Chase Edmonds and James Conner proved to be a dynamic duo among the four Arizona Cardinals running backs in 2021. But with both set to become unrestricted free agents this off-season, will the Cardinals re-sign one or both of the backs, or let both Edmonds and Conner walk and bring in another pair of backs? Ideally, the team would bring back both of them, as they are phenomenal complements to one another, with Edmonds being the change-of-pace back and Conner, the powerful sledgehammer. They could also opt to bring back just one of them. But if the Cardinals let both Edmonds and Conner walk and they bring in two fresh faces, which backs are the best fits to replace this dynamic duo?
Arizona Cardinals: Running Backs To Replace Chase Edmonds, James Conner
He never lived up to his draft status, but Sony Michel also played well enough to solidify a role in this league. Having rushed for nearly 1,300 yards on just 281 carries between 2020 and 2021 (28 games/13 starts), Michel can easily take over the role Conner held in 2021 and serve as a between-the-tackles back. The question is whether he is durable enough to sustain the rigors of a 17-game season. In 2021, he managed to, but it was just the second time in four seasons he played in every game. If the Cardinals opt to sign Michel, they would either need to re-sign Edmonds or sign a second back.
Like Michel, Rashaad Penny could possibly be labeled a bust. In four seasons, he has never made more than 14 appearances. Penny also never started a single game until 2021, when he logged six in 10 appearances and rushed for a career-high 749 yards on 119 carries (6.3 yards per attempt). With six touchdowns in 2021, Penny found the end zone more times just this past season than he had in his previous three. It was a breakout season for Penny. But with his injury history, will the Seattle Seahawks re-sign Penny or let him walk? If the latter is true, the Cardinals may need to bring him in on a one-year deal.
With Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines securing the Indianapolis Colts backfield, Marlon Mack will be the odd man out. Like Penny, Mack has durability issues, and has never appeared in more than 14 games since he entered the league. Mack has also played in just seven games since the beginning of the 2020 season. However, he has proven to be an effective back when healthy, rushing for 1,999 yards in 2018 and 2019, and scoring 17 touchdowns in the process. Like Penny, the Cardinals should not sign him to more than a one-year prove-it deal. But given his past production, he would be worth bringing to the desert if the Cardinals cannot re-sign Conner or Edmonds.
An older back, James White will turn 30 when the 2022 season rolls around. However, he would be great to pair with either James Conner (if the Cardinals bring him back), or any of the above backs because of his receiving abilities. White played in just three games last season, and he is a likely candidate to test the free-agent market this off-season. When healthy, he is dangerous out of the backfield, logging 40 or more receptions in each season since 2015. If the Cardinals want a catch-first back, White is a perfect candidate for Arizona to try to lure to the desert.
A familiar face among Cardinals fans, Eno Benjamin earned a spot as the fourth back in Arizona in 2021 before an injury to Jonathan Ward thrust him into the RB3 role where he saw some action. Benjamin had 35 carries for 118 yards in 2021, and rushed for his first career touchdown. Those are pedestrian numbers, but good enough to generate interest among Cardinals brass. It is also worth mentioning Benjamin earned his way onto the team following a fantastic pre-season.