NFL Free Agency: 10 Teams That Could Go After Running Back BenJarvus Green-Ellis
BenJarvus Green-Ellis went from being an afterthought to becoming one of the NFL's best running backs.
The undrafted third-year back started on the Patriots practice squad and joined the New England roster after injuries to Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and Laurence Maroney depleted the depth chart. This year he's emerged as the starter and has rushed for 1,008 yards and an NFL-leading 13 touchdowns for the league's No. 1 offense.
Green-Ellis is likely to be a restricted free agent this offseason, since he wasn't drafted out of Mississippi. The Patriots aren't known for overextending themselves to keep their own players (see: Asante Samuel, Richard Seymour), so Green-Ellis may be considered expendable.
If that's the case, he'll have no shortage of suitors. Here's a look at the teams which may make a bid for the 25-year-old running back during the upcoming football offseason.
1. Miami Dolphins
Nick Laham/Getty Images
The Dolphins were supposed to have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in uniform. The duo combined for over 1,400 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, part of the 21st ranked rush offense in football.
Brown started all 16 games for the first time in his career, but he's been a huge disappointment since being drafted No. 2 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. Williams, 33, is decent in a part-time role, but he's way past his prime.
But both are now free agents and Miami may look elsewhere to fulfill their rushing needs. Where better than by plucking a player from their division rival?
2. San Diego Chargers
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Mike Tolbert (182 carries) and Ryan Matthews (158 carries) shared rushing duties in the San Diego offense, and were effective for the No. 15 rush offense in the league. Darren Sproles (50 carries) also contributed, but was primarily used as a receiving back.
Sproles will be a free agent and Tolbert will be a restricted free agent, so there may be a place for a running back like Green-Ellis if one of those players leaves San Diego, Tolbert especially.
3. Arizona Cardinals
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Cardinals were dead last in rushing this season, earning only 86.8 yards/game on the ground. Tim Hightower (736 rushing yards, five touchdowns) and Beanie Wells (397 rushing yards, two touchdowns) showed flashes of talent, but the Arizona offense was so anemic that it's difficult to fairly evaluate them.
Hightower could be gone next season and Wells has only rushed for 4.1 yards/carry in his short career. Green-Ellis and Wells have a similar rushing style, but the Cardinals need all the bodies they can get.
4. San Francisco 49ers
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The 49ers have Frank Gore, one of the best running backs in the game. But even with Gore as their leading rusher, San Francisco only had the 19th ranked rush offense in the NFL.
They probably would have finished higher had Gore not suffered a season-ending injury in Week 12, but the injury showed just how short the 49ers were on their depth chart. Brian Westbrook was serviceable as a replacement and rookie Anthony Dixon saw some action.
However, Westbrook will now be a free agent and Gore will be the only running back on the roster with more than 70 career carries. Green-Ellis could come in and share duties with Gore, lessening the risk of another major injury.
5. Seattle Seahawks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The Seahawks had the league's second worst rushing offense, averaging only 89.0 yards/game.
They made a trade early in the season to get Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo, but he's not good enough to be a feature back and only averaged 3.5 yards/carry in 2010. Justin Forsett was somewhat better with a 4.4 average. Leon Washington is also on the roster, but he's primarily used as a return man and will soon be a free agent.
The Seahawks could get by with the trio of Lynch, Forsett and Washington. But they should at least take a look at Green-Ellis, who rushed for almost twice as many yards as anyone else on the Seattle roster.
6. Cincinnati Bengals
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Cedric Benson had a good season for the Bengals, rushing for 1,111 yards and seven touchdowns on 321 carries. He wasn't the most efficient runner (3.5 yards/carry), but he got the job done for a rush offense that ranked 27th in the NFL.
Benson will now be a free agent, as will fullback Brian Leonard, so Cincinnati will have to make a decision. Bringing Benson back is probably the best option, but Green-Ellis may be a more cost effective option to join second-year running back Bernard Scott.
7. Indianapolis Colts
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
The Colts normally feature a very balanced offense, but last season injuries to starting running back Joseph Addai forced them to become a pass-first team. The end result was a team that finished first in the NFL in passing (288.1 yards/game), but 29th in rushing (92.7 yards/game).
Donald Brown (497 yards rushing, two touchdowns) was respectable for a second-year back and Mike Hart and Dominic Rhodes were good enough to fill in a couple of times a game. However, none of these backs is a realistic option if the Colts hope to contend for a championship.
Addai and Hart are free agents, and the Colts would like nothing better than to steal their rival's feature back and make him theirs.
8. New Orleans Saints
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Saints have always been a pass-first team with Drew Brees at the helm, but this season the offense got more one-sided than ever. Injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush forced the offense to adapt, while Chris Ivory (716 yards rushing, five touchdowns) was a pleasant surprise for an undrafted rookie.
Still, it's hard to see the Saints not doing something about their 28th ranked rushing attack, especially with Thomas and full back Heath Evans scheduled to become free agents. If New Orleans lets go of Thomas, then Green-Ellis could be an excellent replacement.
9. Green Bay Packers
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Like the Saints, the Packers also rely on their passing offense to put points on the board. The rushing attack (24th in the NFL) featured an inconsistent Brandon Jackson and rookies James Starks and Dimitri Nance. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the team's second-leading rusher.
Jackson is now a free agent, as is full back John Kuhn (third on the team in rushing), so there's obviously a hole to fill. Jackson was supposed to be the long-term answer at running back for the Packers, but that experiment has apparently failed.
It's time to move on and Green-Ellis is an excellent candidate to become Green Bay's feature back.
10. New England Patriots
The Patriots will have the edge to resign Green-Ellis because he is a restricted free agent and they should be considered the early favorites.
New England had the ninth ranked rushing offense in the NFL with Green-Ellis and fellow undrafted running back Danny Woodhead getting the bulk of the carries. Woodhead should be back and there's no reason to break what's not broken.
Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and Fred Taylor will all be free agents too, and Faulk and Taylor will seriously consider retirement. That puts extra pressure on the Patriots to bring Green-Ellis back, with Woodhead and Thomas Clayton (seven career carries) as the only other running backs left on the roster.