It's that time of year at TheSportster where we start to speculate what is going to happen next NFL season. We try and answer questions like who is going to go number one overall? Are the Cleveland Browns ever going to win a game? Or even if Tony Romo will choke while calling a playoff game? But, we don't just speculate, we analyze trends, players, and intangibles to forecast where these NFL players will end up next year.
Specifically, within this list, we are going to put on our psychics cap and 'Ms. Chloe' where these NFL running backs will end up next year. Some RBs may move through trade, some tailbacks may move through free agency, and some of them are still in college, so we will anticipate where they get drafted. So, take your shuffle step, hit the hole, and follow your blockers to 15 bold predictions for where these NFL (and college) running backs will be playing next year. The list will be varied between upcoming free agents, as well as possible names on the trading block. The shelf life for a running back in the NFL is shorter than ever and particularly when it comes to playing for the same team. So, as with any offseason, expect a lot of movement.
15 Saquon Barkley - New York Giants
Saquon Barkley is an absolute force. He defies physics, acting as both the unstoppable force and immovable object. The Penn State junior can do it all: power up the middle, turn the corner on the edge, catch a swing pass out of the back field, go deep, pass block, return kicks. You may think I'm just exaggerating, but he's scored a touchdown on almost every offensive play conceivable. He even jumps over defenders, while being hit, and picks up critical yards. He's clearly the front-runner for the Heisman trophy.
So the real question is, where we will he be playing his football on Sundays? I think the answer is New York. Barkley grew up in the Big Apple, and paired with OBJ, they could have an explosiveness, dynamic offense despite their poor line play. It would be a sight to see Saquon hurdling defenders in the NFC East!
14 Eddie Lacy - Cleveland Browns
Whoever predicted that Eddie Lacy was the next Trent Richardson, you were 100% correct. The Packers selected Lacy in the second-round of the 2013, and had been less than stellar in Green Bay. Initially, Lacy was the future of Packer's backfield, as he had 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2013 and 2014. But, due to injuries and a slew of weight issues, Lacy's career was never the same.
Currently part of a running back by committee situation in Seattle, the former Alabama RB has not found has role yet with the Seahawks. So our bold prediction for Lacy is he makes his way to Cleveland next season, where NFL dreams go to die. I will never put it past the Browns to make oddball signings, and Lacy might be one of them.
13 Dion Lewis - Miami Dolphins
Lewis is in the last year of his contract with the New England Patriots. With other "scat backs" such as James White and Rex Burkhead on the Patriots roster, it's highly unlikely that they will resign Lewis. One thing to take into account on predicting where Lewis, or any player for that matter, will end up playing, is to take a look at the needs for each team within the division. These teams play each other twice a year and are familiar with each player, so if someone in the AFC east wants Lewis, that's most likely where he will end up.
That being said, Miami is a perfect home for the former Pitt RB. They traded their feature back recently in Jay Ajayi, so now they could use Lewis as one of their feature backs going into next season. Out of all these 'bold predictions', Lewis to the Dolphins seems one of the most plausible.
12 Bryce Love - New York Jets
Love has been solid in place of Christian McCaffery, who went off to the Carolina Panthers in last year's draft. So far in 2017, the Stanford RB has had 135 carries for 1,385 yards! That's a whopping 10.3 yards per carry. Can you imagine that a running back, not a receiver, is averaging a first down every time he touches the ball? It's unreal! While Love hasn't developed yet in the passing game, he has lots of promise in the next level.
Walterfootball has Love ranked as the sixth best running back coming out for the 2018 NFL Draft. I expect the New York Jets to take him in the third round in hopes that his big play ability transfers to the Pros. Unfortunately for Love, if he does end up going to the Jets, he'll have to deal (most likely) with a rookie QB too!
11 Orleans Darkwa - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Darkwa has emerged as the feature back for the New York Giants this year, despite poor play out of their offensive line. As we outlined earlier, our bold prediction is that Saquon Barkley goes to the Giants, leaving no room for Darkwa on the roster after his contract year. Clearly, the undrafted free agent out of Tulane has played well enough to earn a spot on an NFL roster, but which team will he join?
Our best guess is that the 25-year-old ends up on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Currently, Martin, Rodgers, and Simms have dominated touches in Tampa Bay, but Darkwa's explosive ability seems like it could fit Dirk Koetter's offense perfectly. Maybe he can help the Bucs take the next step and win an NFC South title.
10 Andre Ellington - New England Patriots
As discussed previously, both Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead will be free agents in 2018. We think that Lewis will join the Dolphins in the offseason and Burkhead hasn't proven enough to be offered a contract next year. Therefore, there is an opening in the change-of-pace, pass catching back position in New England's backfield. There's no better fit for that position than current Arizona Cardinals running back, Andre Ellington.
In the absence of the Cards star running back, David Johnson, Ellington has regained his role as a versatile pass catcher out of the backfield. The former running back out out of the University of Clemson has had 41 targets through a total of six games of 2017. We think Belichick and the front office of New England will go after Ellington in 2018, and he will be a perfect fit for the offense.
9 Isaiah Crowell - Buffalo Bills
2017 has been the year of Duke Johnson Jr. for the Cleveland Browns, leaving little room for Crowell to shine. It doesn't help that Cleveland is usually down by two touchdowns in the second half, pretty much abandoning the run game. In 2016, Crowell was the power horse for the Browns, picking up 952 yards and 7 TDs. 2017 is a different story, and Crowell is on pace to barely crack 500 yards for the year. It's unfortunate that Crowell isn't getting more opportunities, seeing that it's his contract year, but his talent has been proven before.
Looking around the league, Crowell fits perfectly in the Buffalo Bills system. They utilitze McCoy between the numbers, and bring in a bruiser at the goal line. In free agency, I fully expect Crowell to find his home in Western NY.
8 Jeremy Hill - Seattle Seahawks
Hill has all but fallen off the radar for the Cincinnati Bengals. Once a 1,000-yard rusher in 2014, Hill lost his touches to rookie running back and accused domestic abuser, Joe Mixon, this year. Mixon has out touched Hill 74 to 33 so far, and is clearly a staple in Bill Lazor's offense. Since Hill will be a free agent in 2018, don't expect to the Bengals to keep him.
Now we play the game, where does this guy fit in? Maybe the Patriots, since Belichick loves to have a slew of running backs on the ready, but more likely, Hill was make his way to Seattle. Think about it, Seattle is known to be a bruiser in the run game, but hasn't produced so far in 2017, and Hill, at 6'2", 235 pounds., could be their guy!
7 Derrius Guice - San Francisco 49ers
The current LSU Tigers running back, Derrius Guice, is ranked third among 2018 NFL prospects. In 2016, when Fournette went down with an injury, the then Sophmore, Guice, picked up the slack and put on a solid performance, solidifying his role in the offense. In 2017, Guice has taken over as the lead-back for the Tigers, and looks like his skills will translate to success.
We are thinking that Guice get's selected in the second- or third-round by the San Francisco 49ers. But wait a minute, isn't Carlos Hyde the featured back for the 49ers? Hyde is currently in his contract year, and we don't expect him to be in the Bay Area next season. So where will Hyde go? You'll just have to keep reading to find out.
6 Nick Chubb - Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions have been devoid of a running game in the past, seeing Matt Stafford try and pass for 400 yards every game. But the current OC (who happens to have one of the best names in sports), Jim Bob Cooter, has made it a point to stick to the running game this year. The only problem is that the Lions running backs, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, aren't the best between the tackles.
That's where current Georgia RB, Nick Chubb comes in. He is a perfect fit for Cooter's offense, as he is able to bowl over linebackers, but kick on the jets when he gets to the second level. He should still be on the board in the late stages of the first round, and the Lions will grab him.
5 Le'Veon Bell - Pittsburgh Steelers
We know you want exciting, hot takes, but this one is simple; Bell will remain a Steeler. It is him, not Big Ben, that is face of the franchise. If you end up watching Pittsburgh on TV, you'll see Bell's unique running style, being patient behind the offensive line, and using his vision and explosiveness to hit the hole. Oh yeah, did I mention he's one of the best pass catching backs in the league?
That's the issue with Bell's contract though. He doesn't want to be paid just as the best running back in the game, but also as the best receiver. The Steelers may have to make some sacrifices to keep the former Michigan State Spartan on the roster, but it's in their best interest to hold on to him if they want to compete for a championship.
4 Alfred Blue - Jacksonville Jaguars
Why is Alfred Blue even still on the Texans roster? He is pretty much the fourth running back behind Miller, Foreman, and Ervin, but he's integral on special teams. In 2017, Blue has been hampered by injury and has lost carries to the rookie Foreman. Not what Blue was hoping for in his contract year. At 6'2", 225 pounds, Blue still can do some damage in the run game though.
That's why he will jump ship in H-town, and head over to Jacksonville in the offseason, joining fellow LSU running back, Leonard Fournette. We see that players often jump within division, and Blue will be no different. Jacksonville will be able to shore up their special teams and have a decent third-string running back on the roster.
3 Akrum Wadley - Green Bay Packers
Here is the boldest prediction of them all: Akrum Wadley will be the offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018. Note when Skip Bayless is all over Wadley next year, you heard it hear first! Wadley is going to be the next Kareem Hunt! The Iowa Hawkeye RB is a great dual threat, and reminds us of his predecessor, David Johnson. He may be slightly undersized at sub-200 lbs., but can still lay a hit when needed.
He's a perfect fit for a Packers offense who went into the 2017 with a wide receiver at running back. Rookie Aaron Jones has emerged as a decent starter, but they still need help in the backfield. The Packers will take Wadley in the late second round and light up the NFC North.
2 Darren Sproles - Retired
Sproles is hard to write about because it's like we are eulogizing him here. He's been lighting up the league since 2005, and has been nothing but a joy to watch. Sproles' quick-cutting, big play ability is second to none in the NFL. From San Diego, to New Orleans, to Philadelphia, he has been nothing but electric.
But all good things must come to an end. In week 3 against the New York Giants, Sproles tore his ACL and broke his arm on the same play! That's just unfortunate. We would love to see an epic comeback, but Sproles is 34 years old, and with the severe knee injury, may lose his quickness. Therefore, we fully expect Sproles to retire. He's a fighter, but may not have enough left in the tank to win this battle.
1 Carlos Hyde - Indianapolis Colts
Last, but not least, the running back you've been waiting to hear about, Carlos Hyde. He is perhaps the biggest name, and biggest flight risk in 2018 free agency. Everyone can pretty much agree that Hyde doesn't fit into the mold of the 49ers rebuilding plan. Actually, I don't think we would be surprise if San Francisco traded him by the deadline in order to get something in return. The former Ohio State running back has been losing touches to Matt Breida, and doesn't look to happy being on a winless team.
Therefore, we are predicting that Hyde will sign with Colts in the offseason. Currently, Indianapolis' run game is stagnant, with Gore being old, and Mack not having enough experience. Luck should be back in 2018, and a trio of Luck, Hyde, and Hilton could take the AFC South by storm. That's it for 15 bold predictions for where these NFL running backs will be next season. Pay attention, and maybe some of them will come true!