On Tuesday, my colleague David Carr spotlighted seven organizations that do not currently have their 2021 starting quarterbacks on their roster. He had some interesting takes, if I do say so myself. (I'm really diggin' the Matthew Stafford-49ers pairing.) So go check that out! Anyway, now I'm taking the torch and looking at the running back position to find teams that do not currently have their primary ball-carrier of 2021 in-house.
Below are four franchises that, in my estimation, will be seeking new starting running backs for next season. Let's dive right in!
Despite what others may think, I believe signing Gurley to a one-year deal this offseason worked out well. Yes, he's on track to finish with less than 900 rushing yards for the second straight season, but we always knew this was going to be a pass-heavy offense. The fact is, he's been a true red-zone threat, with nine rushing touchdowns, tied for sixth-most in the NFL, while Hill and Smith have provided sparks as spell backs throughout the season.
However, looking ahead, the Falcons are headed for salary-cap hell in 2021, so re-signing Gurley or another veteran in free agency doesn't seem like a good idea. Smith is still under contract, but I suspect Atlanta will save some money by drafting a running back for next season. That way, they can focus on bolstering the defense and offensive line in free agency. Second-year pro Ollison, who's logged just one carry for 3 yards this season, was a healthy scratch on Sunday and does not currently appear positioned to take on a bigger role in the near future.
Whoever takes on the roles of general manager and head coach in Houston next will have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball. And the most pressing item -- a "very important" one, according to QB Deshaun Watson -- on the offense is wide receiver Will Fuller's looming contract. To make way for necessary offseason additions at key positions, the Texans might choose to cut both David Johnson and Duke Johnson this offseason, saving around $10 million between the two in the process. Neither player has done enough in 2020 to force Houston's hand to keep them around, as they have both missed games and frankly just haven't provided sufficient help for Watson in the run game.
Prosise and Howell will be free agents this offseason, and Phillips just isn't ready for a role of this magnitude. Look for Houston to add a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, where they currently have eight picks.
Le'Veon Bell was the Day 1 starter, and boy, does that feel like ages ago. Since then, Bell was released and signed with the Chiefs, while the Jets have yet to win a game, meaning they figure to be in full rebuild mode this offseason. Despite all of the Jets' offensive issues this season, Gore and Co. have provided a steady run game that ranks 19th in the league. It's not ideal, but when you compare it to a passing game that's sitting 31st, 19th doesn't look too shabby.
That said, the 37-year-old Gore, New York's leading rusher with 523 yards, is set to hit the market in March. So is Adams. Johnson might offer some intrigue coming off his first career 100-yard outing, but he totaled just 87 touches as a rookie in Detroit last year and has just 38 since joining the Jets in October. Perine, a fourth-round pick, hasn't been able to do much as a rookie, recording just 55 carries for 202 yards before landing on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain in November. He could prove himself worthy of more snaps next season, but at this point, I think the Jets are likely to either look to the draft or sign a mid-tier veteran to be their starter in 2021.
The Steelers' ground attack has been anything but great over the last seven weeks, with Pittsburgh failing to top 100 rushing yards in all but one game (Week 11, when the Steelers ran for 106 yards vs. Jacksonville) in that span. Conner has been the offense's most efficient back this season, averaging 4.4 rushing yards per carry, but he's missed the last two games since testing positive for COVID-19. The circumstances of this latest absence are unique, but the unfortunate fact remains that Conner has not yet started more than 12 games in any of his four NFL seasons thus far. The former third-rounder is set to hit free agency this coming offseason, and as much as the Steelers like him, I don't know how they justify paying a guy who isn't always readily available. Snell, McFarland and Samuels have all been fine, but trotting one of these guys out there as the Day 1 starter tasked with complementing a stellar air attack doesn't excite me much. Looks like it's back to the draft for Pittsburgh.
Top 10 Running Backs
Former NFL rushing leader and current NFL Network analyst Maurice Jones-Drew will survey all running backs and rank his top 10 each week of the 2020 season. His rankings are based on this season's efforts alone. Here is MJD's list heading into Week 14.
NOTE: Arrows reflect changes from last week's rankings.
2020 stats: 11 games | 251 att | 1,250 rush yds | 5.0 ypc | 13 rush TDs | 35 rec | 314 rec yds | 1 rec TD
2020 stats: 12 games | 271 att | 1,317 rush yds | 4.9 ypc | 12 rush TDs | 15 rec | 102 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
2020 stats: 8 games | 133 att | 799 rush yds | 6.0 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 7 rec | 75 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
2020 stats: 12 games | 143 att | 673 rush yds | 4.7 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 70 rec | 655 rec yds | 4 rec TDs
2020 stats: 12 games | 212 att | 968 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 42 rec | 310 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
2020 stats: 12 games | 162 att | 820 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 5 rush TDs | 27 rec | 161 rec yds | 1 rec TD
2020 stats: 10 games | 145 att | 754 rush yds | 5.2 ypc | 7 rush TDs | 36 rec | 279 rec yds | 2 rec TDs
2020 stats: 9 games | 126 att | 641 rush yds | 5.1 ypc | 2 rush TDs | 4 rec | 52 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
2020 stats: 11 games | 109 att | 504 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 6 rush TDs | 16 rec | 72 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
2020 stats: 11 games | 151 att | 692 rush yds | 4.6 ypc | 4 rush TDs | 30 rec | 234 rec yds | 1 rec TD
2020 stats: 11 games | 206 att | 782 rush yds | 3.8 ypc | 9 rush TDs | 27 rec | 175 rec yds | 0 rec TDs
The Ground Index presented by FedEx ranks NFL running back performances all season long. Check out the weekly FedEx Ground NFL Players of the Week and cast your vote after Sunday Night Football.