The days of the one-back formation are over in the NFL, as most teams now use three running backs in certain offensive packages. With the lack of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in place, teams are unsure who will be lining up in their backfields next season.
No one has a clue what form of free agency will be in place once the dust settles between the owners and players, so general managers and player personnel directors cannot count on improving their running game via free agency this offseason.
Let’s take a look at the 10 top running backs currently on the free agent market.
Reggie Bush changed his tune about remaining in New Orleans over the weekend, proclaiming that his first goal is re-signing with the Saints. Bush’s troubles began with his post-draft tweets that suggested selecting Mark Ingram had ended his relationship with the team.
Bush didn't recognize how their different running styles could complement one another in the Saints' running game. It’s better that he restructures his contract and remains in New Orleans.
Coming into this offseason, Cedric Benson was going to be one of the top free agents available on the open market. A bidding war should have broken out between teams for his services, but the lockout has prevented that from happening.
Don’t be surprised if Benson re-signs with Cincinnati since they hired Jay Gruden as their new offensive coordinator. He plans to install an offense that features a strong running game, and that should put a smile on Benson’s face; he carried the football 321 times in the 2010 season.
DeAngelo Williams is another free agent candidate who should receive a lot of attention from teams, but the lockout has clouded where he will be playing football next season. His running style is very diverse, and Williams has the speed to score on the outside during a sweep play and the power to break tackles at the line of scrimmage.
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera hopes the front office can re-sign him because he wants Williams to anchor of his backfield. Rivera also wants a calming influence next to Cam Newton on the field next season.
The Miami Dolphins are very interested in re-signing free agent Ronnie Brown, even though they traded up in the NFL Draft to select Daniel Thomas as their next running back. They currently don’t have an experienced runner on their roster, and Brown is the best option for them on the open market.
He is a viable commodity, as Brown averaged 3.0 yards per carry in the second half of last season and has shown to be durable by missing only five games the last three seasons. Brown can also run the Wildcat formation and could prosper in the right passing scheme.
Ahmad Bradshaw has played the NFL’s waiting game perfectly, patiently sitting behind Brandon Jacobs only to shine when called upon in the backup role. You have to love his passion for football, as Bradshaw worked his way up the New York Giants' depth chart to become a starter last season. He has excellent speed, power and great vision on the field.
The only knock on Bradshaw’s game is his lack of ball security; he has had a bad case of fumblitis throughout his career.
Yes, Ricky Williams still has some life left in his legs and could make a significant contribution to any team that wishes to sign him. Scouts project him to have at least two more seasons of productivity left as a feature back.
Williams has taken very good care of himself and conserved the amount of hits his body takes in a game. The one attribute you have to love about him is that he gets better as the game progresses. Plus, Williams loves to wear down the opposing defense with his aggressive running style.
The bottom line is Ricky can still run.
Coming into 2010, Jerome Harrison believed he was going to be Cleveland’s feature back after his break-out season in 2009. He rushed for 862 yards with five touchdowns in seven starts and proved to be a viable option coming out of the backfield in the passing game.
It just didn’t happen though, as the sudden emergence of Peyton Hillis made him expendable in Cleveland, and he wasn’t a great fit either in Philadelphia’s West Coast offense. Harrison can excel in an offense that features the running game because he runs over defenders and also has the speed to break a play on the outside for a touchdown.
Mike Hart isn’t a glamorous choice in the free agent market because he’s labeled "injury-prone." He must convince a team to bring him into training camp, then go out and win a roster position.
A more-balanced offensive team could be the perfect match for Hart, as he could show off his hidden running talents. Remember that he was the feature back in Michigan’s high-powered running attack during college.
Jason Snelling is a legitimate candidate for a starting position in the NFL. He can run, block and catch the football.
I can’t see the Atlanta Falcons letting him leave via free agency because of the uncertainty surrounding Michael Turner playing a full season. Snelling can fit into any offensive philosophy and has excelled on special teams in the past.
Jerious Norwood is a great bargain-basement selection from the free agent market because he could immediately become a second or third option in any team’s offense.
His running style could also flourish in a run-first scheme, as Norwood could be the lightning to a bigger back’s thunder. Plus, he can make a contribution on special teams as a returner.