NFL Analysis


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2024 NFL Free Agency: Ranking Top 9 RBs On This Year's Market

Saquon Barkley on the sideline with no helmet, smiling
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (26) is shown on the field after the game. (Kevin R. Wexler-USA TODAY NETWORK)

The free-agent market for running backs has been tough to watch over the last few seasons. Teams are very hesitant to pay running backs on the open market. Even elite running backs are getting one-year, prove-it deals rather than long-term extensions.

But the 2024 running back market is as strong as ever, with several elite options at the top. There are also a few former superstars expected to hit the market that still have some quality production left. Here are the top nine running backs scheduled to hit free agency in March.

Top 9 2024 NFL Free Agent Running Backs

1. Saquan Barkley, New York Giants

The top name on this list is Saquon Barkley, the former No. 2 overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft. Barkley has missed a lot of time because of lower body injuries throughout his career, but he's played 30 of a possible 34 games over the last two seasons.

For the first time in his career, Barkley has a chance to switch teams and finally get himself into a better situation. But how much does he have left?

Barkley will turn 27 next month and has had several significant injuries. Plus, we've seen his efficiency drop in each of the last two seasons. Since the 2020 season, Barkley is averaging just 4.0 yards per carry. A lot of that has to do with the New York Giants' offensive line, but he isn’t going to get more explosive as he ages.

Barkley still is a dynamic weapon in the open field and is someone defenses need to account for on every play. But the days of him being a top-5 running back in the NFL are probably over.

Josh Jacobs running
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (8) gains yardage against the New York Jets during the third quarter at Allegiant Stadium. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders

Josh Jacobs led the NFL in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage a year ago. He was named a first-team All-Pro selection and was legitimately one of the best offensive weapons in the league. Jacobs signed a modified one-year deal with the Las Vegas Raiders last offseason, but things just didn’t go well for the former Alabama star.

Jacobs missed four games (all at the end of the season) and wasn’t nearly as effective. He saw his yards per carry drop from 4.9 to 3.5, and it was clear he was a shell of himself.

Jacobs saw 393 touches during the 2022 season, and the history of running backs with 370-plus touches in a season is well-documented. Usually, running backs with that type of workload see a monster drop in efficiency and production the following season.

And that was certainly the case for Jacobs in 2023.

However, Jacobs is still one of the top running backs in this class, and he has an excellent track record. Jacobs was a first-round pick in 2019 and has been among the few first-round picks to return value on that spot. But Jacobs' monster workload in college and the NFL (over 1,800 touches in the last eight seasons) makes it fair to wonder how much tread is left on the tires.

Still, look for the NFL to show a ton of interest in Jacobs because he might be the best three-down back on the market.  

3. Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys

One of the most difficult players on this list to figure out is Tony Pollard. During the 2022 season, Pollard made the Pro Bowl despite playing behind Ezekiel Elliott. Pollard averaged 5.9 yards per touch and racked up nearly 1,400 yards from scrimmage (with 12 touchdowns). He was arguably the most explosive and dangerous back in the NFL, averaging 5.1 yards per carry through the first four years of his career.

But after he suffered a foot injury in the NFC Divisional Round against the San Francisco 49ers, Pollard hasn't looked the same. In 2023, he averaged just 4.0 yards per carry, more than a full yard less than his career average. He saw the most carries of his career (252) but was only able to record six touchdowns.

Pollard did start to look healthier as the season went on, but it’s clear he lost some of his explosiveness.

During the 2022 season, Pollard averaged a whopping 3.82 yards after the contact per rush. But in 2023, that number dropped to 2.92, according to TruMedia. That's usually a telltale sign that a running back is in decline.

Pollard will turn 27 in April, which is usually when running backs start to wear down. But could another team revive his career and get him back to the Pro Bowl player we saw in 2022? That remains to be seen.

Considering his track record of creating big plays, expect there to be several interested teams in him.

Derrick Henry running
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs the ball towards Jacksonville Jaguars safety Antonio Johnson (26) during the first quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. (Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean-USA TODAY NETWORK)

4. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

Making the Hall of Fame as a running back has turned into a difficult task. But Derrick Henry should be a shoo-in. Henry recorded more than 10,000 yards from scrimmage in his career with the Tennessee Titans and scored 97 touchdowns (four passing).

But the Titans have seemingly moved on — and so has Henry.

The biggest knocks on Henry are his age (30) and workload (2,185 touches in the NFL). But in terms of on-the-field effectiveness, Henry can still play. He averaged 3.32 yards after contract per carry, according to TruMedia. That was the seventh-best among all running backs during the 2023 season.

Henry needs to play in a system that runs under center a lot and avoids shotgun, but he can still be a weapon on the right team. Look for him to take a one-year deal on a Super Bowl contender this offseason.

5. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

It’s crazy how much a single year can change the value of a running back. Coming out of the 2022 season, Austin Ekeler led the NFL in touchdowns (18) for the second straight season. He caught 107 passes as the most-feared running back in the passing game in the NFL.

But 2023 wasn’t as kind to Ekeler. He missed multiple games because of a foot injury and wasn't able to regain his explosiveness. He averaged just 3.5 yards per attempt on the ground, and it was clear he wasn't the same player physically.

Now, Ekeler hits the free-agent market as one of the older running backs (he'll turn 29 in May). He can still be a force in the passing game, but his days of being a lead runner are gone. Expect teams that use the West Coast offense to be interested in adding Ekeler.

D'Andre Swift running from behind the line of scrimmage
Philadelphia Eagles running back D'Andre Swift (0) against the Arizona Cardinals at Lincoln Financial Field. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

6. D’Andre Swift, Philadelphia Eagles

After D'Andre Swift was traded from the Detroit Lions to the Philadelphia Eagles, he finally had the breakout season everyone was waiting for. Swift started 15 games for the Eagles, recording 1,263 yards and six touchdowns. Swift would have had an even better statistical season if Jalen Hurts hadn't vultured so many short-yardage touchdowns in the red zone.

Over his career, Swift has averaged a whopping 4.6 yards per carry and has been a very effective receiver (195 receptions in four seasons). He might end up being one of the most attractive options this offseason due to his age (25) and lack of NFL touches (788).

The biggest knock on Swift is that he was playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Swift averaged 2.16 yards before contact per rush this season, the most in the NFL among running backs (per TruMedia). Unless he stays in Philadelphia, he almost assuredly will play behind a worse offensive line next season.

Swift has really turned himself into a solid player and should be rewarded with a similar contract to what Miles Sanders earned last offseason (four years, $25 million). In fact, don't be surprised if Swift gets an even bigger payday, as he's been the far more explosive player in his NFL career.

He should be one of the better values on the market.

7. Devin Singletary, Houston Texans

After signing a one-year deal with the Houston Texans, Devin Singletary has restored a lot of his value around the league. He surpassed Dameon Pierce on the depth chart and became the clear-cut RB1 for the Texans this season. Believe it or not, Singletary has now posted three straight seasons of at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage. Since entering the NFL in 2019, he has recorded more than 5,000 yards from scrimmage and 24 touchdowns.

Singletary isn’t very big and doesn’t run with a lot of power. But his game is built on making defenders miss in the open field.

He's also a good receiver and doesn't have a lot of holes in his game other than his lack of size. A smart team will want to pair him with a bigger running back, but he's still a quality back who can be signed for cheap this offseason.

Antonio Gibson stiff arms a Cowboys defender behind him
Washington Commanders running back Antonio Gibson (24) and Dallas Cowboys safety Juanyeh Thomas (30) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Commanders at AT&T Stadium. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

8. Antonio Gibson, Washington Commanders

At one point, Antonio Gibson looked to be the best running back in the NFC East. After his first two seasons with the Washington Commanders, Gibson recorded 2,373 yards from scrimmage and 21 touchdowns. He was dynamic as both a runner and a receiver and was a real weapon for Washington.

But the Commanders phased him out of their offense during the past two years. He had just 113 touches in 16 games during the 2023 season, and he saw his rushing success percentage decline in all four years.

Gibson will turn 26 over the summer and still can be an effective back in a committee. Don't be surprised if he ends up being the best value in free agency, given his track record and relatively low usage over the last few seasons.

9. AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers

AJ Dillon might be the hardest to figure out of all the running backs on this list. During the 2021 and 2022 seasons, he racked up more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 14 touchdowns. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry and really started to come into his own in Green Bay.

But during the 2023 season, Dillon saw his yards per carry drop to 3.4 and his rushing success slide down to 50 percent, the lowest of his career. The Green Bay Packers' offense was leaps and bounds better when he wasn't on the field and was dealing with a thumb injury that caused him to miss several games.

Dillon doesn’t have a ton of NFL wear and tear on his body (683 touches), but it’s possible his college workload is starting to catch up with him (866 touches in three seasons at Boston College).