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Fantasy Football: Ranking the top unrestricted free-agent running backs
The upcoming free agency period is plentiful with unrestricted running backs, but none of them definitively have the makeup to be "the man." Depending on the going rate, several of these players could re-sign with their respective 2013 teams. The majority of will find jobs as complementary rushers in new homes.
I wanted nothing more than to rank Mendenhall higher than this, but the reality is clear: He is not the same back he was just a few short years ago. Despite entering an age-27 season, there is little reason to believe he will turn it around, even for one season. Perhaps Mendy develops a niche role as a goal line back for a team, but his fantasy production in 2014 will be erratic, at best, and likely reliant on finding the end zone.
Gerhart turns 27 years old this spring, and while he looked great in limited work last season, that's just it: He isn't much better than a part-time player. The former Stanford standout has averaged 4.7 yards per carry for his career, and he is a rock-solid receiver. He will be much higher on this list should he somehow secure a starting job as the primary ball carrier, which he intends to seek, although I don't see it happening.
The little engine that could simply can't anymore. Jones-Drew put forth one hell of an admirable effort in 2013, playing behind a shoddy offensive line, on a team with little else in the way of surrounding talent. Nearly 29 years old, MJD could return to the Jags if he cannot find a suitable offer on the market. His fantasy value, regardless of where he lands, is roughly in the RB3 territory. Consider Jones-Drew a flex-worthy option at this point in his respectable career.
Another former Jaguar, but more recently an Oakland Raider, Jennings posted several strong fantasy performances in 2013. He scored in four of the six games in which he had at least 15 carries, and contributed 36 receptions on the season. Jennings will be 29 years old before snow melts away in most areas of this country, but his mileage is much less than most backs of his age. Given his size (6-foot-1, 231 pounds), versatility and 2013 success, Jennings could be an appealing one-year option for a team as a starter. Keep an eye on where he signs.
Blount was beastly for a few games in New England last year. I am not sold on him returning to the team, and someone might offer him a multi-year deal that he won't be able to refuse. He's a two-down back and has a short shelf life, so Blount would be a rental in a committee for a new team. Despite being one-dimensional, Blount has modest fantasy appeal, in the right environment. Watch this one play out over the coming weeks.
Moreno's 2013 season was a nice, feel-good story. I was rooting for him. That said, I see no way he returns to the Broncos this offseason, and leaving Peyton Manning will drop him several notches on the "desirable RB" list. The resurgent Moreno doesn't profile as a feature back but could be a dangerous fantasy option in the right situation. He is another intriguing wait-and-see fantasy commodity who could be much higher on this list.
A career season for Brown (eight total TDs) will be rewarded with a kick to the curb, sort of. Should he re-sign with the Colts, the soon-to-be 27-year-old is probably the No. 3 back behind Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard. With this in all probability being his last opportunity for a modest multi-year contract, I expect him to test the market. Brown should be viewed as a third running back, depending on where he winds up, with mild upside if he has a chance to be the primary back. He still has home run speed and showed improve awareness in 2013.
Ugh, I know. This guy, again. How many times can one person be bitten by the DMC bug? How many times can DMC be bitten by the injury bug? Apparently every ... single ... season. Individual talent alone, he would be No. 1 on this list in a heartbeat. As we all know, a lot more goes into defining a successful fantasy back. McFadden will be out of Oakland, but where does he land? Does he bust a wheel upon touching down? Break a finger signing a contract? Anything seems possible with this guy. Cincinnati is a reasonable spot for him because of the Hue Jackson connection. McFadden could be used in a part-time role to help mitigate his injury potential, and just being on a better team could go a long way. If nothing else, he'll likely come a bargain bin price.
Don't let last year's paltry figures fool you ... Brown is a talented back and should be given a chance to start. Injury is always a concern with him, though. He is an acceptable receiver out of the backfield when needed, even though that isn't a strength of his. Brown very well may return to the Giants, whose miserable offensive line stunted Brown's production. David Wilson (neck) won't be counted on in 2014 (or maybe ever again), leaving the G-Men in the market for a back they are comfortable with. For now, I will pencil him in as a Giant in '14 with RB2 fantasy considerations.
A truckload of talent, and a quarry pit worth of downside, Tate is a true high-risk, high-reward choice. He has the ability to start and be successful, should his body not fail him. He is tough, despite being injury-prone, as evidenced by how he gutted it out (almost literally) through several broken ribs for a few weeks, including one three-TD effort, before going on Injured Reserve late last year. Tate is versatile and will be 26 just before the season begins. He should get the chance at proving he can be a full-timer for some team. If so, you're looking at a risky No. 2 fantasy running back with every-week starter upside.
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