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Free agent runners

More misses than hits with transplant running backs

There are a bunch of notable running backs headed for free agency, including Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Saquon Barkley and Austin Ekeler. But I don’t know that there will be a lot of big contracts handed out.

Teams don’t tend to value the position nowadays. There are enough decent options available at modest prices that it doesn’t make sense to break the bank unless you feel you’re getting something special.

Barkley, I would think, would generate some interest, but teams have the option to fall back and settle for lesser but capable options. Henry and Ekeler are big names, but they’re not the franchise-type talents they’ve been in the past. Jacobs and Pollard both were a lot more effective in 2022 than last year.

Also available: Devin Singletary, D’Andre Swift, D’Onta Foreman, Zack Moss and Ezekiel Elliott.

Player2023 team
Saquon BarkleyNY Giants
Josh JacobsLas Vegas
Derrick HenryTennessee
Austin EkelerLA Chargers
D'Andre SwiftPhiladelphia
Tony PollardDallas
Devin SingletaryHouston
Kareem HuntCleveland
Zack MossIndianapolis
D'Onta ForemanChicago
Ezekiel ElliottNew England
AJ DillonGreen Bay
J.K. DobbinsBaltimore
Dalvin CookNY Jets
Antonio GibsonWashington
Gus EdwardsBaltimore
Cordarrelle PattersonAtlanta
Rashaad PennyPhiladelphia
Clyde Edwards-HelaireKansas City
Damien HarrisBuffalo

The track record of transplant running backs hasn’t been particularly strong. David Montgomery did just fine with the Lions last year, of course, but Miles Sanders, Jamaal Williams and Dalvin Cook all were misses with their new teams.

I played around with some numbers on this. In the 32-team era, there have been 43 instances in which a running back posted top-20 numbers (using PPR scoring) then moved to a new team in the next offseason. Only three of those running backs then finished with better numbers with their new team. Only six others again finished with top-20 numbers (that is, fewer than 20 percent of transplant backs were able to stay in the top 20).

Only three of those running backs finished with more total yards (run-rec) with their new teams, and only five finished with more touchdowns. It’s a rugged position, where you want to be careful not to get caught chasing last year’s production. You want to make sure you’re getting a back who fits properly (like Montgomery last year).

In the chart below, the three running backs who ranked even higher (PPR scoring) with their new teams are in bold. The others who are least stayed in the top 20 are tagged with black dots. The numbers that are in bold, those are the areas where guys finished with better numbers.

This is a complex chart, so an explanatory walk-through is appropriate. The “year” shows the player’s last season with the original team (so for Miles Sanders, you’re seeing not Carolina but what he did with the Eagles in 2022). The rushing and receiving stats from those seasons are shown.

In the right half of the chart, you’re seeing his new team (the next year), with the difference in total yards and touchdowns. (For the vast majority of players, those are negative numbers, with the production having declined). The final column (“Rk”) shows where he ranked the next year using PPR scoring.

YearPlayerRushingReceivingNew TmYds LTD LRk
2022Miles Sanders, Phil.259-1269-1120-78-0Car.-761-1050
2022Jamaal Williams, Det.262-1066-1712-73-0N.O.-771-1661
2022Leonard Fournette, T.B.189-668-373-523-3Buff.-1151-6129
2022Dalvin Cook, Min.264-1173-839-295-2NYJ-1176-1070
2020Mike Davis, Car.165-642-659-373-2Atl.-253-434
2020Kenyan Drake, Ari.239-955-1025-137-0L.V.-547-755
2019Todd Gurley, LAR223-857-1231-207-2Atl.-222-529
2019Devonta Freeman, Atl.184-656-259-410-4NYG-836-587
2019Leonard Fournette, Jac.265-1152-376-522-0T.B.-1074335
2018Tevin Coleman, Atl.167-800-432-276-5S.F.-352-239
2018Kareem Hunt, K.C.181-824-726-378-7Cle.-738-1148
2017Dion Lewis, N.E.180-896-632-214-3Ten.-193-827
2017Frank Gore, Ind.261-961-329-245-1Mia.-360-347
2017Carlos Hyde, S.F.240-938-859-350-0Cle./J-684-349
2017C.J. Anderson, Den.245-1007-328-224-1Ca./LA-787-170
2016Latavius Murray, Oak.195-788-1233-264-0Min.-107-425
2016LeGarrette Blount, N.E.299-1161-187-38-0Phil.-383-1545
2015DeMarco Murray, Phil.193-702-644-322-1Ten.64055
2015• Lamar Miller, Mia.194-872-847-397-2Hou.-8-419
2015• Todd Gurley, St.L.229-1106-1021-188-0LAR-82-415
2015Matt Forte, Chi.218-898-444-389-3NYJ-211121
2015Chris Ivory, NYJ247-1070-730-217-1Jac.-662-548
2014Shane Vereen, N.E.96-391-252-447-3NYG-83-127
2014• LeSean McCoy, Phil.312-1319-528-155-0Buff.-287017
2014Fred Jackson, Buff.141-525-266-501-1Sea.-669-164
2014• DeMarco Murray, Dall.392-1845-1357-416-0Phil.-1237-615
2013Chris Johnson, Ten.279-1077-642-345-4NYJ-608-839
2013Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac.234-803-543-314-0Oak.-950-597
2013Knowshon Moreno, Den.241-1038-1060-548-3Mia.-1430-12103
2012Reggie Bush, Mia.227-986-635-292-2Det.234-17
2012Steven Jackson, St.L.258-1045-438-321-0Atl.-632331
2012Shonn Greene, NYJ276-1063-819-151-0Ten.-880-460
2012Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG221-1015-623-245-0Ind.-1032-477
2011Mike Tolbert, S.D.121-490-854-433-2Car.-472-337
2011Michael Bush, Oak.256-977-737-418-1Chi.-901-347
2009Thomas Jones, NYJ331-1402-1410-58-0K.C.-442-827
2008Derrick Ward, NYG182-1025-241-384-0T.B.-850149
2006Thomas Jones, Chi.296-1210-636-154-0NYJ-28-422
2006Ahman Green, G.B.266-1059-546-373-1Hou.-1049-464
2005• Edgerrin James, Ind.360-1506-1344-337-1Ari.-467-817
2005Mike Anderson, Den.239-1014-1218-212-1Balt.-989-1278
2004Reuben Droughns, Den.275-1240-632-241-2Cle.120-614
2003• Clinton Portis, Den.290-1591-1438-314-0Was.-355-79

—Ian Allan

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