2013 NFL Free Agency: Running Back Rankings
While the free agent quarterbacks crop is as weak as they come in 2013, the running back pool could help supply a running back-starved team with the answer to their problems. Depending on where some of these free agent backs go, it could completely shake up how running backs are drafted in the 2013 draft.
Let’s dive right into the top running backs that will be available, and analyze their value and possible destinations:
1. Steven Jackson – St. Louis Rams
Jackson is pushing 30 but he’s still a human wrecking ball and still has a great skill-set. He wants one more long-term deal, but in that same breath there is speculation that he might be done with football. If he wants to keep playing, he’s still the best, most complete back headed for free agency.
2. Reggie Bush – Miami Dolphins
Bush showed in 2011 that he can be an every down back, and I personally think Miami didn’t use him properly in 2012. I think he’s gone and someone will get a bargain. He’s even better when used in a situational role, as he keeps his legs fresh. His injury history and consistency are question marks, but he still holds a ton of value and still has time to give to the game.
3. Rashard Mendenhall – Pittsburgh Steelers
Mendy is coming off of a bit of a lost year and could be done in Pittsburgh. He should be much healthier come 2013, but he’ll still face questions regarding his knee and his falling out with the Steelers. I still think he can start somewhere, however.
4. Shonn Greene – New York Jets
Greene isn’t really an NFL starting talent, but he was actually decent in 2011 and got a lot better in 2012. He should be more of a change of pace option, however, and should be done with the Jets.
5. Peyton Hillis – Kansas City Chiefs
Hillis dropped off considerably in KC this year, and it had everything to do with injuries and Jamaal Charles doing a baby Adrian Peterson-style return from a torn acl. Hillis may not be a starting tailback anymore, but he’s highly skilled and versatile. He should be a solid change of pace option somewhere. New York could make some sense if Green leaves, while he would look good in Dallas behind DeMarco Murray.
6. Felix Jones – Dallas Cowboys
Jones has had a career ruined by injuries and inconsistency. He’ll look to start fresh elsewhere and try to stay healthy for once. He still has nice athletic ability and can be used on third downs and on returns, so he’ll find plenty of suitors. The Chargers could be a good fit, as they can’t really rely on Ryan Mathews, it seems, and they’re not aiming high with Jackie Battler and Ronnie Brown.
7. Chris Ivory – New Orleans Saints (RFA)
Ivory is an underrated runner who barrels into defenses with a head of steam. I don’t see the Saints parting with him, as he seems to pop up and play effective ball when they need him every year.
8. Andre Brown – New York Giants
Brown had his 2012 season cut short due to injury, but he showed great potential in spot-duty with a two-touchdown and 100+ yard effort, and then was a very solid goal-line option for the Giants until he went down. He’s at the worst an interesting goal-line and change of pace guy, but I see starter potential in the right situation.
9. Cedric Benson – Green Bay Packers
Benson might be on his last leg (literally), but he did look like a workhorse back again before a foot injury ended his run with Green Bay. It’s not impossible for him to be back with the Pack next year, but it’s probably unlikely.
10. Jonathan Dwyer – Pittsburgh Steelers (RFA)
Dwyer has displayed decent speed and vision in his time with the Steelers, but he lacks great fluidity and versatility. He can certainly keep chugging with the Steelers, as I doubt anyone goes after him too hard right now.
11. Mike Goodson – Oakland Raiders
Goodson is a slightly above average talent who always seems to shine when he gets a shot. Unfortunately, health has been an issue and he’ll once again have to stick somewhere as a backup. A return to Oakland isn’t out of the question.
12. La’Rod Stephens-Howling – Arizona Cardinals
LRSH’s biggest calling card is his elite versatility. We know he can be effective on third downs and a dynamo return man, but he also showed in spurts that he can carry a full load, as well. No one will sign him as a starter, but he brings that potential to the table.
13. Danny Woodhead – New England Patriots
Some will say Woodhead benefits more from the Patriots’ system than the team does from him, but that’d be blatant ignorance, as the kid is very elusive in the open field and is as versatile as they come. New England doesn’t really need him with Shane Vereen ready to take his role away, but they’d be wise to keep him on. If he leaves I can see smart teams like Green Bay or Indianapolis to find him useful.
14. Joique Bell – Detroit Lions (RFA)
Bell was a great change of pace back for the Lions in 2012, and may get some action from other teams before the Lions can feel safe about holding onto him. He’ll probably stick in Detroit, but he’s quietly making a name for himself.
15. LeGarrette Blount – Tampa Bay Buccaneers (RFA)
Blount could get cut, but otherwise will stick in Tampa. The team sees little use for his one-dimensional game, let alone his fumbling issues. He’s still a tough back with goal-line skills and a solid burst, but he lacks needed versatility and ball security.
16. Ronnie Brown – San Diego Chargers
Brown is nearing the end, but he actually looked fairly spry in San Diego this year. Still, he’s done as a starter and much more effective as a receiver and blocker these days than he is as a runner.
17. Bernard Scott – Cincinnati Bengals
Scott oozes potential, but he’s either hurt or ineffective when he plays. Cincy could bring him back on the cheap in hopes he turns the corner, but if not he’ll latch on somewhere else as a solid third down guy.
18. Rashad Jennings – Jacksonville Jaguars
Jennings looked fantastic early in the year but suddenly ineffective play and injuries killed his stock. He isn’t likely to be back with Jacksonville, but he still has the speed to kill. He’ll find a job somewhere in 2013.
19. Brian Leonard – Cincinnati Bengals
Leonard is a skilled and versatile fullback. He’s been a consistent and steady option on third downs for the past few years in Cincy, and can also help out as a runner when needed. I think Leonard re-ups with the Bengals, as he’s a bit of a fan favorite. If not, he’ll easily find a spot elsewhere due to his excellent versatility and experience.
20. Isaac Redman – Pittsburgh Steelers (RFA)
Redman is an average runner in every regard, but he’s been effective before and he knows Pittsburgh’s system quite well. He’ll stick for one more year and then struggle to find serious work elsewhere.
21. Brandon Jacobs – San Francisco 49ers
Jacobs is still a quality short-yardage and goal-line back due to immense size and strength, and also has rare speed for his size. Unfortunately, his skills are in decline and he’s now burned bridges with two teams (Giants and 49ers) in two years. He could be done in the NFL.
22. Kevin Smith – Detroit Lions
Smith was set to be Detroit’s top back, but was quickly cast aside in favor of Mikel Leshoure and the previously mentioned Bell. Smith can still run, but he’s not the most explosive back in the world and he consistently struggles with health issues. I don’t think he’s done just yet, but he’s close and injury issues could scare people away.