With NFL free agency largely settled and the incoming rookies the next significant moving piece of the 2018 offseason, here is a preview of the optimal landing spots at the skill positions. Featured in this installment: running backs.
*Criteria includes initial opportunity and long-term growth potential*
ELITE LANDING SPOTS
Marlon Mack is the most notable veteran on the roster, a mid-Day 3 selection from a year ago. Mack is a boom-bust runner, a dicey bet as a true feature back. With the rest of the depth chart even more flimsy, the Colts are highly likely to address the position with their glut of top-70 picks (five of them) this year and a rookie walks into the starting role by midseason if not earlier.
Peyton Barber is the starter on paper (in light pencil) pre-draft with Doug Martin gone and Charles Sims clearly a pass-catching option only after his failed opportunities as the lead back on occasion in recent years. The offense is loaded outside of a strong offensive line and primed for a Year 1 impact performer.
Jonathan Stewart was a stopgap addition to a weak depth chart this offseason. Paul Perkins flamed out as quickly as he flashed as a possible producer. Shane Vereen has eroded from his pass-centric prowess in his New England days. Orleans Darkwa is still looking for work in free agency. Like Tampa Bay, the Giants offensive line needs work, but the passing weapons are loaded to keep an eighth defender out of the box.
Seattle has one of the more interesting depth charts of this list. C.J. Prosise has the most draft pedigree but has missed more games than he has played to-date. Mike Davis finished the season as their best remaining option. Chris Carson was the darling leading up to the season before injury derailed his production plans. The glaring flaw to the Seahawks addressing the position strongly is Seattle lacks draft capital and needs to revamp their defense, among other things.
Detroit has been searching for a foundation back even back to Mikel LeShoure's early injury shifted his outlook. LeGarrette Blount was a power back addition this offseason, the team is moving on from Ameer Abdullah as a viable option, and Theo Riddick is at his best as an ancillary pass-centric option. The Lions are in the zone to consider Derrius Guice in Round 1 or get a look at Nick Chubb, Kerryon Johnson, or Royce Freeman on Day 2. All four would be pressing for 1A duties by mid-Year 1.
Baltimore has a mishmash of options in the backfield, including bringing back Alex Collins, their most productive back in 2017. Kenneth Dixon returns from injury and suspension after flashing in 2016. Javorius Allen is the classic 'solid but unspectacular' option. Danny Woodhead retired this offseason as well.
Jerick McKinnon was a huge signing this offseason but has been more change-of-pace than feature back in his best moments with Minnesota during his rookie contract. Some may view McKinnon as the answer for the 49ers, but at worst a strong 1B job is wide open in this backfield. At best, McKinnon can/will cede touches to an eventual 1A back as the 49ers have four picks in the top-75 of the draft and are one of the rising tide offenses projected for 2018.
Marshawn Lynch is on his final lap of NFL viability and the team added Doug Martin as a potential reclamation project, who also looks to be eroding quickly. Beyond the two old veterans, Oakland needs an infusion of a potential foundation back. The short-term outlook is murky as at least Lynch would be ahead of an incoming rookie, but 2019+ is promising if the offense overall gets on track.
New England brought back Rex Burkhead as an all-around option and James White siphons plenty of passing production. However, Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount are gone. The Patriots have only spent one draft pick on a running back since 2011 (James White in 2014), siding with the veteran front and optimizing disregarded talents. This backfield is available, but history points to New England waiting on the position if adding a rookie.
It is uncommon to see a team on an appealing landing spot list after spending the No.7 overall pick a year ago on the position. Christian McCaffrey's strength is as a receiver, making a power-based interior option the ying to his yang. Cameron Artis-Payne is the closest equivalent on the roster, but has looked like an NFL depth option more than budding impact player. With McCaffrey siphoning much of the PPR production punch of the backfield, an incoming rookie would have a fast path to relevant touches and production but a limited ceiling.
Frank Gore's addition this offseason offers short-term stability, but in his mid-30s can only be considering a one-year rental for depth or committee work. Kenyan Drake is flashed for part of 2017 as the lead back. However, Drake is one of the more tenuous No.1 backs in the NFL considering his limited resume, thinner build, and lack of featured back time in college. 2018 is a murky projection for a potential incoming rookie's upside with an injury on the depth chart, but emerging as the starter by 2019 is well within reach.
LeSean McCoy is an all-timer performer but hits 30 years old for the start of the season and potentially enters his final season in Buffalo. McCoy's contract turns cut-worthy in 2019 with the team saving more than $6 million of his $9 million salary. Chris Ivory offers two-way ability and spot starter potential in the short-term as the No.2 back, but limited appeal beyond this season. Like Miami, Buffalo's depth chart is more optimistic in 2019 than 2018 for the upside of an incoming rookie.