As the league continues to evolve into more of a passer-friendly M.O. (modus operandi), the debate over the future of the running back position rages on. However, there are some teams who cannot afford to depart from their star backs.
Last week, we discussed a few NFL teams who must find ways to keep their star running backs around. Here are a few more teams whose running backs are vital to keeping their offenses afloat in 2023.
More NFL Teams Who NEED Their Running Backs to Stay
Las Vegas Raiders: Josh Jacobs
Many Raiders fans and critics questioned the idea of drafting a seemingly lesser-known running back with the 24th overall pick in the 2019 draft. But it’s pretty safe to say that Josh Jacobs has proven why he was a first-round selection.
In only four seasons under the bright lights, Jacobs has eclipsed 1,000 yards on the ground in three of those seasons and became the league’s leading rusher in last year’s outing. Plus, being a two-time Pro Bowl selection makes him a pretty big deal. As a result of his efforts, Jacobs and the Raiders front office agreed to a one-year deal for $12 million. Needless to say, he was one of very few silver linings in the black cloud that was the 2022 Raiders season.
It’s bad enough to finish 6-11 for head coach, Josh McDaniels. But now, he will have to prepare for the new season without two of the biggest impact players on his offense: ProBowl quarterback, Derek Carr, is now a New Orleans Saint, and Pro Bowl tight end, Darren Waller, signed with the New York Giants. Some among the Raiders faithful still remain skeptical about their new signal caller, Jimmy Garoppolo, due to his history with injuries.
Las Vegas ought to explore more ways to keep Jacobs around, for it will take time for the rest of the offense to get on the same page.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Jones & A.J. Dillon
It may sound like we’re cheating by mentioning two running backs at the same time. But hear us out.
The one-two punch combination of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon has been crucial in Matt LaFleur’s offensive success over the years. Jones still receives the lion’s share of carries and can mess with the best of them to this day. But Dillion is becoming more and more of a problem that defensive coordinators will have to deal with, not just on third down.
Splitting the workload between the two has not only kept defenses on their heels but also has ensured that one player does not get overworked. This approach has taken significant pressure off of their former signal caller, Aaron Rodgers, as well. But as Green Bay ushers in their next field general, both running backs will have to dig their cleats even deeper into the turf.
Rodgers’ successor, Jordan Love, will have his work cut out for him in the upcoming regular season and will still need time to build chemistry with a very young wide receiver core. Luckily, Jones and Dillion are still in town to help shoulder the load in the meantime.
Los Angeles Chargers: Austin Ekeler
Most undrafted free agents, be it from a D-I or D-II school, would not catch many casual fans’ eyes these days. If they did, most of their careers wouldn’t amount to much after a short while. But Austin Ekeler is not most undrafted prospects.
Since coming into the league in 2017, Ekeler cut his teeth in both the running and passing games. In his six seasons with the Chargers, he has racked up over 7,000 yards from scrimmage and 63 total touchdowns. It was in his 2021 and 2022 seasons, especially, when people started name-checking him as one of the premier stars of the NFL. In this two-year span, he became one of only two running backs in NFL history to record 10 or more rushing touchdowns and five or more receiving touchdowns in consecutive seasons. The other running back was Hall of Famer, Marshall Faulk.
Do not let his lack of Pro Bowl recognition fool you. Ekeler is a force to be reckoned, and the Chargers have looked to him many times to bail them out of sticky situations. In fact, one can make the argument that Ekeler has played a vital role in Justin Herbert‘s meteoric rise in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, negotiations to extend Ekeler’s contract with Los Angeles seem to have gotten nowhere. If the two cannot come to terms, then Ekeler may be searching for a new gig after the 2023 season. God forbid it comes to that, finding a weapon as dependable as him will be no easy feat.