Every year NFL teams have limited choices when it comes to rebuilding their franchise.
They can either address specific needs through the draft or choose to bolster those needs through free agency. The good teams manage to find a competitive balance between the two.
However, with the 2013 NFL draft somewhat devoid of elite running back prospects, it seems like this year's free agent class of RBs is going to be the most impactful group of NFL players thinking of changing teams.
Moreover, the talent of the 2013 free-agent running backs for the most part trumps that of the incoming draft class, meaning teams are going to have to look hard at some of these guys if there's a pressing need at the position.
Here's a rundown of some notable free-agent running backs heading into free agency.
2013 Free Agent Running Backs
Cedric Benson, Green Bay
Peyton Hillis, Kansas City
Felix Jones, Dallas
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh
Danny Woodhead, New England
Chris Ivory, New Orleans (Restricted)
Reggie Bush, Miami
Bernard Scott, Cincinnati Bengals
Shonn Greene, New York Jets
Steven Jackson, St. Louis
That's an extensive class of running backs, both in terms of immediate talent and guys eager to prove they are capable of handling a 20-plus-carry-per-game load for a contending team.
Starting at the top, Cedric Benson was having a great season before an injury put him on injured reserve for the remainder of the 2012 season. Reggie Bush is back to his USC form, and he should be a top target even if Miami has to fend off other teams by giving him a huge contract.
Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Ivory are two young, powerful backs who appear to have no role with their current teams. Mendenhall lost playing time in favor of Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, and Ivory can't seem to crack the current three-RB rotation in New Orleans.
Even Shonn Greene and Steven Jackson, starters at the beginning of the season, appear to have lost the faith of their current head coaches.
Having said all this, a majority of these guys are still better than the incoming draft class.
Sure, Giovani Bernard and Eddie Lacy head up a group of running backs that is somewhat underrated. I like UCLA's Johnathan Franklin and even Michigan State's LeVeon Bell as prospects who—in the mold of the Redskins Alfred Morris—will be great value picks.
That being said, there aren't many Morrises waiting to jump out of the wings and into a starring role.
Free agency is a safer bet, and expect many teams with holes at the front of their running back rotation to make a move towards some of these guys. Bush will likely be the cream of the crop, but don't be surprised if Greene and Jackson command significant interest throughout the league.
As the draft creeps closer and we start to figure out which teams are looking for running back help, don't be surprised if some college backs start to creep up teams' draft boards.
But when it comes to filling this position this offseason, NFL teams will more than likely take the safer free-agent route—followed by a draft pick in the later rounds.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team.
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