87th out of 89 running backs with a PFF receiving grade of 39.7.

The first move in replacing Williams and Swift was for Detroit to sign David Montgomery in free agency. Although Montgomery has been only average in his last two seasons in Chicago, he flashed ability earlier in his career when he earned an 80.2 PFF grade in 2020. The Lions hope Montgomery can find his old form behind an offensive line that projects to be better than anything Montgomery has seen in his four seasons with the Bears.

However, what puts Detroit on this list is not necessarily the addition of Montgomery but drafting Jahmyr Gibbs, the second-best running back in the 2023 NFL Draft, instead. Whether it was good value for the Lions to draft a running back that early in the draft can be up for debate; however, Gibbs’ talent cannot be questioned. While Gibbs presents an improvement as a runner as well, his receiving ability out of the backfield is something that Detroit has been missing in recent years.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons are an odd team on this list in that their running backs performed really well in 2022. Rookie Tyler Allgeier outplayed his fifth-round draft position and earned an 88.0 PFF rushing grade, which ranked sixth among running backs. Furthermore, receiver-turned-running back Cordarrelle Patterson ranked 11th among running backs with an 83.5 rushing grade. Finally, second-year running back Caleb Huntley also flashed ability in his limited playing time with the Falcons and earned a rushing grade of 86.0. However, adding a generational talent to the fold still represents a major upgrade for the Atlanta backfield.

The Falcons selected Bijan Robinson with the eighth pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and despite the consensus opinion on the value of the position, it was deemed to be a good pick, which says a lot about how good Robinson is.

Buffalo Bills

The Bills have actively tried to improve their running back situation in recent years, as they drafted Zack Moss and James Cook and then traded for Nyheim Hines. However, while it might have fled under the radar, signing Damien Harris to a team-friendly one-year deal might be a more important move than any of the aforementioned.

Harris had an injury-ridden 2022 season, which probably also contributed to the fact that the Patriots did not re-sign the former Alabama running back. However, over the last three seasons, Harris has a 91.9 PFF grade, which ranks third in the NFL among running backs behind only Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. Buffalo did not make many moves to strengthen the running back position this offseason, but getting Harris was an underrated move that can pay dividends if he can stay healthy.

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