2011 NFL Free Agency: Power Ranking the Best Available Running Backs
Next to the quarterback, no player drives an offense like a running back. If your team has a good running game, then it usually finds itself in the playoffs, or at the very least in the playoff hunt up until the bitter end.
A good running game opens up the passing game, and once you have the lead in the fourth quarter, a good running game can chew up the clock and not give the other team enough time to mount an effective comeback.
Like most years, there are a lot of free agent running backs hitting the market. Here are the top 15 running backs available for teams once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
*Note: Arian Foster is an exclusive-rights free agent, so he's stuck with the Texans and won't be on this list.
15. John Kuhn
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The Packers are on their way to Super Bowl XLV and John Kuhn is their star fullback.
Expect Kuhn to stay right where he is.
14. Ricky Williams
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Ricky Williams is done in Miami. He said publicly that he's ready for a change of scenery. Williams is old for a running back, but he probably can get a one or two-year contract somewhere in the league to add depth to a backfield.
13. Ronnie Brown
Ronnie Brown isn't as old as Ricky Williams, but he's not exactly a fresh prospect either. Brown now has to decide if he wants to stay in Miami under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll—who led the Cleveland Browns' bottom-feeding offense for the last two years—and go nowhere fast, or if he should try his fortunes elsewhere.
This is assuming Miami would even want him back, which has yet to be determined.
12. Pierre Thomas
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Pierre Thomas doesn't have a lot of options at this point. He didn't have a great year and the Saints got bounced early from the playoffs. The Saints still have to consider their options for 2011, and Thomas may not get the kind of offer he wants.
You can't have a bad year in a contract year, but that's what Thomas had.
11. Leon Washington
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Leon Washington was one of the bright spots on the Seattle Seahawks this year, so as soon as a new CBA is signed, expect the Seahawks to lock Washington up.
10. Michael Bush
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Michael Bush had 655 yards on 158 carries, averaging out to 4.1 yards per carry.
While it's hard to say at this point what Al Davis wants to do, by not picking up Nnamdi Asomugha's contract there is a lot more money with which to sign other players.
Look for Bush to remain a Raider in 2011.
9. Darren Sproles
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Sproles has been a role player on the Chargers offense, but he's worth keeping in a year with a lot of questions when it comes to the CBA.
Once free agency commences, Sproles has value on the market, but he won't be commanding any kind of record deal.
8. Mike Tolbert
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Mike Tolbert had a decent year, missing the last game due to a neck injury. In the Chargers offense, he had 11 touchdowns on 735 rushing yards. He also had 216 receiving yards, so the Chargers are going to want him back and hope he's even better in 2011.
If not, he'll find a market for his services.
7. Ahmad Bradshaw
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Ahmad Bradshaw had a great year, running for more than 1,200 yards, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and scoring eight touchdowns.
If the Giants let him go, it'll signal a huge change in their offense, or that another team gave Bradshaw a ridiculous offer.
6. DeAngelo Williams
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DeAngelo Williams has been the Panthers' best running back, although an injury ended his season in October. With so many changes, Williams may try and ply his trade elsewhere.
A tag and trade is possible, so this situation is definitely one to keep your eye on.
5. Le'Ron McClain
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Le'Ron McClain is going to want a raise and the Ravens are going to have to decide if they think he's worth the money. If they do give him a raise, he'll be more involved in the offense next year. So it will come down to what the coaches think they can do to involve him more in the offense.
4. Joseph Addai
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Don't think Joseph Addai is important to the Colts offense? Look at what happened when he wasn't taking the ball out of the backfield. Defenses stopped respecting the running game.
Addai is a keeper in Indianapolis just as much as Peyton Manning is. Look for the Colts to retain Addai, otherwise there probably are a half-dozen other teams willing to pay Addai what he's looking for.
3. Brandon Jackson
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James Starks has been the star of the playoffs, but don't think Brandon Jackson is yesterday's news.
Jackson still rushed for more than 700 yards, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, proving he's a reliable option out of the backfield.
Still, if the Packers determine they can get what they need out of Starks, he probably is the cheaper option at this point.
With the Super Bowl coming up, that game can change a player's value with one play.
2. BenJarvus Green-Ellis
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The Patriots got good production out of Green-Ellis this year as he passed 1,000 yards and averaged more than four yards per carry with 13 touchdowns.
He'll be 26 next season, the prime of his career, and he's got healthy knees. It would be silly for the Patriots not to try and re-sign him, but stranger things have happened.
1. Cedric Benson
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Cedric Benson has revived his career in Cincinnati, but with all the drama going on in that organization, he may try and change scenery again.
The Bengals are not going to want to lose Benson, but they may lose their quarterback. If that happens, Benson may just decide it's not worth it to even entertain offers.