Running back is one of the more volatile positions in the NFL.
Across the league, running backs turn over at a rapid rate. The wear and tear that comes with playing the position means that the lifespan of a great NFL running back is relatively short.
From the moment they are drafted, running backs look forward to hitting the open market and securing a second contract. Many don’t make it that far, and the ones that do often can’t find long-term deals. Will that change in 2022?
Here’s a look at the best running backs set to be free agents in 2022:
Cordarrelle Patterson, Falcons
Is he a running back or a wide receiver? Patterson is really in his own category. He had 152 rushing attempts and 52 receptions in 2022 for Atlanta. Simply put, he was a weapon. It took nine seasons, but a team finally found the right way to utilize his unique skill set – and he should get a nice payday.
James Conner, Cardinals
In his first season with Arizona, Conner was tied for second in the league at 15 rushing touchdowns. Despite only rushing for 752 yards and 3.7 yards per carry, he proved to be a reliable red zone threat. Conner has now made the Pro Bowl twice in his five-year career.
Rashaad Penny, Seahawks
Penny has been a disappointment since the Seahawks drafted him 27th overall in 2018. He had just 823 rushing yards in his first three injury-plagued seasons, so the team declined his fifth-year option. Then, he exploded for 671 yards and six touchdowns in Seattle’s final five games of 2022. If Penny can stay healthy, he could be a steal.
Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers
In two seasons with the Bucs, Fournette only improved his stock. He was a key figure during their 2020 Super Bowl run, and he greatly improved in the passing game in 2021. Fournette posted a career-high 4.5 yards per carry last season and should have plenty of suitors, especially among contenders.
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
Since entering the league in 2015, Gordon has been a steady running back option. He’s never rushed for fewer than 600 yards in a season and has eight or more touchdowns in six straight seasons. The soon-to-be 29-year-old certainly isn’t as explosive as he once was, but he’s a reliable option in a committee backfield – like he had in 2021 with Javonte Williams.
D’Onta Foreman, Titans
Foreman used Derrick Henry’s injury to his benefit in 2021, rushing for 566 yards in nine games. That surpassed his career total (421) from his first four seasons combined with the Titans and Texans. With his powerful running style, the 6-foot-1, 236-pound Foreman could be an ideal option to pair with a pass-catching back.
Chase Edmonds, Cardinals
Edmonds, the other half of Arizona’s running back duo, had low touchdown numbers but arguably more impressive overall stats compared to Conner. He had 592 rushing yards at 5.1 yards per attempt, to go along with 43 receptions for 311 yards. Edmonds might not be a lead back, but he is more than capable in a committee.
Sony Michel, Rams
In four seasons, Michel has two Super Bowl rings and 3,137 career rushing yards. He hasn’t quite been the player many expected when the Patriots drafted him 31st overall in 2018, but he is a respectable option. Michel has already played in eight playoff games, totaling six touchdowns.
Darrel Williams, Chiefs
The best season of Williams’ career came at the perfect time with free agency looming. His 558 rushing yards easily surpassed his first three years combined (354). Williams also had 47 receptions and eight total touchdowns. It remains to be seen what Williams can do when Patrick Mahomes isn’t his quarterback, though.
Raheem Mostert, 49ers
Our last name is a wild card. Mostert played less than a game in 2021 before getting hurt, and that’s largely been the story of his career. But the highs have been captivating, including his 220-yard, four-touchdown performance in the NFC Championship Game in 2020. He’ll be 30 next season, so he’s likely only getting a one-year contract from here on out.