I’ll admit, when I began researching running backs in 2019 free agency, one name on the list completely took me by surprise:
Yea, I overlooked the fact that Barber will be a free agent this season. While he didn’t set the NFL world ablaze in 2018, he definitely showed that he can carve out a nice role for himself on a team somewhere.
So, Barber’s impending free agency leaves the Bucs with Ronald Jones II, Shaun Wilson, and Dare Ogunbowale. Those three players combined for 112 yards on 39 total touches and a touchdown on 115 snaps in 2018.
Oh, and that’s how many total snaps all three have played in the NFL throughout their entire career.
Jones II is eventually expected to be the guy at the position, but he had a massively disappointing rookie year. There is still hope for him, but he will be under the microscope and there’s no guarantee that he is the answer.
It’s easy to see why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be looking to add a back or two in free agency. There are a couple of big names on the market - Le’Veon Bell, anyone? - but it would be a major shock if the Bucs decided to break the bank on a position that isn’t held as highly as it once was.
Believe it or not, the Cleveland Browns’ rookie Nick Chubb was the highest graded running back in 2018 according to Pro Football Focus. Derrick Henry was second, but both players combined to play fewer snaps (796) than the third-highest graded back in Saquon Barkley (852), so I decided to use Barkley as the measuring stick.
- Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
PFF Grade: 85.9 Overall/84.6 Run/86.4 Receiving/55.1 Pass Block/56.1 Run Block/852 Total Snaps
There are multiple directions the Bucs could go here, but which direction is best?
Let’s dive in to the running back portion of our 2019 free agency preview.
1. Peyton Barber, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
PFF Grade: 67.2 Overall/70.2 Run/49.3 Receiving/60.9 Pass Block/60.0 Run Block/617 Total Snaps
Barber played 616 snaps last season. He finished the year with 871 yards on 234 attempts, good for 3.7 yards per carry. He caught 20 passes for 92 yards and finished with six total touchdowns.
When you compare those numbers to the current backs on the roster, it only strengthens the case for Barber’s return in 2019. He is a tough, physical, north-and-south runner who looks for contact on every play.
And while it may be hard to believe, he was a top-10 back in terms of usage inside the red zone last year.
Most red zone touches this season:— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 14, 2018
1. Todd Gurley: 69
2. Alvin Kamara: 62
3. Christian McCaffrey: 48
T-4.Ezekiel Elliott: 44
T-4. Saquon Barkley: 44
6. James Conner: 39
7. Sony Michel: 34
T-8. Adrian Peterson: 29
T-8. Peyton Barber: 29
T-8. Chris Carson: 29
He doesn’t run toward the sideline or fall down, he lowers his head and tries to run through any defender attempting to tackle him. A coach like Bruce Arians has to like what he sees from Barber when he puts on the tape.
One could argue that his yards per carry suffered due to a lack of protection in front of him, which was an issue. The Bucs’ offensive line finished 30th in the NFL when it came to the percentage of how many times a running back was either hit at or behind the line of scrimmage.
The former undrafted free agent out of Auburn only made $630,000 last season, so the Bucs could definitely afford to re-sign him, despite the fact that they already have $10 million invested in the position for 2019.
Bucs run the ball well when things are moving north and south. Why is that you ask? Peyton Barber is a north south runner. pic.twitter.com/7Odk1WXYEr— RealBucsTalk (@RealBucsTalk) November 21, 2018
It also helps that Barber is a restricted free agent. That means that the Bucs can keep him from hitting the open market. Check out this beautiful breakdown of what it means to be a RFA in the NFL for more information.
Tampa Bay is in good shape to bring him back, the question is: do they want to?
2. Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
PFF Grade: 66.0 Overall/67.1 Run/60.6 Receiving/61.1 Pass Block/59.0 Run Block/580 Total Snaps
While he will be a bit pricier than Barber, Coleman is another back that can do it all out of the backfield. He’s been very effective in a backup role in Atlanta and played well when Devontae Freeman missed time due to injury.
The biggest issue here is fit. The Bucs already have a running back that is made for a zone scheme in Jones, so would they want another runner with similar traits in Coleman? It all depends on the new coaching staff’s evaluation of Jones, but this could be what keeps Coleman out of Tampa Bay.
Regardless, the positives would be that the Bucs are brining in a proven, effective veteran at a decent price. Coleman is projected to make around $5 million in salary in 2019. The Atlanta Falcons have plenty of cap room, but they do have players like Deion Jones and Keanu Neal that they will want to extend soon, so that could take up a big chunk of their current space.
Coleman quietly had one of the best years of his career in 2018. He set career highs in rushing yards (800), yards per carry (4.8), receptions (32), and receiving touchdowns (5).
He’s just 26 years old and looks to be hitting his prime. If Tampa Bay could swipe him for $5 million/year, then it almost seems like a no-brainer in this situation.
Unlike Barber, Coleman is an unrestricted free agent, which means the Bucs wouldn’t have to give the Falcons any compensation if they were able to lure him away.
3. Alex Collins, RB, Baltimore Ravens
PFF Grade: 61.3 Overall/62.1 Run/63.2 Receiving/39.7 Pass Block/55.3 Run Block/310 Total Snaps
I’m sure most of you think that I’m secretly a Ravens fan by now. All of my previews have mentioned one Raven, except the offensive line one, I believe.
But I promise, I’m loyal to the pewter and red, it’s just that the Ravens may let go of some players that could help the Bucs in 2019.
The next name on that list is running back Collins. After almost rushing for 1,000 yards in 2017, Collins was thought to be the answer to the Ravens’ backfield, but injury and inconsistency led to a down year for the former Arkansas Razorback.
That doesn’t mean that his NFL career is over though. While the red flags from 2018 are worrisome, it’s not uncommon for players to have a down year. Especially when expectations are at their highest.
Whatever the reason for the disappointing 2018 campaign, Collins has a chance for a fresh start if the Ravens allow it. I’ve already mentioned the Ravens’ cap space before, but Collins is a RFA like Barber. If the Ravens decide to place a tender on Collins, then it would render the Bucs’ efforts moot, because Tampa Bay needs to retain all the draft capital it can.
He shares another similarity with Barber and that’s the fact that he is a tough, physical runner who does his best work on the inside. He also made $630,000 in 2018, so he won’t cost that much, either.
Collins downside is his inability to pass protect, which would make him a liability on third down. Ronald Jones’ struggles in that department were well documented last year, so whoever the Bucs decide to bring in on third down will need to step it up.
If the Bucs decide to ride with Jones as their starter for 2019, then Collins could make a nice complementary piece if Tampa Bay doesn’t want Barber back.
While there are a lot of unknowns with this position, it’s not in a bad spot when compared to the others. Tampa Bay should be able to find a decently-priced option to replace Barber’s production if they decide to let him walk and Jones still has plenty of potential to make an impact in the NFL.