Best free agent running backs in 2024: Ranking the top 10, projected value, team fits

Here's a breakdown of the top running backs who could hit free agency this offseason

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Free agency isn't always fun for running backs.

The position is often cast aside, with even the best players sometimes having to settle for less money than expected.

But even if running backs aren't paid like quarterbacks or wide receivers, they can make a huge impact on a team -- just ask the San Francisco 49ers. Christian McCaffrey transformed the 49ers' offense when he was acquired in a trade, leading them to the Super Bowl last season while winning NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

This spring, a handful of Pro Bowl-level skill players could hit the open market and change the outlook of offenses across the league. With that in mind, here's a rundown of the best running backs who could be free agents in March:

1. Saquon Barkley

2023 review: The Giants used the franchise tag on Barkley last year before agreeing to a one-year deal over the summer. In his sixth season with the Giants, the 27-year-old star slightly regressed from the year prior. Barkley finished with 962 rushing yards, 280 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. Despite a few significant injuries, he's still considered one of the league's best running backs.

2024 team prediction: Dallas Cowboys. Once a division rival, the Cowboys would give Barkley the best opportunity of his career. He would be behind a strong offensive line and be the centerpiece of Dallas' rushing attack. The Cowboys struggled in short-yardage situations last season without a power back, and Barkley could solve that problem.

2. Josh Jacobs

2023 review: Under the Raiders' old regime, Jacobs was tagged last offseason and played on a one-year deal. Jacobs' value was at an all-time high last offseason when he was coming off a 1,653-yard season. He had less than half of that (805) in 2023, but the 26-year-old should still have a healthy market as a former First-Team All-Pro.

2024 prediction: Las Vegas Raiders. Jacobs' season turned around when Antonio Pierce took over as interim head coach, posting 90 or more rushing yards in three of five games. Pierce, in turn, raved about how Jacobs was the heartbeat of the Raiders' offense. A reunion makes sense for both parties.

3. Derrick Henry

2023 review: Henry continued to be a machine last season. He score double-digit rushing touchdowns for the sixth straight year and led the league in carries for the fourth time in five years. Despite constant changes at quarterback, Henry was yet again a stalwart for the Titans' offense in his age-29 season.

2024 prediction: Baltimore Ravens. Henry saluted the Nashville faithful in last season's finale, a sign that he's unlikely to return. Instead, he could join a Super Bowl contender with a proven system that makes running backs look good. The Ravens have gotten the most out of older backs in recent years -- Mark Ingram (2019-20), Devonta Freeman (2021), Latavius Murray (2021), Kenyan Drake (2022) -- and Henry has more left in the tank than any of them did.

4. Tony Pollard

2023 review: The Cowboys put their trust in Pollard last season, letting Ezekiel Elliott walk and using the franchise tag on their former backup. But Pollard did not respond well as the lead back. He posted a career-low 4.0 yards per carry and had two fewer rushing yards than 2022 despite having 61 additional attempts. Still just 26, Pollard could look for a short-term deal to rebuild his value.

2024 prediction: Tennessee Titans. With Henry expected to leave Nashville, Pollard seems like an ideal replacement. He won't be called upon to replace Henry's workload entirely, though. Second-year running back Tyjae Spears showed promise in spurts last season, so they could split the backfield almost evenly under new head coach Brian Callahan.

5. Austin Ekeler

2023 review: Ekeler's production fell off at the wrong time. After a career season both rushing and receiving in 2022, he posted career-lows in yards per carry (3.5) and receiving touchdowns (1) in 2023. Ekeler led the league in total touchdowns in 2021 and 2022, but the wear and tear could be catching up to him. Now entering his age-29 season, Ekeler's suitors will likely be cautious this offseason.

2024 prediction: Carolina Panthers. Bryce Young needs a security blanket -- the former No. 1 pick looked lost throughout his rookie season. Ekeler would provide a reliable check-down option for Young when the Panthers' O-line breaks down. Even though Carolina paid Miles Sanders last offseason, they have a whole new regime and likely won't be afraid to target players they see as fits.

6. D'Andre Swift

2023 review: The Eagles acquired Swift last offseason in what was essentially a throw-away by the Lions. The former second-round pick responded with a career-best season in Philly, totaling 1,049 rushing yards and making his first Pro Bowl. Swift, still just 25 years old, is hitting the open market at the perfect time.

2024 prediction: New York Giants. If Barkley does indeed leave, Big Blue will need a replacement. Signing Swift and drafting a day two running back makes the most sense, rather than overpaying for one of the aforementioned stars. Utilizing two backs could diversify the Giants' offense, which needs all the help it can get after scoring just 10 rushing touchdowns last season.

7. Devin Singletary

2023 review: Singletary had to settle for a modest one-year deal with the Texans last offseason when he had limited options. And while his numbers weren't significantly different in Houston than they were in Buffalo, his value should be greater this time around. He was a key piece in the Texans' offensive turnaround, with the team going 5-0 (including playoffs) when he rushed for over 65 yards.

2024 prediction: Houston Texans. Why not run it back? The price won't be outrageous, and the Texans can lock Singletary up on a longer-term deal. He'll be 27 next season, so he's entering what's typically the final prime years for a running back. It makes sense to keep things status quo for second-year star QB C.J. Stroud.

8. Zack Moss

2023 review: When Jonathan Taylor started the season injured, Moss showed his true potential. He had 70 or more rushing yards in four straight games to begin his 2023 season, including 165 yards and two touchdowns in Week 5. Playing a backup role the rest of the way, Moss still finished with a career-best 794 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

2024 prediction: Minnesota Vikings. Kevin O'Connell's squad was 29th-ranked in rushing yards last season as Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler and Cam Akers were unable to replace Dalvin Cook. Moss would become the immediate starter in this offense, likely splitting some time with Chandler and giving O'Connell another ground option.

9. J.K. Dobbins

2023 review: It was the same old story for Dobbins last year -- preseason hype followed by a devastating early injury. He played just one game in 2023 before suffering a torn Achilles. He's played 24 total games in his first four seasons. Despite the injuries, there's a ton of talent waiting to be unleashed (6.0 yards per carry as a rookie). The concern, obviously, is if his body can hold up.

2024 prediction: Los Angeles Chargers. The Ravens likely want a more reliable option, but his old coach could come calling. Greg Roman was Dobbins' offensive coordinator for his first three seasons. Now with the Chargers, Roman could help Los Angeles' new head coach Jim Harbaugh get the most out of Dobbins -- even though he's an Ohio State alum.

10. A.J. Dillon

2023 review: Dillon's contract year did not go well. The Boston College product had a career-worst 3.4 yards per carry and just two touchdowns after scoring 14 over the prior two seasons. The Packers' offense didn't regress with Jordan Love at quarterback, which makes Dillon's ineffectiveness even more concerning.

2024 prediction: New York Jets. When in doubt, move a former Packer to the Jets. That's been the safest bet since Aaron Rodgers left town, with Randall Cobb, Allen Lazard and Tim Boyle among the migrants. The Jets' seven rushing touchdowns last season were tied for worst in the NFL. While a fully healthy season of Breece Hall should change that, it can't hurt to add Dillon to the fold as a power back option.

Other free agent RBs: Gus Edwards, Ezekiel Elliott, Antonio Gibson, Cordarrelle Patterson, D’Onta Foreman, Kareem Hunt, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerrick McKinnon, Craig Reynolds, Josh Kelley, Cam Akers, Latavius Murray

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