Free agency begins on March 15th, though teams have the ability to speak with free agents as soon as March 13th. That’s less two weeks away. There is a lot of discussion surrounding how talented the 2023 draft class of running backs is, but teams will look to add talent to their backfields in free agency first.
With a lot of available big name players, the fantasy football landscape is sure to change. While we will have plenty of time to analyze the upcoming moves for redraft league purposes, making educated guesses as to where these running backs could be playing next year can help us get an edge in dynasty and best ball leagues. With that said, I’m looking at the most relevant running backs and predicting where they’ll land once the free agency period begins.
Best Landing Spots for 2023 Free Agent Running Backs
1. Saquon Barkley
The biggest available free agent running back is none other than Saquon Barkley. After back-to-back disappointing seasons, heavily attributed to a 2020 torn ACL, Barkley returned to RB1 form in fantasy football this past season. His 17.8 points per game rank fifth at the position.
Barkley’s 295 rush attempts and 1,312 yards are both career highs. His 10 rushing touchdowns account for 26% of the Giants’ offensive scores in 2022, as well. Most importantly, Barkley’s 352 touches rank third behind only Josh Jacobs and Derrick Henry at the running back position. The efficiency plus volume is a massive advantage for fantasy lineups.
Saquon Barkley’s Best Landing Spot: The New York Giants
It’s hard to imagine the Giants front office letting a household name like Saquon walk in free agency. Though General Manager Joe Schoen is not responsible for using such a high draft pick on the star running back, Saquon is the centerpiece of their offense.
In two of Saquon’s four fully healthy seasons, he has rushed 260 times or more while leading the team in receptions both times. It’s no secret the Giants need to add a more capable group of receivers to the offense. Letting Saquon Barkley go in the process only sets them back further.
Sure, plenty of contenders would love to add Saquon into their backfield, but the Giants are not contenders without him. I fully expect Saquon back in New York, for however long, and back in the RB1 discussion for 2023 fantasy football.
2. Josh Jacobs
After getting starter reps in the Raiders’ first preseason game last summer, many believed Las Vegas was showcasing Josh Jacobs for a possible trade. Instead, he rushed 340 times for a whopping 1,653 yards while adding 53 catches for 400 through the air. Go figure. So, while playing preseason reps didn’t ultimately lead to a trade, logging 393 touches, the most across the NFL in 2022, likely means Jacobs plays elsewhere in 2023.
Josh Jacobs’ Best Landing Spot: The Miami Dolphins
Every running back on the Dolphins’ 2022 roster is set to be an unrestricted free agent. After trading Chase Edmonds away before last season’s deadline, that leaves Miami with decisions to make in bringing back Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Salvon Ahmed, and Myles Gaskin. For those keeping score at home, that’s 100% of Miami’s 2022 running back carries up for grabs at the time of this publication.
Miami ranks 31st across the league in rush attempts per game in 2022. That’s surprising considering head coach Mike McDaniel is the former run game and offensive coordinator for the typically run-heavy San Francisco 49ers. They also rank 24th in offensive plays per game (59.9) and 25th in average time of possession (29:14).
Enter Josh Jacobs. Bringing in a free agent with a history of success as a bell-cow running back is exactly what this Miami offense needs. He has pass-catching capabilities, but there is plenty of receiving talent on the Dolphins’ offense already. Instead, Jacobs would lead this team in carries with plenty of scoring opportunities. Providing a stronger option in the run game in turn opens up the passing attack, improving the overall efficiency of this offense. Miami is the best free agent landing spot for a player like Jacobs to maintain RB1 numbers in fantasy football.
3. Tony Pollard
Tony Pollard is one of the more complicated free agent scenarios in 2023. His late-January broken leg and high ankle sprain in a playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers is a ding to his value, however slight. Prior to this, though, Pollard’s 2022 campaign is easily the best of his career.
Pollard’s stats from this past season are career-highs across the board. In fantasy football, he obliterated the idea that he was a top fantasy handcuff running back finishing as the RB6 in points per game. When healthy, Pollard’s explosiveness and pass-catching ability provide confidence he can handle a workhorse role in any backfield.
Tony Pollard’s Best Landing Spot: The Dallas Cowboys
It’s probably best for both Pollard and the Cowboys for him to remain with the team in 2023. Not only can he continue to rehab from his injury, but familiarization with the offense presents a seamless return to the field when ready.
The elephant in the room is the presence of Ezekiel Elliott. He’s under contract until 2027, but is unlikely to play the full length with financial benefits to releasing or trading him prior to, possibly as soon as this year.
That said, bringing Pollard back benefits Dallas greatly. While Zeke dominated goal-line scoring opportunities, Pollard exceled in making big plays on his own:
13 RB scored 10+ touchdowns in 2022.
Longest average length of TD:
1. Tony Pollard (25.1 yards)
Shortest average length of TD:
13. Ezekiel Elliott (3.6)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) February 20, 2023
Pollard has a career average of 5.2 yards per carry, something he also accomplished in 2022 specifically. In 38 less rushing attempts than Zeke, Pollard rushed for 131 more yards last season.
Lastly, Dallas is bringing in Brian Schottenheimer as the new offensive coordinator. Historically, he, in the same role for other teams, leans heavily on the run and play-action schemes. As a result, Pollard should claim a heavy workload in the run game with upside in PPR fantasy leagues. Ezekiel Elliott will get some run, but Pollard, when healthy, would have another opportunity at RB1 numbers in Dallas’ 2023 backfield.
4. Miles Sanders
As much as I’m sure the Philadelphia Eagles would like to bring back homegrown running back, Miles Sanders, signing him is realistically not in the budget. As the Eagles prepare to pay Jalen Hurts, as well as solidify defensive pieces, it’s more likely they draft a running back than bring Sanders back on any sort of deal.
Like many other free agent running backs, Sanders becomes available after setting career-highs in carries and rushing yards, among other stats. In fact, Sanders’ career-high 11 rushing touchdowns are that much more impressive after failing to find the end zone at all in 2021; Not to mention he did so with Jalen Hurts rushing for 13 of his own this season.
Miles Sanders’ Best Landing Spot: The Denver Broncos
Even after a career season for Sanders, he has just 926 career touches, including playoffs. For comparison, the aforementioned free agent, Saquon Barkley, who essentially missed an entire season with a torn ACL, has more regular season rushing attempts (954) than Sanders has career touches. Sanders has plenty of miles (pun intended) left and a 2022 campaign that proved he can be a lead back.
Instead, though, I think Sanders is best fit joining Javonte Williams in the Broncos’ backfield. Under new head coach, Sean Payton, it’s likely Denver will utilize two running backs. Most notably on the New Orleans Saints 2017 offense, under Payton, both Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara logged over 200 touches each. As a result, both running backs finished inside the top six at the position in fantasy football.
With Javonte Williams working his way back from a season-ending knee injury, Sanders is the perfect cost-efficient back to carry the load in the meantime. Once back, I expect Sanders to still see a steady role in the ground game with Williams reclaiming his role in the passing game. All things considered, it’s hard to imagine either back producing as an RB1 in fantasy, but each could serve as an RB2 with weekly RB1 potential.
5. David Montgomery
David Montgomery enters free agency after the statistically worst season of his four-year career. In 16 games, his 201 carries, 801 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns, and 50.1 yards per game are all career lows. He averaged 238 carries per season in the three years prior in just under 15 games played per season.
Justin Fields and Khalil Herbert are both factors in Montgomery’s lackluster fantasy season. Fields specifically ran 160 times, the second-most amongst all quarterbacks, for 1,143 yards, seventh-most amongst all positions. All in all, Montgomery’s 201 rush attempts in 2022 account for just 36% of the team’s total. For comparison, he accounts for 61.2%, 62.8%, 47.3% of the Bears’ rush attempts in each of the three respective seasons prior to this one.
Montgomery’s Best Landing Spot: The Kansas City Chiefs
Matt Nagy is once again the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. After operating in this role in 2016 and 2017, Nagy moved on to the Chicago Bears as their head coach from 2018-2021. Then, after he was fired, he returned to the Chiefs as an assistant until accepting his former role as offensive coordinator late last week.
David Montgomery was drafted ahead of Nagy’s second year as the Bears’ head coach. Nagy is familiar with Montgomery’s ability as a pass blocker, but also knows he can handle a workhorse role. This is especially important for protecting Patrick Mahomes, but providing more of a threat in the run game in arguably the league’s best offense. Montgomery’s ability to break tackles and churn out yards keeps drives alive.
Montgomery would likely command the lead-back role over Isiah Pacheco, but that’s not to say Pacheco can’t hold value of his own. His violent running style and 4.88 yards per carry in 2022 compliments Montgomery for a solid one-two punch in the defending champs’ backfield. The Chiefs need a veteran presence, especially in the passing game as a blocker and receiver. If Nagy gets his guy, then Montgomery is very much in the RB1 conversation for the 2023 fantasy football season.
6. Damien Harris
It seems like much longer than two seasons ago that Damien Harris rushed for 15 touchdowns. That tied James Conner for second most in the league, behind only Jonathan Taylor. In such a dominant season, Harris’ 202 carries in 2021 are the only time he’s rushed more than 200 times in a season. While he does have a 4.7 yards per carry average over three non-rookie seasons, he has yet to crack the 1,000-yard mark. He has plenty of tread on the tires still, but completely commanding a backfield is not something Harris is likely to be asked to do as a free agent.
Damien Harris’ Best Landing Spot: The Atlanta Falcons
The New England Patriots have a history of letting running backs test the free agent market. I expect no difference with Damien Harris. A big reason why is Rhamondre Stevenson’s dominant second season in which he led the team in receptions (69) and was their first 1,000-yard rusher since 2016. Meanwhile, the Patriots drafted two additional running backs in the 2022 Draft.
So, I think Harris becomes a very enticing free agent running back. He is a perfect fit for the Atlanta Falcons whose backfield currently consists of 2022 5th-round pick, Tyler Allgeier, 32-year-old Cordarelle Patterson, 2021 5th-round pick, Avery Williams, and 2021 Caleb Huntley, who went undrafted.
Allgeier deserves his flowers as one of two rookie running backs to surpass 1,000 yards in 2022. The Falcons have the second-most cap space, though. They should look to add a veteran presence into the mix.
Damien Harris has a combined 926 carries in four seasons at the University of Alabama as well as with the Patriots. He adds nothing as a pass catcher with just 92 receptions over those eight seasons. That’s fine on a team with Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and likely more help on the way to catch passes.
If Harris is a free agent addition for the Atlanta Falcons, I think he and Allgeier could operate in some sort of committee. They are generally equal in size, but I do think Harris would get the first shot at red-zone carries. He would be a high-floor, touchdown-dependent running back in most formats.
7. Kareem Hunt
The 2022 season is arguably the worst of Kareem Hunt’s career on a per-game basis. On one hand, he’s finally a free agent after failing to have his trade request fulfilled by the Cleveland Browns last season. On the other hand, though, he’ll enter the 2023 season at 28 years old after averaging just 27.5 rushing yards per game. Hunt isn’t going to return to Cleveland. As a free agent, he’ll look to bounce back somewhere that will best suit his skill set.
Kareem Hunt’s Best Landing Spot: The Arizona Cardinals
Adding Hunt as a free agent isn’t a knock to James Conner. He is fully capable of leading the Cardinals’ backfield on his own. In fact, I mostly expect him to. His rushing ability speaks for itself, but Conner also averaged the 10th-most targets amongst running backs last season.
Hunt, though, provides much-needed depth to the Arizona backfield. Behind Conner, only Keaontay Ingram is due back to the team. All other 2022 Cardinals running backs are set to be free agents.
The Cardinals look like they’re doing a hard reset after firing head coach Kliff Kingsbury and as they await the return of Kyler Murray following a late-season ACL tear. As they look to the future, bringing in a veteran running back like Hunt to help move the ball makes sense.
In four of six seasons in which Hunt has played more than eight games, he’s logged at least 158 touches in all of them. He has a career average of 5.3 yards per touch and 6.8 yards per target. If he does end up on the Cardinals, he’s more of an RB3 with PPR upside, but could post RB1 numbers if James Conner were to miss time.
8. Jamaal Williams
Jamaal Williams deserves mentioning on this free agent prediction list after leading the league in rushing touchdowns (17) in 2022. He scored more than one touchdown in six of 17 games. Again, like many on this list, 2022 is a career year for Williams. His 262 carries are 109 more than he’s had in any season prior. Meanwhile, his 1,066 rushing yards account for nearly one-third of his career total after six seasons.
Jamaal Williams’ Best Landing Spot: The Detroit Lions
This running back should run it back. I fully expect him to. After defeating the Green Bay Packers, and knocking them out of playoff contention, in Week 18 last season, Williams gave one of the best post-game interviews I’ve ever seen. His overall message to stop doubting the Detroit Lions leads me to believe he will be back in 2023.
Williams’ career-high 262 carries last season are a partial result of D’Andre Swift’s battle with injuries. Assuming Swift is better off in 2023, Williams will naturally see a decrease in touches, especially on passing downs. Even with his league-leading 17 rushing touchdowns, Williams sits at RB22 with just 12.9 points per game in 2022. In fact, Swift’s 13.5 points per game land him five spots ahead of Williams.
Williams likely returns to a role as a high-quality backup running back on fantasy rosters. It’s hard to imagine drafting him to be a starter. If it’s another year of Swift/Williams in the Lions backfield, though, history suggests making Williams a priority for fantasy benches everywhere.
Rashaad Penny has spent time on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List or Injured Reserve at some point in each of the last four seasons. With just 337 rushing attempts over five season, Penny averages a strong 5.7 yards per carry. I think a team like the Los Angeles Chargers should look to add him as a free agent to take some of the load off of Austin Ekeler’s back.
Devin Singletary has an average of 204.25 touches per season over four years with the Buffalo Bills. That’s impressive considering the many mouths to feed in the passing game and Josh Allen’s own rushing numbers during that time. Singletary is more likely to work in a committee than log 225+ carries of his own. A good free agent destination is Chicago where Justin Fields also runs, but Singletary can still pack a punch.
D’Onta Foreman seems like an important free agent for the Carolina Panthers to keep around. New running backs/assistant head coach, Duce Staley, said it himself. Foreman is a downhill runner who should lead Carolina in carries in 2023. He will likely come at a value in fantasy drafts.