Analyzed Sports | S. K. Patrick
Top 10 Free Agent Running Backs
Tis the season for free agency in the NFL. Running backs are the most versatile position in the NFL. They run, catch, and block. For a period the position seemed to be undervalued but that’s not the case anymore. Besides the New England Patriots every contender usually has a strong running game. Here are the top 10 running backs that could hit the market.
1) Le’Veon Bell
Bell has been one of the NFL’s best all-around running backs over the last few years. He’s essentially a receiver in a running backs’ body. His patient running style and jump cut allowed him to rack up 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns running the ball this previous season. He’s a dynamic player in the passing game. He’s the best receiving back and a dominant pass protector. He needs to be paid, but the Steelers seem hesitant. Bell recently said he’d contemplate retirement before playing under another franchise tag. Take that with a grain of salt, since he’s a young stud in his 20’s. However, it appears the Steelers and Bell are in another contract standoff.
2) Doug Martin
It’s a shame what Tampa Bay’s partying lifestyle did to Doug Martin’s career. Martin, a first-round pick from the 2012 NFL Draft, had 1,400-yard rushing seasons in 2012 and 2015, but has been in the 400s in every other year. Martin has suffered through injuries and lethargy, and he was highly ineffective this past season, averaging a career-worst 2.9 yards per carry. Martin may have checked out forever, but I’d give him a chance with a 1-year “prove it” deal to see if he can bounce back.
3) Carlos Hyde
Hyde is a smooth running back who has great burst at the line of scrimmage. He also has a knack for finding the right hole in the zone scheme offensive system he’s played in. Hyde was just shy of 1,000 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons. He‘s the perfect running back for Kyle Shanahan. With a newly-acquired franchise quarterback resigning, Hyde will be crucial for the 49ers’ success. The NFC West is tough and a playmaker will be needed to keep up.
4) Isaiah Crowell
Crowell signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2014. During his four seasons, he had 737 carries for 3,118 yards, 21 touchdowns. He is no Le’veon Bell but he also had 96 receptions for 770 yards and a touchdown. Last season he had 206 carries for 853 yards, two touchdowns and with 28 receptions for 182 yards. On a contender he can be a difference maker.
5) Dion Lewis
Lewis just put up the best performance of his NFL career. He finished with 180 carries for 896 yards and six TD’s. Lewis showed great improvement running between the tackles. Similar to Bell, Lewis contributed in the passing game, too. This multi-purpose back received 32 catches for 214 yards and three scores, giving him more than 1,000 scrimmage yards on the season. This is what he can do when he’s healthy, and that’s the key.
6) LeGarrette Blount
This power back, standing at 6’ 250 lbs., has great speed for his size. He understands how to take the will out of a defense and protect the ball. He knows his role; short yardage, ground and pound. He has just enough juice to power through the hole and back a play here and there. The offense that features him should use him as a change-of-pace running back. Blount has a championship pedigree that’s contagious. He’s won the Lombardi Trophy in back-to-back seasons with different teams, all with stops racking up the touchdown count. This is a player who has more value than his on-field ability.
7) Jerick McKinnon
With injuries to Minnesota’s starting running backs in 2016 (Adrian Peterson) and 2017 (Dalvin Cook), all hoped seemed lost. But, McKinnon was able to show his worth in the backfield. Out of shotgun, this runner played his best. He has enough patience to run a gap scheme. What sets him apart from his Vikings counterparts is, he’s a tremendous screen runner and pass protector for his size (5’9” and 205 lbs.). Entering his fifth NFL season, McKinnon is underrated between the tackles, but sometimes gets in trouble when trying to do too much. In the right system, he could explode as one of the better backs in the league.
8) Rex Burkhead
Burkhead is a jack-of-all-trades. He can run in space and in between the tackles. He’s an above average receiving back with 30 receptions in 2017, especially in the screen game. He can plunge into the end zone effectively from the goal line. He also averaged 4.1 yards per carry behind an offensive line that had injury issues all year.
9) Jeremy Hill
Jeremy Hill had an outstanding rookie campaign in 2014, gaining 1,124 yards and nine touchdowns. Hill showed flashes of an all around great back. He looked as if he would be a breakout star in the league. However, Hill has yet to average more than 3.8 yards per carry in a season since. He’s been a big disappointment, but he has the talent to turn his career around.
10) Alfred Morris
Morris got his chance to shine when Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension was upheld late in the season. Morris 4.8 yards per carry average was his best mark since his rookie season in 2012. Morris finished the regular season with 115 carries for 547 yards and a touchdown while adding seven catches for 45 yards. He will be a great insurance policy for any playoff team.