On Tuesday, my NFL Network colleague David Carr spotlighted four organizations that do not currently have their 2022 starting quarterbacks on their roster. Now it's my turn to look at the running back position to identify teams that do not currently have their primary ball-carrier of 2022 in-house.
Like Carr, I explored this same topic last season at this time. Of the four teams I picked, two (New York Jets and Pittsburgh) found new RBs in the offseason -- and two (Atlanta and Houston) find themselves on my list once again this year.
Below are four franchises that, in my estimation, will be seeking new starting running backs for next season:
Davis has performed about how we expected this season, averaging 3.4 yards per carry over 100 attempts, with two rushing TDs, and racking up nearly 200 yards and a TD in the pass game. But it's been Patterson who's emerged as the Falcons' RB1 in Arthur Smith's offense. The versatile veteran has elevated the Falcons' run game due to his size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and speed -- in taking on this featured role, Patterson, a 2013 first-round pick, has eclipsed 1,000 scrimmage yards in a season for the first time in his career.
With next year's salary cap expected to increase, the Falcons could decide to bring Patterson back, and it'd be wise, based on what we've seen from him this season. That said, he should be used as a multi-faceted offensive weapon rather than leading the team in carries. Davis has one year left on his current deal, but the 28-year-old's days as a starter feel limited. Atlanta would be wise to leave the RB1 role for a rookie who can be scooped up with one of its seven draft picks, or a young free agent to be signed on a team-friendly deal.
The Bills are a team with Super Bowl aspirations -- but it's going to be tough to get there with a lackluster run game. Of the Bills' mere 12 rushing touchdowns this season, just seven have come from their running backs. Even more notable (and not in a good way): Buffalo running backs are averaging 18.0 carries per game this season, third-fewest in the NFL, ahead of only the Jaguars and Giants. The fact that the quarterback, Josh Allen, is the most explosive rusher in Buffalo is what will likely hurt this team in the postseason.
Former third-round draft picks Singletary (2019) and Moss (2020) have disappointed early in their careers. While the former averages 4.7 yards per carry for his career, he has yet to record more than 800 rushing yards and two TDs in a single season. Moss has recorded four rushing TDs in each of his first two pro seasons, but injuries have prevented him from playing a full season. Neither Breida nor Jones, who are on one-year deals, have done enough in limited action to make me think the Bills will bring them back next season.
Buffalo could turn back to the draft for a running back. You know what they say: Third time's the charm! But there's a decent chance that they sign someone in free agency.
One year after the Texans appeared on the 2020 version of this list, they have even more questions now. If general manager Nick Caserio and coach David Culley survive this brutal season, they will have plenty of positions to address when it comes to the 2022 roster, including quarterback, with Deshaun Watson's status up in the air. At running back, though, all players on the current roster are set to hit free agency, and I don't expect Houston to re-sign any of them. They simply haven't been good enough in 2021, as Houston ranks dead last in run offense and second-to-last in yards per attempt (3.3). It's hard to get anything going without a run game, and the Texans' stale unit illustrates my point. Look for Houston to add running backs in free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft, where they currently have at least seven picks.
The Dolphins have won their last five games, thanks to an improved Tua Tagovailoa and defense. However, the run game is holding this team back. Miami ranks 31st in rushing this season, with not one of the three running backs who've played in at least seven games for the team -- Gaskin, Ahmed and Brown -- averaging more than 3.8 yards per carry this season. The they've also scored just nine touchdowns on the ground, with Tagovailoa accounting for three of those. Miami claimed Lindsay off waivers late last month after his Houston release, but he hasn't been much of an upgrade, rushing for 42 yards on 12 carries (3.5 yards per attempt) in Week 12 and being inactive in Week 13 with an ankle injury. Lindsay and Brown are set to hit free agency, Laird will be a restricted free agent and Ahmed is slated to be an exclusive rights free agent. The Dolphins have seven picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, and there are no must-have players at the position hitting the 2022 market -- so I could see Miami continuing its youth movement by adding a starting-caliber back in April.
Top 15 running backs
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2021 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 14.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 13's rankings.
2021 stats: 13 games | 241 att | 1,348 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 16 rush TD | 36 rec | 336 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 4 fumbles
With 143 rushing yards and a pair of rushing TDs in a shoutout win over Houston, Taylor has scored a rush TD in 10 straight games -- the fifth-longest streak in a season since at least 1950. Players with more such games are Emmitt Smith and Priest Holmes (both with 11), and John Riggins and LaDainian Tomlinson (both with 12). The Colts are still on the outside of the AFC playoffs as the ninth seed heading into their bye week. Man, it will be a real shame if Taylor isn't able to showcase his ability in the postseason.
2021 stats: 12 games | 227 att | 978rush yds | 4.3 ypc | 12 rush TD | 26 rec | 192 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 2 fumbles
Mixon lost his first fumble of the season Sunday, and it proved costly. Christian Covington stripped the ball out of Mixon's hands, and Tevaughn Campbell recovered and ran it back for a 61-yard TD return to give the Chargers a two-score lead early in the fourth. It was a huge momentum swing in the game, and the wrong time for Mixon to cough up the ball.
2021 stats: 9 games | 150 att | 867 rush yds | 5.8 ypc | 6 rush TD | 12 rec | 106 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 2 fumbles
Chubb should be fresh coming off the Browns' bye week and plenty motivated after the Ravens held him to just 16 yards on eight totes in Week 12, his 18th career game with fewer than 4.0 yards per carry. The good news is, in his previous 17 games following a performance with fewer than 4.0 yards per carry, Chubb has averaged 85.9 rush yards per game and scored 11 rushing TDs, including 100-plus rushing yards in each of last three instances. He'll be ready for Baltimore this time around.
2021 stats: 12 games | 149 att | 663 rush yds | 4.5 ypc | 8 rush TD | 56 rec | 518 rec yds | 7 rec TD | 4 fumbles
Ekeler logged his fourth straight game with a touchdown (a streak in which he's actually totaled seven total TDs), but he was responsible for two of the Chargers' three turnovers against the Bengals. The mistakes aren't magnified, because L.A. won, but this can't happen down the stretch.
2021 stats: 12 games | 152 att | 665 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 7 rush TD | 58 rec | 402 rec yds | 2 rec TDs | 1 fumble
It's time to credit Fournette for etching himself a role in the Bucs' loaded passing attack. Even while working among some of the best pass-catchers in the league, the running back has been a reliable target for Tom Brady out of the backfield -- and especially in the red zone. Averaging 33.5 receiving yards per game, Fournette is on pace to earn a career-high 569 yards over 17 games, and he's already recorded the most receiving TDs (two) in a season of his career.
2021 stats: 12 games | 166 att | 630 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 12 rush TD | 20 rec | 209 rec yds | 2 rec TDs | 2 fumbles
Conner continues to be a big part of the Cardinals' offensive success with 111 scrimmage yards, including a one-handed catch on a short pass that he took 23 yards to the house against the Chicago Bears. His 14 scrimmage TDs are a new career high.
2021 stats: 12 games | 217 att | 779 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 5 rush TD | 57 rec | 387 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles
Against a Ravens defense that allowed just one other player to rush for 70-plus yards this season, Harris did his part to help the Steelers beat their division rival by racking up 71 rushing yards on 21 carries and 36 receiving yards on five catches. This performance -- and win -- couldn't have come at a better time.
2021 stats: 9 games | 165 att | 759 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 5 rush TD | 17 rec | 126 rec yds | 0 rec TDs | 0 fumbles
One of three rookies in this list, Mitchell had a solid performance against the Seahawks, with 66 rushing yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, on 22 carries. What I'm impressed with is the fact that he is second among rookies in rushing yards, trailing Najee Harris by only 20 yards, despite playing in three fewer games.
2021 stats: 12 games | 206 att | 800 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 31 rec | 216 rec yds | 2 rec TDs | 5 fumbles
One of the league's best backs over the last month, Gibson has had a massive impact on the Football Team's four-game win streak. Since the team's Week 9 bye, he has had 95 carries (second in the NFL) and 358 rush yards (third), and he's had three straight games with 80-plus rushing yards.
2021 stats: 12 games | 164 att | 754 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 9 rush TD | 13 rec | 84 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 2 fumbles
The Patriots quite literally ran over the Bills on Monday night, with 46 of their offensive plays coming in the run game. Harris had 10 carries for a whopping 111 yards, including an explosive 64-yard touchdown run to get the Patriots on the board in the first quarter, and he even exited the game momentarily to address a hamstring injury. The Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the league, and the run game is one reason why.
2021 stats: 12 games | 173 att | 765 rush yds | 4.4 ypc | 8 rush TDs | 40 rec | 230 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble
Zeke's health has limited his touches, with Tony Pollard getting more burn in both the run and pass games. In last week's win over the Saints, Zeke rushed for 45 yards on 13 totes. There's a good chance he could lose his spot in my rankings to Pollard, who's balling out.
2021 stats: 10 games | 124 att | 472 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 10 rush TD | 39 rec | 236 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles
A week after Jacobs had 22 carries in a win over Dallas, the Raiders neglected the run game during a contest vs. Washington that stayed within one score from beginning to end. Jacobs had just 13 attempts for 52 yards, including a 1-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. With key pass-catchers like Darren Waller out due to injury, the Raiders would be wise to get back to the run game while they are still in the mix for a wild-card spot.
2021 stats: 10 games | 112 att | 578 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 0 rush TD | 23 rec | 140 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble
Sanders, who missed three games on IR (Weeks 8-10) with an ankle injury, is hitting his stride down the stretch. He's been an entirely different player since his return, helping the Eagles become the league's top rushing offense and make a playoff push.
Before Week 8: 9.0 carries/game, 42.9 rush yards/game, 4.8 yards/carry
Since Week 11: 16.3 carries/game, 92.7 rush yards/game, 5.7 yards/carry
2021 stats: 11 games | 137 att | 678 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 7 rush TD | 28 rec | 209 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 4 fumbles
I don't get Robinson's benching against the Rams. I understand that he fumbled and that he has been dealing with knee and heel injuries, which kept him out of practice Thursday, but what's really odd is Robinson sat out three series following his fumble, but took three of his eight total carries in the final minutes of the game. Huh?! Robinson is one of the reasons the Jaguars have been able to move the ball this season. Listen to your quarterback and get him on the field.
2021 stats: 12 games | 140 att | 670 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 2 rush TD | 33 rec | 169 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 2 fumbles
Williams made his first career start, with Melvin Gordon sidelined by a shoulder and hip injuries, and he didn't disappoint. Under the lights at Arrowhead, the rookie rushed for 102 yards on 23 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and added six catches for 76 yards. The Broncos are still very much in contention for a playoff spot, and performances like this can help them get there.