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Best XFL running backs available for NFL free agency

XFL players can start signing with NFL teams on Monday, March 23rd at 9 a.m. ET. We break down some of the top running backs available.

James Butler #28 of the Houston Roughnecks celebrates his touchdown with Houston Roughnecks fans in the stands at TDECU Stadium on March 7, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Michael Starghill/XFL via Getty Images

A little over a week after suspending its inaugural season, the XFL announced late last week it was canceling the season. The league completed five weeks, and now its players are set to hit the open market. After a week of limbo, the NFL announced that its clubs could start signing XFL players at 9 a.m. ET on Monday March 23.

The five games create an incredibly limited sample size, but there were some standout performances that will likely get some XFL players into NFL offseason workout programs when they eventually start. We’ll be breaking down the best players at each of the four skill positions. In this one, we’ll look at running backs.

James Butler, Houston Roughnecks

Butler is just 25-years old and played extremely well at running back for the Run N’ Shoot Roughnecks. He was the main back on a pass-first team and through five games needed to pass block 78 times, which is 32 times more than any other back in the XFL. He didn’t allow a sack on any of those attempts according to Pro Football Focus. For a shot in the NFL, pass blocking is going to be a valuable skill.

As an offensive player he was excellent. He had the highest elusive rating of any back with 20 or more attempts while avoiding the third-most tackles on the season. He ran the ball 46 times for 221 yards and four touchdowns. His 4.8 yards per carry ranked third-best for backs with more than 10 attempts. As a receiver, he caught all 11 of his targets and scored a touchdown, averaging eight-yards after the catch, which was the best of any running back with 10 or more receptions.

His ability to play well in a pass-first offense should be able to get him some looks in training camp for a league that continues to move toward passing as their default position.

Jacques Patrick, Tampa Bay Vipers
De’Veon Smith, Tampa Bay Vipers

The Vipers had two of the best running backs in the league on their team. That bore out when both ran for 100+ yards in the same game. Of the two, Patrick graded out by PFF as the better all-around player, but both had strong ratings and both proved their ability on the ground.

On 60 rushing attempts, Patrick had 3.58 yards after contact and Smith had 3.14, two of the higher numbers in the league. Smith is 25 and Patrick is just 23. Both have the size and agility to be useful NFL practice squadders, but neither can boast strong receiving or pass blocking chops. That will likely give NFL teams pause, but they showed well enough to get a training camp invite.

Cameron Artis-Payne, Dallas Renegades

Payne has already knocked around the league, so his strong showing in the XFL should be enough to get him another look. At 29, teams aren’t looking for a project, but he did lead the XFL in yards per carry with 5.1 and led the league in avoided tackles after a catch. His 23 receptions only trailed his battery mate Lance Dunbar.

Others

Lance Dunbar proved he still has his receiving ability intact with 26-of-29 receptions. If a team needs a scat-back, he can likely find some interest again. Kenneth Farrow as in a three-man committee but proved he has a strong overall game. He’s not going to wow anyone with his athletic traits, but he knows how to play the game and could find some interest. Donnel Pumphrey didn’t get enough work to truly showcase himself, but at 25, with some NFL experience already, he showed well enough to keep the dream alive.