2022 NFL Free Agents: Ranking the Top 5 Running Backs On the Market

With the 2021 NFL season officially over, it’s time to look ahead to the 2022 offseason. Front offices around the league will be working tirelessly to build teams that can hoist the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. The upcoming class of NFL free agents features plenty of talented players.

Expect multiple teams to be interested in upgrading at the running back position. The 2022 class boasts a crop of ball carriers with unique skill sets. Which names should you keep an eye on in the offseason? Here are the running backs who should be on every squad’s radar once free agency opens.

Leonard Fournette and Cordarrelle Patterson lead the list of the top NFL free agents at running back.
Leonard Fournette of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers scores a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images; Cordarrelle Patterson of the Atlanta Falcons in action against the Washington Football Team | Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Honorable Mention: Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers

Raheem Mostert definitely deserves consideration here. The San Francisco 49ers tailback had his 2021 season abruptly cut short in the season opener against the Detroit Lions. He suffered chipped cartilage in his knee, which led to him needing season-ending surgery.

Mostert’s recovery will have a significant bearing on his free agency prospects. When healthy, he can be one of the more explosive running backs in the NFL. The 29-year-old has done a lot for Kyle Shanahan’s offense. However, the emergence of rookie Elijah Mitchell could make it easier for the Niners to part ways with Mostert.

5. Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals

Chase Edmonds’ 2021 season didn’t quite go as many had expected. With Kenyan Drake joining the Raiders, Edmonds appeared poised to take over the lead role for the Arizona Cardinals. However, injuries and the resurgence of another player on this list forced him to take somewhat of a backseat.

Still, Edmonds could be one of the more valuable NFL free agents in the offseason. The fourth-year running back carried the ball 116 times for 592 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. He also caught 43 passes for 311 yards. Edmonds may never be a workhorse, but he has shown an ability to make explosive plays when given the opportunities.

4. Melvin Gordon III, Denver Broncos

After falling out of favor with the Chargers, Melvin Gordon III has bounced back nicely with the Denver Broncos. The veteran tailback rushed for 986 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. He followed it up with 918 yards and eight scores in the 2021 season.

While Gordon has been productive over the past two seasons in Denver, it seems only a matter of time before the franchise hands over the keys to Javonte Williams. The North Carolina product flashed potential in his rookie season. If the Broncos opt not to bring Gordon back, another squad could benefit from his skillset and experience.

3. Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons

You could justify ranking Cordarrelle Patterson even higher on this list depending on how you view his position on the football field. Before the 2021 season, teams used him as a wide receiver and return specialist. However, Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons started lining him up more in the backfield, which ended up being a perfect fit.

Patterson rushed for 618 yards and six touchdowns on 153 carries in 2021. He added 52 receptions for 548 receiving yards and another five scores. The Falcons swiss-army knife could be one of the most valuable free agents on the market. His unique skill set could thrive in the right offensive scheme.

2. James Conner, Arizona Cardinals

The Arizona Cardinals got more than they bargained for with James Conner, one of the most notable NFL free agents last offseason. The former Pitt Panther spent the first four seasons of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Injuries seemed to derail his trajectory. That was until he signed with the Cardinals in the 2021 offseason.

Conner carried the ball 202 times for 752 yards and 15 touchdowns in the 2021 season. Kliff Kingsbury heavily involved the 26-year-old running back in the passing game as well. Conner recorded 37 receptions for 375 yards and three scores. Conner shared touches with Chase Edmonds, but he was almost exclusively the goal line back when healthy.

1. Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely would not have been as good as they were the past two seasons without Leonard Fournette. The LSU product flexed his versatility, sharing a backfield with Tom Brady. He rushed for 812 yards and eight touchdowns on 180 carries in 2021. Fournette also caught 69 passes for 454 yards and two scores.

Fournette could be a hot commodity in the 2022 offseason after his performance the past two seasons. He’s a tone-setter with his bruising running style, but he has some finesse to his game catching passes out of the backfield. At 27 years old, he’s proving he can still operate in a workhorse role with the right pieces in place. Of all the NFL free agents, Fournette should be the best running back available.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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