Running backs have been the hot topic this offseason, with multiple veterans switching teams in free agency. Below are three winners and three losers whose situations changed in March. As teams make moves there is always collateral impact both good and bad for other players.
Brian Robinson: Washington Commanders
Brian Robinson got two major upgrades during free agency in guard Nick Gates and tackle Andrew Wylie. The Commanders were ranked 24th in run blocking by PFF.com in 2023. The two additions on the offensive line should be able to improve that. No matter how good you are as a rusher you need an offensive line to open up lanes for you. Robinson was a great story last season making it back from gunshot wounds to his legs and was able to compile 797 yards on 205 carries with two touchdowns. The team also cut J.D. McKissic who has dealt with injuries but still stole pass-catching work from Robinson and Antonio Gibson. This could be a sign that Gibson moves to that third down role and Robinson has the main rusher role. The Commanders only added Jacoby Brissett to the quarterback room so it continues to look as if Sam Howell will get a chance to start Week 1. Howell has only had 1 NFL game under his belt so the team will rely on the run game to control the clock and put up points.
Khalil Herbert: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears drafted Khalil Herbert in the sixth round of the 2021 draft and he has languished behind David Montgomery despite often outperforming him on the field. The Bears changed their coaching staff last season and the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn’t be re-signed this off-season. This came to fruition when the former Bear signed a 3-year deal with the Detroit Lions. This was the first sign to many Herbert managers that he could see an increased role in the offense. Shortly after the Montgomery news broke, Herbert’s shares got even more valuable when it was announced that the Bears had agreed to terms with former Seattle Seahawks running back Travis Homer. It was the second sign that Herbert is destined to be the lead back in the Windy City. Some might believe that Herbert’s value drops with the addition of D’Onta Foreman but the former Carolina rusher played his first full season in his six-year career and is a sub 4.5 yards per carry rusher. The Bears also bolstered their offensive line with guard Nate Davis who rated at 70.6 overall by PFF.com and 69.8 in run blocking. Even with the addition of D.J. Moore via trade to the passing attack, the Bears are a run-first team.
Miles Sanders: Carolina Panthers
Miles Sanders went from one of the worst seasons in 2021 where he had only 754 yards and ZERO touchdowns to 2022 where he had 1269 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. He hit free agency and landed in a great spot with the Carolina Panthers. He reunites with his position coach Duce Staley who helped him have a great rookie season and a solid sophomore season. In those years Sanders was used in the passing game which could now be part of his usage again. The Panthers have a good offensive line and were able to re-sign center Bradley Bozeman. Head coach Frank Reich is known for deploying a single-back system and brings Sanders in to be that guy. They also picked up tight end Hayden Hurst but he shouldn’t factor into the work that Sanders gets. With the departure of D.J. Moore, Sanders could be not only the lead rusher but could be in the top three on the team in targets.
Kenneth Gainwell: Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles made it all the way to the Super Bowl and part of that was due to the play of Kenneth Gainwell. In his sophomore year, he only had 53 carries but scored 4 touchdowns. Heading into the offseason it was a given that starting rusher Miles Sanders would leave. It looked like Gainwell was set to take over that role. Even if quarterback Jalen Hurts vultures carries the lead rusher has value. Gainwell won when Sanders signed with Carolina but lost when the Eagles signed Rashaad Penny from Seattle. Penny has struggled throughout his five-year career. He has missed 40 games over that span. When he does play he is a very effective and dynamic rusher. He averages 5.7 yards per carry over his career and in 2021 where he played 10 games and saw 119 carries he averaged 6.29 yards per carry. Gainwell was already dealing with Boston Scott taking some carries and now has to deal with a new back fighting him for the lead role. Gainwell does benefit from being the best pass-catching back out of the trio but will have to work to carve out a role as a rusher.
D’Andre Swift: Detroit Lions
There has been so much hype around D’Andre Swift ever since the Lions drafted him back in 2020. Since then he has had his fair share of struggles. He has yet to play a full season due to injuries and seems to always be fighting someone else in the backfield. His rookie season it was a future Hall of Famer in Adrian Peterson. For the next two years, he lost work to Jamaal Williams. Despite the lack of games and total touches, he has still finished as a top-24 running back every year. That is mainly due to his pass-catching abilities. Heading into this offseason Swift managers were hoping that he would take over as the main rusher and that the Lions wouldn’t bring in too much completion as Williams was looking for a new contract. Hopes were dashed when the Lions signed former Bears rusher David Montgomery. Montgomery is only a year older than Swift and has proven to be a solid back in the NFL who can withstand a full workload. What’s even worse for Swift is that Montgomery is a very capable pass catcher. That has been the one saving grace for Swift’s fantasy value and now that could be out the window. Swift could be relegated to a change of pace back especially if he misses time and allows Montgomery to show what he can be in the lead back role.
Alvin Kamara: New Orleans Saints
The Saints have been making moves this offseason. They traded away coach Sean Payton, signed quarterback Derek Carr and brought back former standout wideout Michael Thomas. Things were looking up for running back Alvin Kamara until the Saints brought in former Lions rusher Jamaal Williams. Williams is coming off a career year where he set the Lions franchise record in rushing touchdowns in a season with 17. A record held by Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. Many football fans will say that Williams is just a goal-line back who vultures touchdowns away from D’Andre Swift. Even if that were true that would ruin Kamara’s value. In the past three seasons, 8 of Kamara’s 22 touchdowns came from within two yards or closer. Only 4 of them came from distances over 10 yards. What is even worse for Kamara is that Williams is more than just a short-yardage back. He has gotten over 100 carries every year he has played and averages 4.0 yards per carry. He is not the pass-catching back that Kamara is but he can certainly be a 2 down back in the NFL and has shown that. You then add on the legal issues still lingering over Kamara and this could end up being William’s backfield for a good chunk of games further cementing him in that role. Let’s remember that Williams was 10th overall in rushing yards last year with 1066.
Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)