2013 NFL Free Agent Predictions: Projecting Where Top Running Backs End Up

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2013

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 25:  Reggie Bush #22 of the Miami Dolphins stretches before a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Sun Life Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The 2013 NFL free-agent running back class is loaded, so teams shopping this offseason have plenty of options.

Running backs don't have the kind of importance they've had in the past. Quarterbacks are dominating the league in a way never before seen. 

However, having an elite running back can help to ease some of the attention off the passing game. Then when the defense starts to creep up a little bit to shut down the run, the secondary can be beaten over the top.

A solid running game can be a major advantage for NFL offenses, so there are plenty of teams who will be jumping at the chance to improve their ground attack. Here's three of the top running backs available this offseason and where they could end up.

Ahmad Bradshaw - Green Bay Packers

Ahmad Bradshaw was a cap casualty for the New York Giants (via Tom Pedulla of The New York Times). Bradshaw is far from a sure thing, as he's been battling with multiple foot injuries over the past few seasons. He's missed six games over the last two years.

When he's on the field, Bradshaw is still a very good running back. In 2012, he ran for 1,015 yards on 221 carries, and 659 yards on 171 carries the year before. In addition to his running abilities, Bradshaw is a solid pass-blocker and a threat to catch passes out of the backfield.

While his foot issues are a concern, the Green Bay Packers should go after Bradshaw big time. Their running back situation was a bit of a mess last year after the injury to Cedric Benson. When the veteran went down, the Packers didn't have a consistent running back who could eat up the yards and ease the pressure off Aaron Rodgers.

Reggie Bush - Detroit Lions

Reggie Bush underwent a bit of a career resurgence with the Miami Dolphins. In his two years with the team, he ran for 2,072 yards while adding another 588 yards receiving. You could understand why Bush would want to stay with the Dolphins. That may not be in the cards, though.

Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post wrote that the Dolphins have yet to make any move to re-sign Bush, much to his surprise:

A source close to Reggie Bush said this week that Bush still badly wants to return to Miami, and his camp is confused as to why the Dolphins haven’t even made an offer yet.

The Dolphins expect big things out of Lamar Miller in his second year next season, and it’s possible that even if Bush does return, he would have a limited role in the offense. But Bush, who was in Beijing last week as part of an NFL China initiative, has been essentially campaigning to return on his Twitter feed, particularly given a recent report that he is unlikely to be brought back.

Should Bush be frozen out of Miami, the Detroit Lions would make a great new home. Mikel Leshoure had a good season but nothing to write home about. His 3.7 yards per carry has to be a bit of a concern going into next year if he's going to be the feature back again.

Bush would be the perfect change-of-pace, speed-back compared to Leshoure. All of the things that Leshoure couldn't do, Bush could.

Rashard Mendenhall - New York Jets

It seems unlikely the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to re-sign Rashard Mendenhall. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are both unrestricted free agents, so the team will have to pay one or both of those guys this offseason.

When you throw that in with the rather tumultuous relationship Mendenhall has built with the Steelers, it's all equals his exit from Pittsburgh.

Mendenhall has shown the kind of potential that only the best running backs in the league have. Unfortunately, he hasn't been able to find that kind of consistency over the span of a couple of seasons. It's been two years since he eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in a season.

Should the New York Jets let Shonn Greene go, they don't have another player who can replace him. 

For the right price, Mendenhall would be a wise signing.