This is a weird time for running backs as a whole.

First, we have a lot of the mainstays who have been staples for Fantasy lineups for years getting older. That generally means they're about to either take a reduction in pay or change teams. Neither one of those things is particularly good -- a cut in salary could mean a cut in touches the following season, and going to a new team doesn't guarantee much in the way of performing like they did with their previous team. In both cases, the running back is probably closer to underperforming than maintaining their level of play. This spring, the running back free-agent class boasts a lot of these guys.

Compounding the issue is a 2024 NFL Draft rookie class that lacks several every-down playmakers at running back. There are no studs like Bijan Robinson or Jahmyr Gibbs. Sure, there are plenty of rushers who are good at one or two things, but not every thing, and so it might take a special situation for any one of them to be handed a large workload from week to week. It doesn't help that the near-consensus RB1 of the crop, Jonathon Brooks from Texas, is recovering from a torn ACL suffered this past November.

Tack on the trend of NFL teams purposely not trusting one guy to handle the majority of the rushing chores, and it leads to the kind of unnerving scenario where running backs become complementary parts of offenses. 

Fewer Christian McCaffreys, more David Montgomerys.

So even the trolling Fantasy Football managers who love downplaying and even mocking the importance of running backs will find this moment in time interesting. On one hand, this year's crop of free-agent running backs might have a sizable impact on the Fantasy landscape in 2024 because teams can't count on a rookie to do what they can do. On the other, they're all starting to inch closer to that point in their careers where the game no longer matches the game. 

Two years from now, none of these guys might matter. And when you consider the names, that's a jarring thought.

Here are the veterans who are set to be free agents.

Josh Jacobs
GB • RB • #8
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Jacobs struggled to round into form quickly in 2023 after holding out of training camp. From Week 4 through Week 12 he looked a little more like the league-winner from 2022, averaging 22.2 touches and 16 PPR points per game (touchdowns helped), but a quad injury in Week 14 trashed the rest of his season. Jacobs also faltered in important metrics like avoided tackles and explosive runs. If a team believes the slow start from not being at training camp is the scapegoat then Jacobs could easily find a spot where he's getting a good workout every week. Fantasy managers might be a little more skeptical since his thunderous 2022 is his only full-season out of five where he averaged more than 14.3 PPR points per game. Age isn't a big issue yet -- he'll be 26 this coming season. The Raiders don't seem ready to use the franchise tag on Jacobs, and new General Manager Tom Telesco said he anticipates the team using multiple running backs this season. It sounds like Jacobs will be on a new team, which might not be a bad thing.

Fun Fantasy landing spot: Baltimore. The Ravens could upgrade their offense with Jacobs, a healthier, experienced back who has a good track record in a power-gap scheme. His catching prowess could help too if the Ravens ever wanted to throw to their backs one of these years. 

Saquon Barkley
PHI • RB • #26
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For the second year in a row, Barkley's future is up in the air. However, recent reports suggest the Giants will NOT franchise tag him again and this aligns with reports in late February suggesting one isn't coming. Last season, when he was 26, Barkley rode the wave of high-volume (288 touches) to a top-10 finish in PPR Fantasy points per game, but he wasn't efficient (3.9 yards per carry; his second season out of three under 4.0) and he didn't catch the ball as much (2.9 receptions per game was a career-low). His 10 total touchdowns were a cologne that covered up his paltry five games with over 100 total yards (and two with over 120 yards) despite getting 18 or more touches in 9 of 14 games. And, sadly, Barkley was 21st out of 23 qualifying running backs in both avoided tackle rate (12.6%) and runs for zero or negative yards (25.1% of his attempts). That's a lot of data to simply suggest that Barkley might not be the guy he once was, and almost certainly won't ever be for Fantasy again unless he's locked into a heavy workload.

Fun Fantasy landing spot: Houston. I got talked into this one by CBS Fantasy editor extraordinaire Dan Schneier. If the Texans offense made Devin Singletary a good starter in 2023, imagine what it could do for Barkley. Remember: That offense is a copy of what Kyle Shanahan runs in San Francisco. It could mean one, maybe two, big-time years for Barkley.  

Derrick Henry
BAL • RB • #22
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Before you assume Henry falls into Fantasy irrelevance in his age-30 season, note that he averaged 14.8 PPR points per game, 13.1 non-PPR points per game and 4.2 yards per carry in a campaign where the rest of his offense, to put it mildly, did not do a lot to help him. Take stock of the fact that he had 14 or more touches in 13 games and averaged 17.9 PPR points/15.9 non-PPR points in those games. Even when the game script was supposed to completely make Henry a bust, he would sometimes find ways to score and be helpful to Fantasy managers. There's all that, and then there's this: His situation figures to improve no matter what team he plays on unless it's Tennessee -- and even then, it can't be as bad as it was last season. Heck yeah there's going to be a lot of risk to drafting Henry, but no one's doing that in Round 1 anymore ... or Round 2 ... or (maybe) Round 3. I have a funny feeling that a contending team will lure Henry to overpower defenses for one more year, giving him a potential winning game script almost every week. You should wait to draft him, but don't out-and-out ignore him.

Fun Fantasy landing spot: Dallas. Put Henry in Ezekiel Elliott's role from 2022 and expect some big-time numbers. Even as a part-time back, Elliott averaged 12.4 PPR points on 15.4 carries per game then. It's possible Henry could eclipse that. 

Tony Pollard
TEN • RB • #20
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We banked on Pollard keeping up his strong efficiency from 2022. Didn't happen. Not sure it can be pinned on his broken leg from 2022 either because he had two efficient games over the first three weeks against what became inferior competition (Giants, Cardinals). From Week 4 on he averaged a meek 11.8 PPR points per game with below-ideal metrics across the board save for a 34.2% five-yard rush rate and a 21.6% avoided tackle rate. Touchdowns and big runs eluded him, and that's what did him in. It stands to reason that he won't ever get a chance to lead a backfield again since he floundered on 18.1 touches per game, yet thrived the year prior on 13.7 touches per game when he was splitting with Ezekiel Elliott. If you get in the mindset of trusting Pollard to the extent of a part-time back, you could see yourself drafting the 27-year-old again with revised expectations -- and at a lower ADP.

Fun Fantasy landing spot: Dallas. Sounds funny, but if the Cowboys stick with Pollard in the role he had in 2022 -- a role they should be comfortable using him in -- then he could still salvage value as a RB2.  

D'Andre Swift
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We can't blame Swift's 12.5 PPR points per game in 2023 on the running back's performance. When called upon, Swift averaged 4.6 yards per rush and was in the upper half of qualifying rushers in avoided tackle rate, explosive rush rate and run rate of five-plus yards (38.4% of his carries!). We CAN blame Swift's lagging Fantasy production on Jalen Hurts and the Brotherly Shove annoyingly stealing nearly every short-yardage touchdown. Not that Swift was ever a goal-line wrecking ball, but even in Detroit he had some chances to score from short range. Perhaps the more concerning problem is that the Eagles were the second team in as many years to sort of sour on Swift as a stud runner: He had 20.4 touches per game from Week 2 through 8, then 15.4 from Week 8 through their playoff loss. It's almost like the league realizes he's a talented, versatile runner, but not one they want to commit to because they think he's frail. At least he'll be just 25 years young this season.

Fun Fantasy landing spot: Minnesota. Swift's receiving skills were underutilized last year and could be a massive addition to the Vikings offense (especially for any games T.J. Hockenson misses coming back from a torn ACL). Swift was also more efficient than any rusher the Vikings had last season. If he could stay healthy, Swift could resurrect his career here. 

Austin Ekeler
WAS • RB • #30
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There's no denying that Ekeler had a tough 2023. Was it because he suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 and never bounced back all the way? Was it because the Chargers offensive line became problematic? Could it be because he turned 28 (and will thus be 29 when next season starts)? It could be a mix of everything, but the likelihood that Ekeler is back in a role that gives him 18 touches per week feels slim. But that doesn't mean Ekeler won't thrive in a part-time role where he handles 10 carries and five targets per game. His efficiency could actually be pretty good there, not to mention a developed floor for full-PPR scoring. But the touchdown production could very much turn to dust. He's another back you should expect to settle for at a discounted ADP.

Fun Fantasy landing spot: Denver. If we're going to lock Ekeler into a passing-downs job, why not do it with the team that threw to their running backs the most in 2023? It's a staple of Sean Payton's offense -- perfect for Ekeler. 

Other running backs who are free agents:

Young but with flaws: J.K. Dobbins (25), Zack Moss (26), Antonio Gibson (26), A.J. Dillon (26)

Not quite old but not quite awesome either: Devin Singletary (27), D'Onta Foreman (28)     

Old-timers who could be part-timers: Kareem Hunt (29), Ezekiel Elliott (29), Gus Edwards (29)

Who's looking for a RB?

These are the teams expected to look for a running back, be it a starter/lead type (RB1) or a backup/1B type (RB2).