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NFL RB Index, Week 18: Three teams whose 2024 starting RB isn't on the current roster

We are just days away from the end of the 2023 regular season -- meaning the 12 teams eliminated from the playoff field will begin looking toward 2024. The rest of 14 clubs still vying for a championship will follow suit in the next six weeks as they are eliminated.

Every part of the organization will go under a microscope in the next several months in an effort to build the best possible roster for next fall. With this being the RB Index, I'm looking at the running back position to identify teams that do not currently have their RB1 of next season in-house – just as I did last year.

Below are three franchise that, in my opinion, will be searching for new starting running backs for 2024.

RBs on current roster: Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman, Roschon Johnson, Travis Homer

It’s going to be a fun offseason for general manager Ryan Poles and the Chicago Bears. They have cap space to work with and hold six draft picks, including the No. 1 overall selection and another first-rounder (currently the No. 10 overall pick heading into Week 18). And with this team picking up steam down the stretch, thanks to some stellar playmaking by Justin Fields, expect Chicago to load up this offseason to make a push for the NFC North title in 2024. 

Running back is one area where there could be turnover, despite the Bears fronting the league’s second-ranked rushing attack in 2023. The Bears’ top two rushers not named Justin Fields are Herbert (583 rush yards) and Foreman (425 rush yards). Herbert, a 2021 sixth-round pick, will be on the final year of his team-friendly rookie contract, so we can expect him to stick around, but he also missed a third of the season due to injury. Foreman, meanwhile, is on a one-year contract and is set to hit free agency. There is a possibility that Johnson, a 2023 fourth-round pick, could take over as the starter, but I think the Bears could make a real upgrade in the backfield. A number of high-profile free agents will be available, and Chicago should have its eyes on Derrick Henry. Imagine trying to tackle Henry in that Chicago cold. And imagine what the offense could look like with both Henry and Fields in the backfield. Make it happen.

RBs on current roster: Tony Pollard, Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Hunter Luepke

Dallas put its chips in Tony Pollard’s basket for 2023, moving on from Ezekiel Elliott last offseason and giving Pollard the vast majority of the team's carries for the first time since he was drafted in 2019. I don’t think things quite panned out the way Jerry Jones envisioned -- even if the Cowboys are in pole position for the NFC East. The rushing attack is averaging 111.8 rush yards per game this season, which ranks 14th in the NFL. It's also just three spots higher than the ranking Dallas achieved in 2020, when Dak Prescott played five games due to injury, and the Cowboys' offense was middling across the board. Pollard hit 5.3 yard per carry and 6.2 yards per touch, both career bests, in 2021. In each season since then, his workload increased, but his average production has decreased, with the back falling to career lows in yards per carry (4.0) and yards per touch (4.3) in 2023. Pollard has shown he’s not quite the bell cow back the team likely thought he was when placing the franchise tag on him last offseason. 

Dallas has some big decisions to make this offseason, with the contracts of several big-name players expiring, including those of Pollard, left tackle Tyron Smith, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and center Tyler Biadasz. To make matters worse, Dallas is projected to sit in the red when it comes to the salary cap. Dowdle is set to be a restricted free agent, while the rookie Vaughn has shown no signs (40 yards on 23 carries over seven games) of being ready for a major role. I truly think this team will move on from Pollard and look to add a less costly option in the draft to lead this backfield in 2024.

RBs on current roster: Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, Isaiah Spiller

Get ready for some massive changes for the Chargers this offseason, starting at the top with a new general manager and head coach. Los Angeles is also facing the fourth-worst projected salary-cap situation in the league. Ekeler already tried for a change of scenery last offseason, and he will certainly head elsewhere in 2024, with the coming cap crunch also pointing to Kelley's exit. I’d expect to see a youth movement in Los Angeles, which should include a young running back selected in the draft.

Top 15 running backs

Former NFL rushing leader and current NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 15 each week of the 2023 season. His rankings are primarily based on this season's efforts. Here is MJD's list in Week 18.

NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from Week 17's rankings.

Christian McCaffrey
San Francisco 49ers · Year 7

2023 stats: 16 games | 272 att | 1,459 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 14 rush TD | 67 rec | 564 rec yds | 7 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

Christian McCaffrey compiled 91 scrimmage yards prior to his third-quarter exit due to a calf injury. He will miss the regular-season finale against the Rams in an attempt to get fully healed before the postseason. With the 49ers having already locked up the NFC’s top seed, he should feel pretty fresh in the Divisional Round.

Kyren Williams
Los Angeles Rams · Year 2

2023 stats: 12 games | 228 att | 1,144 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 12 rush TD | 32 rec | 206 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

Is anyone playing better than Kyren Williams at the running back position right now? It’d be tough to argue for anyone else. The second-year pro helped the Rams clinch a playoff berth with 87 rush yards and touchdowns on runs of 4, 2 and 28 yards. With the effort, Williams became the first Rams player with at least 10 rush TDs in a season and 90 rush yards per game since Steven Jackson in 2006. 

Raheem Mostert
Miami Dolphins · Year 9

2023 stats: 15 games | 209 att | 1,012 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 18 rush TD | 25 rec | 175 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

The Dolphins were without top running back Raheem Mostert, who is dealing with knee and ankle injuries, last week. With the AFC East (and the right to host at least one playoff game) on the line, I’d like to think the NFL’s leader in scrimmage TDs will be out there on Sunday night against the Bills. 

David Montgomery
Detroit Lions · Year 5

2023 stats: 13 games | 209 att | 975 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 12 rush TD | 16 rec | 117 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

The Lions missed numerous blocks that let Dallas defenders into the backfield -- and the team still managed to rack up 125 yards on the ground. David Montgomery led the way Saturday night with 14 carries for 65 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown run that capped a 7-minute, 23-second drive. Cleaning up some of the blocking in the run game (Sam LaPorta, I’m looking at you) will make this Lions offense a nightmare in the postseason.

Jahmyr Gibbs
Detroit Lions · Rookie

2023 stats: 14 games | 169 att | 915 rush yds | 5.4 ypc | 9 rush TD | 52 rec | 316 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Jahmyr Gibbs got off to a slow start Saturday, missing his first target on the Lions’ first possession. However, he made several big plays several drives later, with back-to-back runs of 11 and 17 yards after Detroit converted a fake punt deep in its own territory. The rookie is closing in on 1,000 rush yards -- but if he's going to get there, he'll have to do it against Minnesota’s top-10 run defense in Week 18. 

James Cook
Buffalo Bills · Year 2

2023 stats: 16 games | 224 att | 1,086 rush yds | 4.8 ypc | 2 rush TD | 41 rec | 429 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

Sunday’s Patriots-Bills tilt was a true defensive battle, with five total turnovers and the Patriots' offense actually outgaining Josh Allen’s unit, 294 yards to 281. James Cook led all players with 16 carries and 48 rush yards, which was enough to give him 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his young career.

D'Andre Swift
Philadelphia Eagles · Year 4

2023 stats: 16 games | 229 att | 1,049 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 5 rush TD | 39 rec | 214 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Nothing is coming easy for the Philadelphia Eagles right now. Philly was held to just 91 rush yards as a team on Sunday, with D’Andre Swift leading the charge (61 yards on 13 carries, for a respectable 4.7 yards a pop). I’m honestly surprised Swift didn’t get the rock more often, with Jalen Hurts struggling to find any sort of rhythm in the pass game. 

Derrick Henry
Tennessee Titans · Year 8

2023 stats: 16 games | 261 att | 1,014 rush yds | 3.9 ypc | 11 rush TD | 28 rec | 214 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

The Titans struggled to get anything going, as they were held to 187 yards of total offense in Sunday’s loss to the still-alive Texans. Derrick Henry was kept at bay for much of the day, compiling 42 yards on 12 carries, but it was enough to make him the 10th running back in NFL history to have at least five seasons with 1,000-plus rushing yards and 10-plus rush TDs. Only four guys have more than five such seasons -- LaDainian Tomlinson (eight), Emmitt Smith (seven), Adrian Peterson (seven) and Barry Sanders (six) -- but that’s a conversation for next year. 

Travis Etienne
Jacksonville Jaguars · Year 3

2023 stats: 16 games | 251 att | 951 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 11 rush TD | 53 rec | 446 rec yds | 1 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

With C.J. Beathard in for an injured Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne was in the driver’s seat for the Jaguars in a must-win game, and he had his best performance since October to lead the Jags to a shutout victory. Etienne finished with 118 scrimmage yards (102 rushing) and a pair of touchdowns, including a pitch that went for 62 yards early in the third quarter. This is what Jacksonville needs from its star running back moving forward, no matter who’s in at QB.

Isiah Pacheco
Kansas City Chiefs · Year 2

2023 stats: 14 games | 205 att | 935 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TD | 44 rec | 244 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Whenever the Chiefs’ offense fell flat Sunday, it felt like Isiah Pacheco was the one to put a spring back in its step. He had gains of 35 and 37 yards in the run game, and he finished the contest as the Chiefs’ receptions leader, with seven catches for 35 yards -- including an 8-yard TD connection with Patrick Mahomes for Kansas City’s first score -- on seven targets. Pacheco had his best career outing, with 165 scrimmage yards, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Chiefs locked up their eighth consecutive division title with the victory. 

Rachaad White
Tampa Bay Buccaneers · Year 2

2023 stats: 16 games | 253 att | 915 rush yds | 3.6 ypc | 6 rush TD | 60 rec | 531 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

Over the past month, the Bucs put themselves in position to win the NFC South, thanks to a strong Rachaad White-led rushing attack. But the run game -- along with hopes of securing a strong grasp on a playoff berth -- was stymied in Week 17, as the Saints forced White to routinely run through a wall he couldn’t knock down. He also lost a fumble -- one of the Bucs’ four turnovers in the game.

Joe Mixon
Cincinnati Bengals · Year 7

2023 stats: 16 games | 243 att | 923 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 8 rush TD | 51 rec | 370 rec yds | 2 rec TD | 0 fumbles lost

Joe Mixon and the Bengals’ offense were cooking in the first half against the Chiefs, with the veteran running back logging 66 of his 87 scrimmage yards in the first two quarters, including a 7-yard touchdown reception. That score made Mixon the sixth player in franchise history to reach 60-plus scrimmage TDs -- which will have to be the consolation prize for missing the playoffs.

Bijan Robinson
Atlanta Falcons · Rookie

2023 stats: 16 games | 203 att | 948 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 4 rush TD | 51 rec | 384 rec yds | 3 rec TD | 3 fumbles lost

Bijan Robinson had another solid outing in the Falcons’ latest loss, with 75 yards on 15 carries for 5.0 yards a pop. The NFC South will come down to Week 18, and the Falcons must play better against New Orleans than they did against the Bears. In the last meeting against the Saints, Bijan posted 123 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns. Atlanta will need that again from the young star.

Saquon Barkley
New York Giants · Year 6

2023 stats: 13 games | 229 att | 916 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 4 rush TD | 39 rec | 229 rec yds | 4 rec TD | 2 fumbles lost

Week 17's tough loss to the Rams was peppered with miscues from Giants, so it’s easy to overlook the few highlights from Saquon Barkley. The veteran only had 58 scrimmage yards. He also had a chance to be the hero on a two-point conversion that would have given the Giants a late lead, but a poor pass from Tyrod Taylor nixed that potential outcome. Barkley has one more home game at MetLife Stadium before his current one-year deal runs out. Who knows what 2024 has in store? Enjoy this one, Giants fans.

Najee Harris
Pittsburgh Steelers · Year 3

2023 stats: 16 games | 229 att | 923 rush yds | 4.0 ypc | 7 rush TD | 24 rec | 149 rec yds | 0 rec TD | 1 fumble lost

Najee Harris went off last week, rushing for a season-high 122 yards and tying a career high with two rush TDs in a game. The third-year back has been a huge asset for a Steelers offense that’s again shuffled through quarterbacks. He has steadily produced in 2023 and is nearing his third straight 1,000-yard season, with his team on the doorstep of the postseason.

DROPPED OUT: Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (previously No. 14); Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (No. 15).

The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Air NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.

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