Aside from Le’Veon Bell, it may be somewhat of an arduous task to discover a running back that could contribute effectively as a starter in this year’s free agent class. However, there are actually several intriguing rushers that played extraordinarily well in the final year of their respective contracts. While the majority of these versatile playmakers may not necessarily be elite athletes or electric show stoppers (at least for now), they still possess the requisite skill sets needed to start for most NFL franchises. Even more important is the fact that most of these underrated running backs are 27 years of age or younger, suggesting that these professional athletes could very well rejuvenate their careers with the right team.
10. Damien Williams
With the departure of Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles late in the season, Damien Williams was quickly promoted to being the Dolphins go to receiving back. Averaging 7.8 yards per reception, Williams proved to be a speedy pass-catcher with solid hands. With a team that has a quarterback with a quick and accurate arm, Williams could thrive and become a nuisance for defensive backs to lockdown consistently.
9. Orleans Darkwa
Although it goes without saying that the best time for a talented player to play well is during the final year of their contract, Orleans Darkwa completely embraced the pressure of playing for a Giants team that was riddled with injuries. Setting career highs in rushing yards (751), rushing touchdowns (5), and yards per rushing attempt (4.4), Darkwa did everything and more to emphatically display his impressive skill set on a team that was largely terrible throughout most of the last year.
8. Alfred Morris
While the aging running back may no longer be the perennial 1,000-yard rusher he was when he was a member of the Washington Redskins, Alfred Morris is still effective and deadly when rushing between the tackles. On a team that is willing to give him a larger workload than he had with the Cowboys for the past two seasons, Morris could revitalize his NFL career to become a respected and trusted running back once again.
7. LeGarrette Blount
Despite being great at just one thing (rushing at the teeth of the defense with immense power), LeGarrette Blount’s limited yet intimidating skill set should still be coveted by NFL teams that need a tough-minded rusher. While his age is somewhat of a concern (31), he can still run well when in the open field (4.4 yards per rushing attempt) and has good enough hands to be sporadically effective as a pass-catcher.
6. Jeremy Hill
Between being slowly replaced by rookie running back Joe Mixon and being injured, Jeremy Hill had a fairly underwhelming season in 2017. However, when healthy, Hill is a highly productive red zone running back that is fearless and adept at finding the end zone on a consistent basis. He’s the not the flashiest playmaker in the NFL, but it’s hard to deny his exceptional production when is able to stay on the field.
5. Carlos Hyde
Although the hefty running back had a bit of a regression year in terms of yards per rushing attempt in 2017 (3.9), he actually improved immensely as a pass catcher, an area that he has somewhat struggled with in years past (350 receiving yards). Even though he struggles with being consistently productive, he is still young and talented enough to be an ample contributor to a team that is in need of his dynamic services.
4. Isaiah Crowell
While the drop off in touchdown production may appear to be somewhat concerning initially (seven rushing touchdowns in 2016, two in 2017), this was actually the result of running back Duke Johnson Jr. getting more looks in the passing game. Averaging over four yards per rushing attempt, Crowell proved that he could still be a threat as a pure rusher.
3. Jerick McKinnon
Considered a running back in terms of where he lines up, Jerikc McKinnon is actually much more effective and potent as a receiver. Averaging 8.3 yards per reception, McKinnon was the ideal check-down threat that was extremely difficult to stop once he had the ball in his hands. Given his impressive versatility and youth, McKinnon has a lot to offer a team that needs a security blanket for a game managing quarterback.
2. Dion Lewis
Underrated in the passing game (6.7 yards per reception) and especially deadly as a shifty and speedy rusher (six rushing touchdowns, five yards per rushing attempt), Lewis emphatically proved how valuable he could be when healthy (played in 16 games last season, played in just 14 games combined in previous two seasons). Given his athleticism and versatility, Lewis should be highly sought after as a dynamic playmaker that can do pretty much anything that is asked of him.
1. Le’Veon Bell
Amassing over 1000 rushing yards for nine rushing touchdowns to go along with 655 receiving yards, Le’Veon Bell is both shifty and deadly in the open field as a pass catcher. Although he will most likely get a deal done with the Pittsburgh Steelers when all is said and done, opportunistic franchises may be able to lure him away from the Steel City with a lucrative payday.