NFL teams that need a RB: Here's how Steelers, Chiefs, Buccaneers and other teams can address issue
Attempting to fill RB vacancies for teams in need of backfield help
The first and biggest wave of 2020 NFL free agency has come and gone, and with the draft now right around the corner, the headlines of big-name veteran additions have slowed. But that doesn't mean teams have stopped looking for ways to improve their rosters and, in some cases, fill remaining needs. Running back, specifically, is a position a handful of organizations figure to address in the coming weeks and months.
Here's a look at some of the teams most in need of RB help, as well as potential solutions:
The Falcons made a relatively big splash at RB by bringing Todd Gurley back to Georgia, and if the former Offensive Player of the Year is healthy, they'll be in for a treat. "If" is the key word there, though, and even if Gurley is in top shape, there's no reason Atlanta should overwork him. With Devonta Freeman cut loose, they're still in need of No. 2 competition. Brian Hill, the presumptive backup, has yet to play more than 12 games in a season; and Ito Smith, another reserve candidate, has missed 11 games in two years.
There aren't many veteran additions the Falcons could make that offer significantly more upside than just riding with Hill and Smith behind Gurley, so pinpointing a long-term starter and running mate for Gurley would be smarter. Landing Jonathan Taylor or local star D'Andre Swift would be the best-case scenario. If, however, the Falcons somehow settle for a low-risk veteran gamble, Clement is both young and versatile enough to potentially become a favorite Matt Ryan outlet, so long as he stays healthy.
The Bills have their guy in second-year play-maker Devin Singletary, but backup T.J. Yeldon's been all but a total non-factor, and with the ageless Frank Gore hitting the road, Josh Allen could use another backfield weapon. Buffalo didn't reportedly pursue Melvin Gordon for nothing. Gore, remember, got 166 carries in 2019 as a quasi-starter, leaving a sizable role wide open for 2020.
Adding Hyde would be the most immediate way Buffalo could shore up its depth, essentially upgrading Gore's spot. The 29-year-old reportedly almost prompted a trade up by the Bills back in the 2014 draft, he wouldn't eat into Singletary's touches as a pass catcher, and he's got experience working in a committee. Alternatively, someone like Ole Miss's Scottie Phillips, a shifty but powerful prospect, could make sense as a Day 3 flier and a more up-the-gut complement to Singletary.
We love Kerryon Johnson as much as the next man, and believe it or not, the third-year back is still just 22. He's also missed 14 games in two seasons due to knee problems. Bo Scarbrough is a nice bruiser to have on the roster, but if he's getting close to 10 carries a game, that's a problem. Put simply, Detroit needs bodies here, and not just that, but a back who can step up on a full-time basis in the likely event Johnson can't make it through a full season.
- Sign Devonta Freeman (Falcons)
- Draft a running back in the fourth or fifth round
Freeman isn't exactly a bastion of good health, and his playing style often ensures that'll stay true. It's not like he's old, though (just turned 28), and he'd be the perfect physical complement to Johnson. There's a reason the Lions reportedly discussed a trade for him in 2019. As a low-cost, one-year rental, you could do a lot worse. Otherwise, Detroit has plenty of other bigger issues to worry about in the draft, but if someone like A.J. Dillon or La'mical Perine falls, they'd be intriguing long-term investments.
As much as Andy Reid (rightfully) dials up Patrick Mahomes' arm and leans on the pass, and as good as Damien Williams was in the Super Bowl, this team is still in search of a guy it can consistently trust. The Chiefs have long favored a rotation, yes, but that's in part because no one RB has commanded a No. 1 job. There's a reason they tried the LeSean McCoy experiment in 2019. In an ideal world, Williams and maybe Darwin Thompson and/or Darrel Williams would be the change-of-pace crew.
Thompson is the only current Chiefs back under contract beyond 2020, so a long-term piece would be ideal. Any of the top prospects would suffice, but Maryland speedster Anthony McFarland Jr. feels like their kind of guy as a potential mid-rounder. Just as enticing would be a move for Breida, who's a restricted free agent but is apparently no lock to even make San Francisco's 2020 roster. Assuming the 25-year-old becomes available, he'd be a perfect big-play addition to K.C.'s committee.
The Rams can talk all they want about entering 2020 with confidence that Malcolm Brown and Darrell Henderson will seamlessly replace Todd Gurley, but last we checked, those guys combined for 402 yards on the ground in 2019. That's not to say they can't be better with more touches, but Sean McVay can't afford to gamble on leaving Jared Goff without sturdier ground support.
- Sign Lamar Miller (Texans) or Frank Gore (Bills)
The Rams don't have the luxury of owning a ton of picks because of the way they've built their roster, so drafting someone to compete with Brown and Henderson seems unlikely, if not a waste of resources. The irony is they need serious RB help now that Gurley is gone and Goff/McVay are increasingly under pressure to make the offense right. That's why Miller and Gore make sense, even though the former is coming off a torn ACL and the latter is darn near real-life retirement age. Both vets could sign in July and open Week 1 as the tentative bell cow.
The Dolphins addressed their glaring RB hole by landing ex-Bears and Eagles starter Jordan Howard this offseason, but his best role is as the thunder to someone else's lightning. Kalen Ballage, while physically impressive, proved in 2019, when he couldn't out-rush Ryan Fitzpatrick, that he's not the answer. Miami is still squarely in need of a change-of-pace, if not long-term, ball-carrier.
- Draft a running back in the second, third or fourth round
- Trade for Rashaad Penny (Seahawks) or Ronald Jones (Buccaneers)
One way or another, Miami should be looking to get younger while pairing Howard with help. The best and most realistic route is trying to nab one of the top RBs of the 2020 class, whether it be Jonathan Taylor, D'Andre Swift, Florida State product Cam Akers or someone of similar caliber. A bolder alternative: Packaging one of their many 2020 picks for Jones or Penny, who either have been or could be replaced as No. 1s in their current homes, but would be young enough to grow with the new-look Dolphins.
How times have changed. In two years, the Steelers have gone from owning one of the top one-two punches in the game to washing their hands of Le'Veon Bell and now likely looking to add James Conner's successor. The latter is good when healthy, but that's almost never these days. Backup Jaylen Samuels is a worthwhile gadget player, but if it's just he and Benny Snell carrying the load behind Conner, Pittsburgh had better hope Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired elbow is stronger than ever.
- Draft a running back in the third or fourth round
- Sign Wendell Smallwood (Washington)
It's kind of unfortunate that Pittsburgh's best route to solving RB is drafting one for the third straight year, but neither Snell nor Samuels has the makings of an every-down or even part-time starter, so here we are. This year's crop of rookies bodes a little better. Whether or not Pittsburgh strikes gold in April, Smallwood is the kind of unspectacular veteran who could easily lessen Conner's burden as a traditional back. He does everything adequately — the job description for short-term depth.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Former second-rounder Ronald Jones will barely be 23 when the season kicks off, and he probably deserves one more go-round atop the depth chart, especially with veteran Peyton Barber out of the picture. But he almost desperately needs a new companion now that Tom Brady is in town. No. 12 loves to dump passes to RBs, yet only undrafted projects fill out the depth chart behind Jones.
- Draft a running back in the second or third round
- Trade for James White (Patriots) or Giovani Bernard (Bengals)
- Sign Chris Thompson (Washington)
The Bucs have the draft capital to invest early, meaning a potential two- or three-down guy could be a conceivable target — none more suited for a Brady offense than LSU's Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a tough pass-catching specialist. Otherwise, who's to say New England wouldn't part with White, 28, considering they're always ready to rotate the position and still have Sony Michel? Bernard could surely be had for a low cost with Cincy in rebuild mode. Thompson would be a rock-solid fallback as a veteran with supremely underrated pass-catching experience.