Do you want to join us as we continue speculating about the approaching NFL offseason? Are you ready to think about additions to teams you’d consider doing in Madden if the game’s franchise mode was worth playing? As you’re reading this article, I think the answer that is most likely yes.
We could lead off with some fun intro, but the offseason’s official start is rapidly approaching and teams are going to have to start making serious decisions sooner rather than later. Today, we’re going to look at 15 NFL teams who could replace their starting running back – or in the case of teams who utilize two-back systems, one of the players in question – and who they might want to consider, whether it be through the NFL Draft or free agency.
Unlike other articles we’ve done, we will include players on this list like DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy who have contracts for next year, but could very well be cut this offseason to save cap space. Any player is fair game, though this is intended to be realistic so a team like the Chiefs or Saints won’t be included as they’ve found their franchise running backs.
Are you ready to think about next season? Let’s get to work.
15. Carolina Panthers
Technically nothing is really happening other than Jonathan Stewart is most likely going to be cut this offseason after a decade in Carolina. Technically, Christian McCaffrey would rise up the depth chart and become the true No. 1, but I do think there’s a chance the Panthers acquire a complementary running back to the former first-round pick. McCaffrey shined more in the receiving game, so someone the Panthers could consider looking into as more of a rusher is…
Potential Replacement: If future Hall of Famer Frank Gore decides to return for another season, a playoff-ready team like the Panthers may not be a bad option. Gore wouldn’t get as many carries as he may want, but he’d be on a team that’s made four postseasons in the past five seasons. Not bad for someone wanting a ring, right?
14. Indianapolis Colts
Speaking of Frank Gore, Gore is a free agent and the Colts’ next few years are likely to see more losing than many free agents would want to deal with, so look for Josh McDaniels and friends to explore new options this offseason. Rising second-year running back Marlon Mack had brief flashes as a rookie, running 93 times for 358 yards and three scores, but the Colts are going to enter April’s NFL Draft with the third overall pick barring a trade. With that said…
Potential Replacement: Though the Colts could consider trading down to a team willing to give up assets to pounce on a quarterback (looking at you, Jets), Penn State’s Saquon Barkley should be available with the third pick and would be an explosive player under McDaniels. Barkley could go to the Giants with the second overall pick, but…
13. New York Giants
Unfortunately for the Giants, their search for a franchise running back will probably continue as Orleans Darkwa is set to hit free agency and may not be retained by Pat Shurmur and the new coaching staff. We’ll get to Darkwa later, but the point remains that the Giants will have options at running back. Depending on what the Browns do with the first overall pick, the Giants could have their choice at whoever they believe to be the draft’s best running back.
But, to have some fun, we’re going to say the Giants pass up Saquon Barkley and instead draft…
Potential replacement: Georgia’s Nick Chubb won’t be the Giants’ pick at No. 2 overall, but he does end up joining Big Blue with their second-round pick. Chubb is dynamic and would be an interesting fit in Shumur’s offense, especially if his quarterback is College Football Playoff rival Baker Mayfield.
12. San Francisco 49ers
I actually really still like Carlos Hyde and think he has a productive future in this league, but I do find myself wondering if Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers will bring him back on a long-term deal. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Shanahan goes after someone like Orleans Darkwa or Giovani Bernard who brings experience and could be signed to a relatively cheap contract.
You might think the 49ers would go after one of the bigger names we’ll deal with later, but I get the feeling they’re really trying to start something with a young cast. With that said…
Potential replacement: With the Niners likely to use their earlier picks addressing the secondary and offensive line, look for San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny to potentially come up as a late Day 2, early Day 3 pick. We saw what Shanahan did with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman in Atlanta, so could Penny and a free agent signing form a similar duo?
11. Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden is in town! While Marshawn Lynch looked better as the season went on and the Raiders’ offensive line paved more holes, I don’t think it’s a given he returns in a starting role for Gruden next season. DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are solid options off the bench, but are they really the type of players you want starting all 16 games on a team in a win-now state? That the answer there isn’t an easy yes means the Raiders may want to look into free agency…
Potential replacement: …so they can potentially sign Jeremy Hill. With the Bengals veteran hitting free agency after an injury-shortened 2017 season and inconsistency in prior years, Hill might be worth signing to a “prove-it” deal that won’t cost the Raiders too much. You should also expect Oakland to draft a late-round running back they can potentially add to the mix later as well.
10. Washington Redskins
Washington is going to need consistency at running back, with all of the team’s depth having severely disappointed this past season. Rob Kelley might have been a one-year wonder, Samaje Perine didn’t do much to show he’s the team’s future at running back, and players brought in for tryouts were mediocre at best. Given the uncertainty surrounding Kirk Cousins’ future in Washington, the Redskins have two options here.
Potential replacement: If Cousins returns or is franchised tagged yet again, the Redskins need to sign Carlos Hyde and create a win-now environment. Hyde wouldn’t have to do all the lifting like he did in San Francisco while Cousins would have a running back who has shown consistency in the past. In the (likely) chance that Cousins leaves for another team or is traded, Georgia’s Sony Michal or Oregon’s Royce Freeman could be interesting fits here.
9. Cleveland Browns
Isaiah Crowell is not a bad running back – and there’s another team on this list that I think will really benefit from acquiring him – but the Browns are likely to move on and add a franchise player here. Some have mocked Saquon Barkley here, but the Browns will almost certainly draft a quarterback (Josh Allen) with the No. 1 overall pick and address another need three picks later. When we get to Day 2, however…
Potential replacement: LSU’s Derrius Guice might be a first-round pick in other years and could even sneak into the back end of this year’s draft, but he’s expected to fall into Round 2 after dealing with some injuries this past season. Guice still averaged 5.3 yards per carry and would be a strong fit for whoever is starting as the Browns’ quarterback next year.
8. Detroit Lions
Well, Detroit is still pretty mediocre on the ground and Ameer Abdullah is starting to look like another Big Ten running back who won’t amount to much in the NFL. In three years, Abdullah has ran for 1,250 yards and six touchdowns on 3.8 yards per carry, far from what the Lions were expecting when they made him a second-round pick in 2015. Detroit could opt to sign someone like Jeremy Hill or Isaiah Crowell in free agency, but we’ve thought of a different option.
Potential replacement: It seems like the hype is quieting around USC running back Ronald Jones II, though we don’t understand why. Jones is explosive and would be a perfect addition to Matthew Stafford’s offense, especially with new Lions coach Matt Patricia having seen first-hand what a shifty, athletic running back can do in New England.
7. Buffalo Bills
Have we seen the last of LeSean McCoy in Buffalo? Many Bills fans don’t want to think so, but the team has already shown a commitment to getting younger and a soon-to-be 30-years-old running back doesn’t quite fit that criteria. McCoy should have plenty of teams calling his name if he does wind up on the free agent market, but what will Sean McDermott and the Bills do afterwards?
Potential replacement: Don’t be surprised if Buffalo does something like signing Isaiah Crowell and drafting a late-round running back, someone like TCU’s Kyle Hicks or even Alabama’s Bo Scarborough. Crowell was good enough for a Browns running back – we can’t stress that enough – and Scarborough might have an edge with ex-Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Brian Daboll taking the same job in Buffalo.
6. Tennessee Titans
Reports shortly after the Titans’ season ended said that DeMarco Murray, who has split carries with former Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry over the past two seasons, could be cut this offseason as the Titans won’t have to deal with any dead money. Henry would almost certainly become the team’s starting running back barring a devastating injury, but would the Titans go for someone to be Henry’s 1B?
Potential replacement: Tennessee adding New England’s Rex Burkhead wouldn’t be the flashiest addition, but remember that new Titans coach Mike Vrabel was around the Patriots when they had that sugar and spice running back dynamic. With the exception of Corey Dillon, the Patriots succeeded with a do-it-all back (i.e. Kevin Faulk, Dion Lewis) to go along with a workhorse back (Lawrence Maroney, LeGarrette Blount) until things went wrong or the player left in free agency. Could that work here?
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After two straight horrendous seasons, Doug Martin is almost guaranteed to be gone from Tampa Bay and may have serious trouble finding any work. As no other Buccaneers running back really showed anything this season, the Buccaneers – who surprisingly will retain Dirk Koetter for next season – should be buyers in free agency or through the trade market.
Potential replacement: Given the Philadelphia connection with ex-teammate DeSean Jackson, McCoy coming here to partner with Jameis Winston at quarterback could make for an interesting offense. Remember, the Buccaneers still have Mike Evans and they’ll likely add another free agent at receiver or tight end, so the Buccaneers could be a team to watch in 2018. Or, they would if we hadn’t been saying that each year for the past ten years.
4. Houston Texans
While I don’t think the Texans will quite cut Lamar Miller this year, I do think they’ll pursue a running back through the NFL Draft. Miller hasn’t really lived up to expectations and former Texas Longhorns star D’Onta Foreman is coming off a torn Achilles, so the Texans may not want to play things too safe here by entering camp only expecting those two to contribute next year.
Potential replacement: If not for Deshaun Watson’s torn ACL, Houston was on pace to win the AFC South despite injuries to J.J. Watt and other key players, so their list of needs isn’t too high. Adding Kerryon Johnson in the second or third round would add an element to the Texans’ running game not seen since Arian Foster’s last strong season in 2014.
3. New York Jets
The Jets are trying to rebuild the right way for once, so they’re not likely to bring veteran Matt Forte back even if there’s a slim hope he has something left in the tank. Bilal Powell will continue to provide Jets fans with moderate happiness and last year’s sixth-round pick, Elijah McGuire, showed flashes this past season of being a productive NFL running back. But the Jets will have to replace Forte somehow, right?
Potential replacement: People will suggest LeSean McCoy or DeMarco Murray here just so the Jets have a proven offensive weapon, but drafting a mid-round running back has almost always been how the team operates. Look for Michigan State’s L.J. Scott, who has drawn recent comparisons to another former MSU back in Le’Veon Bell, to pop up on the Jets’ draft boards. Well, unless his name comes up in the new Michigan State scandal.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
Jeremy Hill will be a free agent and Giovani Bernard could pop up as an interesting trade target for teams not on this list (hint: Miami), so Joe Mixon should become the team’s top running back next year. Mixon had a disappointing rookie season, but it seems like he’s the future under Marvin Lewis. Who will the Bengals add as a replacement for Hill and potentially Bernard?
Potential replacement: Former Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls showed plenty of potential in Seattle, but he couldn’t ever stay on the field and is set to become a free agent this offseason. Could the Bengals take a chance on Rawls with a one-year, prove it deal? Why not? The Bengals have made stranger moves in the past, but Rawls not having any legal baggage may not help his case…
1. Seattle Seahawks
Seattle still needs a running back! Rawls will hit free agency, Mike Davis didn’t do much this year, Chris Carson is a question mark, and I doubt Eddie Lacy is coming back for a second season. Will the Seahawks draft another running back? Perhaps, but we have a better idea in mind.
Potential replacement: Seattle has said that the team’s plan going forward will be a Russell Wilson-oriented offense, meaning DeMarco Murray won’t have to be a workhorse back the way he once was and he’d be one of the best fits Seattle can add this offseason. That’s about the easiest way to explain what a partnership between Murray and the Seahawks would entail because it’s a duo made in heaven…you know, until Murray gets hurt in the preseason and plays how he did in Philadelphia.
What running back do you want your team to add?
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