1. Maurice Jones-Drew
Maurice Jones-Drew has averaged 1,009 yards rushing and five yards per carry during his eight-year career. He also averages nine rushing touchdowns per season.
Drew still should have a lot of mileage left in his legs for any team looking to pay for his services. The going rate, however, has dropped significantly over the last two years after he failed to hit 1,000 yards rushing in either of those seasons.
Last year, Jones-Drew averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and had five rushing touchdowns. Teams will certainly be interested in him but will be smart not to overpay for him.
2. Ben Tate
For those in Houston enamored with Arian Foster’s value to the team, I got news for you—Ben Tate may be just as valuable, if not more so in the coming years. Tate is a powerful runner with great vision and underrated elusiveness.
Unfortunately for the Texans, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to retain his services after they overpaid for Arian Foster not that long ago. Whatever team claims him will be getting a very talented runner who has yet to show the world the full extent of his abilities.
3. Knowshon Moreno
It may have taken a few years for Knowshon Moreno to get going in his NFL career. This season was the first year Moreno amassed over 1,000 yards rushing since entering the league in 2009.
Young running backs entering their prime are ideal targets in free agency and it should be interesting to see how hard the Broncos work to hold onto their top runner. Denver does have a lot of youth at the position and may be willing to roll the dice and let Moreno play the free-agent market.
4. LeGarrette Blount
The big man with a bad attitude has exceeded expectations yet again with his second NFL team. The Patriots were thankful to have Blount’s services all year as the passing game struggled with injuries and youth. Blount is one of the most athletic guys over 250 pounds in the NFL. He can literally run you over or jump over you.
Blount has averaged five yards per carry in five years as a pro and needs to be featured more in the coming years. This is a talented individual who just needs to stay out of trouble and keep his head in the game. Let’s not forget that despite the unusual talent, LeGarrette went undrafted in 2010 after being kicked off the team at Oregon.
5. Andre Brown
2012 was a bit of a breakout year for Andre Brown. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry in spot duty but looked like a guy who could eventually become a feature back. 2013 was less kind as he struggled to repeat the same type of results.
Brown should be a nice addition to any team’s backfield at 6’0” and 227 pounds. He’s still worth bringing in at the right price.
6. Joique Bell
The big value of Joique Bell is not just from his legs, but his hands as well. This kid had 650 yards rushing and 547 yards receiving in 2013. The Lions relied on Bell often as Reggie Bush battled through injuries and fatigue during the season. At 229 pounds, Bell has the frame to carry a load. Detroit may not have the cap space to keep Bell in their backfield but he will certainly find a home somewhere.
Keep an eye on this emerging talent in 2014.
7. Donald Brown
The Colts were desperately seeking a running game earlier in the season. So much so that they traded their first-round pick in 2014 to acquire Trent Richardson as their feature back. Unfortunately things did not pan out like they hoped with Richardson but the acquisition may have given Donald Brown some incentive to play some of his best football since entering the NFL.
Donald Brown has never had a 1,000-yard season but he did average 5.2 yards per carry this year. He also had a career-high six rushing touchdowns.
8. Darren McFadden
Is there any player in the NFL more snake bitten than Darren McFadden? This guy just can’t seem to stay healthy. It’s hard to say whether or not he’ll have the type of success he was drafted for, not even for a single season.
After two seasons averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry, he shouldn’t command much by way of salary, but we have to imagine that Oakland will be more than happy to let their injury-riddled running back try to make a fresh start in another uniform.