2022 CFL free agent rankings: running backs

Photo: Nik Kowalski/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The CFL’s negotiating window is officially open, allowing players with expiring contracts to speak with other teams ahead of the official opening of free agency on Feb. 8.

3DownNation kicked off the action by unveiling our list of the top 30 pending free agents, 27 of whom still remain unsigned as of Tuesday morning. We are in the process of releasing top free agent lists per position, starting on Monday with the quarterbacks.

The running back group isn’t as strong as other positions — receiver and defensive back are probably the deepest ones — but there is still plenty of talent worth signing for teams across the league.

Editor’s Note: These rankings have been edited since publication to reflect which players remain uncommitted.

*indicates National

1) Andrew Harris, Winnipeg Blue Bombers*

The soon-to-be 35-year-old faced issues with durability for the first time in his career last year, missing three games to due a calf injury and four games to a knee injury. He was still effective when healthy, rushing 116 times for 623 yards and three touchdowns in seven regular season games.

Harris proved he can still take over a game as he torched the Saskatchewan Roughriders for 136 yards and a touchdown in the West Semi-Final. The Winnipeg native was rarely used as a receiver out of the backfield in 2021, making 11 receptions for 136 yards and one touchdown.

2) Brady Oliveira, Winnipeg Blue Bombers*

The Winnipeg native rushed 94 times for 429 yards and two touchdowns this past season, which was essentially his rookie year after missing almost all of 2019 after undergoing ankle surgery. His 4.6-yard-per-carry average was below average, but the 24-year-old likely still has his best football ahead of him.

The five-foot-ten, 227-pound ball carrier is a powerful, straight-line runner who showed he’s ready to be a full-time starter in the CFL. Plus, Oliveira rescues dogs. How can you not want to sign a player who rescues dogs?

Photo courtesy: Ticats.ca

3) Sean Thomas-Erlington, Hamilton Tiger-Cats*

The Montreal native failed the recapture his dominant start to the 2019 season, losing his starting spot to Don Jackson just after the midway point of the season. He still had a decent year — he rushed 70 times for 356 yards and four touchdowns — but it seems reasonable to question whether or not teams still view him as a starter.

With the Ticats likely to start an American running back in 2022, Thomas-Erlington is likely looking for a new home elsewhere around the league.

4) John White IV, Toronto Argonauts

The nine-year veteran seemed to fade as the 2021 season progressed, taking on a rotational role following the emergence of dynamic rookie D.J. Foster. He rushed 92 times for 450 yards and one touchdown and made 15 receptions for 105 yards.

The 30-year-old should still be able to help a team, but his days of being an every-down running back in the CFL have probably come to an end.

5) Ante Milanovic-Litre, Calgary Stampeders*

The six-foot, 229-pound native of Vancouver has been a strong contributor on special teams for the Stamps, making 30 tackles over the past four seasons. He wasn’t very productive along the ground last year — he averaged just 3.3 yards-per-carry — but he made 16 catches for 149 yards.

Photo courtesy: Candice Ward/Calgary Stampeders

6) Roc Thomas, Calgary Stampeders

The 26-year-old dressed for just two games due to injury in 2021 but made the most of his limited opportunities, returning a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. Versatility is everything and the Jacksonville State product can contribute in multiple ways — as a ball carrier, receiver, and return specialist.

7) Jackson Bennett, Hamilton Tiger-Cats*

The native of Cumberland, Ont. was drafted as a defensive back but was moved to his high school position of running back in 2019. The conversion has had middling results at best with the five-foot-ten, 212-pounder rushed 17 times for 72 yards in 2021.

8) Maleek Irons, Hamilton Tiger-Cats*

The six-foot, 230-pound ball carrier was heralded coming out of the University of Ohio but has yet to produce much, rushing 73 times for 321 yards and one touchdown over two seasons.

Best of the rest: Shaq Cooper, Free Agent; Terry Williams, Edmonton Elks; Chris Rainey, B.C. Lions; Timothy Flanders, Ottawa Redblacks.