Several NFL teams finding success with low-cost running backs

Getty Images

Before NFL General Managers spend a lot of money on a free agent running back in 2021, or spend a high pick on a running back, they may want to consider how the 2020 season has gone for teams that are giving the ball to bargain-basement running backs.

Several NFL teams are having success on the ground despite going from highly paid and/or highly drafted running backs to whatever running back they happened to grab to fill out the roster.

Yesterday the Browns’ starting running back, Nick Chubb, was lost with an injury after six carries. The Browns proceeded to rush for 307 yards, most in any NFL game in two years, in their win over the Cowboys. The Browns’ leading rusher in their 307-yard onslaught was D'Ernest Johnson, who was undrafted in 2018 and had to prove himself with the Orlando Apollos of the Alliance of American Football in 2019 before the Browns gave him a shot.

When former No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley was lost for the season with a knee injury, he had 34 yards on 19 carries. The two running backs who have replaced him, career backup Wayne Gallman and recent arrival Devonta Freeman, both have more yards on fewer carries.

The Lions have used two recent second-round picks on running backs, Kerryon Johnson and D'Andre Swift. Their leading rusher is 35-year-old Adrian Peterson, who arrived less than a week before the first game and has more yards from scrimmage than Johnson and Swift combined.

The Jaguars cut former No. 4 overall pick Leonard Fournette and replaced him with undrafted rookie James Robinson, who is on pace to finish this season with 1,140 yards rushing and 644 yards receiving, more yards from scrimmage than Fournette had in any season in Jacksonville.

The Dolphins traded for Matt Breida and signed Jordan Howard to a two-year, $9.75 million contract in free agency this offseason. Their leading rusher is Myles Gaskin, a 2019 seventh-round pick. Gaskin has both more rushing yards and more yards from scrimmage than Breida and Howard combined.

Carolina made Christian McCaffrey the highest-paid running back in the NFL this year. He got hurt after two games and was replaced by career backup Mike Davis, who has more yards from scrimmage than McCaffrey. The Panthers won both games Davis started after they lost both games McCaffrey started.

Across the league, the picture is clear: You don’t need a highly paid, highly drafted running back to get production out of the running back position. Better to use that cap space, and those high draft picks, elsewhere.

32 responses to “Several NFL teams finding success with low-cost running backs

  1. Johnson looked very good.

    It’s a shame the AAF is gone. Seems like it was doing what it was suppose to.

  2. Running the ball is more about your oline (and WR’s) blocking than it is about your RB. Get a guy who holds onto the ball and put him behind good blockers and you’re all set.

  3. “It’s a shame the AAF is gone. Seems like it was doing what it was suppose to.”

    It was a business that burned through all its money by the second week of the first season. It was terrible at the only thing a business is supposed to do.

  4. Most easily replaced role in the NFL – a surplus of talent. Rare freaks in the last decade like AP in his prime or Marshawn Lynch who was an absolute battering ram are maybe some exceptions… but then you even look at AP tearing his ACL and is it really worth the cost?

  5. an elite running back can singlehandedly takeover a game. Fournette did it in 2017, Gurley did it in 2018, Henry did it last year. But a very good running back can be hand for cheap and running backs are rarely elite for more than a year or two.

  6. trollaikman8 says:
    October 5, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    Don’t tell Jerry (the GM).


    Don’t tell the Panthers/Rams/Saints/Texans/Titans/Cardinals/Giants/Jets either

  7. Henry single handedly beat the Patriots/Ravens and even had the Titans in control early in the AFC Championship game.

  8. It’s pretty much been this way for the last 7 or 8 years. Yet the Jest drove the Brinks truck up to Levion Bell,s house anyway.

  9. You can make that argument about every position in the game. RG3 vs Cousins. Adam Theilen vs Kevin White. Soloman Thomas vs Danielle Hunter.

  10. Better to use that high pay and high draft picks on an offensive line. Running backs can’t run through holes that don’t exist.

  11. Of the top 10 RBs in the league…

    8/10 of them were drafted in the 3rd round or higher.

    6/10 are currently among the top 10 paid RBs in the league. 2 more are on the verge of getting paid this off season.

    But a few teams have bad running games with no names so I guess that means you’re right.

  12. Yes thank you I understand why the AAF went under.

    I was speaking in terms of guys getting a chance to play and prove themselves.

  13. I believe it was only 2 of the top 10 highest paid RBs in the NFL last season that ended up on a playoff team.

  14. I said this when they drafted Barkley. The position gets wears out too fast and there is talent in the late rounds to be had. Aaron Jones was a 5th round pick. Kamara was a 3rd round pick. You don’t pay them and you don’t draft them high. The OL is far more important.

  15. Andy Reid seems to need a particular one. He’s had a lot of meh backs and when he gets his they seem to do great.

  16. This principle has been out there for over a decade. I have not been able to understand the mega-contracts for running backs like Ezekiel Elliot and Todd Gurley. I would have thought teams would have woken up by now.

  17. The sad thing is that its the position where the player gets the most beat up/injured and is becoming one of the lower priorities when it comes to cap space.
    I remember back when Emmitt was the highest paid player in the NFL at one time.

  18. Shhhh! Dont tell the Jets not to overpay for running backs / (players they dont need)!

    Its been our winning formula over them for decades

    Bills/Patriots/Miami fans

  19. The Cowboys just paid a million bucks for 54 yards, a fumble, and no TDs, in a loss to the Browns.

    That has to feel good.

  20. I have reservations about the Saints giving Kamara the huge contract. He’s definitely a very good player and has had a great start to the 2020 season. But over the life of the contract I would be surprised if he lives up to it. Of course, that’s why most NFL contracts don’t have full guarantees.

  21. The Giants drafted Barkley as part of their plan to surround Manning with skill players for another deep playoff run.

    How ridiculous does that sound now?

  22. I wouldn’t say the panthers are better off without CMC or overpaid for his services. The rest of the team just started clicking (against arguably weak opponents), he’s miles better than Davis.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.