A potential five-way running back battle for the primary change-of-pace role behind James Conner could commence in Arizona
With the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft that includes the selection of USC running back Keaontay Ingram in the sixth round, Arizona’s backfield could feature a five-way battle for the primary backup role behind James Conner.
The assumed favorite to replace Chase Edmonds, who signed with the Miami Dolphins after spending four years with the Cardinals, is Eno Benjamin.
Benjamin (5-9 207lbs) was drafted in the seventh round by the Cardinals in the 2020 NFL Draft. The former Arizona State running back was redshirted his rookie season prior to receiving limited playing time last year with 160 scrimmage yards and a touchdown on 40 touches. His elusiveness was on display in the minimal opportunities he was presented and Benjamin was one of the more dynamic running backs in college football in 2018-19. Entering his third season in the NFL, Benjamin is still only 23 years old with very high upside.
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Samuels has the second-most NFL experience on the Cardinals roster after James Conner. The 2018 fifth-round selection by the Steelers had 431 rushing yards, 504 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in his first two seasons in the NFL as he backed up Conner in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately Samuels saw his role on the Steelers’ offense drastically decrease in 2020 in favor of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr with only 74 total scrimmage yards. He had stints on the Steelers and Texans practice squads last year before signing a futures contract with the Cardinals in January. Will the James Conner-Jaylen Samuels tandem resume in Arizona?
Primarily on special teams coverage units, Jonathan Ward (6-0 202lbs) will be vying for playing time on offense and he will have a huge opportunity to receive carries this upcoming season. Ward, an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan, signed his exclusive rights tender in April. The 24-year-old running back has less than 100 scrimmage yards in his NFL career but remains in the mix for the No. 2 job. If he is anything like the player he was in college, he is a powerful running back that does a good job catching passes out of the backfield. His role as a key special teams contributor is secured.
The former USC Trojan is one of the more intriguing prospects in the Arizona Cardinals’ 2022 draft class. He has suitable size (6-0 215lbs) for the position and was noticeably quicker as a USC transfer from the University of Texas. Ingram wrapped up his college career by setting a career-high in rushing yards (911) and scoring five touchdowns last year. He might not blow anyone away with his speed but his mentality to fight for every yard with his physical style of football should allow him to see the field in 2022. Andre Ellington had a big impact on the Cardinals early in his career as a sixth round pick. Why not Ingram too?
Now hear me out, Ronnie Rivers may be an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State but his tape stands out quite a bit. Among the five running backs listed, Rivers might just be the best receiving back of this group vying for a roster spot. In my opinion, he was one of the best receiving backs that declared for the 2022 NFL Draft. Rivers had 150 receptions, 1,421 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns in his five-year collegiate career. He had 3,417 rushing yards and an eye-catching 40 career rushing touchdowns as well. His 51 career touchdowns is a Fresno State record worth noting. He lacks ideal size for the position (5-9 195lbs) but his ability to make the first guy miss and his versatility as a well-rounded running back could make Rivers a darkhorse for the No. 2 job. The inexperience behind Conner should put him in the running for the primary backup role.
With all things considered, maybe the No. 2 running back is not on the roster
It remains in the realm of possibility for the Cardinals to sign a veteran running back in free agency considering the lack of experience in their backfield behind James Conner. Former Chiefs’ RB Darrell Williams visited the team early April. Arizona recently signed undrafted free agent TJ Pledger, who was Kyler Murray’s teammate in 2018, after a rookie minicamp tryout. Other notable free agents include Devonta Freeman, David Johnson, Jerick McKinnon, and Jalen Richard.
Kliff Kingsbury certainly has lots of young and intriguing running backs on the roster to work with. Free agent talent remains available if the Cardinals choose to go down that avenue. Eno Benjamin is the favorite to win the No. 2 job but the other running backs on the roster are not far behind. Any veteran addition would completely change this running back competition.
Who would you like to see be the primary change-of-pace running back on the Arizona Cardinals?