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NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 RB Market

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2017

NFL1000: Free-Agency Rankings for the 2017 RB Market

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    Tom Dahlin/Getty Images

    Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 free-agency preview, a series where we'll use the power of the 17-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you in-depth analysis of every NFL free agent this offseason. In this installment, lead scout Doug Farrar and running back scout John Middlekauff dive into the running back class.   

    The relatively fungible nature of the running back position can be adequately explained in one statistic. In 2006, 22 backs ran for over 1,000 yards in a season. That number diminished to 12 in 2016. With rare exceptions, the modern running back is no longer the water-carrier—now, it’s the high-volume receiver who tends to drive an offense.

    Now, running back rotations are the order of the day. No rotation was more effective in 2016 than Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who thrived in Kyle Shanahan’s zone scheme as rushers, blockers and pass-catchers. The do-it-all credo is a must if you want to see serious snaps. Le’Veon Bell, who defined Pittsburgh’s offense in an old-school sense, did so because he’s a legitimate all-purpose threat who can dominate a defense up the middle or in the curl/flat zone. The same is true of Arizona’s David Johnson and, to a lesser degree, Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott.

    Blocking is perhaps the most important new component. With the fullback all but phased out of some offenses (though still a fairly dominant part of the two Super Bowl teams), halfbacks must square up and take on ends and linebackers in ways they didn’t have to in college.

    It’s a new world for running backs, just as it’s a new world for most NFL positions. Situational one-trick backs abound in the 2017 free-agent class, and there’s a handful of guys who have a more well-rounded skill set. Unusually, the best back in the business is an impending free agent, though his first and only team should do everything possible to solve that issue before the league year switches over.

    Because if Le’Veon Bell hits free agency, he’ll be the exception to the new rules, and a running back will be the most important player on the open market.

                 

    Previous Installments

    NFL1000 Free-Agent Quarterback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Tight End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Fullback Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Kicker/Punter Rankings
    N
    FL1000 Free-Agent Left Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Offensive Guard Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Center Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Right Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Inside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Defensive End Rankings
    NFL1000 Free Agent Defensive Tackle Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 3-4 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent 4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings
    NFL1000 Free-Agent Running Back Rankings

32. Reggie Bush

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Reggie Bush did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

     

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Bush did not register enough snaps to receive an NFL1000 grade in 2016. He played in limited action in 2015 because of a major knee injury while on the 49ers. His career looks to be coming to a close.  

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Bush became the first running back since 1961 to rush for negative yards on 10 or more carries, per Pro Football Reference (via NESN), and he did in an offense that supported a dynamic running game. If he gets any looks from teams this offseason, it'd be a surprise.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Retirement

31. Danny Woodhead

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Danny Woodhead did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

        

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Danny Woodhead tore his ACL in Week 2 and did not receive a grade for NFL1000. He did look excellent before his injury, and depending on how he has recovered their should be a market on the third-down pass-catching specialist. In 2015, he established himself as one of the best receiving backs in the NFL with 80 catches. He operated as Philip Rivers' safety net and consistently won in man-to-man situations.

    The 32-year-old runner will garner interest from teams looking for a change-of-pace runner and should be able to land at least a one-year deal from a contending team. With Mike McCoy now the offensive coordinator in Denver, it would not be a surprise to see John Elway bring a familiar face to help out his young quarterbacks if the Chargers don’t re-sign him. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: A healthy Danny Woodhead still works as a high-volume short-to-intermediate receiving option, and he's a good enough blocker to stay on the field. He's a veteran depth chip, but still a pretty good one if he has the same level of elusiveness he had before.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers

30. Chris Johnson

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Chris Johnson did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 


                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    After resurrecting his career in 2015 with Arizona, Chris Johnson had a sports hernia in Week 4 and missed the rest of the year on injured reserve. The nine-year vet was a good fit in Arizona, but with the emergence of David Johnson, the Cardinals won't be re-signing him for anything more than the veteran minimum if they are even interested. If any other team is interested, he will need to pass a physical, which could be tough coming back from his injury. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Johnson had a pretty impressive 2015 for the Cardinals, but his yards per carry had dropped from 4.2 to 3.8 in 2016 even before his injury, and he's a complementary piece at best, especially given the fact that he's struggled to stay healthy in recent years. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Arizona Cardinals

29. Darren McFadden

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Darren McFadden did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

         

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    McFadden only played 48 offensive snaps in 2016. He’ll hit the market at 29 years old, despite being in the NFL for nine seasons. Though his propensity for injuries over his career is a red flag, the fact he missed the majority of the 2016 season with a fractured elbow will be a positive on the open market because he should be fresh next year. He is one year removed from a 1,089-yard season behind the dominant Cowboys offensive line, but at this point McFadden is just a guy.

    The Cowboys could easily bring him back to compete for a roster spot on a minimum deal—we all know Jerry Jones has a soft spot for Arkansas players—but it’s hard to imagine his agent getting many calls from interested teams beside the Dallas. It also feels McFadden knows Jerry has a soft spot for him, saying to Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan of SiriusXM NFL Radio that Dallas “wouldn’t mind keeping" him (via the Dallas Morning News).

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: McFadden was rendered redundant by the ascent of Ezekiel Elliott, but he still has a bit left in the tank as a straight-ahead runner and pass-catcher. He never developed into the year-to-year franchise running back his draft position would have suggested, but he can still help teams as a reserve.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Dallas Cowboys

28. Bobby Rainey

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 14.1/25
    Outside Running: 14.6/25
    Receiving: 16.1/20
    Blocking: 14.3/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 65.1/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 82/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Rainey is years removed from his time as a good backup running back and is just a change-of-pace third-down player who can add value on special teams. He’ll be 30 in October, so expect his market to be pretty quiet until after the draft.

    Rainey has had 22 total carries the last two seasons and is a terrible inside runner. He lacks the power, size or strength to do anything between the tackles. At his age, which has diminished his speed, he doesn't have the ability to get on the defense's edges outside. He is just an average pass-catcher and not much of a threat to consistently get open in space. He's not a mismatch in the passing game and is a major liability in pass protection.

    If anyone signs him, it will be strictly to win a job as a punt/kick return man. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: The last thing most people will remember about Rainey is when he stepped out of bounds at his own three-yard line with a kickoff return against the Packers in a wild-card playoff loss. The first thing teams will notice when eyeing him as a free agent is that he's barely been able to take the field as a running back and receiver over the last two seasons. He may be a training camp addition for a team in need of special teams help.

                    

    Potential Suitors: None

27. Andre Ellington

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15/25
    Outside Running: 14.5/25
    Receiving: 15.6/20
    Blocking: 15/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 66.1/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 80/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Ellington, once a key role player for an up-and-coming Arizona Cardinals team, has been fazed out the last several years with the emergence of star back David Johnson. Since Johnson has established he can do everything, Ellington has struggled to even get on the field on offense. In 2014, Ellington was a well-rounded running back. Obviously his numbers have dropped off, but he also brings return value as a kickoff return man.

    Ellington has not been as consistent as a runner the last two years, but he still has good speed and excellent feet. His short-area burst and ability to make guys miss in space are still there. He proved two seasons ago he was a very good pass-catching back with 46 catches. He only had 12 in 2016, but one of the reasons is that David Johnson established himself as the most versatile pass-catching running back in the NFL. Ellington just was fazed out; it wasn't because he can't produce. He did return kicks in 2016 for the first time in his career and proved to be serviceable—this should help his value on the open market.

    Ellington will have some options because he has produced in the league and could look for a one-year deal to re-establish his value.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Ellington has been usurped by Johnson to be sure, but he didn't help his own case at all in 2016 with a 2.8 yards-per-carry average, a huge decrease from the 6.4 YPC he put up in 2015. Teams will scour his tape to discern the reasons for that regression, and it did appear that he wasn't as sudden out of the blocks in 2016.

                    

    Potential Suitors: San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles

26. Shaun Draughn

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.4/25
    Outside Running: 14.6/25
    Receiving: 15.2/20
    Blocking: 15.1/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 66.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 77/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Draughn is a lifetime backup who has bounced around the NFL and played on six different teams in his career. He ended up starting six games for the 49ers when Carlos Hyde got hurt in 2015 but was back to being relegated as a fringe backup in 2016 for a terrible team in San Francisco.

    Draughn looked old and slow as a 29-year-old in 2016. He averaged 2.6 yards per carry and struggled to do anything in limited action. He is a one-speed guy who rarely makes anyone miss and is not going to run away from most defenders. He hangs his hat on running hard, but the problem is that is just not good enough in the highest level of football. He does catch the ball well out of the backfield and looks to get up field immediately with the ball in his hands. He is not good in pass protection.

    While Draughn was solid in 2015, last year was not pretty for him as he now heads into free agency. I don't see any market for him. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: When you're a power back averaging 2.6 yards per carry and 2.0 yards after contact, that's a problem. Draughn is a decent red-zone back based more on opportunity than pure talent, and his lack of consistent blocking leaves him with few options in free agency.

                    

    Potential Suitors: None

25. Travaris Cadet

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 14.4/25
    Outside Running: 14.6/25
    Receiving: 16.2/20
    Blocking: 15/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 66.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 78/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Travaris Cadet established himself as one of the better pass-catching, third-down backs in the NFL in 2016. He helped round out one of the most dynamic offenses in football—with his 40 catches and four touchdowns.

    While Cadet does not bring much to the table as a rusher—he had only four carries in 2016—catching the ball is different story. He is a major mismatch for linebackers out of the backfield and can get open easily on option routes or in the flat. He has speed and change-of-direction ability that give defenders trouble in space. He is a natural catcher of the football and someone that Drew Brees clearly trusts considering he was targeted 54 times. The one main problem is when he is in, defenses know he is going out on a route, and he is average in pass protection.

    For a guy who only had four rushing attempts, it’s pretty clear the Saints value his role, especially at a low price tag. If they can get Cadet to return for the minimum, expect him to be back in a Saints uniform in 2017.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Of those four rushing attempts in 2016, one of Cadet's runs went for 16 yards, and he had the NFL's worst yards-after-contact average—one yard after contact per carry. He's a decent option out of the backfield, though, and that will make him attractive to specific offenses.

                    

    Potential Suitors: New Orleans Saints, New York Jets

24. Jonathan Grimes

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.5/25
    Outside Running: 14.5/25
    Receiving: 15.1/20
    Blocking: 15.1/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 66.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 76/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    He will be a 27-year-old entering the 2017 season having played his last four seasons for the Houston Texans. A below-average backup, Grimes found himself third on the depth chart for a team that had attempted to replace him the draft in 2016.

    Grimes is just a guy. Not a very good inside or outside runner. He has three career touchdowns and is just an average receiver for the position. He's a tight-hipped, straight-line player who struggles to make plays. Grimes will struggle to make a team in 2017. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Grimes is a pretty good blocker, and he can amass a few yards, but it's his blocking that will have him sticking with a team in 2017. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Detroit Lions

23. Kenjon Barner

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.5/25
    Outside Running: 14.5/25
    Receiving: 15.3/20
    Blocking: 14.8/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 66.7/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 75/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    It would not be shocking to see Barner get a low-round tender from the cash-strapped Eagles, but there are no guarantees. While he has proved he’ll never be a starting running back, his value as a return man would bring intrigue on the open market. He did finish 2016 on injured reserve with a hamstring issue, so he would be somewhat of an injury red flag for teams who may be interested.

    He is pretty limited between the tackles and does his best work in a zone running scheme where he can excel with his one-cut downhill style. Though he's a little stiff, he makes defenders miss with his good feet. He is not elusive running outside the tackle box, which can be a problem. Barner will struggle if there is not a hole for him to hit. He really struggles in pass protection and is an average receiver for a third-down, change-of-pace back.

    The only reason there could be interest from other teams is because of his ability to return punts and kicks. He has been a very good kickoff return man, but the problem is the value of this skill has been greatly diminished since the movement of the kickoff. It seems like he has a good thing going in Philadelphia as a special teamer if the Eagles want him back. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Barner is a smaller back with good pass-catching potential, but he doesn't have the frame to hold up as anything more than a situational player. He does have value as an overall player, and the Eagles seem to like his versatility.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Philadelphia Eagles

22. Robert Turbin

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    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.5/25
    Outside Running: 14.6/25
    Receiving: 15.5/20
    Blocking: 15.1/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 66.7/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 74/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    After once being a highly thought of draft prospect, and ultimately going in the second round, Turbin has had an underwhelming NFL career. He has never proved to be more than a marginal backup. Play speed and versatility have limited his ability to get playing time and are the reasons he has been on four different teams since 2014.

    Turbin is not very good. He is too slow to contribute as an every-down back—he hasn’t started a game since 2014. He is strictly an inside runner, and the one area he does add value is in the red zone. He had seven rushing touchdowns in 2016 yet did not have a run longer than 18 yards. He is powerful and has no issues lowering his shoulder on contact and running through tackles. The problem is he can't do anything else and is not effective outside of short-yardage situations.

    The market place could be ugly for Turbin. It’s hard to sign a goal-line back who can't do anything else. Turbin may have to wait until after the draft to get a phone call for employment, and even then making a team in 2017 feels like a stretch. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Turbin is a decent power back who will push the pile on occasion, but he was never able to combine that strength with any sort of dynamism in the ways his teams have hoped. His options will be limited, though his blocking and red-zone potential will get him a few looks.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts, Seattle Seahawks

21. Denard Robinson

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.2/25
    Outside Running: 16/25
    Receiving: 15.2/20
    Blocking: 14.6/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 67/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 72/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Turning the former college quarterback into a running back has not gone as planned. Robinson will enter free agency without ever having established himself as an NFL back. He is an average change-of-pace back at best.

    Robinson only played 102 offensive snaps in 2016—mainly because he doesn't do anything particularly well. He lacks the instincts and the power to be a first- and second-down runner. He goes down too easily on contact. He does have speed when you scheme up outside runs like sweeps and pitches, but if it is not blocked up perfectly, it has no chance.

    He has terrible hands, which is why he can't get on the field. He has enough athletic ability that if you get him in space with the ball, he can make plays. But the problem is, he can't catch. This is also a problem on special teams, where in theory, he should be a serviceable punt returner, but he can’t field the ball. This is a major red flag for a guy who can't get on the field on early downs.

    Robinson will struggle to make a team in 2017. The market could be very quiet for a niche player who doesn’t excel anywhere. His best bet might be to stay in Jacksonville.

                      

    Doug's Quick Take: Robinson is the perfect example of what happens when NFL teams take chances on pure athletes, hoping they'll fit somewhere. So far he hasn't shown any of the attributes required of a running back, and he doesn't present much as a receiver. Add in his special teams issues, and it's pretty clear the bloom is off this rose.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo Bills

20. Justin Forsett

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    Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.8/25
    Outside Running: 14.9/25
    Receiving: 15.2/20
    Blocking: 15.2/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 67.1/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 70/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    The 31-year-old free agent recently said he will decide within the next month or so if he is going to retire from the NFL or attempt to keep playing. The problem for Forsett is the league may make that decision for him. He played for three teams in 2016. He was cut twice, once by the Ravens and once by the Lions. He ended up finishing the season with the Broncos after they lost C.J. Anderson to a knee injury.

    Forsett has been a productive runner in the past, but at this point in his career, he's just average. He has never been a fast player, but his play speed has really diminished over the years. He averaged 3.3 yards per carry in 2016 and overall struggled to gain yards. He was terrible as an outside runner because he could not get by defenders. He just doesn't have short-area quickness and is run down with ease.

    If he doesn't retire, Forsett will more than likely have to wait until someone is injured in training camp to get a shot. And then he would be fighting an uphill battle to make a roster. It's possible the Broncos bring him back as a veteran camp body.

                

    Doug's Quick Take: Forsett is a try-hard player who lasted in the league a lot longer than many assumed he would, and even enjoyed a professional renaissance with the Ravens in 2014 after most thought he was done. Now, however, he provides value only in a situational sense, and he can be easily replaced by younger backs.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Denver Broncos

19. Damien Williams

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.5/25
    Outside Running: 15.1/25
    Receiving: 15.8/20
    Blocking: 15/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 67.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 68/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Damien Williams will enter restricted free agency after a pedestrian season. The third-down back has never started a game in his career, nor has he ever rushed for more than 200 yards in a season.

    It would be an upset if the Dolphins tendered Williams at any level. He is strictly a third-down pass-catching back. He has 65 career catches and five touchdowns as a receiver. Williams doesn't really bring much to the table as a runner. He's averaged 3.4 yards per carry in his career, and his lack of speed is evident when he attempts to run outside the tackles. He is also not very good in pass protection.

    While he will only be 25 at the start of the 2017 season, the marketplace might not be pretty for a running back who struggles to run the ball.

                    

    Doug's Quick Take: Williams is a decent power back and pass-catcher who wasn't going to see much of the field with Miami after Jay Ajayi caught fire. He's a fairly appealing option in a rotation because there's still a lot of tread on his tires.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts

18. Benny Cunningham

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    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.1/25
    Outside Running: 15.4/25
    Receiving: 15.6/20
    Blocking: 15.3/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 67.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 67/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Benny Cunningham, who went undrafted in 2013, will be 27 years old when the season starts. However, he did not have an ideal season entering free agency. Cunningham was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury, which will be a major red flag for teams. But the great part about this process is free agents must pass a physical before they sign, so if his neck is fine, it ultimately won't limit his ability to get a job.

    The main issue with Cunningham is he is not a very good player. He doesn't do any one thing particularly well. He has never had a season where he had more than 66 carries, and in 2016, he had just 21. He is limited inside and outside the tackles. He simply lacks the quickness, vision and ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. He has proven in the past he can catch the football, with 45 catches in 2014. But he has been slowly phased out of the offense since Todd Gurley was drafted in 2015, which is 100 percent the right move by the Rams.

    Now that Los Angeles has new head coach Sean McVay, who had success scouting undrafted free agents in Washington, Cunningham's time with the Rams is likely over. The Colts could be a potential destination: Indianapolis quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer was Cunningham's offensive coordinator in 2014, his most productive NFL season.

                      

    Doug's Quick Take: It's tough to evaluate any back in the disaster that was the Rams offense in 2016—when your scheme makes Todd Gurley disappear, it's time to throw it out and start over. However, Cunningham is not a fit for McVay, who prefers backs who combine power and speed in an aggressive, one-cut system. Cunningham is a viable option on passing downs because he's a decent blocker, but that's about it. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts

17. Fozzy Whittaker

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.3/25
    Outside Running: 16.1/25
    Receiving: 15.7/20
    Blocking: 14.9/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 68.1/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 65/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    The Panthers are going to be in the running back market this offseason, and it would be a little surprising if Whittaker is part of their plan moving forward. While Whittaker is a restricted free agent, don’t expect him to be tendered. The Panthers should look to replace him because he doesn't bring much to the table.

    A third-down back who is not capable of being a starter could find a limited market if and when the Panthers choose not to retain his services. Whittaker is a change-of-pace back who is not an inside power runner, and the Panthers don’t waste much time pounding him between the tackles. However, he is a solid outside runner. He does have the speed, feet and patience to get on the edges and hit the hole getting downfield in a hurry. But he lacks the power to break tackles or the wiggle to consistently make guys miss in the open field. He had a career year in catches, with 25 this season, but is very limited in pass protection.

    While he does have some value as a kickoff return man, that is much easier to replace than a punt returner. The market could be very quiet for this third-string running back.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Whittaker probably has a couple more NFL seasons as a pass-catcher, backup power back and special teamer. He won't get a ton of money in free agency, but teams could do far worse than adding him to their running back rotations.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers

16. Matt Asiata

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 16.3/25
    Outside Running: 14.6/25
    Receiving: 15.6/20
    Blocking: 15.8/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 68.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 60/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Matt Asiata got his second opportunity to be a lead back in Minnesota and proved yet again it's not the proper role for him. With Adrian Peterson’s injury in 2016 and his suspension in 2014, Asiata was able to make 15 combined starts in those two seasons, but he averaged less than 3.6 yards per carry in both years. Though the Vikings offensive line was an abomination in 2016, his own skill set proved to be pretty limited.

    Asiata is a short-yardage back who can spell guys in pass protection. His play speed is very average, he struggles to make guys miss if nothing is there, and he lacks the feet you look for in an every-down starter. With his limited play speed, he is not a threat to run outside the tackles and won't outrun defenders in space. Linebackers and safeties can easily run with him. He is overall very limited.

    He does catch the football well for a bigger back, but the problem is he is not a threat to do much with the ball. Asiata is tough and is solid in pass protection. However, he proved he's not an ideal backup in this day and age because of his limitations. He projects as a guy who is battling for a third spot and playing every special teams unit. His durability and experience will be positives for teams, but his lack of versatility could outweigh those.

    The market could be very quiet for this player come March. It's likely he won't be getting any more than the minimum and the opportunity to compete for a spot. His time in Minnesota could be coming to an end.

                      

    Doug's Quick Take: Asiata certainly does see the end zone a lot for a guy who's never averaged four yards per carry in a season. He is not a franchise back—merely a good blocker who can vulture touchdowns from other backs if they're not built for the rigors of the red zone.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts

15. Tim Hightower

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 16.4/25
    Outside Running: 15.8/25
    Receiving: 15.5/20
    Blocking: 15.2/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 68.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 55/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    A 30-year-old backup running back who has not run for more than 600 yards since 2010 may not garner a lot of interest in free agency. However, he has been the backup in New Orleans the last two seasons and did produce in 2016, playing in every game.

    He doesn't hang his hat on anything but can do a little bit of everything, He runs hard and averaged 4.1 yards per carry in 2016. But he lacks the speed to be a third-down back and is pretty limited in pass protection. He benefited from a lot of light boxes in New Orleans because of the Saints' potent pass offense.

    Hightower has had a bizarre career. After tearing his ACL in October 2011, he was out of the league from 2012 until 2015, when the Saints gave him a shot. He doesn't have the mileage a typical runner would have, but at his age, a minimum salary from a team would be appropriate. It's likely he'll be back with the Saints on a one-year deal.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Given his knee issues, it's kind of a miracle Hightower is in the league at all. He's a great fit in New Orleans because of the opportunistic passing game, and he's become kind of a specialist as a receiver out of the backfield. The Saints, or a team like the Lions—who like to throw the ball 600 times per season—would be his ideal landing spot.

                    

    Potential Suitors: New Orleans Saints

14. James Starks

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 16.1/25
    Outside Running: 15.1/25
    Receiving: 15.8/20
    Blocking: 16/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 69/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 54/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Starks struggled to stay on the field in 2016 because of poor play and injuries, and he was released by the Packers on Feb. 7. He missed the last six games of the year, including the postseason, because of a concussion. He also missed four games earlier in the season with a knee injury. Not the ideal year for a guy heading into free agency.

    He is a very limited runner and turned 31 on Feb. 25. That is not a good combination. Starks has lost his play speed, and his change-of-direction limitations restrict his ability to make anyone miss. He can no longer run through arm tackles, and he really brings nothing to the table outside of the tackles. He is very easy for defenders to run down. In the passing game, he was phased out early in the season aside from being used as a pass-blocker.

    Starks was exposed in 2016 with poor play and as someone whose body is betraying him. While coaches he has worked with in the past—like Joe Philbin in Indianapolis and Ben McAdoo with the Giants—need running backs, it’s hard to see him garnering any amount of guaranteed money.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Starks has had a pretty nice career as a do-it-all back, but even when he was healthy in 2016, he contributed very little. His 2.3 yards-per-carry average was one of many reasons the Packers were scrambling to put anybody even resembling a professional running back on the field. He'll have a tough time on the open market.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants

13. Mike Gillislee

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    Rich Barnes/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 16.7/25
    Outside Running: 16.3/25
    Receiving: 15.2/20
    Blocking: 15.1/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 69.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 52/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Mike Gillislee is a restricted free agent who is coming off a career year as the backup in Buffalo. Even with LeSean McCoy's Pro Bowl season, Gillislee established himself as a versatile running back. While the 26-year-old only had one start in 2016, when McCoy missed a game with a hamstring injury, he still scored eight rushing touchdowns and averaged 5.7 yards per carry.  

    He has also proved to be one of the quicker guys on the Bills offense. He is a limited inside runner, though, lacking the strength to consistently break tackles and carry the load between the tackles. But the 5'11", 219-pounder does run hard.

    With explosive short-area burst and the top-end speed to beat guys to the edges, he excels on outside runs. If he finds some green grass, he is gone. Teams value guys with specific skills when they are change-of-pace running backs, and Gillislee has proved his playing speed is fantastic. In theory, he should be good in the passing game, but he only has 15 career catches.

    With a new coaching staff in Buffalo, it's unclear how the Bills will value Gillislee. But they won't want a repeat of last year: They lost Chris Hogan in restricted free agency, and he went on to have a breakout season with the Patriots. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: In his third NFL season, Gillislee proved he has the potential to be one of the league's best power backs. He forced 16 missed tackles and scored eight touchdowns on his 101 carries, and he showed potential as a breakaway runner. It's a remote possibility, but he could become someone's franchise back for a year or two at some point in his career. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens

12. Rex Burkhead

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Rex Burkhead did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

       

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Burkhead has been a lifetime backup, starting just one game in his career, and is a third back who can become a core special teams guy. He spent some time in training camp at slot receiver, but when the season started, he mostly played running back. His 2016 film did not show anything that suggests he can take on a bigger role in 2017.

    He averaged 4.6 yards per carry and showed what many already knew—he runs hard. The problem? His game doesn't have a lot of variety. He is a one-cut back who looks to get upfield in a hurry. While he has good feet, he is not going to make any defenders miss in space. But he will lower his shoulder on contact.

    He is limited on outside runs and lacks speed. His level of explosiveness limits his ability to beat would-be tacklers in the open field. Burkhead has good hands, but he struggles to consistently create separation in space. He only has 34 career catches for 288 yards and a touchdown. But the Bengals have a fantastic receiving back in Giovani Bernard, so it's not all because Burkhead can't do it.

    Because he can play special teams (as a cover guy), he should have a market in the second tier of free agents. Expect the Bengals to value him but at the right price. Or, with Browns head coach Hue Jackson trying to build a winning culture, he would make some sense in Cleveland. We also know how much Bill Belichick values special teamers.

         

    Doug's Quick Take: In 2016, 224 of Burkhead's 344 yards came after contact, and he forced 11 missed tackles on 74 carries. It was the first season he had more than 100 snaps, and he showed enough as a pure power back to be intriguing. However, he'll have to improve his blocking and his pass catching before franchises consider him a tier-one guy.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots

11. Jacquizz Rodgers

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 17.2/25
    Outside Running: 15.6/25
    Receiving: 15.4/20
    Blocking: 15.1/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 69.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 50/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Jacquizz Rodgers after Week 1, and he resurrected his career. By October, he had a career-high 101-yard rushing night on Monday Night Football. He also ran for a career-high 560 yards in 2016. While Doug Martin battled injuries and suspensions, Rodgers established himself as the more productive player in Tampa as the season progressed.  

    Rodgers is the type player who will have to wait for the market to take shape, and he might not have a team until after April. Tampa will need to look for a long-term solution come draft time.

    For a small running back (5'6", 206 lbs), Rodgers is a good inside runner. He goes hard in between the tackles, and he has the strength to run through defenders and the feet to make guys miss in the hole.

    The problem is he brings nothing to the table outside the tackles and is limited in the passing game. While he does have good hands, his ability to consistently get open against linebackers is a struggle. He is only 27 years old, so some teams will show interest once the market and probably the draft play out.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Rodgers has always been a powerful, shifty guy—not quite able to take on a full workload as a starter but a valuable companion piece in a rotation as a zone-runner. You'd like to see more catches and better blocking, but he's the real deal as a one-cut back.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins

10. Chris Thompson

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 15.4/25
    Outside Running: 16.8/25
    Receiving: 16.5/20
    Blocking: 15.2/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 69.9/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 45/82

                      

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Chris Thompson is an excellent third-down back who helped Kirk Cousins look good the last two seasons as a checkdown option. Despite not being the starter, the 2013 fifth-round pick has produced at a high level in the passing game the last two campaigns (240 yards receiving, two touchdowns; 349 yards receiving, two touchdowns).

    The Redskins organization is led by an offensive-minded head coach in Jay Gruden who values what the 5'8", 195-pounder brings to the table, and a second-round tender for the restricted free agent feels right.

    With 68 carries in 2016, Thompson saw his role as a rusher nearly double, and he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. He has excellent playing speed and a natural feel on draws and delays. He's not someone you'd ask to consistently run between the tackles, but he is not afraid to take on contact.

    Thompson has the speed and the burst to get on the edges and is a good outside runner. He's a natural doing pitches and sweeps, and he's an excellent route-runner who can create separation on linebackers and get open on everything underneath. He has good hands and can make things happen when the ball is in them. He is a very good role player.

    It would be surprising if the Redskins don't aggressively try to keep him, but because they have so many high-level free agents, it's a possibility. With former offensive coordinator Sean McVay now in L.A. as head coach and the Rams needing a backup for Todd Gurley, it's possible they would got after Thompson's services.

                      

    Doug's Quick Take: Thompson proved his worth as a do-it-all guy, and he'll most likely be back in D.C. as a restricted free agent—and perhaps the most consistent member of Washington's running back rotation.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Washington Redskins, Los Angeles Rams

9. Rashad Jennings

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    Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 16.8/25
    Outside Running: 15.2/25
    Receiving: 15.9/20
    Blocking: 16.2/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 70.2/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 41/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    The New York Giants released Rashad Jennings on February 13, and he is free to sign with a team whenever he wants. Jennings has been the lead back for the Giants the last two years and has been average. He was a lot less productive in 2016 than in 2015, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry versus 4.4 the season prior. The Giants were one of the worst running teams in the NFL, and Jennings played a role in that designation.

    He'll be 32 years old at the end of March and looked his age during the 2016 season. He has never been quick, but his play speed was poor. He lacks the wiggle to make guys miss and just doesn't have the explosion to run around defenders. He's limited outside the tackles and is not going to make something out of nothing. He's just not a dynamic player in space.

    In the passing game, he is also average. Jennings has good hands, but once the ball is in them, he is not going to make things happen. He will struggle to get open on linebackers. Jennings is solid in pass protection, hanging his hat on his toughness as a player, so you can trust him to protect your quarterback.

    At this point in his career, he'll probably have to wait until after April's draft to land a home. If the Raiders strike out on players and lose Latavius Murray, general manager Reggie McKenzie could kick the tires again.

     

    Doug's Quick Take: Jennings was once a decent and versatile back, but his loss of second-level speed has been a killer. Though you could explain away some of his inconsistencies on Big Blue's offensive line in years past, it's more likely that he's going to struggle to find an NFL home in 2017. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: Oakland Raiders

8. Terrance West

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 17/25
    Outside Running: 16.1/25
    Receiving: 15.9/20
    Blocking: 15.5/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 70.5/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 39/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Terrance West, a 26-year old entering restricted free agency, is coming off a career season for the Baltimore Ravens. The 2014 third-round pick has taken years to hit his stride in the NFL, though in 2016, he proved he can be a productive player. While he'll never be a top-tier runner, West showed he can be a guy who splits carries on a solid team.

    It will be fascinating to see how Baltimore values West. A low-round tender makes the most sense on the surface, but it would not shock anyone if the Ravens place a second-round tender on him. But if you look at Ozzie Newsome's history as a general manager, he's not scared to let guys walk—especially at a position that is loaded in the upcoming draft.

    As a player, his ceiling is a solid starter—not great but by no means bad. He runs hard and can make plays between the tackles as a guy who will run through defenders. West is not going to run away from anyone, but he does play fast. He is limited as an outside runner and lacks wiggle to make consistent plays in space.

    While he is solid in the passing game—West had 34 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown in 2016—he is a liability in pass protection. He is not someone you can leave in and depend on to keep your quarterback clean; he allowed six hurries in 2016. West also has five career fumbles, so ball security is a red flag.

    If the Ravens put a low tender on West, he will have value throughout the league as a cheap player who can contribute as a No. 2 back.

       

    Doug's Quick Take: West's breakout season of 2016 was punctuated by both power (28 missed tackles forced on 193 carries) and speed (12 runs of 15 yards or more). If he can improve his blocking and keep the ball in his hands, he's got a solid shot at the kind of contract year that could further elevate him in the minds of NFL personnel.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders

7. DeAngelo Williams

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 17.1/25
    Outside Running: 16/25
    Receiving: 16.1/20
    Blocking: 16/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 71.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 31/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Williams took less money in 2015 to join the Pittsburgh Steelers and attempt to win a Super Bowl. Despite making the playoffs twice, he did not accomplish that goal. His market will not be as bullish in 2017. He'll be 34 years old when OTAs start, and his 1,730 career carries will not have front offices buzzing. But some team will offer him a one-year deal because even in limited action, he showed he has a little left and has proved to be a winning player.

    In 2015, when Le'Veon Bell went out with a major knee injury, Williams carried the load, helping the Steelers make a playoff push. He started 10 games, averaged 4.5 yards per carry and had 11 touchdowns. Williams was easily one of the more underpaid veterans in the NFL given his level of play. The Steelers offense did not skip a beat when Bell went down.

    In 2016, when Bell was suspended the first three games, Williams showed he could still contribute at a high level. But once Bell came back and started dominating, the Steelers relegated the veteran to the bench for the majority of the season.

    Williams is still a solid inside runner; he is physical between the tackles and has good play speed for an older back. He has good hands, can catch the ball out of the backfield and is solid in pass protection. He's a high-character veteran who could add leadership to any running back room in the league with young players.  

    He will not be a high-priority free agent, and because of his age, he may not even be a second-tier guy—but he will play in 2017.

                      

    Doug's Quick Take: Any team in need of power between the guards and veteran leadership overall should be happy to welcome Williams into its rotation. He's no longer a full-time starter. But he's an excellent complementary piece, and he's still got a lot to offer in short bursts. 

                    

    Potential Suitors: New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings

6. Isaiah Crowell

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 17.6/25
    Outside Running: 16.1/25
    Receiving: 16.1/20
    Blocking: 15.9/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 71.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 27/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    It would be shocking if the Cleveland Browns do not put at least a second-round tender on restricted free agent Isaiah Crowell. But if they put a lower-round price on him for some reason, he should have a bullish market. Crowell has improved every season, and in 2016, he had career highs in rushing attempts (198), yards on the ground (952), yards per carry (4.8) and receptions (40). Though his team had a terrible quarterback situation, Crowell found a way to be productive.

    He's only 24 years old, looks to be entering the prime of his career and is the type of ascending player NFL teams look for in free agency. Crowell is an excellent inside runner who plays physically downhill and will run through defenders with ease if they do not bring the lumber.

    He has great feet, good vision and the ability to break big runs. Crowell's red flag is 39.7 percent of his rushing yards came on 16 carries in 2016, so some teams will view his production as a little skewed. Others will view it as his ability to be a big-time playmaker.

    He is a good pass-catching back and has good hands and the make-you-miss ability to make plays in space. Also, he has improved in pass protection over the last couple of seasons. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported in January that the Browns and Crowell were working on a deal but found themselves in a stalemate.  

    It'll be fascinating to see what value a number-based operation like the Browns place on him. If they don’t put much stock into Crowell, expect teams such as the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles to show interest.

                      

    Doug's Quick Take: Crowell is an imposing runner with both power (5'11", 225 pounds) and speed (4.57 40-yard dash). He's a decent pass-catcher but a potential liability as a blocker.

    Not only did he perform well in spite of Cleveland's nightmarish quarterback situation, but he did so behind an offensive line that had been stripped of a lot of talent. On a better team, he might be an RB1. It's fair to wonder about the boom-or-bust nature of his production, but if the Browns place a low tag on him, teams will be lining up to find out the truth.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles

5. Latavius Murray

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    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 17.6/25
    Outside Running: 16.8/25
    Receiving: 16/20
    Blocking: 16/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 72.4/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 19/82

                          

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Latavius Murray has gone from a sixth-round pick to a functional starting running back in a couple of years. He had a career season as the lead back in 2015 and followed it up with another solid campaign. Over the last two seasons, Murray has averaged four yards per carry and added 74 catches. He also became an excellent goal-line runner in 2016, rushing for 12 touchdowns.

    Murray is an older back at 27, but he doesn't have much tread on his tires. He missed his entire rookie year after being placed on injured reserve at the end of training camp and then didn't start until Week 15 of his second season. He has 523 career carries, which is a low number for a full-time starter hitting free agency.

    Murray is a good inside runner and a big back with good feet and vision. The 6'3", 230-pounder also has excellent play speed. The problem is, for a big back, he doesn't break many tackles and goes down too easily. He is just an OK outside runner and lacks the special explosive speed needed to consistently get to the outside. He has improved in the passing game, though. He has good hands, but the Raiders utilized two rookies in third-down situations as the 2016 season progressed. Teams will view Murray a two-down back in this market.

    The Raiders have never seemed all-in on Murray, especially since head coach Jack Del Rio arrived in 2015. He could return, but it would have to be on Patriot-level discount—which is hard to see him taking. The New York Giants would be an interesting landing spot. Murray's inside running would be a welcome fit in the Giants offense, as they are likely to let Rashad Jennings walk in free agency. 

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Murray doesn't pin the needle in any one category, but that's OK because he does everything at an above-average level. He has the power one would expect from his 230-pound frame, but he's also a good breakaway runner inside. And he'll add a receiving component to any offense. He's also become one of the better blockers at his position, and he'll get the opportunity to do more in just about any situation.

                    

    Potential Suitors: New York Giants, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles

4. Adrian Peterson

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Incomplete: Reggie Bush did not play enough in 2016 to receive full grading. 

     

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    The Minnesota Viking did not exercise the 2017 option for  Adrian Peterson, making him a free agent Tuesday. Peterson is coming off one of the more interesting three year stretches in league history. In 2014, he was suspended without pay for a domestic issue involving his son, and only played in one game. In 2015, he had an MVP type season, rushing for 1,485 yards, 11 Touchdowns and carrying a Vikings offense to the playoffs. Then in 2016 he played in three games before tearing his meniscus, averaging only 1.9 yards per carry. To say it's been an up and down roller coaster ride for Peterson these last three years would be an understatement. 

    The tale of the tape on the star running back is a tough one to judge. While the 2016 film did not do him any favors - he lacked explosiveness and the play making ability he has always hung his hat on - the film from 2015 was pro bowl worthy. He has a lot of tread on his tires, 2,418 career carries, and might just be at the point of diminishing returns as a player. He will be 32-years old and father time does not look to be on his side. 
    Teams that are bullish on Peterson will focus on 2015, when he was one of the best runners in the league. A powerful back, that can make guys miss in the hole, run by and around defenders breaking tackles with ease. Best suited for a power running scheme, and a team who wants to pound the football between the tackles. His red flag have always been the pass game. Not a great catcher of the football and very hit or miss in pass protection. At this point and time in his career he is strictly an early down back.
    There are playoff teams like the Raiders and Giants who should express interest, and teams on the rise like Tampa Bay who would be crazy not to kick the tires. Peterson, in a statement Tuesday, did not totally shut the door on Minnesota - which makes some sense at a lower salary because they still desperately need a running back. The interest in Peterson will be there, the salary teams are willing to pay for an older, hall-of-fame player is a different story. 

        

    Doug's Quick Take: 

    Peterson wasn't the back he'd been in previous years even before his 2016 season was cut short, and he may be secretly relieved that he won't be tied to the worst offensive line in the NFL. He has an uncertain future in the league, though his part recoveries from injury have been fairly superhuman, and he'll get offers from a lot of teams.

    The multi-million dollar question is, how much is he worth to the NFL at age 31, and with two of his last three seasons abbreviated by injury? He may have to take a short-term "prove-it" deal if he's intent on proving the skeptics wrong.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings

3. LeGarrette Blount

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 18.8/25
    Outside Running: 16.7/25
    Receiving: 15.1/20
    Blocking: 16.2/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 72.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 15/82

                    

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    LeGarrette Blount is a classic Bill Belichick reclamation project. After the Steelers released him in 2014 for leaving the field early in a Monday Night Football game, the Patriots pounced. New England has utilized him to win two Super Bowls. That was especially true in 2016, when he was a major contributor for a dominant offense.

    Blount was awesome in coordinator Josh McDaniels' scheme and the revitalized Patriot offensive line. The 6'0", 250-pounder established himself as one of the better bigger inside runners with elite feet. A force in the red zone, he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 18 last year. When he gets momentum moving forward, he is tough to stop. He wasn't as good in the playoffs, averaging only 3.1 yards per carry, but he cemented his value during the 16-game regular season.

    While Blount is 30 years old, 2016 was only the second time in his career he has eclipsed 200 carries (299). He has fit seamlessly in the New England culture, and expect Coach Belichick to recognize his value this offseason—for the right price, of course.

    Blount told NFL Total Access last Monday, "I just want to make sure that I go to this free agency with an open mind knowing that I definitely want to go back to New England."

                      

    Doug's Quick Take: Blount became the epicenter of the new Patriots offense, which resembled the old one of the early 2000s, when Tom Brady was still developing and the power running game was a big part of those first three Super Bowl wins. An unstoppable force in the red zone and still possessing surprising breakaway potential, Blount isn't a perfect fit for every offense. But if a team need a power guy to bring its inside game to life, it can't do much better.    

                    

    Potential Suitors: New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders

2. Eddie Lacy

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 20/25
    Outside Running: 16.2/25
    Receiving: 15.4/20
    Blocking: 16.2/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 73.8/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 10/82

                        

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    Eddie Lacy is long way removed from his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons his first two years in the NFL. Since that point, he's battled injuries and weight issues that caused him to lose significant playing time.

    According to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy fined Lacy for not making weight over the last couple of seasons (the gain clearly showed in 2015). But in 2016, he looked slimmer and was playing faster. Before Lacy had an ankle injury in Week 5, ending his season, he was averaging 5.1 yards per carry and was looking poised for a big year.

    His weight and his durability issues will certainly be the focus of front offices when they discuss whether to acquire him because no one would dispute he can contribute to a playoff team.

    When Lacy is healthy and in shape (big if), he is one of the better inside runners in the NFL. For a larger runner, he has excellent feet, can make defenders miss and has the power to run through soft arm tackles. When Lacy is locked in, he is a force running downhill—but he doesn't bring much to the table besides running between the tackles. He lacks the speed to get outside and is never going to be an exciting threat there.

    As a receiver, he's not a dynamic player out of the backfield, but he does have the hands to contribute. He had 77 catches his first two years in the NFL. He's not going to be a big playmaker in the open field but can operate as a safety net for his quarterback.

    Lacy could be an excellent value signing for a good team looking for an inside power runner—the key will be having everyone on the same page in regard to his flaws.

          

    Doug's Quick Take: There's a ton of "buyer beware" when investigating Lacy's potential. He's an elite power back when he's 100 percent. But between health and conditioning issues over the last couple of seasons and his precipitous statistical drop, one has to wonder if he'll ever be the guy he was in his first two seasons. The team looking to find out will likely sign Lacy to a prove-it deal, and he'll have to do exactly that before he sees any serious money.

                    

    Potential Suitors: Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders

1. Le'Veon Bell -- Franchise Tagged (2/27)

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    NFL1000 Scores

    Inside Running: 20.2/25
    Outside Running: 18.8/25
    Receiving: 17.8/20
    Blocking: 17.4/20
    Positional Value: 6/10 
    Overall: 80.3/100
    2016 NFL1000 RB Rank: 1/82

                           

    NFL1000 RB Scout John Middlekauff

    The top-rated running back in the NFL1000 will not sniff the open market. The Pittsburgh Steelers franchise-tagged him on Monday. Bell has become the best running back in the NFL and one of the more dominant players in the entire league.

    There is not anything Bell can't do. His patient running style is one of the more fascinating skill sets the league has ever seen. He can dominate between the tackles and embarrass defenders outside of them. While he is not the fastest runner in the NFL, his feet and his vision enable him to gain yards with ease. His power on contact is also special; he consistently drags defenders for extra yards. You can almost write him in for 100 yards before a game even starts.

    In the passing game, Bell is dominant. He can get open on any linebacker or safety. He has improved the Steelers offense and in theory should extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's career because of his ability to carry the load. The Steelers championship window is right now, and Bell is a major reason why.

    The 25-year-old is not perfect; he has a couple of red flags. In 2015, Bell had a season-ending knee injury, but he proved he was 100 percent back from it in 2016. He also had a three-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy at the start of the campaign in September. The Steelers know all this and should not bat an eye at keeping Bell long term.

                     

    Doug's Quick Take: Add in the fact there was speculation Bell would need groin surgery this offseason to the small list of concerns. That aside, Bell's absurd number of yards from scrimmage totals (1,884 in just 12 regular-season games and 360 in the postseason) tell the story: He is one of the consistently unstoppable offensive weapons in the NFL, and he does more to make his offense transcendent than anyone else—including Big Ben and Antonio Brown.

    In fact, Bell's 2016 performance was even more impressive given Roethlisberger's poor play down the stretch. The Steelers should not hesitate to compensate him accordingly.

     

    Update: The Pittsburgh Steelers placed the exclusive franchise tag on Le'Veon Bell post-publish on 2/27. 

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