The 2021 NFL free agency is right around the corner and this year it’s loaded with talented running backs. As RBs are one of the most dynamic positions in football, teams will be playing musical chairs finding the best fit for their franchise.
Between this year’s free-agent class and the prospects available in the draft, RB needy franchises will have plenty to choose from to enhance their offenses. Some teams to keep an eye on this offseason are the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, and Atlanta Falcons.
The five players on this list should be highly sought after this offseason. Each guy brings something different to the table and could be a starter wherever they go. Here are my top five free agent running backs.
1. Aaron Jones
First on the list is none other than Aaron Jones. The Green Bay Packers RB has been a star these last couple of years. In 2020, Jones finished the season with 1,104 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns off of 201 attempts.
Although he’s been electric, Jones is likely not returning to the Packers. He’s due a large contract, and Green Bay doesn’t have the money to afford him. In an article by Tommy Garrett, a writer for the Pro Football Network, Garrett breaks down Jones’ possible contract next year by stating, “Aaron Jones carries an estimated market value of $14 million per season on a four-year, $56.17 million deal.”
With money like like that, Aaron Jones will likely find a new home next year. A few teams that could make him an offer are the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, and the Buffalo Bills.
2. Kenyan Drake
Kenyan Drake hits the free-agent market for the second year in a row. This time around though, Drake should be landing the long-term contract. Although the fans might disagree, Drake still put up impressive numbers. Once the season for the Arizona Cardinals finished, Drake wound up with 955 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns off of 239 attempts.
Similar to the Packers, the Cardinals are strapped for cash and likely won’t be bringing back their starting RB. In fact, Arizona is in a great position to get younger at the position through the draft, and Chase Edmonds isn’t too bad either.
Drake will make one of these NFL teams happy, as he’s a great all-around RB. In an article written by Doug Farrar, the USA Today writer explains, “A smart team in need of a lead back in a rotation will snap Drake up, and probably for a relative bargain.” Clubs like what Drake brings to the table, and a couple of teams that may look his way are the New York Jets, or the Atlanta Falcons.
3. Jamaal Williams
Another Green Bay Packer makes this list, as Jamaal Williams has finally emerged as a possible starting running back. Playing more of a backup role for the Pack-Attack, Williams finished with 505 rushing yards, and 2 touchdowns. On top of that, Williams is a threat in the passing game, as he racked up 236 receiving yards and one touchdown this year.
Green Bay has some serious decisions to make. Williams won’t cost nearly as much as Aaron Jones, but signing him for a long term deal could dwindle down the cap space in the future. Especially with AJ Dillion aiming for more playing time, Green Bay could give themselves a great 1-2 punch with their RB group.
The most likely destination for Williams is Green Bay, but he will have plenty of suitors bidding for him too. Wherever Williams goes he will have the opportunity to finally be a starter, which makes him a potential breakout candidate in 2021.
4. Mike Davis
The Carolina Panthers were hardly competitive this season, especially once Christian McCaffrey fell to injury. However, Mike Davis was a bright spot as he filled in the starting role impressively. By the end of the year, Davis finished with 642 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. He was also one of the better receiving RBs this year too. With 373 receiving yards and an additional two touchdowns, Davis proved to be a reliable RB this year.
It’s still a question on whether or not the Panthers bring him back for next year. With McCaffrey set to return to full health, Carolina may want to lock up Davis as a reliever. Schuyler Callihan, a writer for Sports Illustrated, explains Davis’ situation by stating, “… he has the option to return to Carolina and work alongside Christian McCaffrey or he could see what the free agent market has to offer and possibly become RB1 somewhere.”
Ultimately, the decision is up to Davis. He’d be a great RB to ease pressure for McCaffrey, but he may have the opportunity to finally be a starter in the NFL. I see Davis being a solid starter elsewhere while a team develops a young rookie. The Atlanta Falcons, Jets, and Cardinals would be great landing spots for Mike Davis.
5. Chris Carson
Dealing with injuries, 2020 wasn’t the best year for Chris Carson. Finishing with just 681 rushing yards and five touchdowns, it was Carson’s first year since his rookie season he finished with less than 1000 yards. However, his 4.8 yards per carry is a career high.
Carson is a very under rated RB in the NFL. Between his fumbling issues and injuries, Carson may fall down some teams’ lists. However, there is reason to believe Carson can still be a legitimate RB in this league.
With the state the Seahawks backfield is in, re-signing Carson may be in their best interest. Brandon Gustafson, a writer for MyNorthwest.com, states, “If Pete Carroll’s recent comments are any indication about the Seahawks’ offense in 2021, you can expect more of a ground attack when Seattle hits the field next season.”
Seattle doesn’t have the best RB group, and they’re not in a position to draft a top talented RB either. Carson can be a reliable running back for them. If they don’t bring him back, Chris Carson will make another franchise very happy.