Running back is one of the most easily-replaceable positions in the game of football, due in large part to the short lifespan of such a physical position, and the contributions of the offensive line often "making the back."
Of course, that hasn't stopped teams from spending big money on the position in free agency. But are any of the backs in this year's unrestricted free agent class worth opening the wallet for?
That remains to be seen, but these are my top free-agent five running backs in 2010:
(Note: This series of lists only includes unrestricted free agents, as those are the only type that can be signed without giving up compensation. Restricted free agents—especially the best ones—will cost valuable draft picks. Released players, like LaDainian Tomlinson or Brian Westbrook, are also not included.)
Chester Taylor, Minnesota Vikings
Taylor obviously took on a secondary role in Minnesota after superstar-in-the-making Adrian Peterson was drafted, but he's still been a contributor in offense because of Peterson's propensity for fumbling and, simply, because Taylor still has something left.
Although he's now on the wrong side of 30, there isn't a whole lot of mileage on his tires and he still has starting ability, making him an ideal complementary or No. 2 back.
Larry Johnson, Kansas City Chiefs
It's amazing how quickly Johnson has fallen from grace, but a lot of that has to do with attitude problems as opposed to lack of talent.
While two straight 1,700-yard seasons may have worn him down a bit, Johnson averaged 4.5 yards per carry as recently as 2008, and still has the talent to be a productive starter in the NFL. Where or not he can avoid pissing people long enough to get back into that position is another matter.
Willie Parker, Pittsburgh Steelers
After three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons with the Steelers from 2005 to 2007, Parker has been phased out of the Pittsburgh offense over the past few seasons due to injuries and the presence of first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall.
Parke is still just 29, and while he may never be a feature back again, he still has talent and can easily serve as a No. 2 back.
Jamal Lewis, Cleveland Browns
Lewis said during the 2009 season that it would be his final year in the NFL, but he's yet to officially call it quits and will hit the market this offseason.
Lewis has been worn down quite a bit during his 10-year NFL career and is not long starting material, but he could be a solid veteran backup and short-yardage back if he doesn't decide to hang up the cleats.
Kevin Faulk, New England Patriots
A long-time jack of all trades for the Patriots, Faulk has never been a feature back in the ground game, but is still an excellent receiver.
At 33, and coming from New England, Faulk seems destined to go elsewhere and fizzle out, as so many players do once they leave the well-oiled Bill Belichick machine.
Still, Faulk could still be worth a flier as a veteran third-down back on one- or two-year deal.
Beyond the Top Five
- Chris Brown, Houston Texans — Brown is a long way removed from his 1,000-yard, nine-touchdown performance in 11 games with the Titans in 2004, and he's shown little in recent years to indicate he can be a quality NFL starter. He's still just 28 and hasn't been worked to hard though, so he could be a solid No. 2 or 3 back for someone.
- Ahman Green, Green Bay Packers —Green was surprisingly picked back up by the Packers during the 2009 season and saw some time in short-yardage, but he has little gas left in the tank and will have a hard time finding consistent work.
- Adrian Peterson, Chicago Bears — The "other" Adrian Peterson, the eight-year veteran has pretty much always been an NFL reserve, amassing career highs with 510 yards and three touchdowns in 2007. He will probably get picked up by someone, but I wouldn't even trust him as my No. 2 back.
- Aaron Stecker, Atlanta Falcons — Likely signed by the Falcons as a "New Orleans Saints insider" from his time with the team, Stecker has little to offer NFL clubs, and will likely fade into oblivion rather soon.
Who are your top five running backs on the free agent market in 2010? Share your thoughts on the forum here!
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