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2011 NFL Power Rankings: Ranking the Top 10 Free Agent Running Backs

Eric BallFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2011

2011 NFL Power Rankings: Ranking the Top 10 Free Agent Running Backs

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    The NFL lockout is about to finally expire, and that means the highly anticipated free agency season can finally get underway.

    The most highly anticipated free agent period in recent NFL history, the whole process will be rapidly sped up into overdrive.

    One position that features plenty of options is at running back. A position in the league that has become as expendable as the punter, running backs tend to bounce around the league a lot higher rate than they used to.

    With plenty of teams that need to upgrade at the position, it will be a fast and furious few days at running back. On the flip side, there are a ton of available backs who can make an immediate impact not only for your fantasy team, but also your actual team as well.

    While there are far more than 10 backs looking for work, here are the top 10 free agent running backs heading into the caged death match better known as 2011 NFL free agency.

10. Jerious Norwood, Atlanta Falcons

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    Eight rushing and nine receiving yards doesn't exactly scream of a successful year, but that's what happens when you have season-ending knee surgery after Week 2.

    He has been a great backup for the Atlanta Falcons since entering the league in 2006. Norwood has amassed 1,995 yards and seven TDs in his time at the Georgia Dome. He has the ability to play a much bigger role in an offense as long as his knee can hold up.

    But that's the million dollar question, and it remains to be seen if he will be 100 percent in time for the season. That affects his status with multiple, teams and it will be interesting to see how much Norwood could garner in free agency.

    Expect Norwood to land in a situation that gives him more touches and more chances to utilize his outstanding quickness.

9. Darren Sproles, San Diego Chargers

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    Darren Sproles is one of the shortest players in the league, but that doesn't mean he can't play. As a backup for the San Diego Chargers the past six seasons, Sproles has displayed the incredible burst and agility to break plenty of tackles.

    He is a home run threat on any given play and can hide behind his monstrous linemen to screen himself from defenders. Yet Sproles has trouble picking up the blitz on pass blocking which is the reason he has always remained a backup.

    With most of the NFL adapting a two-back system, plenty of suitors will be courting him. The triple threat of a runner, pass catcher and kick returner is awfully appealing—even if he is only 5'6".

8. Leon Washington, Seattle Seahawks

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    Few players can match the speed of Leon Washington, and that makes him one of the more dangerous weapons in the game.

    He has the size to fend off would-be tacklers and the hands to be a outstanding receiving threat as well.

    Yet it’s hard to shake his small size (5'8") and age (28). Washington isn’t running on empty, but he sure isn’t on the upswing of his career. The serous leg injury he suffered at the end of his career with the Jets is also a big concern.

    But franchises will love his speed, and you can bet that teams like the Miami Dolphins and Indianapolis Colts will be investigating what kind of deal they have to make in order to nab Washington. Oh and Washington won’t be coming with a heavy price tag either.

    Another big plus.

7. Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders

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    The 26-year-old Bush is a powerful runner who isn’t afraid to run over a defender. His speed and agility are above average and his motor is always running at 100 percent.

    He has been stuck behind Darren McFadden in Oakland, yet completely shredded defenses when he got the bulk of the carries. In 23 attempts against the Chargers, Bush collected 95 yards and a TD. In the last game of the year against the Chiefs, he registered 137 yards on 25 carries and another TD.

    He has a ton of potential and has the ability to take the bulk of the carries for a team. A Kentucky native that played his college ball at Louisville, Bush would make a lot of sense with the Cincinnati Bengals—a team in desperate need of a full-time runner.

6. Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins

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    The age of Ricky Williams is something to take with a grain of salt.

    Sure he’s 33 years old, but his body has nowhere near the amount of mileage that any other 33-year-old back has. He has dealt with multiple suspensions and retirements from the game but has always come back and been a great player for the Miami Dolphins.

    Over the years he has become a versatile back that can be used in the passing game. He isn’t going to get a huge salary because of his age, but that doesn’t mean he could be a great complement to several teams' running games.

    Expect Williams to end up on a veteran team looking to make a strong push towards the Super Bowl…New England perhaps?

5. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis Colts

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    The Colts featured back for the last five years, Addai is a great player when healthy. Yet as is the case with most fragile running backs, Addai has been fighting injuries for seemingly every year he’s been in the league.

    But his instinctual ability and versatility make him an asset that is more than worthy of a strong look.

    The 27-year-old has only carried the ball over 250 times once and can line up as a receiver at times to really throw off a defense.

    The biggest knock is the injury history and the fact he has been lucky enough to play along side QB Peyton Manning and that Addai’s numbers are inflated because of it. But Manning can't break Addai's tackles so this claim is weak.

    Don’t expect that argument to keep Addai way from getting a nice multi-year deal with a team utilizing a two-back system.

4. Cedric Benson, Cincinnati Bengals

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    He would have been two spots higher on this list if he didn’t decide to lay a hand on a member of his family last weekend. The assault arrest sheds a large black cloud over Benson, and it will likely cost him a few million dollars.

    Way to go, Ced.

    But the fact remains that he is only 27 and is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. His ability to shift weight on a dime is something special to watch, and he has the strength to move the pile in order to secure those extra two yards.

    He did run into a fumbling problem last season that likely cost the Bengals a game or two because of it.

    You can bet the amount of teams to court Benson has dropped in fear of a suspension that will cost him game action, but there will be a team that looks past the legal issues and sees a player who still can be a featured back in this league for at least another two seasons.

3. Ronnie Brown, Miami Dolphins

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    Ronnie Brown has been fantasy gold for years now and will certainly not be going back to Miami. The Dolphins had a clause in his contract that gave him a huge bonus if he reached a certain amount of carries. When he almost hit the mark, the Dolphins benched him to ensure he didn’t get the extra money.

    He is attractive on the free agent market because he brings incredible toughness that is hard to rival in the NFL. Problem is this aggression leads to injuries and Brown has been dealing with them for a large chunk of his career.

    Yet with the ability to run, catch and pass…there will be plenty of suitors that line-up to speak with him.

    Teams like the Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos are all implementing a two-back system that fits Brown perfectly.

2. Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants

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    Bradshaw is the most dangerous and adaptable running back in free agency.

    The most appealing part of Bradshaw is his age. Anytime you can grab a 25-year-old who already has racked up 17 TDs in his career you are getting a great player. In 2010 he ran for 1,235 yards and eight TDs in part-time duty with the beastly Brandon Jacobs.

    The Giants are expected to make a strong push to keep Bradshaw in blue and white, but don’t expect them to get Bradshaw without a fight from other teams. At 5'9" and 198 pounds, it’s unclear if he can be a featured back and that may be the selling point.

    If a team can offer him the No. 1 spot and 20 plus carries a game—expect Bradshaw to take the plunge.

1. DeAngelo Williams, Carolina Panthers

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    DeAngelo Williams has been one of the top backs of the past five years. Last season he was hampered by injuries that resulted in only six games for Williams.

    His 2008 season of 1,515 yards and 18 TDs is still fresh in the memory of many fans and his value on the market is high. He makes perfect sense with the Denver Broncos since his only head coach in the NFL—John Fox— is the new head honcho, and the team desperately needs a featured running back.

    Williams will command a hefty contract, and it may scare off teams on a budget. If the Broncos don’t want to shell out the dough, you can expect a big market team to swoop him up in a hurry.

    The bidding war for Williams will be very interesting.

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