Our look ahead at how the running back positions stand heading into the summer continues with the South divisions. In case you missed the past two days:
In a selection many people saw coming, the Falcons took Texas running back Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 pick in the draft to add yet another top-ten skill position to their offense. Bijan was widely seen as the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley in 2018, and he lands in an offense that wants to run the ball a ton under Arthur Smith. 300+ touches is well within reach for Robinson in Year 1. Somewhat quietly, Tyler Allgeier ran for 1,035 yards (on 210 carries) as a rookie last season, and he’s still going to factor in on offense—the question is how much Bijan is used creatively as a receiver and in multiple-running-back formations, giving Allgeier more of an opportunity for a sizable carry total. Veteran Cordarrelle Patterson should serve as great depth behind both Robinson and Allgeier, and he’ll remain a factor on kick returns as well as mixing in on offense. Third-year players Caleb Huntley and Avery Williams both contributed last year, but it looks like Atlanta will be a tough backfield to get playing time for in 2023.
In one of the more surprising signings during free agency, the Panthers handed former Eagles running back Miles Sanders the biggest contract at the position (four years, $25 million). New Panthers head coach Frank Reich has plans to utilize Sanders as a three-down player, and Carolina did not add an RB during the draft. 2021 fourth-round pick Chuba Hubbard remains intriguing and will be the backup to Sanders; the former Oklahoma State star should be one of the better handcuffs in fantasy football behind a plus offensive line. Raheem Blackshear is behind Sanders and Hubbard, but Carolina feels like a team that might add another veteran at some point.
New Orleans Saints
The potential suspension of All-Pro running back Alvin Kamara looms large, but the Saints have plenty of depth at running back after signing Jamaal Williams (who led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with the Lions last season) and third-round pick Kendre Miller out of TCU. Hopefully there’s word on Kamara during the summer, but all three of Kamara, Williams, and Miller are going to play this season in what is shaping up to be a true committee backfield. Of course, Kamara has split time throughout his career and has been extremely effective in that type of role, but all three players can provide value—though it could potentially be difficult to figure out which of Williams or Miller should be started in a given week if Kamara is also on the field. Williams got a nice deal during free agency, but the team is undoubtedly very high on Miller. Eno Benjamin is the fourth running back for New Orleans.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There was talk of the Buccaneers drafting a running back in Round 1, but neither Bijan Robinson or Jahmyr Gibbs was within striking distance, and Tampa didn’t come away with anyone at the position during the draft—but they did sign Sean Tucker, who unfortunately had a heart issue that caused him to go undrafted, after the draft; he’s someone to watch during camp. However, this is second-year player Rachaad White’s backfield, and the Bucs see some star qualities in their 2022 third-round pick after he took over the lead role from Leonard Fournette last season. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, a 2020 third-rounder, has shown flashes when he’s had opportunities, and veteran Chase Edmonds was signed as a free agent. White has a chance to carve out a workhorse type of role, but Edmonds and Vaughn should push for playing time.
As a rookie, Dameon Pierce missed the final stretch due to an ankle injury, but he ran 220 times for 939 yards and four touchdowns in 13 games before his rookie year was cut short, so he certainly could’ve been a 1,200-yard rusher in his first year in the league if not for injury. Pierce is a hard-nosed runner locked into the starting role for Houston after no one was added during the draft (Arizona State’s Xazavian Valladay was signed as an undrafted free agent). Devin Singletary was a solid contributor to Buffalo for four seasons, with at least 151 carries and 687 yards every year, and he’ll be a contributor behind Pierce with the Texans. Mike Boone hasn’t gotten a ton of opportunities in the league but is strong depth. Dare Ogunbowale offers some versatility.
Jonathan Taylor is one of the NFL’s remaining workhorses, and he’s looking for a bounce-back season after an injury-riddled 2022 campaign behind an offensive line that was extremely disappointing—the hope is that a new attack led by head coach Shane Steichen can get the highly-paid line back on track. Zack Moss ran well after he was acquired in a trade from Buffalo last season, and Deon Jackson had a big performance in a start while Taylor was injured. Fifth-round rookie Evan Hull is someone that will look to push both Moss and Jackson for the top backup role behind Taylor.
The talent of Travis Etienne Jr. is tantalizing, and he’s going to lead the Jaguars backfield after running for 1,125 yards (5.1 yards per carry) last season—a year that basically amounted to his rookie season after he missed his true rookie season due to a foot injury. Etienne’s explosiveness might be unmatched at the position right now, so he doesn’t need a ton of touches to do damage and put up numbers. However, Doug Pederson has traditionally preferred the RBBC approach, and Jacksonville added Auburn’s Tank Bigsby in the third round of this year’s draft—to go along with veteran JaMycal Hasty (who had a role as a receiver last season), D’Ernest Johnson (signed from Cleveland), Qadree Ollison, and 2022 fifth-rounder Snoop Conner.
If the Titans are going to exceed expectations and get back in the mix for a playoff berth—they were the No. 1 seed just a couple of seasons ago before a bit of a collapse in 2022—Derrick Henry is going to be a big part of that in an offense with a limited receiving group. Henry works out to keep himself in shape to carry a massive load each week, and he should again be near the top of the touches leaderboard in 2023. Third-round rookie Tyjae Spears might immediately have a productive role on third downs, and he’s also probably going to be the direct backup to Henry. 2022 fourth-rounder Hassan Haskins will look to make a leap and push for more carries and the backup role, though.