If you had told me at midseason last year that Kareem Hunt would be the Cleveland Browns' RB2 heading into the 2019 season, I would have given you this look, as it appeared through the first few months of the 2018 campaign that he was headed for his second Pro Bowl nod in as many seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.
But we all know Hunt is now a backup for the Browns instead of entering Year 3 as a starter for the Chiefs because of his actions off the field. Hunt was released by Kansas City in November after video surfaced of the running back shoving and kicking a woman during a February 2018 incident at a Cleveland hotel, and is set to serve an eight-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy, giving Nick Chubb room to breathe as the Browns' starting RB. Hunt, who signed with the Browns in February, logged at least 1,200 scrimmage yards in each of his first two seasons in the league, so I expect he'll take carries away from Chubb once he is reinstated. The fresh-legged Hunt should provide a boost in his return as a versatile weapon with a knack for breaking tackles -- and it wouldn't be shocking to see him take over as the RB1 down the stretch.
Like Hunt, Chicago Bears rookie running back David Montgomery isn't listed by his team as an RB1 -- yet. Don't be surprised if he ends up in the starting role before long. In fact, I think it will happen before September ends. (Yes, even taking into account Chicago's deep backfield, which also includes Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis.) The 5-foot-10, 222-pound back can do everything from running inside the tackles to catching out of the backfield, which is exactly what coach Matt Nagy wants.
Which other running backs could emerge in 2019? Here are six current RB2s who I think should see more action this season:
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens: Baltimore signed Mark Ingram to a three-year deal in March, but that doesn't mean we should forget about Edwards. The second-year running back became the team's starter in Week 12 last season and rushed for 654 yards over the final seven games -- only Saquon Barkley (721) and Derrick Henry (701) had more in that span. A big back (6-1, 238 pounds) and downhill runner, he should see plenty of opportunities to get carries in a run-heavy offense that will also feature Ingram and dual-threat QB Lamar Jackson.
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos: Freeman is coming off a lackluster preseason outing against the 49ers (five attempts for zero yards). But so is his competition, Phillip Lindsay (five carries for 14 yards). I know Lindsay had a great rookie season before getting banged up late in the year, but I'm not sold on the 5-8, 190-pounder long term. Freeman (6-foot, 238 pounds) is a bigger, more physical back who will welcome the pounding that comes with the territory. My NFL Network colleague James Palmer said earlier this offseason that he expects Freeman to get more carries than Lindsay in 2019, which was a clear sign that Freeman is on the up-and-up after an uneven 2018 performance. This backfield has a chance to be very explosive if everyone can stay healthy.
Carlos Hyde, Kansas City Chiefs:Damien Williams is the current leader in the clubhouse for the RB1 job, and he's followed on the depth chart by Hyde, Darrel Williams and rookie Darwin Thompson. Coach Andy Reid has suggested his offense could feature a running-back-by-committee approach, so look for Hyde to get a lot of opportunities as a physical runner, especially in short-yardage situations and at the goal line. Hyde has also proven to be an asset in the pass game (during his days with the 49ers). The potential is there for Hyde to be a playmaker for the Chiefs' offense, and I see him accumulating more reps as the season progresses.
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers:Austin Ekeler, the No. 1 back on the Chargers' most recent depth chart as a result of Melvin Gordon's holdout, is a tremendous talent versus safeties and linebackers in the pass game. But Jackson is a better overall running back. We saw a glimpse of his ability when the Chargers started giving him some opportunities down the stretch last season, and he has continued to showcase his talents this preseason, including on this tackle-breaking 17-yard run against the Saints. With efforts like that -- and no end in sight to Gordon's holdout -- Jackson could get the ball early and often as the offense's first- and second-down back.
Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jones had a rough go in his rookie season. The 38th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Jones was inactive for the first three games of the season (coach's decision) and missed four games with a hamstring injury. To put things in perspective, Jones had fewer rushing attempts and rushing yards last season than both Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Yikes! Luckily, it's a new season, and Bruce Arians is steering the ship now. Jones should feel pretty good about what he's done in camp and the preseason, as he is making a case to earn the RB1 job. Even if Jones doesn't earn the top spot on the depth chart, he should see plenty of carries in Arians' offense, considering the coach has had nothing but praise for Jones all offseason. Right now, I expect to see more of the player who lit it up at USC and less of the rookie who struggled to stay on the field.
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks: Penny has underwhelmed on the ground so far this preseason -- 12 carries for 13 yards in two games -- but he's had some success as a pass catcher (three receptions for 37 yards). He currently sits behind Chris Carson on the depth chart, but has several factors playing in his favor for an increased role, including Mike Davis' offseason departure, Carson's injury history and a receiving corps that could be thin if D.K. Metcalf has yet to return from knee surgery by the start of the regular season. With all that in mind, there's a good possibility we could see Penny tear it up in coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's run-first offense.