Looking back at the past 5 years, you can almost guarantee at least 20 teams will try and add depth to their running back position. Running backs taken in the top 3 rounds will compete for playing time, but even late-round running backs have found success in the NFL.
2019: 25 RBs taken, Tony Pollard 4th round pick.
2018: 22 RBs taken, Boston Scott 6th round pick.
2017: 30 RBs taken, Chris Carson 7th round pick.
2016: 21 RBs taken, Jordan Howard 5th round pick.
2015: 22 RBs taken, Jay Ajayi 5th round pick.
For later picks it is harder to predict success in the NFL, but one factor remains true for all backs, talent only shines when given an opportunity. Below are the 11 teams most likely to give a rookie running back an opportunity to compete for playing time because of their current roster. If a running back is selected on one of these teams, it’s important to pay attention for fantasy because it could drastically change the projections of the current backs on the roster. The higher the draft capital the more in jeopardy the starter’s job becomes.
Running back draft possibilities:
Buffalo Bills: The team might want to add depth and not rely on Devin Singletary (5’7″ 203 lbs) as a workhorse back. According to pro football reference, the average height and weight of an NFL running back is 5’11”, 216 lbs.
Singletary is a tremendously talented running back but not your prototypical workhorse. Even when Singletary took over as the main back in week 9 of 2019, Frank Gore still siphoned 71 total rushes and 15 red zone touches as a complimentary piece. Now that Gore is a free agent, the Bills could draft a bigger back to run alongside Singletary.
Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are only on this list because Joe Mixon is threatening to holdout this season. The Bengals are unlikely to pair the success of Joe Burrow with a rookie running back, the team would probably feel most comfortable with a veteran back starting alongside the rookie QB. Giovani Bernard will likely be given the starting role if Mixon does miss games. But the Bengals do hold leverage knowing that Mixon could holdout prior to this year’s draft class.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A more skilled pass-catching back for Tom Brady is one of the easiest draft needs to project. Many of the rookie running backs are capable pass catchers but Clyde Edwards-Helaire stands out as the best of them. He seems like a perfect fit for the Bucs to draft to upgrade their pass-catching back and compete with Ronald Jones for carries.
Los Angeles Chargers: This isn’t an indictment on either back, I think Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are capable enough to work in tandem as the Chargers backfield. But Jackson is an unproven back that’s never surpassed 50 carries in a season and Ekeler is untraditionally small to be a prototypical workhorse (5’10”, 200lbs). The Chargers could add a back that threatens their rushing totals, but Ekeler’s pass-catching role will remain safe regardless.
Kansas City Chiefs: Two years in a row, Damien Williams gets hot at the end of the season and we start to project lofty season totals for next year. Wildly unaccomplished during the season Williams turned it on once again, from week 16 on to the Super Bowl he scored 9 TDs and averaged 5.2 Yards Per Carry (YPC). The Chiefs will have to decide whether to trust his late-season performance or upgrade the position. They did sign DeAndre Washington late in free agency, April 8, so the signing pushes me to believe they won’t use a high draft pick to replace Williams just yet.
Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins signed Jordan Howard, but that doesn’t mean they won’t add another RB to compliment his skill set. The Eagles are a perfect example for this, last year the Eagles traded for Howard but decided to draft Miles Sanders in the second round. Besides his rookie season, Howard has always been paired with another back; first Tarik Cohen, then Sanders, and now possibly a third rookie running back. Howard is a good runner with a goal-line presence but is often paired with another back because of his lack of pass-catching ability.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette rumored on the trading block could open up a roster spot at the running back position. If Fournette is traded, they will be a prime candidate to draft a running back early. Their current back up, Ryquell Armstead, is a fifth-round running back who averaged 3.1 YPC on 35 carries.
New York Jets: Adam Gase decides to draft his own guy. He never wanted LeVeon Bell, and constantly berated that decision to the media. In Bell’s first year with the Jets, he finished with a horrific 3.2 YPC and was rumored as a trade candidate before the deadline. Gase already got rid of General Manager Mike Maccagnan shortly after the signing and may look to move on from Bell during this draft as well.
Detroit Lions: Two years into the NFL and Kerryon Johnson has yet to play more than 10 games in a season, 18 out of a possible 32 games in 2 years. After an electric rookie season, Johnson struggled in his second year averaging 3.6 YPC and only 10 receptions. If the Lions are unhappy with Johnson’s injury-riddled production, they could be a team that drafts a running back to ease Johnson’s workload.
Los Angeles Rams: Even though the Rams invested high draft capital on Darrell Henderson last year, it remains to be seen if the Rams have a back capable of replacing Todd Gurley‘s vacancy. Henderson and Malcolm Brown both had two games with over 10 rushes last year. Henderson averaged 3.6 YPC on 22 carries and Brown averaged 4.2 YPC on 22 carries. The sample size is too small for the Rams to know if they have a starting caliber back and this uncertainty might lead them to drafting another back to compete with. This is the first time either back will have a chance at the starting position because of Gurley’s departure.
Pittsburgh Steelers: James Conner is too injury-prone to be trusted with the every-down role. In and out of the lineup last year, Conner played in only 10 games because of multiple injuries to multiple areas of his body. If the Steelers want to upgrade from back-up running backs like Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell, they could draft another running back in this year’s draft given the uncertainty of their starter’s health.