The NFL is unquestionably a quarterback-driven league. However, this doesn't mean running the ball is a lost art. It's very much an important aspect of modern offenses, which is why three of the league's top six rushing teams—the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints—reached Championship Game Weekend.
What has changed is how teams go about acquiring running backs. When guys like Phillip Lindsay are going from undrafted to the Pro Bowl in the same season, there isn't much incentive to overpay for a back on the open market. We aren't likely to see any blockbuster deals involving running backs in free agency this year.
However, there are some quality players who will be available. Here, you'll find some of the top options, determined by factors like past production, upside, health and age. Predictions where each player will land— based on team fit and salary cap constraints—are included.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram hasn't had the steadiest of pro careers—he struggled a bit early in his career—but he's settled in nicely as a complement to Alvin Kamara. He rushed for 1,124 yards two seasons ago and racked up over 800 combined rushing and receiving yards in 12 games in 2018.
Someone may take a chance on Ingram as a lead back. However, his best fit is as part of a committee backfield. This is why it's in Ingram's best interest to return to New Orleans. He can continue thriving alongside Kamara and get a legitimate shot at a Super Bowl by staying put.
Expect Ingram to turn down better offers in order to return to New Orleans.
Prediction: Ingram signs three-year deal with Saints.
After helping the Los Angeles Rams reach the Super Bowl—producing three straight 100-yard games on the ground and, for a stretch, looking like a better back than Todd Gurley—C.J. Anderson should see plenty of suitors in free agency. The Rams aren't likely to overpay to keep him. Several other key players, including Ndamukong Suh and Rodger Saffold, are also headed to free agency and should be bigger priorities.
Interestingly, this could lead Anderson to return to the team that cut him just before he joined Los Angeles, the Oakland Raiders. While the Raiders obviously didn't utilize Anderson properly, they are familiar with him. Anderson also seems to like the direction in which the Raiders are going.
"Gruden's doing the right things over there," Anderson said, per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
With Oakland set to lose Doug Martin and Marshawn Lynch in free agency, a reunion with Anderson would make a ton of sense.
Prediction: Anderson signs one-year deal with Raiders.
Latavius Murray is another quality running back who was prematurely let go by the Raiders. Murray, though, at least stuck around long enough to produce a 1,000-yard season in Oakland before landing with the Minnesota Vikings in his fourth year.
While the plan was for Murray to back up 2017 second-round pick Dalvin Cook, injuries have limited Cook's contributions—he's appeared in just 15 games since being drafted. Murray has proved himself to be a quality spot starter when Cooks has missed time and a valuable role player when Cook has been healthy.
Murray has amassed 1,664 combined rushing and receiving yards in two seasons with Minnesota.
While Murray may be tempted to chase a starting job elsewhere, it would behoove the Vikings to make a strong offer to keep him around as injury insurance. Cook may well develop into a star running back, but the Vikings had better maintain a backup plan.
Prediction: Murray signs a two-year deal with Vikings.
The Atlanta Falcons would be smart to hang on to running back Tevin Coleman. They probably won't offer him a quality long-term deal, though, as they already have Devonta Freeman in the middle of a five-year, $41 million contract.
Coleman, who had 1,076 yards from scrimmage in 2018, will likely seek a better offer and a starting opportunity elsewhere. Joining Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers would seem like a logical move after Shanahan served as the Falcons offensive coordinator during Coleman's first two years with the team, but Coleman wouldn't really be the lead back with Matt Breida and Jerick McKinnon on the roster.
A team that could use a starting running back is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The jury is still out on 2018 second-round pick Ronald Jones, and Bruce Arians will be looking for a versatile back like the one he had in David Johnson while coaching the Arizona Cardinals. Coleman can be that back.
Prediction: Coleman signs three-year deal with Buccaneers.
T.J. Yeldon is more than just Leonard Fournette's backup. The 2015 second-round pick has filled a variety of roles for the Jacksonville Jaguars over the years, including spot-starter and pass-catcher. Yeldon started five games in 2018 and has caught 135 passes over the last three seasons.
You know who could use another pass-catching back? The Kansas City Chiefs. Damien Williams filled in nicely at running back late in the season and in the playoffs, but he is still very much unproven. With Kareem Hunt gone and Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West headed to free agency, it would be smart to bring in a steady pass-catcher.
Having both Yeldon and Williams (and Darrel Williams) on the roster could help the Chiefs maintain the two-pronged backfield they were able to previously deploy with Hunt.
Prediction: Yeldon signs two-year deal with Chiefs.
While age is a factor for running back—and 33 is ancient for the position—Adrian Peterson is not your typical 33-year-old player. He topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark just last season and added 20 receptions for 208 yards.
It would make a lot of sense for the Washington Redskins to bring Peterson back for another year, even with Chris Thompson on the roster and Derrius Guice set to return from a torn ACL. There's no telling how Guice will respond, and there's no telling who will be at quarterback for Washington after Alex Smith's devastating leg injury. The offense may have to lean on the run early and often.
For now, all signs point to Peterson rejoining the Redskins. According to Julie Donaldson of NBC Sports (h/t JP Finlay of NBC Sports), the two sides are "going back and forth on numbers."
Expect Peterson to return for another season in the nation's capital.
Prediction: Peterson signs one-year deal with Redskins.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Le'Veon Bell is, of course, the prize of 2019 free agency. He's a tremendous weapon as a runner and as a receiver—he had 1,291 yards rushing and 85 receptions across 15 games in 2017—and he wants to be paid as such. This is why Bell sat out the entire 2018 season instead of playing and risking his long-term health on the franchise tag.
This is also why Bell will chase the money in free agency. If he wasn't willing to play for nearly $1 million a game, he's not going to take a bargain-basement deal.
It's going to require cap space to ink Bell, and fortunately the New York Jets—who also need a quality runner—are projected to have more than $95 million of it. If the Jets want to support and develop quarterback Sam Darnold, adding a player like Bell would be a huge boon.
Prediction: Bell signs five-year deal with Jets.