As I have noted multiple times in the past, the running back position continues to be undervalued in today’s NFL. Teams tend to rely on multiple backs to hold down the fort in the backfield. It’s led to a dry market for free agents.
Even then, there’s a number of young running backs who still don’t get the respect they deserve. From one youngster making the transition to South Beach to another one set to star in Southern California, here’s a look at the five-most underrated running backs heading into the 2020 NFL season.
Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins
The fact that Miami was able to acquire Breida for a mere fifth-round pick during the 2020 NFL Draft is simply amazing. The former San Francisco 49ers undrafted free agent is averaging a resounding 5.5 yards per touch throughout his career. Despite falling out of favor late in his three-year tenure with San Francisco, Breida also averaged north of 900 total yards with the team.
It’s now more than likely that Breida, 25, will be the Dolphins’ starter this coming season. An increase in touches will likely include the former Georgia Southern star putting up north of 1,500 total yards.
Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
NFC East rival Saquon Barkley might be the biggest name to come from Penn State in recent years. But make no mistake about it, Sanders has an incredibly bright future ahead of himself. The former second-round pick tallied 1,327 total yards and six touchdowns at a clip of 5.8 yards per touch as a rookie.
What makes Sanders so valuable is the fact that he acts as a safety valve for quarterback Carson Wentz. Sanders tallied 50 receptions while catching nearly 80% of his targets last season. It would not be a surprise if the youngster went for north of 2,000 total yards as a sophomore in 2020. That’s how good he is.
Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
A first-round talent coming out of Oklahoma back in 2017, Mixon fell to the Bengals at 48 overall due to some major off-field issues during his time in Norman. Most knew that the stud running back had the talent to play at a Pro Bowl level in the professional ranks.
That’s exactly what Mixon has done in his three seasons with the downtrodden Bengals. The 23-year-old back is averaging 1,444 total yards and nine touchdowns over the past two years. He’s also morphed into a surprisingly good pass catcher, hauling in an average of 36 receptions at a 80.6% catch rate throughout his career. Rookie No. 1 pick Joe Burrow has himself a tremendous asset moving forward. That’s for sure.
Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
Arizona’s ability to land Drake from the Miami Dolphins for a late-round pick last season represents one of the biggest heists in recent NFL history. Drake, 26, ultimately put up 814 total yards and eight touchdowns at a clip of 5.4 yards per touch in eight games with Arizona following the trade. That included 242 yards in two games against the defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.
The Cardinals are so high on this recently-acquired back that they placed the transition tag on him. Drake is slated to earn $8.48 million in 2020. Teaming up with Kyler Murray for a full season will make the Alabama product more than worth it.
Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
While the overrated Melvin Gordon was holding out to start the 2019 season, this relatively unknown small-school product was doing his thing. Ekeler is right up there with Christian McCaffrey as the best receiving back in the NFL. In fact, the former Western State star recorded 92 receptions while catching an eye-opening 85.2% of his targets in 2019.
Now that Gordon has signed with the Denver Broncos, Ekeler will be Los Angeles’ primary running back this season. The team will rely on him heavily with Tyrod Taylor replacing Philip Rivers under center. Expect Ekeler to surpass the 1,550 total yards he put up a season ago.