Now that the NFL Combine is behind us, we’re racing into the new NFL calendar year as teams get set to reconfigure their rosters to try and make a playoff run in the upcoming season. With free agency opening on March 9th, there will be a frenzy surrounding the top players as usual. With your team attempting to fill the holes they need to in order to make that Super Bowl run you’ve been dreaming of, we here at CBS Local Sports are compiling lists, by position group, of the top five guys that are available on the market this spring.
The running back position has unarguably changed over the years. Gone — outside of a notable few exceptions — are the days of the workhorse running back getting 20-30 carries per game and shouldering the load of the entire offense.
Aerial attacks are in, and so is platooning running backs to help compose a more multi-faceted attack that’s harder to plan for.
Regardless, talented running backs are still a commodity that many teams will pay a pretty penny for and this year’s group of free agent running backs might have more than a few teams vying for their services.
Adrian Peterson, 31 Years Old
Former Team: Minnesota Vikings
The man who’s been synonymous with Minnesota Vikings football for the better part of the last 10 years is a free agent.
The man who returned from a torn ACL and rushed for 2,097 yards is yours for the taking, NFL teams… for the right price.
Peterson will be returning from yet another knee injury and surely isn’t a spring chicken anymore at the age of 31, but will likely still be a solid/above-average starter on the high end or a more than serviceable back to platoon with another rusher on the low end.
I’m leaning towards option number one and am betting that Peterson comes off this injury ready to roll for whatever team he ends up playing for.
Peterson would have been owed $18 million had the Vikings picked up the team option on his contract, which is why they released the aging star. How much he’ll fetch on the open market is anyone’s guess, but it’s probably safe to say it’ll be in the range of the three-year deal running back Matt Forte signed with the Jets for $12 million, $8 million of which was guaranteed.
Latavius Murray, 27 Years Old
Former Team: Oakland Raiders
Behind a solid Raiders offensive line Murray managed to put together an above average campaign that has his stock pretty high entering free agency as a 27 year old. His yards per carry average mimicked his 2015 total, so it’s fair to say that if he played a full 16-game season (missed two games with a toe injury that prevented him from starting in two more) he would have topped 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year.
As a result, Murray is probably the most intriguing young back for teams looking for a lead back that can play three downs.
However, Murray has had a tendency to put up some stinkers. He only rushed for over 100 yards twice in 2016 and in seven of 14 games he failed to average more than four yards per carry.
Jamaal Charles, 30 Years Old
Former Team: Kansas City Chiefs
Right alongside Adrian Peterson on the Mt. Rushmore of 21st century running backs sits Jamaal Charles, who has lit up the league on the ground and in the passing game as one of the best dual threat backs in the game for quite a while.
Unfortunately, injuries have wreaked havoc on Charles’s career the last two years, limiting him to just eight games and a total of 404 yards on the ground in that time frame.
Charles will likely latch on to a team that wants to see if he can regain that explosiveness from his 2012 and 2013 seasons with a lighter workload; likely a contender that needs insurance in the backfield.
The Chiefs’ all-time leading rusher may be beaten up, but he’s not broken down just yet and he’ll absolutely be able to help a contender and maybe even should the load in the backfield here and there when given the chance.
LeGarrette Blount, 30 Years Old
Former Team: New England Patriots
LeGarrette Blount’s been around the block a few times, but he proved last year that he’s still capable of being a bruising, every-down back when called upon to do so.
Blount finished 2016 with 299 rushing attempts for 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He may have averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, but much of his work came in short yardage situations in which he excelled.
Blount is the perfect backfield complement for a team that has a 1st and 2nd down/pass-catching back and needs more of a bruiser for short gain and goal line situations.
Eddie Lacy, 26 Years Old
Former Team: Green Bay Packers
It’s been two full years since Eddie Lacy’s been the dominant running back that the Green Bay Packers drafted him to be and there are serious doubts as to whether the 26 year old will ever return to that form.
In 2015 injuries and questions about how “in shape” Lacy was kept him from being productive, while in 2016 in was just injuries that derailed Lacy’s attempt at a bounce back year.
Before going on injured reserve in late October, Lacy was averaging 5.1 yards per carry over 71 attempts and appeared to be on the right track.
Unfortunately, now teams have to wonder how the running back that has had conditioning issues has dealt with being off his feet and off the field for months on end.
If Lacy’s in shape and can stay healthy, he’ll be a huge asset and can be a team’s answer at running back for the next few seasons.
DeAngelo Williams – Steelers: Proved in Le’Veon Bell’s absence that he can shoulder the load when necessary.
Andre Ellington – Cardinals: Ellington’s workload was light with David Johnson leading the charge, but he averaged 6.1 yards per carry in limited duty in 2015 and could be a dynamic chance-of-pace back for the right team.