Patriots

NFL free agents 2022: Ranking the top 10 running backs

Patriots

The New England Patriots' 1-2 punch at running back already is set for next season. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are expected to once again handle the bulk of the work after strong 2021 campaigns.

Harris totaled 929 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns -- the second-most in franchise history -- in 15 games. Stevenson bounced back from a rocky start to his rookie season and tallied 606 yards with five TDs.

Top 2022 NFL free agents by position: QB | WR | TEOL | DLEDGE | LB | CB | S | KTop 25 overall

The Patriots' running game is in good hands with those two backs atop the depth chart, but a couple of question marks remain heading into the offseason. Veteran running backs James White and Brandon Bolden are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, leaving New England without a reliable pass-catcher in the backfield. Will the Patriots bring them back for another season, or will they go in a different direction?

Here's a look at the top 10 running backs set to hit the free-agent market in 2022.

10. James White

Age: 30

2021 stats (Patriots): 10 carries, 38 yards, one TD; 12 catches, 94 yards

Have we seen the last of James White in a Patriots uniform? The three-time Super Bowl champion has been an integral part of the organization both on and off the field since 2014. He looked to be a key third-down weapon for Mac Jones until a hip injury in Week 4 put an end to his 2021 season. Unless a better option suddenly becomes available, it would make sense for New England to give White another one-year deal to see what's left in the tank. 

Contract projection: 1 year, $1.5 million

 

9. J.D. McKissic

Age: 28

2021 stats (Commanders): 48 carries, 212 yards, two TDs; 43 catches, 389 yards, two TDs

McKissic's season was marred by injuries, but Washington's pass-catching back was a key contributor whenever he was able to take the field. If James White doesn't return to New England, McKissic could be an intriguing fit to take over that role.

Contract projection: 2 years, $8 million

8. Darrel Williams

Age: 27

2021 stats (Chiefs): 144 carries, 558 yards, six TDs; 47 catches, 452 yards, two TDs

Williams was given the largest workload of his NFL career with Clyde Edwards-Helaire missing some time, and the former LSU standout delivered. He appeared in all 17 games and was a legitimate dual-threat option out of the Chiefs backfield. It was an impressive audition for a starting role somewhere in 2022.

Contract projection: 2 years, $6 million

7. Rashaad Penny

Age: 26

2021 stats (Seahawks): 119 carries, 749 yards, six TDs; six catches, 48 yards

Penny should earn a pretty penny -- pun intended -- in free agency after a stellar finish to the 2021 season. The 2018 first-round pick has struggled with issues throughout his career, but he finally was able to show what he's capable of when healthy. Over Seattle's final five games, Penny logged 92 carries for 671 yards (7.3 yards per carry) and seven TDs. That'll intrigue plenty of teams in the market for running backs this spring, especially since this year's market is so thin.

Contract projection: 2 years, $8 million

6. Sony Michel

Age: 27

2021 stats (Rams): 208 carries, 805 yards, four TDs; 21 catches, 128 yards, one TD

Michel made only seven starts with the Rams as he backed up Darrell Henderson for most of the campaign. Still, the former Patriots running back managed to put up some of the best numbers of his career. Michel probably won't take over as a bell-cow back wherever he lands in 2022, but he proved to be a solid complementary piece when given the opportunity in L.A.

Contract projection: 2 years, $10 million

5. Chase Edmonds

UPDATE: Edmonds is headed to the Dolphins.

Age: 26

2021 stats (Cardinals): 116 carries, 586 yards, two TDs; 43 catches, 311 yards

Edmonds only found the end zone twice but still flashed his serious potential during his contract year. The Fordham product averaged 5.1 yards per attempt. He also handled his largest workload despite splitting carries with James Conner and missing time due to injury. Expect him to get plenty attention on the free-agent market as he enters his age 26 season.

Contract projection: 3 years, $15 million

4. James Conner

Age: 27

2021 stats (Cardinals): 202 carries, 739 yards, 15 TDs; 37 catches, 375 yards, three TDs

Connor signed with Arizona on a "prove it" deal last offseason, and "prove it" he did. The former Pittsburgh Steelers running back totaled a whopping 18 touchdowns and topped 1,000 all-purpose yards. He set himself up for a nice payday this offseason.

Contract projection: 2 years, $10 million

3. Melvin Gordon

Age: 29

2021 stats (Broncos): 203 carries, 918 yards, eight TDs; 28 catches, 213 yards, two TDs

 

Gordon was expected to take a back seat to second-round rookie Javonte Williams at some point in 2021, but the veteran remained an important part of Denver's offense. The Broncos actually split the carries evenly between their two talented running backs and proved they can co-exist. Gordon showed he still has plenty left in the tank and will be one of the most coveted players at the position in free agency.

Contract projection: 1 year, $5 million

2. Cordarrelle Patterson

Age: 31

2021 stats (Falcons): 153 carries, 618 yards, six TDs; 52 catches, 548 yards, five TDs

Patterson thrived as Atlanta's go-to running back in 2021. The jack of all trades set career-highs in carries, rushing yards, and touchdowns while continuing to be a force in the passing game. He became the heart and soul of the offense in the absences of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley and the Falcons should make re-signing him a priority this offseason.

Contract projection: 1 year, $10 million

1. Leonard Fournette

Age: 27

2021 stats (Buccaneers): 180 carries, 813 yards, eight TDs; 69 catches, 454 yards, two TDs

Fournette earned the nickname "Playoff Lenny" for his postseason heroics with the Buccaneers and is coming off a successful second season in Tampa Bay. In fact, it was the most efficient season of his NFL career as he averaged a personal-best 4.5 yards per carry. It'll be interesting to see where Fournette lands now that Tom Brady and other key Bucs figures from their Super Bowl run are moving on.

Contract projection: 2 years, $13 million

--

Honorable mentions: David Johnson, Devonta Freeman, Ronald Jones, Damien Williams, Boston Scott, Tevin Coleman, Phillip Lindsay, Jerick McKinnon, Marlon Mack.