Running backs are top of mind in the NFL, with the Vikings set to cut ties with Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook ahead of the 2023 season. Money is a big reason for Cook’s departure, but Minnesota is also primed to transition thanks to belief in backup Alexander Mattison, who this offseason signed a two-year deal in anticipation of an expanded role.
It raises the question: Which other No. 2 backs boast starting-caliber stuff? In a day and age where RB rotations are the norm, most teams depend on a whole stable of ball-carriers as opposed to a single featured back. And these 10 backups stand out as some of the best going into 2023:
10. Latavius Murray (Bills)
At 33, on his fourth team in as many years, Murray is a wholehearted journeyman. But there’s a reason clubs keep picking him up. While offering little as a pass-catcher these days, he’s such a steady runner whose confident, upright style has translated across systems. It wouldn’t be stunning to see him steal carries behind James Cook and Damien Harris in Buffalo.
9. Jeff Wilson Jr. (Dolphins)
Fellow 49ers product Raheem Mostert is technically Miami’s starter (until a potential Dalvin Cook arrival), but Wilson is now owed slightly more money on his new deal. He’s never played a full season, but when healthy, he pairs burst with aggression as a change-of-pace option. On top of that, he benefits from Mike McDaniel’s speedy setup.
8. Elijah Mitchell (49ers)
Through two NFL seasons, the former sixth-rounder has missed a combined 18 games due to injury, making him a somewhat fragile complement to Christian McCaffrey. Still, when upright, he’s been incredibly smooth as a focal point for Kyle Shanahan’s offense, showcasing solid vision in relief and as a starter.
7. Rashaad Penny (Eagles)
Like Mitchell, he’s been severely hampered by injuries, playing more than 10 games just once in five seasons. But the former first-rounder has all the physical tools as an explosive big man, flashing home-run ability in Seattle. Now working alongside D’Andre Swift and mobile quarterback Jalen Hurts, he could be in for a revival.
6. Jahmyr Gibbs (Lions)
As a rookie, the Alabama product obviously has nothing to show for his NFL resume just yet. But the surprise first-rounder has drawn Alvin Kamara comparisons for his versatility and electricity, and he figures to get lots of action as a passing-down complement to David Montgomery in Detroit.
5. D’Onta Foreman (Bears)
The hulking former Texans prospect was a revelation as a late-year grinder for the Titans in 2021, replacing an injured Derrick Henry. But then he did his thing again in 2022, this time as the Panthers‘ underrated tone-setter. At 27, he’s still improving as a bruiser, and should challenge the speedier Khalil Herbert for red-zone carries in Chicago.
4. Jamaal Williams (Saints)
Beloved on and off the field for his spirit, the former Packers reserve had a career year taking over the Lions’ backfield in 2022. He’s still more solid than special, never topping 4.3 yards per carry, but always moves the pile and is also a proven pass blocker. With Alvin Kamara facing a suspension, he may well open 2023 in the lineup alongside new QB Derek Carr.
3. Tyler Allgeier (Falcons)
Atlanta spent a top-10 pick on Bijan Robinson, whose elite traits should make him the new centerpiece of Arthur Smith’s run-heavy attack. But Allgeier was quietly one of the most promising pieces of the 2022 Falcons, nearly averaging five yards per tote on 210 carries as a rookie. Though unpolished as a receiver, he’s got natural vision, a rock-solid build and still-fresh legs.
2. Devin Singletary (Texans)
Never quite hailed as “the guy” in Buffalo despite totaling 56 starts as the Bills’ RB1 over the last four years, Singletary is smaller (5-7, 203) without a consistently splashy resume. But he does everything reasonably well, averaging 4.7 yards per carry and totaling 145 catches for his young career. As bruiser Dameon Pierce returns from injury to be Houston’s potential workhorse, he could carve out a sizable role as a proven safety valve for rookie QB C.J. Stroud.
1. AJ Dillon (Packers)
With 373 carries to Aaron Jones‘ 384 the last two years, Dillon is more like a half-starter in Green Bay. Even so, the Packers benefit from employing one of the most effortless power runners in the game; at almost 250 pounds, Dillon is inherently imposing on short-yardage and red-zone situations. His vision and pass blocking are also underrated, making him a capable spot starter for Matt LaFleur’s offense. The explosiveness obviously isn’t as apparent, but the rugged results are.