Analysis

2021 NFL offseason: All 32 teams' RB situations ahead of free agency, draft

With free agency around the corner and the 2021 NFL Draft coming up in April, Jeremy Bergman assesses the running back situations of all 32 teams in the NFL. Teams are sorted into categories signifying the level of stability at the position, then listed by alphabetical order, with the top backs under contract for 2021 listed, along with their current cap figures for next season.

NOTE: Unless otherwise specified, cap figures come from Over The Cap. Rushing yards over expectation (RYOE) statistics include RBs with at least 50 carries.

Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns

Top backs: Kareem Hunt ($5 million), Nick Chubb ($4.25 million).


Cleveland rocks the league's most feared backfield. Hunt and Chubb were dominant in their first full season together, which was also their first under Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who cut his teeth scheming up plays for Dalvin Cook. Chubb enjoyed a Cook-esque season in 2020, running for 1,067 yards in 12 games, averaging 1.75 RYOE/attempt (second in the NFL) and scoring a career-high 12 TDs en route to a Pro Bowl nod. Hunt earned eight more carries than Chubb, who dealt with a knee injury, and logged 11 scores of his own, but averaged just 4.2 yards per carry -- starting-caliber numbers in their own right, but not nearly as gnarly as Nick's. Both are under contract next season, but trouble awaits on the negotiating front. Chubb's rookie deal is up following 2021. He is worthy of a top-of-the-market extension, but exactly where the top of this market is, as recent mega-signees endure injury woes and the pandemic crunches the salary cap in the short term, isn't clear.

Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys

Top backs: Ezekiel Elliott ($13.7 million), Tony Pollard ($1.02 million).


Elliott and Pollard will both be back in Big D, so no big decisions will be made at running back this spring in Frisco. Or likely next spring, for that matter. The Cowboys have a good thing going in their backfield, even though Elliott is coming off his worst statistical season as a pro. Zeke's slump had some calling for Pollard to take over as RB1 going forward. A star-crossed season like Dallas' 2020 will do that to you. The pass-first Cowboys saw success from their backs in the first quarter of the season but mostly leaned on QB Dak Prescott as he lit up the stat sheets and Dallas played from behind. Once Prescott was lost for the season and Dalton-Gilbert-The Nooch rotated under center, the ground game stalled against defenses taking advantage of an injury riddled offensive line. With Dak, Zack (Martin) and the tackles back in 2021, Zeke, Pollard and the Dallas offense should operate at high-octane levels again and quell any DFW-area RB controversy.

Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts

Top backs: Nyheim Hines ($2.36 million), Jonathan Taylor ($1.78 million), Jordan Wilkins ($980,310).


Quick! Who was the league's third-leading rusher last year, behind Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook? Wrong! Survey says ... Taylor, the rookie from Indianapolis. Though he seemed like an afterthought midway through the season, the second-round runner finished with 1,169 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs on 232 totes, despite averaging less than 50 yards per game over his first nine appearances. Taylor should be the guy next to new QB Carson Wentz in 2021, but he will be buoyed by 2018 draftees Hines and Wilkins, both useful spell-backs. Indy's terrific triumvirate should make up for the likely loss of Marlon Mack, who was pegged as the Colts' bell-cow in 2020 before tearing his Achilles in Week 1. Taylor met Mack's production by season's end and will now replace him as RB1 going forward, while the veteran tests free agency for the first time.

Las Vegas Raiders
Las Vegas Raiders

Top backs: Jalen Richard ($3.5 million), Josh Jacobs ($3.25 million).


Two-plus seasons into his tenure, Mike Mayock's draft history as Raiders general manager is hit-or-miss. But our former colleague's biggest hit by far has been his selection of Jacobs, the middle child of his triplicate of 2019 first-round picks. With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to start his career, Jacobs looks like a perennial top-10 talent. Jacobs has benefited from having Richard by his side and is slated to partner with him again for one more season. But if Las Vegas wanted to move on from the 27-year-old veteran, whose rushing production has steadily decreased year after year, the Raiders could save $2.4 million against the cap. With a bevy of cheap veteran options on the market, Mayock and Jon Gruden could get another one of their grinders for a relative discount and further bolster their burgeoning backfield.

Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams

Top backs: Cam Akers ($1.4 million), Darrell Henderson ($1.15 million).


Los Angeles' three amigos -- Akers, Henderson and Malcolm Brown -- took turns stealing the Hollywood spotlight last season. Brown and Henderson, known quantities in Sean McVay's offense, started strong, while rookie sensation Akers proved worthy of the hype with a late-season and postseason surge. With Brown headed to free agency, Akers and Henderson are positioned to headline the Rams' running back corps in 2021. The former's finish, a seven-game stretch during which he cracked 60 rushing yards six times and 170 scrimmage yards twice, portends a big leap in 2021, with a more dynamic quarterback at the controls in Matthew Stafford. Henderson should play second fiddle again, a role he's quickly getting used to, with Raymond Calais potentially developing a more active third-down role. Given that the Rams are way up against the cap and slated to devote more in dead money to ex-Ram Todd Gurley than all of their RBs combined in 2021, I wouldn't expect much renovation in the RB room.

Minnesota Vikings
Minnesota Vikings

Top backs: Dalvin Cook ($5.14 million), Alexander Mattison ($1.06 million).


Minnesota has boasted one of the league's top tandems with Cook and Mattison for the past two seasons. Only Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb are comparable to Cook, league-wide, in terms of production and efficiency. Mattison, when healthy, is a reliable change-of-pace option, averaging 5.1 yards per touch and half-a-rushing yard over expectation in 2020. Luckily for the Vikings and first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak (son of Gary), Cook and Mattison are safely under contract for at least the next two seasons. Minnesota took care of Cook last September with a five-year pact. Now, as the Vikings undergo a transition from father to son calling shots, Cook will be called upon to take care of the offense.

New Orleans Saints
New Orleans Saints

Top backs: Alvin Kamara ($5 million), Latavius Murray ($4.19 million).


There were few ground games more explosive than the Saints' last season. New Orleans' top three ball-carriers -- Kamara, Murray and QB Taysom Hill -- all averaged at least 4.5 YPC, and the team's runners finished eighth in RYOE/attempt. The Saints are facing trouble all over their roster in 2020, as they enter free agency nearly $70 million over the projected cap, but not at RB. Both Kamara and Murray are returning and under contract for at least the next two seasons. GM Mickey Loomis and Co. have already made their decision on this position's future, which is more than can be said of Drew Brees ...

Tennessee Titans
Tennessee Titans

Top backs: Derrick Henry ($13.5 million), Darrynton Evans ($1.04 million).


Tennessee is getting all of the bang for its buck in Henry. The Titans reached a mid-term deal with the RB last offseason right before the franchise-tag deadline, one that keeps him in Nashville for the next three seasons and makes it prohibitive to part ways with him for the next two. Henry responded by becoming the eighth RB to top 2,000 yards in a season on a league-high 378 carries; he's now led the league in carries, rushing yards and rushing TDs in consecutive seasons. Henry will be on DeMarco Murray watch in 2021; the former Cowboys RB never recovered his form after a 392-carry campaign in 2014. If Henry falters, Tennessee will have second-year pro Evans and D'Onta Foreman (who is a restricted free agent) behind him -- but not much cap room to make a veteran upgrade.

Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers

Top backs: A.J. Dillon ($1.2 million), Dexter Williams ($850,000).


It's too soon to say cheese in Titletown. As we type, Aaron Jones, the Packers' best and most consistent running back since Ahman Green, is not under contract for 2021. Green Bay reportedly had a deal on the table for Jones that would have made him a top-five RB in terms of average money. But neither side has struck gold yet. It's likely that the Pack will slap a franchise tag, estimated to be around $11 million, on Jones before the March 9 deadline. GM Brian Gutekunst and Co. are under pressure from Aaron Rodgers (and NFL Network's Michael Silver!) to attract talent to build a winning team right now. They can't afford to let Jones, who's rushed for at least 5.5 yards per carry in three of his four seasons, walk in the middle of Rodgers' last run. Especially considering 2020 second-round pick Dillon isn't the workhorse yet, and Jamaal Williams, who came up with Jones and has expressed a desire for both to return to Green Bay, is also getting a chance to court suitors.

Los Angeles Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers

Top backs: Austin Ekeler ($5.75 million), Joshua Kelley ($975,086), Justin Jackson ($920,000).


Only Kalen Ballage is bolting to free agency from the Chargers' 2020 backfield, meaning Ekeler, Kelley and Jackson will be back in those electric yellow and blue kits. There is room for improvement at RB -- four backs rushed for at least 270 yards, but none gained more than 530 in 2020 -- and Los Angeles has cap space to work with. But the Bolts will likely spend their bits to buttress boy wonder Justin Herbert with pass-catchers and offensive linemen. Salvation lies within this young running back room, which is set to include Ekeler and Kelley as a tandem for the next three seasons.

Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore Ravens

Top backs: J.K. Dobbins ($1.3 million), Justice Hill ($1.04 million).


Mark Ingram walked so Dobbins could run. 2021 will mark a changing of the guard at RB in Baltimore, as Dobbins, the Ravens' 2020 second-round pick, replaces the released veteran Ingram. Neither Ingram nor Dobbins was the leading rusher in the league's top rushing offense last season -- that would be quarterback Lamar Jackson -- and it was actually Gus Edwards who led all Ravens RBs in carries. But Dobbins outpaced Edwards in yards per carry (6.0 to 5.0) when he got the chance, finishing with a far superior 1.67 RYOE/attempt (third in the NFL), and Edwards, a restricted free agent, is, as of this moment, not under contract to return as a Raven. Still, Dobbins started just one game in 2020 and didn't prove he could sustain a starter's workload until late in the campaign. Given that his current backup is Hill, who logged just 17 touches in his second season in Baltimore, the RB room is crying out for a cheap veteran (Edwards or otherwise) to siphon off some carries.

Carolina Panthers
Carolina Panthers

Top backs: Christian McCaffrey ($12.54 million), Trenton Cannon ($920,000)


That McCaffrey, the first-round All-Pro fantasy darling just one year removed from a 2,000-scrimmage-yard, 19-TD campaign, is being tossed around nonchalantly as potential trade bait in March is a sign of the times. No, not the back-nine-of-the-pandemic times; rather, the free-for-all-QB carousel epoch we appear to be entering. McCaffrey teased Panthers fans and fantasy owners in 2020, missing all but three games with a handful of injuries. The aggrieved have responded by treating CMC as if his play didn't recently garner an obscene, position-pacing extension through 2025. McCaffrey can't do it alone in Carolina -- assuming the Panthers don't swap him and the farm for Deshaun Watson -- but he currently doesn't have much help. Mike Davis, Carolina's leading rusher in 2020, is hitting free agency, leaving bit players like Cannon and Rodney Smith as McCaffrey's understudies. Given the dual threat's injury history and workload, the Panthers would do well to complement McCaffrey with a sturdy No. 2. Oh, and to not trade him.

New York Giants
New York Giants

Top backs: Saquon Barkley ($10.1 million), Elijhaa Penny ($990,000).


New York confronted its nightmare scenario in 2020 when Barkley was lost for the season less than six quarters in. Barkley should return fully healthy in 2021 from his torn ACL (no doubt in part from lugging all those grocery bags packed with detached yogurts back and forth from his car), but the Giants won't have as healthy a supporting cast behind Saquads. Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, Devonta Freeman and Dion Lewis, who were responsible for around 70 percent of New York's carries and rushing yards, are all free agents starting March 17. Only Penny is left to back up Barkley. The Giants are up against the cap (get in line!), so locating a sure-fire Saquon substitute if need be will be tricky. Plus, New York has to plan to pay its former No. 2 overall pick, whose fifth-year option must be picked up this spring and who has to prove he can bounce back bigly from a serious knee injury. Nearly three years after locating their long-term answer at RB, Big Blue still has a lot of questions at the position.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Top backs: Ronald Jones II ($2.25 million), Ke'Shawn Vaughn ($1.08 million).


Playoff Lenny Fournette hopes he can be Offseason, Preseason and Regular Season Lenny in Tampa Bay. But there's no guarantee that the Buccaneers are going to bring back their postseason hero, who's ready to hit free agency, this offseason. Jones, Tampa Bay's preferred starter when healthy, is back and still on his rookie deal. Plus, with Tom Brady returning and a slew of cap casualties likely hitting the market, there won't be a shortage of backs willing to pull a Fournette and LeSean McCoy and take less up front for a Lombardi at the back end. Lenny might be better off cashing in, while the Bucs move on with RoJo, Vaughn and Ringless-or-Former-Patriots RB To Be Named Later.

Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills

Top backs: Devin Singletary ($1.11 million), Zack Moss ($1.05 million).


Buffalo's offense improved in many respects in 2020, most notably aerially, thanks to Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs. But the Bills' blossoming backfield shouldn't go unnoticed. Led by 2019 draftee Singletary and rookie runner Moss, the Bills finished just outside the top 10 in RYOE in 2020. Both backs averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry, with Moss carrying more of the load as the season went on. The duo stayed mostly healthy throughout the season, as well, until Moss injured his ankle on Super Wild Card Weekend. Not so super for Moss or the Bills, who struggled on the ground without him in their next two games. The pair is under contract through at least 2022 and can continue to build chemistry together if Buffalo is patient. But with the Bills' Super Bowl window open, Brandon Beane could choose to make a splash at the position, one of the least-established on the roster, with a veteran addition.

Chicago Bears
Chicago Bears

Top backs: Tarik Cohen ($3.25 million), David Montgomery ($1.11 million), Ryan Nall.


Chicago's No. 1 priority is finding its next starting quarterback, not determining whether to shuffle its running back room. The Bears are entering their third season with Montgomery and Cohen slated to be paired together. Such continuity should be celebrated, but is the duo enough to power an offense that could again be underwhelming under center? After signing a three-year extension in late September, Cohen played in just three games last season, totaling a career-low 20 touches in his fourth campaign, thanks to an ACL tear. Montgomery enjoyed a sophomore surge in 2020, improving his yards per carry average to 4.3, and will be expected to shoulder the load in his third season. Chicago's third-string back is expected to be the rarely used Nall, who recently re-signed. The Bears will likely run it back with their in-house running backs, but it doesn't mean they should.

Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati Bengals

Top backs: Joe Mixon ($8.14 million), Giovani Bernard ($4.77 million)


Like most things in Cincinnati last season, the production in the Bengals backfield was sidetracked by injury; Mixon played in just six games, and he still led all Bengals in rushing (428 yards). Longtime Cincy stand-in Bernard, who is slated to return along with Mixon in 2021, averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and had the seventh-worst RYOE/attempt. Their most effective runner in 2020 (per RYOE), Samaje Perine, is headed for free agency. Cincinnati has familiar faces back in the fold next season, but Bernard could easily be cut loose (less than $1 million in dead money) if the Bengals find a more suitable backup than the 29-year-old Ohio River mainstay.

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos

Top backs: Melvin Gordon ($8.97 million), Royce Freeman ($1.22 million).


The law firm of Gordon, Lindsay & Freeman could be losing its most accomplished partner this spring. Phillip Lindsay is set to be a restricted free agent after three seasons shining as Denver's diamond in the rough. The homegrown UDFA tallied back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns out of college but missed five games with injury and barely topped 500 yards. If the Broncos let Lindsay go, they'll move forward with Gordon and Freeman. Gordon almost earned his second career 1,000-yard rushing season last year, his first in Denver, and scored a team-high 10 TDs. He's booked to be the Broncos' bell-cow back in 2021, with Freeman as a sidekick (although there is the pending matter of Gordon's DUI charge to consider, which could lead to a suspension). But Denver might still be without the pass-catching element that Lindsay provided in 2018 and 2019 and could look to bolster a backfield that will otherwise be empty in 2022.

Detroit Lions
Detroit Lions

Top backs: Kerryon Johnson ($2.07 million), D'Andre Swift ($1.94 million).


If Dan Campbell's arrival (and cannibalistic press conference), the hiring of Anthony Lynn as OC and Detroit's trading away of longtime gunslinger Matthew Stafford are any indication, the Lions are going to be grounders-and-pounders in 2021. It's nice, then, that the old regime left Detroit with two young SEC-bred running backs with at least some starting experience: Swift and Johnson. Swift, the Lions' second-round pick of a year ago, figures to be next season's breakout star after proving a dual-threat weapon in 2020. The latter, however, was statistically the worst running back in the league last season (-1.26 RYOE/attempt) and could be replaced or complemented through the draft or free agency. With veteran presence Adrian Peterson a free agent again, this offense is Swift's to pilot. If things go as planned, Jared Goff will play second-fiddle to yet another former Georgia Bulldog tailback who makes the Pro Bowl.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars

Top backs: Ryquell Armstead ($936,769), Craig Reynolds ($850,000), Devine Ozigbo ($850,000), James Robinson ($781,666).


Here's to you, Mr. Robinson, the undrafted free agent who could. For four months, the rookie rumbler made Duvallians forget about Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville's former top-five pick who was waived right before the 2020 season. (For what it's worth, Playoff Lenny made the Jaguars remember his name during Tampa Bay's run to the Super Bowl.) On a measly $615,000 salary. Robinson ran for 1,070 yards, fifth in the NFL, in 2020. Robinson is slated to count for just under $782,000 against the cap next season as the leader of one of three RB rooms currently featuring no one making more than at least $1 million. This room includes Reynolds, Ozigbo and Armstead, who missed the entire season while in a severe battle with COVID-19. With the most cap space in the league and Trevor Lawrence almost certainly coming to town, Jacksonville is an attractive place for a veteran back or two to band together and help take some of the load off Robinson.

Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City Chiefs

Top backs: Damien Williams ($2.71 million), Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($2.46 million), Darwin Thompson ($891,960)


2020 was a turbulent year in Kansas City's RB corps. First, Kansas City used its first-round pick on the top RB in the draft, Edwards-Helaire. Then, Williams, whose fourth-quarter scores single-footedly propelled the Chiefs to their first Super Bowl win in half a century, opted out due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the season, the Chiefs, a la their eventual Super Bowl opponents in Tampa Bay, sought out a mercurial, recently released veteran back, in their case, signing Le'Veon Bell. K.C.'s on-the-fly RB refurbishment produced mixed results; CEH didn't prove to be a durable, every-down back down the stretch, and Bell proved his October release by the Jets was right on. With Bell hitting free agency, along with backup Darrel Williams and fullback Anthony Sherman, the Chiefs are left with 1a and 1b in Edwards-Helaire and Damien Williams, assuming the latter returns from his opt-out in 2021. Kansas City is cap-strapped, so a major RB acquisition isn't expected or deathly necessary. And yet, who of the many veteran free agents-to-be wouldn't want to play with Patrick Mahomes for the vet minimum?

New England Patriots
New England Patriots

Top backs: Sony Michel ($3.06 million), Brandon Bolden ($1.99 million), Damien Harris ($1.07 million).


With quarterback Cam Newton no guarantee to be back and once again performatively professing the Patriot Way, New England's at risk of losing its most frequent ball-carrier. The Patriots are also slated to see off Rex Burkhead and James White, who combined for 176 touches and nine TDs in 2020 -- the latter was also a team captain and remains a Super Bowl hero. Despite all their expected backfield departures, the Pats are still surprisingly well-stocked at the position. New England will boast its leading rusher from 2020 (Harris, 691 yards), its most efficient runner (Michel, 5.7 yards per carry and a league-high 1.85 RYOE/attempt) and its most useful back (Bolden, who opted out of 2020). The Pats have been aces when it comes to locating RBs late in the draft, and they should be able to fill any glaring vacancies left by Newton, Burkhead and White if New England elects not to re-sign any of them. (The Pats have the cap space to retain them, but given their depth at the position, it's unlikely.)

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers

Top backs: Raheem Mostert ($3.61 million), Jeff Wilson ($2.05 million)


The old maxim goes that any and all running backs can thrive in a Shanahan offense -- Mike's, Kyle's, even Brendan's. That truth was put to the test in 2020, when five 49ers running backs logged at least 28 carries -- Wilson, Mostert, Jerick McKinnon, JaMycal Hasty and Tevin Coleman. And only McKinnon was available for all 16 games. San Francisco has already re-upped Wilson for 2021 and has Mostert under contract for one more season -- he'd be an easy cut, given that it would cost $458,334 in dead money to part ways -- while John Lynch's major signings, Coleman and McKinnon, won't be returning, the latter emphatically so. Wilson and Mostert are gamers and have had their moments, but perhaps it's time for the 49ers to land a RB who can reliably take on -- and is worthy of being given -- at least 200 carries in a season, something San Francisco hasn't seen since Carlos Hyde in 2017. The draft beckons.

Houston Texans
Houston Texans

Top back: David Johnson ($8.51 million).


Let's not pick on Houston too much, here. The running back position is the least of the Texans' worries right now, and new Houston GM Nick Caserio wasn't in charge when this running back room was constituted. (Not to say he's even in charge as we speak.) Before the Texans cut Duke Johnson on Friday, only two teams in the NFL were slated to spend more on running backs in 2021: Tennessee (paced by Mr. 2K himself, Derrick Henry) and Dallas (led by Ezekiel Elliott). Whereas the Titans finished second in rushing and the Cowboys, in an off year, were middle of the pack, Duke and David Johnson led Houston to the second-least productive rushing offense in football. You can blame Deshaun Watson and the Texans' porous defense for that; two-headed ground games ain't worth a damn in a Texas shootout. Caserio went about remedying that issue last week, ripping Duke's $5 million contract was ripped clean off the bone. David's $8.5 million cap number can also be sliced down to a lean $2.1 million with a quick release. With a number of vets and ex-Pats hitting the market, Caserio could opt for wholly fresh meat in the backfield to pair with Watson, whose, let's say, particularities have been well publicized this winter.


UPDATE: The Texans agreed to terms on a restructured one-year contract with Johnson, worth up to $6 million, with $4.25 million guaranteed at signing.

Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia Eagles

Top backs: Miles Sanders ($1.46 million), Jason Huntley ($780,000.


These aren't your older sister's Eagles; three seasons removed from lifting the Lombardi, Philadelphia is talent-poor across the board on offense, including at running back. Sanders, entering his third season, is currently the only viable returning runner in Nick Sirianni's arsenal, with Huntley, Elijah Holyfield and their six touches projected as his backups. That helps explain why the Eagles reportedly tendered Boston Scott, an exclusive rights free agent after logging 105 touches and 586 scrimmage yards. Even so, the Eagles need further reinforcements at running back, either through the draft or in free agency, where Marlon Mack, Sirianni's RB in Indianapolis, will be available.

Washington Football Team
Washington Football Team

Top backs: J.D. McKissic ($1.66 million), Peyton Barber ($1.64 million), Antonio Gibson ($1.12 million), Bryce Love ($968,583).


The Team With No Name is also lacking an identity in the backfield. Gibson, an experimental talent in his first year out of Memphis, earned 44 percent of the touches (5.1 yards per touch) logged by the four returning RBs, and he posted the most carries and rushing yards last year. McKissic was the as-advertised pass-catching back, catching just seven fewer passes than receiver Terry McLaurin. Barber, a Buccaneers castoff, was the no-man, gaining just 2.8 yards per touch. Love has failed to log a single snap in two NFL seasons. In short, the ROI on WFT's RBBC is TBD. There is room for improvement on the roster, and enough salary cap space to fill it. A veteran runner is incoming, either at running back or quarterback.

Arizona Cardinals
Arizona Cardinals

Top backs: Chase Edmonds ($1.03 million), Eno Benjamin ($805,679).


Kyler Murray is the most efficient runner on Arizona's roster. But as the Cardinals learned down the stretch in 2020, he can't carry the team alone, lest he get knocked around like a running back. Murray needs more weapons, and at RB, he's losing one of his most reliable ball-carriers in Kenyan Drake, who spent last season on the tag and is now set to test the open waters away from the desert. That leaves behind Edmonds and Benjamin. Edmonds is a dynamic No. 2, but for a coaching staff and front office that needs a proof of concept season out of its offense, more is demanded from the position. Arizona will be a hot spot for any veteran RB unafraid to be upstaged by the Cardinals' primary ball-handler.

Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons

Top backs: Ito Smith (1.08 million), Qadree Ollison ($927,891).


Todd Gurley's return to Georgia was far from peachy. The former Offensive Player of the Year's prove-it deal did not end with him proving it, as he ran for 3.5 yards per carry, his worst average since Jeff Fisher's last stand. The Falcons as a whole boasted the worst rushing offense in the league in terms of RYOE (-0.53 yards/attempt). Gurley still had a nose for the end zone though, totaling nine of Atlanta's 13 rushing TDs in 2020, and if the Falcons choose to move on from the two-time All-Pro, they'll have to find someone to replace that knack. Derrick Henrys don't grow on trees, and new Falcons coach Arthur Smith is probably well aware of that. The former Titans OC may attempt to work the same magic with the likes of Smith and Ollison, but it's more likely that the centerpiece of Atlanta's offensive additions will be a bona fide running back or two, either in free agency or the draft, who can mimic Henry's prolific production in the aggregate.

Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins

Top backs: Myles Gaskin ($871,777), Patrick Laird ($853,000), Lynn Bowden ($824,064), Salvon Ahmed ($780,000).


At least Tua Tagovailoa didn't lead the team in rushing last year. Miami's re-do at RB, pairing veterans Jordan Howard and Matt Breida, didn't work, and Brian Flores pulled the plug early. Gaskin and Ahmed return in 2021, along with Laird and Bowden; the four combined for 1,735 scrimmage yards, an impressive total ... if we're treating Miami's backfield like Vincent Adultman. The Dolphins, with the No. 18 pick in the draft, are therefore a prime candidate to select the top back available to pair with Tagovailoa -- Miami grabs 'Bama back Najee Harris in Daniel Jeremiah's latest and greatest mock -- and finally, hopefully, find a reliable running threat. Or at least one who can break 750 yards.

New York Jets
New York Jets

Top backs: La'Mical Perine ($966,336), Ty Johnson ($850,000).


The most expensive running back on the Jets' payroll in 2021 could very well be Le'Veon Bell, whose midseason release last year left a $4 million dead-money hit for GM Joe Douglas to deal with. With Bell wrung from the roster, New York has gone from committing some of the most cash in the league to RBs to the least. Second-year backs Johnson and Perine were sparks in flashes down the stretch, when then-coach Adam Gase dared take the indomitable Frank Gore off the field for a second-and-long run. But in the Robert Saleh era, the two do not figure to pace new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur's offense. With the second-most cap space in the league, the Jets can comfortably seek out a veteran runner and pair him with a late first-round rookie at No. 23 (Najee Harris or Travis Etienne could be available) to reshape an RB room that's featured only one 1,000-yard rusher since 2013.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers

Top backs: Benny Snell ($1.03 million), Anthony McFarland ($960,608).


It appears, for the first time in his football life, James Conner will be playing pigskin outside the greater Pittsburgh area. The Steelers RB, a homegrown feel-good story, played, er, well for his first two seasons in Black and Yellow, but he's dealt with myriad injuries and hasn't been as efficient since, putting him on track to test free agency. His departure would leave Pittsburgh with Snell and McFarland, neither of whom is ready for a starting role. Pittsburgh has questions all over the offense -- QB (Big Ben's big cap hit), WR (JuJu Smith-Schuster is likely taking his Corvette to a new garage), OL (who will replace the retired Maurkice Pouncey?), TE (ditto for Vance McDonald?). Running back might not be chief among Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin's concerns. (How about that salary cap?) But if the Steelers are to compete with the Chiefs in 2021, they'll need a cheap, valuable ball-carrier.

Seattle Seahawks
Seattle Seahawks

Top backs: Rashaad Penny ($3.43 million), DeeJay Dallas ($903,600).


The Chris Carson era, as intermittent as it was, has likely ended in Seattle. The Seahawks' leading rusher three years running, Carson's production is worthy of a healthy extension, or at least a franchise tag. But Seattle's prohibitive cap situation means Carson is likely cashing checks elsewhere next season. The Seahawks are also likely to lose their second leading RB from 2020, Carlos Hyde, to free agency. Left behind are the ever-injured Penny and 2020 fourth-rounder Dallas. Penny, a former first-round pick, should remain on the roster despite his chronic unavailability (11 touches in 2020), and Dallas will enjoy a larger role. But as currently constituted, Seattle's backfield is missing a reliable runner. The Seahawks should be a prime landing spot for a veteran free-agent back.

Follow Jeremy Bergman on Twitter.

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