A number of accomplished running backs are set to hit free agency in the 2023 NFL offseason, but their current teams don't have to say goodbye after this season. If a ball carrier has established himself as a key cog in the offensive machine, why allow him to even entertain the idea of playing elsewhere? Instead, give him a new contract!
Today, I'm spotlighting seven RBs who've done the necessary work to merit new deals from their respective teams. Do NOT let these guys hit the open market next March.
After an electric rookie campaign, injuries derailed the former No. 2 overall pick's production for multiple years. While he played in 13 games last season, he amassed just 856 scrimmage yards while averaging a scant 3.7 yards per carry. Thankfully, the old Saquon is back in 2022.
Barkley is doing everything -- and then some -- for a Giants team that has shockingly sprinted out to a 5-1 start. The fifth-year pro has recaptured the form and magic of his 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, as he leads the league in carries (119), touches (140) and scrimmage yards (771). A healthy Barkley has made all the difference for QB Daniel Jones -- who's also in a contract year -- and Big Blue's offense as a whole. The Giants and their fans are remembering what it's like to have good football in New York. It doesn't happen without Barkley.
With Cam Akers likely to be moved before the Nov. 1 trade deadline, Henderson becomes so important to this team. He has experience in this offense and was an important asset for the Rams last season, averaging a career-high 4.6 yards per carry before injuring his MCL in late December.
The Rams currently rank 31st in the NFL in rushing, but the offense has been quite sluggish altogether due in large part to an injury-riddled offensive line that's constantly juggling different combinations. We've seen Henderson spearhead the Rams' rushing attack before, and he'll have to do so going forward, paving the way for a second contract with the team.
A first-round draft pick in 2019, Jacobs is set to hit the open market in March after the Raiders declined his fifth-year option. In Las Vegas' first three games under new head coach Josh McDaniels, Jacobs averaged 14 carries and 64 rushing yards per game. But over the last two Raiders contests, the 24-year-old back's averages have ballooned to 24.5 totes and 149 yards per outing. Shout-out to Raiders running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu -- who coached yours truly in Jacksonville -- for helping unlock Jacobs. The Raiders' offense is at its best when Jacobs is the focal point. He is now third in the league with an average of 98 rushing yards per game heading into Week 7.
The Raiders need to extend this bruising back's Las Vegas residency. With Jacobs fresh off a bye week, I'm excited to see him pound the rock against Houston's 30th-ranked run defense on Sunday.
There are trade rumors involving Montgomery, but the Bears would be crazy to consider them, even with Khalil Herbert balling out. Yes, six games into the season, Herbert's average of 6.4 yards per carry trumps Montgomery's 4.0 figure, but the latter's skill set as a bell-cow back is essential to Luke Getsy's offense. Montgomery is a physical downhill runner who wears down defenses, especially late in the season.
Getsy has figured out how to effectively use Chicago's RB tandem alongside QB Justin Fields, as the Bears boast the league's second-ranked rushing offense. There is going to be a big emphasis on improving the Bears' air attack next offseason, but that shouldn't prevent them from keeping this rushing trio intact.
Coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss all but one game in 2021, Mostert followed Mike McDaniel from San Francisco to Miami on a one-year, $2.125 million deal. He's been a solid player in the Dolphins' backfield so far, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in his four games with double-digit totes. We've seen Mostert, who's outplayed Chase Edmonds through six weeks, start to play with more confidence in recent weeks, and he's only going to get better and more effective with Tua Tagovailoa back on the field.
Mostert is an extremely fast and explosive playmaker in this offense -- and someone the Dolphins should be able to bring back on another reasonable deal. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
With Ezekiel Elliott's production dropping off dramatically in recent years, there's no guarantee he'll be donning the star in 2023. I don't think the Cowboys would be keen on potentially parting ways with both Zeke and Pollard. The latter has been so explosive in Dallas' offense when used to spell Elliott. Pollard has started just one game over the last two seasons, but he leads the NFL in scrimmage yards (1,427) among players with three or fewer starts since 2021, per NFL Research.
Averaging a robust 5.1 yards per carry for his career, Pollard offers abilities that fall in line perfectly with what the Cowboys want to do offensively. They'd be fools to let Pollard walk, especially considering he'll still be just 26 years old next season.
Robinson is the one running back on this list approaching restricted free agency, so Jacksonville will have the opportunity to place a tender on the former undrafted free-agent signee that would almost certainly keep him in house.
I'm a big fan of Robinson's game, probably because he's been one of the few consistent positives over the last few seasons in Jacksonville, averaging 4.5 yards per carry for his career. Even if Travis Etienne has the hot hand right now, Robinson brings different elements to the offense, including the ability to run between the tackles and execute in short-yardage situations.
Top 15 running backs
Former NFL rushing leader and NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2022 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 7.
2022 stats: 6 games | 110 att | 649 rush yds | 5.9 ypc | 7 rush TD | 7 rec | 51 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The score got out of hand in the second half of Cleveland's loss to New England last Sunday, forcing the Browns to abandon the running game. Chubb still managed a healthy 4.7 yards per carry on his 12 totes.
2022 stats: 6 games | 119 att | 616 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 4 rush TD | 21 rec | 155 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
This Giants team has caught fire, and Barkley, who leads the NFL in scrimmage yards, is the focal point that keeps on delivering. Barkley's go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Ravens helped the G-Men climb to 5-1 -- the team's best record after six games since 2009.
2022 stats: 6 games | 85 att | 393 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 2 rush TD | 33 rec | 277 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Panthers' offense looks pretty rough right now, but McCaffrey continues to do his part. In fact, he's doing everything, leading the team in almost every offensive statistic, including carries, rush yards, receptions, receiving yards and scrimmage TDs. His days might be numbered in Carolina, though, with numerous teams calling the 1-5 Panthers to inquire about the running back, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.
UPDATE: On Thursday, McCaffrey was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for four draft picks in the 2023 and 2024 NFL Drafts.
2022 stats: 5 games | 104 att | 408 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 5 rush TD | 10 rec | 121 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
With the Titans coming off a bye week, I'm expecting a big performance from "King Henry" against the division-rival Colts. He has rushed for 100-plus yards in six of 11 games against Indianapolis since 2017, with Tennessee going 5-1 in those games. Feeding Henry is a recipe that works. Don't change it now.
2022 stats: 5 games | 86 att | 412 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 3 rush TD | 13 rec | 57 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Texans also had a bye last week, allowing the rugged rookie some much-deserved rest. Ranking eighth in the NFL in ground yards, Pierce now faces a Raiders defense that surprisingly is top five against the run.
2022 stats: 6 games | 75 att | 349 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TD | 41 rec | 261 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Whenever the ground game isn't working for the Chargers, Ekeler still gets it done through the air. He led the team in targets (16!) and receptions (10) in a prime-time win over Denver and continues to be effective in all areas for the Bolts' offense.
2022 stats: 5 games | 91 att | 490 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 3 rush TD | 17 rec | 129 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Jacobs comes out of the Raiders' bye week ranking third in the league in rushing thanks to two big performances in Weeks 4 and 5, when he combined for 298 yards on the ground and three TDs. Perhaps Josh McDaniels finally sees how valuable Jacobs is -- at least I hope so.
2022 stats: 6 games | 105 att | 485 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TD | 11 rec | 42 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
Sanders is on a bye after a 71-yard rushing outing against the Cowboys landed him in the No. 4 slot among the league's leading rushers. Jalen Hurts might be at the center of the Eagles' ground attack, but Sanders is the most consistent component.
2022 stats: 6 games | 94 att | 450 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 4 rush TD | 12 rec | 80 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
If the NFL season ended today, Minnesota would hold the NFC's No. 2 seed. Cook has been a key factor in the Vikings' success, providing timely big-gainers like this clutch 53-yard TD to seal the win in Miami.
2022 stats: 6 games | 95 att | 343 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 1 rush TD | 32 rec | 232 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
You could say the Bucs' offense is going through a lull. We know Tom Brady doesn't like it. What's most surprising is Fournette's big contribution in the pass game, with a TD reception in each of the last three games.
2022 stats: 6 games | 76 att | 391 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 3 rush TD | 19 rec | 218 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
The Jets have a star in the making. Hall has burst onto the scene and become a dangerous weapon over the last few weeks. A 116-yard, one-TD rushing performance at Lambeau moves Hall just outside the top 10 of this list.
2022 stats: 6 games | 87 att | 448 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 3 rush TD | 17 rec | 86 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
The Patriots have found an offensive rhythm in back-to-back weeks with the league's seventh-leading rusher effectively pacing the unit. Stevenson has a bruising style that reminds me of former Patriot LeGarrette Blount.
2022 stats: 6 games | 70 att | 409 rush yds | 5.8 ypc | 1 rush TD | 17 rec | 123 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
It's been a rough few weeks for Jones, but I'm not ready to take him off this list just yet. His 5.8 yards per carry is second-most among 21 running backs with at least 70 carries this season. The Packers need to get him involved more.
2022 stats: 6 games | 54 att | 301 rush yds | 5.6 ypc | 0 rush TD | 13 rec | 146 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost
One Jaguars running back falls and another rises. Etienne has made the most of the opportunities given to him in both the run and pass games this year, averaging 74.5 scrimmage yards per game compared to James Robinson's 64.3.
2022 stats: 5 games | 44 att | 243 rush yds | 5.5 ypc | 2 rush TD | 8 rec | 27 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost
Who honestly saw the Seahawks vying for the division crown this season? Put your hand down. Seriously, put it down. It has been great to see the rookie running back stepping up in Rashaad Penny's absence. Walker must continue being a featured piece in this surprisingly explosive offense.
DROPPED OUT: Jeff Wilson Jr., 49ers (previously No. 12); James Robinson, Jaguars (No. 14); Jonathan Taylor, Colts (No. 15).
The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.