NFL Free Agency: Best RB Options for Denver Broncos Likely to Come from AFC West

Jason MuckleySenior Analyst IIMarch 7, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 14:  Willis McGahee #23 of the Denver Broncos runs the ball against the New England Patriots during their AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Gillette Stadium on January 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are shopping around for a complementary running back to relieve Willis McGahee and to be a suitable change of pace option.

Head coach John Fox sticks with the run more than maybe any other coach in the NFL, which makes for a lot of wear and tear on the 30-year old McGahee.

McGahee had a breakout season in 2011. But, as the season wore on, so did his body.

The Broncos should finally be ready to close the book on one of Josh McDaniels’ biggest draft busts, Knowshon Moreno, especially after his recent arrest for a DUI.

Moreno’s career has been riddled with injury and marked by him consistently underperforming. In his three seasons in Denver, he has yet to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in any season. The 2011-12 season started to feel like his last in Denver after he tore his ACL.

The two most likely candidates to replace Moreno and give Fox a bruising back who can do everything come from fellow AFC West rivals. Mike Tolbert (San Diego Chargers) and Michael Bush (Oakland Raiders) would both be solid additions for Denver.

The two big backs are nearly identical. They have both been in the league for four seasons and are almost the exact same size.

Tolbert is also a great blocking back who has been key for protecting Philip Rivers and is great at picking up blitzes. Tolbert doesn’t get a ton of carries, but he is known for picking up crucial yards on short-yardage situations.

Adding Tolbert makes the threat of Tebow’s designed QB sneaks all the more potent. It adds another dimension of deception on short yardage situations when either Tebow can keep the ball or hand it off to a big back who can crash through the line to pick up the yards.

While Tolbert’s stats aren’t amazing, he would add huge upside in some of the game’s intangibles. He is a unique type of back—one that seem to be disappearing. Tolbert could be used as a fullback in front of McGahee, as well. He can open holes and push the pile in a way that Spencer Larsen wasn’t really able to do for the Broncos.

The other intriguing option for Denver, Bush, was given most of the responsibilities for carrying the run offense last season when Darren McFadden injured his right foot early on in the 2011 season. However, he failed to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark despite having 256 carries. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry.

He isn’t speedy, but he is similar to Tolbert as a bigger bruising back. He can push through the line. If San Diego manages to hold onto Tolbert, Bush would be the wise alternative.

Besides Tolbert and Bush, the Broncos will likely be in the market for a speedster from the NFL draft in April. The Denver Post’s Mike Klis believes the Broncos best draft options “for speed, a better fit might be University of Miami's Lamar Miller or Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead.”

Miller or Pead alongside McGahee and a big back like Tolbert or Bush would be more than enough to meet the demand of Fox’s ground game. The Broncos would likely lead the NFL in rushing again.

Hopefully, adding some key running back options would lessen the need for Tim Tebow to pull the ball down and run with it, reducing his risk for injury.