Baltimore Ravens running back Ricky Williams surprised the football world by announcing his retirement on Tuesday. At age 34, Williams has recently become the 26th player to reach 10,000 yards rushing, and he appeared to be enjoying his role as a backup to Ray Rice.
But 34 is old for football, and when it comes to running backs, it's practically ancient. Williams has played on and off for 13 years having retired once before. This time, though, it's a virtual certainty that he is done for good.
Williams' loss is big for the Ravens considering he was the guy that could come in and spell Rice for a couple plays. Although running backs Anthony Allen and Damian Berry remain on the Ravens roster, in all likelihood they will need to select a veteran via free agency.
This article is assuming Rice returns to Baltimore and doesn't leave in free agency. That being said, here are five running backs who would be a capable backup to Rice.
Formerly an undrafted free agent, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is now the New England Patriots starting back. Considering how much Bill Belichick spread the ball among his running backs, that title means very little. The Patriots are also a pass-heavy team which gives Green-Ellis another good reason to leave town.
Known by many players as the "Law Firm," Green-Ellis has never fumbled the ball during his NFL career. That is simply an amazing statistic given that he has had 562 plays whether runs, kick returns or receptions where he has had the ball. It is the longest streak of not fumbling to start an NFL career and is a big reason why Green-Ellis could be a coveted free agent.
If he came to Baltimore, Green-Ellis would definitely be the backup should the Ravens re-sign their best offensive player in Ray Rice. Known for running hard between the tackles and being a goal line vulture, Green-Ellis would be almost a perfect complement to Rice. The Law Firm would also serve as good insurance policy if Rice were to suffer a work-related accident.
In terms of backup running backs in the NFL, Chester Taylor has been one of the best out there. Having backed up stars in Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte, Taylor would be well equipped to back up Ray Rice. It would be also a great improvement over his current situation with the Arizona Cardinals where he is buried on the depth chart behind Beanie Wells and Alfonso Smith.
What hurts Taylor's value is a clear drop in production the past few years. In 2011 he was cut by the Chicago Bears and only had 77 rushing yards and one touchdown for the Cardinals. He only had 20 rushing attempts last season so the Ravens would have to hope that he is fresh and eager to prove his critics wrong.
Also what better place for Taylor to end his career than the place he started? Taylor was drafted by the Ravens in 2002, and he played there for four years as Jamal Lewis' primary backup. With only a few carries per game, Taylor could easily fit into the Ravens' backup role.
Although he could be hard to pry away from the Oakland Raiders, Michael Bush would be a player that could do great as the Ravens backup running back. In 2011, he took over the Raiders starting running back job after Darren McFadden's mysterious knee injury and had a career high 977 yards. It was the third season in a row that Bush has gotten substantial playing time thanks to McFadden being hurt.
Bush would fit well into Ricky Williams' backup role and could even steal more carries away from Ray Rice. As crazy as it sounds, this could be a good thing because it would keep Rice healthier and could engineer one of the scariest two-headed running games in the league. Known for being a downhill power runner, Bush would complement Rice well thanks to their vastly different styles.
A major problem though would be cost as Bush played like a starter last season, so he's going to want to be paid like one. The backup running back position is important for the Ravens but the question is how important? In all likelihood though, the chances of Bush being a Raven next season are small as he will likely either remain McFadden's insurance policy or look for somewhere he could be a full-time starter.
Injuries and a possible Madden Curse decimated Peyton Hillis' 2011 season. It was terrible timing for a player who was hoping to get a big payday when he reached free agency. Now Hillis is mostly an afterthought especially to the Cleveland Browns who seem unsure of whether they want to keep him.
Considering that there was drama between Hillis and the Browns last season, there's a pretty good chance both parties move on. And if that happens, what better place for Hillis to go then to the division rival Ravens? He would almost definitely be excited about the prospect of two chances a year to get revenge against the Browns.
Hillis plays similar to a fullback, not surprising considering he used to be one. He would bring some much needed strength to a Ravens power running game. Also with his past injury concerns, it would be a relief that he would likely not be needed as a starter and he could certainly excel in a low pressure job backing up Ray Rice.
The former Green Bay Packers star is one of the running backs most likely to move on in 2012. After getting only 559 rushing yards in 2011, Grant seems to have lost the ability to be a successful starting running back. He'll also be 30 years old next season which typically signifies the beginning of the end for today's running backs.
While the Packers will likely move forward with James Starks as their starter, Grant will look for a fresh start with another team. The Ravens would be a good team for him as Grant could definitely fill Ricky Williams' role from last season. It also helps that he would likely sign a pretty cheap contract.