Running backs have been the talk of the 2023 NFL offseason. Most of the discussion has centered around their devaluation among other positions. But how many teams actually rely on full-blown committee backfields? Which ones still figure to use three-down workhorses this year? And how many clubs are somewhere in between?
Here, we're forecasting all 32 RB situations for 2023, not so much to project production as much as process. For example, the Eagles and Ravens are two of just three teams likely to use undeniable committees, and yet they also figure to rank among the best rushing teams in the NFL. This exercise is primarily to show how touches are likely to be divided up.
One-man shows (8)
Not all of these teams necessarily deploy three-down workhorses on a week-to-week basis, but their starting RBs are head and shoulders above their reserves, and/or command both high-pressure and high-volume responsibilities.
Browns: Nick Chubb has topped 1,200 rushing yards in three of his last four years. Backups Kareem Hunt and D'Ernest Johnson are both gone, leaving the unproven Jerome Ford and Demetric Felton as insurance.
Chargers: Austin Ekeler may not be a world-beating ball-carrier, surrendering touches to Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller, but he's topped 70 catches and 1,500 scrimmage yards in his last three full seasons.
Colts: Jonathan Taylor currently wants out of Indianapolis and has been granted permission to seek a trade from the Colts, but if he suits up healthy, he's got the resume -- 4,600+ total yards in three seasons -- to be a steady crutch for rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson. On the off chance he's traded or sits out into the season, Indy immediately pivots to a full-blown committee with backups Zack Moss, Deon Jackson, Kenyan Drake, etc.
49ers: Christian McCaffrey would ideally stay on some kind of pitch count while trading out for No. 2 Elijah Mitchell, but his instant impact as an in-season trade acquisition has him poised to remain the Swiss Army knife for Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Giants: Saquon Barkley was rejuvenated under Brian Daboll in 2022 with 1,650 scrimmage yards -- his most since a Rookie of the Year debut. As long as he can stay healthy, he'll dominate touches alongside QB Daniel Jones.
Jaguars: Travis Etienne Jr. was ultra-efficient with 255 touches in his 2022 debut post-injury, and while rookie Tank Bigsby could steal some short-yardage work, Etienne is primed to be a top outlet for Trevor Lawrence.
Raiders: Josh Jacobs, like Taylor in Indy, has an uncertain future. If he's back, odds are he'll dominate touches again after a bulldozing 1,650-yard breakout in 2022. If he's not, Josh McDaniels could revert to the committee model he trusted with the Patriots, leaving Zamir White and Ameer Abdullah to pick up the slack.
Titans: Derrick Henry is the closest thing the NFL has to an old-school RB, not just because of his supersized frame but more so his usage. Henry took almost 87% of his club's 2022 carries, per PFF, and has eclipsed 1,500 yards thrice since 2019.
70-30 rotations (16)
These teams are set to deploy a range of "featured backs" -- some of them elite, others less cemented as long-term RB1s. Almost all of them are also set to rely on change-of-pace counterparts, hence the rough estimate of a 70% vs. 30% split of duties.
Bears: Khalil Herbert offers more internal experience and general explosiveness than the rugged D'Onta Foreman. While they could have more of an even split at times, Herbert's speed and vision make him a likelier successor to David Montgomery.
Bengals: Joe Mixon may have taken a pay cut, but he's had 200+ carries and 1,200+ scrimmage yards in his last four healthy seasons. Efficiency is a concern, but volume probably isn't, considering the unproven nature of his backups.
Bills: James Cook was explosive as a Devin Singletary complement as a rookie, and now coordinator Ken Dorsey is talking up his "three-down" upside. Veterans Latavius Murray and Damien Harris project more as early-down and injury insurance.
Broncos: Javonte Williams' return from an ACL tear could mean a cautious approach out of the gate, but new backup Samaje Perine has reached 400 rushing yards once in six years. Sean Payton figures to lean on Williams' bruising style.
Buccaneers: Rachaad White wasn't very efficient behind an injured O-line in his 2022 debut, but with Leonard Fournette gone, he's in line for full-time duties, with Chase Edmonds and Ke'Shawn Vaughn in tow as rotational help.
Cardinals: James Conner is the clear leader and could take on an even bigger role with Kyler Murray sidelined at QB, but he's never lasted a full season and only hit 800 rushing yards once in six years. No. 2 Keaontay Ingram has 27 career carries.
Chiefs: Isiah Pacheco's high-energy production during their latest title run ensures he'll get the first crack at the RB1 gig, even coming off offseason surgery, with the trusty Jerick McKinnon cycling in as a passing-down specialist.
Cowboys: Tony Pollard is finally taking over for the departed Ezekiel Elliott. Fresh off a quiet 1,000-yard season, the vet doesn't figure to lose much work to backups Malik Davis and Ronald Jones, though feisty rookie Deuce Vaughn is also onboard.
Jets: Dalvin Cook isn't alone in New York's backfield, with 2022 rookie standout Breece Hall potentially commanding an even split once he's back to full speed following ACL rehab. But on a win-now team, the ex-Vikings star is a safer bet to lead the charge.
Panthers: Miles Sanders left the Eagles for decent money in Carolina, where Chuba Hubbard has only been a starter in spurts. Sanders regressed as a pass catcher in Philly, but his home-run ability should keep him on the field for Frank Reich.
Patriots: Rhamondre Stevenson has workhorse potential, approaching 1,500 total yards in 2022, but he's always shared some carries and figures to do so again with Ezekiel Elliott joining the fold as a similarly sized alternative.
Rams: Cam Akers has failed to fully emerge in three years under Sean McVay, leaving room for another last-gasp addition. Until then, backups Kyren Williams and Zach Evans just don't have the experience to project as true successors.
Saints: Alvin Kamara is an offensive centerpiece when active and healthy, four times topping 80 catches and never logging fewer than 1,300 total yards. But he'll miss three games due to suspension and newcomer Jamaal Williams has both the resume and salary to warrant at least a steady secondary role between the tackles.
Steelers: Najee Harris has the build and draft pedigree to draw a "workhorse" label, and while his rugged style remains a fit for Pittsburgh's old-school approach, No. 2 Jaylen Warren has been too dynamic not to steal additional snaps in 2023.
Texans: Dameon Pierce showcased bruising energy before his rookie season ended due to injury. He's got bell-cow skills but should also forfeit touches to ex-Bills starter Devin Singletary, who's topped 950 scrimmage yards in each of his four seasons.
Vikings: Alexander Mattison is a tougher, more straightforward option than predecessor Dalvin Cook. He's never rushed for even 500 yards, but speedy young backup Ty Chandler may need time before he becomes a serious threat to the starting gig.
50-50 tandems (5)
These teams are poised to split carries and/or touches between two specific RBs, if not exactly even then close to it.
Commanders: Brian Robinson Jr. was the grind-it-out leader of Washington's 2022 backfield, but Antonio Gibson is the superior multipurpose option. Under new coordinator Eric Bieniemy, they're set to rotate, with Gibson featuring in the passing game.
Falcons: Bijan Robinson's tools convinced Atlanta to draft him No. 8 overall, which means a potential workhorse future. But second-year counterpart Tyler Allgeier was a solid 1,000-yard starter in 2022, and Cordarrelle Patterson looms as well. Arthur Smith figures to run the ball so much that Robinson will still produce RB1 numbers, but the backfield itself could be a two-man show.
Lions: Jahmyr Gibbs promises pass-catching electricity as a surprise first-round pick, but Detroit also spent decent money on ex-Bears starter David Montgomery, whose more traditional style should allow the Lions to rotate RBs and styles by situation.
Packers: Aaron Jones is the guy in Green Bay, offering some of the NFL's best multipurpose talent, but he's only outpaced supersized power runner AJ Dillon by 11 carries the last two years. They are truly a thunder-and-lightning pairing.
Seahawks: Kenneth Walker III is fresh off a 1,000-yard debut laced with big plays. But injuries have lingered, and they spent a second-rounder on Zach Charbonnet, whose physicality and pass-catching ability should result in a sizable role.
Full-blown committees (3)
These teams are all but discarding the common notion of a single starter at RB, preferring to ride exclusively with the hot hand and/or split different responsibilities -- short-yardage carries, pass-catching reps, etc. -- between more than two RBs.
Dolphins: Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. are both ex-49ers who re-signed to Mike McDaniel's squad after averaging fewer than 12 carries per game in 2022. Now they're teamed up with speedy rookie Devon Achane, destined to split carries even more.
Eagles: D'Andre Swift is the biggest newcomer, doing it all in between injuries with the Lions. But ex-Seahawks standout Rashaad Penny is a big-play threat if he can stay healthy, and holdovers Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott are pass-catching safety nets. Couple it with QB Jalen Hurts' rushing production, and it's tough to accurately project volume for anyone involved.
Ravens: J.K. Dobbins has flashed the efficiency of a true RB1, but he's played just eight games the last two years, leaving Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and Melvin Gordon as likely contributors. Baltimore has often been successful on the ground, thanks in part to the mobility of QB Lamar Jackson, but few teams have spread the ball among RBs more, per PFF.