Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
This is a really good group—so good we had to leave guys like Toby Gerhart, who would normally be pretty intriguing free agent, off of it. Teams will be taking a long look at these five players, as the NFL has decided that you can get a running back anywhere, anytime.
Going to free agency may cost more than drafting a player, but you know what you'll get.
1. Maurice Jones-Drew
It will be interesting to see if the Jacksonville Jaguars keep Jones-Drew around. He’ll be 29 years old in 2014 and he's battled injuries during each of the past two seasons.
He’ll want some significant money and the Jaguars are rebuilding, so Jones-Drew could very well be in a new uniform next season.
While he might not have a ton of tread left on his tires, Jones-Drew has at least a few more years left.
Behind a good offensive line, with a legitimate quarterback and weapons around him, Jones-Drew could provide some consistent production for a team having issues at running back.
2. Ben Tate
When Ben Tate burst onto the scene as a rookie, he joined a Houston Texans team hell-bent on running the ball on virtually every down.
During the 2011 season, the Texans ran the ball 546 times, compared to 467 pass attempts.
In that same season, the New England Patriots threw the ball 612 times and ran it 438 times and the Detroit Lions threw it 666 times and ran it 356 times.
In 2012, the dynamic shifted in favor of the pass (554 pass attempts compared to 508 run plays) and nearly all the running plays were for fellow running back Arian Foster.
The 2013 season has seen Foster’s year end early, so Tate has had the bulk of the carries.
While he may fall short of 1,000 yards, that’s more about how bad the offense has been around him and how bad the defense has been as a whole.
You can’t run the ball if you’re behind all the time, and you don’t get chances in the red zone if the offense can’t get you there.
On top of that, Tate is dealing with injured ribs—yet he continues to be effective despite that.
Tate may not get as much in the market as some of the other names on this list, but he could end up being one of the better values if Houston lets him go.
3. Rashad Jennings
The former seventh round draft pick arrived in Oakland this year after three years behind Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville and might have made himself some money.
After Darren McFadden went down, yet again, Jennings took over and had some exceptionally good games.
This looks very much like a case of a guy who finally got out from under the shadow of a starter and making the most of it. Teams are always looking for running backs, and Jennings should get some offers in 2014.
4. Knowshon Moreno
It will be interesting to see if the Denver Broncos decide to keep Moreno around or not. It may depend solely on money—certainly this season he has taken his game to another level and has been a vital facet of the offense.
But they drafted rookie Montee Ball in the second round of this past NFL draft and while he has struggled, his game has slowly improved. The Broncos also have Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson to fill in.
If he leaves, Moreno could find a good market for his services. As stated, he has proven himself more durable this year and able to play through pain. He runs with more determination and has showed improved vision and speed.
He would be a solid addition to any number of teams.
5. Darren McFadden
Once again, we’ve seen the best and worst of Darren McFadden this season.
You can either take 129 yards on the ground in Week 2 against Jacksonville or the two rushing touchdowns in Week 6 against Pittsburgh.
Multiple injuries and another mostly lost season.
McFadden’s talent is undeniable and that will get him signed. Unfortunately, his injury woes are also undeniable and while we’ve seen frequently injured players turn it around (Steven Jackson and Frank Gore come to mind) it’s a risk.
He’ll get paid and get his chance—don’t be shocked if he gets a short-term “prove yourself” contract.