It’s almost as if we’re going back in time. Remember the day when running backs were valuable and considered a legitimate asset to a team? Well, those days are back. For quite a few years, the value of running backs decreased as it seemed that a lot of running backs couldn’t handle carrying the full work load of a traditional running back, so many running backs didn’t truly get the chance at a lengthy career. Lately, we have seen an emergence of running backs playing at a very high level, which seems to have changed the ways that NFL owners look at the running back position.
After last year’s performance from running backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Le’veon Bell, and David Johnson, every team wants a star running back. We have seen some new running backs emerge this year such as Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Kareem Hunt. The running back position is once again becoming more valuable, which puts a lot of running backs on the hot seat. Teams are showing that in order to be successful, you need a good run game. A good run game helps balance out your offense and benefits your time of possession. The Dallas Cowboys showed a tremendous job of this last year, as they were one of the top teams in time of possession because they were able to run the ball so effectively. With so many new wave running backs playing so well, quite a few other running backs are seeing themselves on the hot seat.
16 Washington Redskins - Chris Thompson
Granted, Chris Thompson has played pretty well for what he’s being asked to do. They clearly aren’t feeding the ball enough to Thompson, but it may be because they don’t believe he’s a true workhorse running back, or they may be looking for another running back to bring on to this team.
Adding another running back to this team would definitely help. There aren’t many RBs still out there that can take a full workload, but there are some that are playing at a high level and could help complement Thompson. Another running back could allow Thompson to become more of a threat when he’s in the game, and make passing plays seem less predictable which could lead to more success all around. Don’t expect to see Thompson alone in that back field for much longer.
15 Replacement: Jamaal Charles
Now, the perfect complement to Chris Thompson would be a little bit more of a hassle than a regular signing. Jamaal Charles is currently backing up C.J. Anderson for the Denver Broncos, but when he gets his snaps, he plays fairly well. This season, Charles is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has rushed for 196 yards with a touchdown. His numbers just started to drop with one poor game, but he has played pretty well for a backup running back.
Now the reason Charles would takeover Thompson’s position, is because Charles has been very successful in his career as a starting running back. Injuries unfortunately have hurt his career, but he seems to be getting back on the right track. A trade could possibly work if they got in contact, as C.J. Anderson has played at a really high level for the Broncos, which has come as a shock for many.
14 Detroit Lions - Ameer Abdullah
Ameer Abdullah seems to be having the best season of his career. But he’s still been unable to take that next step to really become a back the Lions can truly rely on. Matthew Stafford has played fantastic this year, but they are still coming up short constantly. Now obviously a huge part in their failure to complete games deal with the defense, but if they can get another running back to run the ball effectively to keep drives moving and run the clock more, this team could be dangerous.
Abdullah will probably play out the rest of the season, but expect to see him struggle. They still have some pretty good run defenses to bypass, and Abdullah’s good season is going to come back down to earth. Abdullah would probably be another situation where the team would let him stay and complement the new back, but the Lions really need to look into another running back.
13 Replacement: Alfred Morris
Now, this could go in plenty of different directions. We could see Alfred Morris stay with the Dallas Cowboys due to the possibility of Ezekiel Elliott being suspended next season. We could also see the Cowboys draft another running back, or sign another running back to go with Darren McFadden. If that’s the case, Alfred Morris is free. Morris’ production declined when he got to Dallas as he basically shared the ball with two other guys, and Elliott took a majority of the snaps. But as a backup, Morris has put up some good numbers and still shows that he can start on a team.
Morris may not want to be that relief guy while Zeke may be out, and this Detroit team could be perfect as he would share snaps with Abdullah, but clearly be the number one guy. Morris ability to run through the tackles and make big plays could help make this Lions run game scary.
12 Joe Mixon - Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals went for one of the most controversial calls in the 2017 NFL Draft. In the second round, they drafted Joe Mixon. Mixon was caught on video at a bar punching a woman in the face. The video went viral, and turned a star college athlete into one of the more hated athletes in this draft, which completely dropped his draft stock. The Bengals grabbed him in belief that it may payoff, but so far, Mixon has not paid off.
He’s been averaging just barely over 3 yards a carry. He’s been unable to stay consistent, struggling to run even against the Browns. The Bengals won’t let Mixon go, but this team has struggled too long running the football to just let this guy carry their team to nothing. Watch the Bengals this season in free agency grab a cheap, but more experienced running back.
11 Replacement: Ryan Mathews
The perfect, cheap free agent signing. Ryan Mathews may not be on a team currently due to his struggle to stay healthy. But if you look beyond the injuries, he hasn’t been all that bad. And the best part is, he has experience. A signing like this probably wouldn’t happen until the offseason, unless the Bengals really get fed up with Joe Mixon and his antics. Mathews would have by then had a whole offseason to recover, and come in with fresh healthy legs.
Mathews is also a threat in the pass game, something we would like to see more of from Joe Mixon. Mixon would still get carries, but Mathews would take over as the starting running back of this team. Who knows, if they signed Mathews next season he could help be a part of why this team could make the playoffs next season.
10 Frank Gore - Indianapolis Colts
A big part why Frank Gore could be gone after this season, is the Colts not wanting to re-sign what will be the 35-year-old running back, or Gore’s retirement. Many running backs don’t last nearly as long as Gore has in the NFL. And the best part is, he still manages to play well. The Colts may not mind Gore running the ball a lot and getting his carries as it seems like this team is out of playoff contention already, but with Andrew Luck back for a new season next year and the race to the playoffs, they might want to look for someone younger.
Gore has played average this season, but nothing to even help give a spark to the new Colts’ quarterback, Jacoby Brissett. This may be the season that we see the Colts begin the transition to...
9 Replacement: Marlon Mack
Unlike other teams on this list, the Colts may have the answer from within. We haven’t seen enough of this guy, but I think that would be the point of letting Frank Gore walk. Marlon Mack has looked great in the few carries he gets, and the Colts seem pretty big on him. The rookie running back from USF is averaging just under 5 yards a carry, as a backup running back. Mack could be the new young star in Indianapolis, that could help Luck on his way to a quest for a Super Bowl.
If we see Gore back in 2018, it would definitely be at a lesser role that includes Mack taking over. This team needs to rebuild, and what better way than to use your young draft pick who is playing phenomenal. We could end up talking about this guy next year as one of the best running backs in the game.
8 Jonathan Stewart - Carolina Panthers
It may be time for the captain to take a step down. The Carolina Panthers tried drafting Christian McCaffrey to help fix their run game problems, but that didn’t necessarily work. Stewart has played well enough for him to get by as a decent running back, but Cam Newton is going to need more help to take this team to a place they once were. In one of Stewart’s best seasons, this Panthers team made it to the Super Bowl. This team is a lot more effective with a good run game that can help take the pressure off of Cam Newton.
Now, Jonathan Stewart will likely be back on this team next season, but expect him to play a lesser role. Stewart could be playing a role that Alfred Morris currently plays on the Dallas Cowboys. This team needs to add a new dimension to their run game, one that Stewart can no longer provide.
7 Replacement: Carlos Hyde
Who knows what Carlos Hyde’s worth will be in the 2018 free agency market, but he looks like he'll be one of the more sought after backs. Hyde is currently one of the lesser paid running backs in the game, but is playing like he should be near the top. Hyde’s inconsistencies could be a question for a team that looks to sign him, but they also have to look at the offensive line and team he is running behind.
I would expect to see Hyde on his way out, and a great landing spot would be Carolina. He may not get paid top dollar, but he'd play with a better team, and would have a lot less pressure to carry the offense than in San Francisco. Hyde won’t be looked at to carry this team as they would still have McCaffrey and maybe even Stewart.
6 Lamar Miller - Houston Texans
This may come as one of the more shocking running backs on the list. Lamar Miller has been having another good season, but is he the future of the Texans? This could be a decision that could be more shocking during free agency. We could end up seeing the Texans release Miller, or Miller opting out after this season.
When the Texans signed Miller, they expected him to be a true difference maker, but Miller hasn't proven to be a true no.1 back. The Texans' offense took off when Deshaun Watson came in and emerged as a top rookie, but with Watson out for the year, teams will stack the box against Miller and that will drive down his numbers. As a result, the Texans may feel inclined to find a cheaper option at running back.
5 Replacement: D'Onta Foreman
Now, this is more of the reason as to why Lamar Miller could be on his way out in Houston, or start to lose his job. D’Onta Foreman has played extremely well when he gets the ball, averaging an extra yard a carry over what Miller averages. The Texans used their third overall draft pick to grab Foreman, and they may see the future more so with Foreman than they do with Miller. Also with Miller, they could end up using him to trade elsewhere as he’s still played well, and a lot of teams are going to be looking for a new running back after this season. The Texans are playing young, with DeShaun Watson starting and playing out of his mind, watch this trend continue as they may start to go young at the running back position as well, and let D’Onta Foreman get a majority of the carries in Houston.
4 Marshawn Lynch - Oakland Raiders
The NFL world thought that the Raiders would become a lot better once they signed Marshawn Lynch this offseason, after they saw Latavius Murray leave to head to Minnesota. Well, weren’t they in for a threat. Lynch has been a complete failure for the Raiders. Part of it goes towards the Raiders not running the ball enough, but he just doesn’t seem to be in Beast Mode anymore. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game this season, in fact he’s only rushed for over 70 once this season. The Raiders may not want to cut Lynch due to him coming out of retirement and playing for the team he always loved, but ultimately, they have to find a way to make the team better.
Lynch has one more deal on his contract, and next year the Raiders will probably look for another running back to take his spot. Lynch has been more of a distraction than his production speaks for, and Beast Mode will likely be going back into retirement soon.
3 Replacement: Le'Veon Bell
Whoa, here's a splash for you. The Raiders would have to get creative with their cap space in 2018, but after such a disappointing 2017, the Raiders should be doing everything they can to make a run for the Super Bowl in their last season in Oakland. Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers have yet to come to an agreement on an extension and with Big Ben seemingly set to retire, perhaps Bell would be looking for a home with a franchise QB. The Raiders would have to get creative with their salary cap, but they need a true no.1 back and there may be no better back in the game than Bell. The Raiders may have a tough time letting Lynch go, but if it meant getting Bell, a lot of Raiders fans would be okay with it.
2 DeMarco Murray - Tennessee Titans
We all thought DeMarco Murray was back and that all he needed was a good offensive line. Well, to start off the 2017 season, Murray has played pretty average. Without the game against Seattle on his stats column, his yards on the season and average yard per carry don’t look all that great. Murray definitely won’t lose his job, as he still plays well enough to help this Titans team be successful. But he doesn’t seem to be playing like the DeMarco Murray that had a bounce back year last season. There are better options for this Titans team that could make this team better, and give them a real shot at taking control of the AFC South in future seasons. That better option could be a lot closer than many may think.
1 Replacement: Derrick Henry
This move isn’t really that big of a deal for anyone besides DeMarco Murray. A simple switch that would give Derrick Henry the ball more than DeMarco Murray would help this team, and this switch could happen immediately.
Henry has thrived this season when he's been asked to take more carries.
Henry has only 40 yards less than Murray on the season, with 11 less carries. Henry could be playing at the top of his game if he was the starter, and Murray took a step back. This team may glance over this and continue running the ball the way they are, but this slight change could make a huge difference.
If Derrick Henry is playing so well, why give anyone else the ball? Who knows, this could be the beginning of Derrick Henry truly living up to his potential.