2006 NFL Free Agents: Running Backs
By: Thomas J Gersey
1. Shaun Alexander, Seattle
Following an MVP campaign, the value for Alexander has never been higher. At 5'11, 225, Alexander is a load who excels between the tackles. His style has been perfect for the Seahawks, who boast an exceptional line able to create a multitude of holes through which Alexander is adept at squeezing. In the open-field he is a load to bring down, and has just enough secondary speed to turn 10 yard runs into 25 yarders. For all of his physical gifts, he isn't a shifty runner, and if placed behind a lower calibur line, would surely find difficulty replicating his Seattle performance. He catches most passes thrown to him, but isnt so elusive that he can create much in one-on-one situations.
GOOD FITS: Seattle, Denver, Atlanta, Arizona, Carolina, Minnesota, Philadelphia
EARLY PICK: The bottom line is that if Alexander hits the open market, any and all teams looking for an elite back will come calling. His best fit is in Seattle where the fans love him, and the schemes the Seahawks run play specifically to his strengths. Teams like Denver and Atlanta have been shuttling between backs for years, and both teams run speciallized blocking schemes that could allow Alexander to maintain his production. In Philadelphia or Carolina, he would looked upon to step in and mimic his 2005 production, which may prove to be more difficult than one would expect. Arizona is sure to make an offer, but Alexander would almost certainly see his performance cut in half should he go that route.
2. Edgerrin James, Indianapolis
Alexander's status as the league MVP and a lack of injuries are the only things placing him ahead of James on this list. The Edge is a strong runner between the tackles, with the ability to wear down a defense over the course of game. However, he also has the quickness to hit the corner and stretch the defense across the field. Also a tremendous receiver, his versatility has long been an overlooked factor in the success of the Colts passing game. The many looks James gives a defense forces it to spread itself thin in anticipation of a variety of plays. He is an adquate blocker in pass protection, and shows good awareness in recognizing different defensive packages. Health is obviously an issue, as he has missed time with knee, angle and rib injuries.
GOOD FITS: Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Carolina, Philadelphia, NY Jets, Baltimore
EARLY PICK: Edge is likely to seek out either a warm weather franchise or one playing in a large media market. It is no secret that he is less than enamored with the Midwest, and should the Colts show a waning interest in resigning him (as they are) he is likely to seek out a long term deal elsewhere. Jacksonville doesn't have a need at running back, but Fred Taylor has been twice the injury risk that James has been, and with Edge's desire to return home to Florida, the Jags are really the only viable candidate in the state for his services. Carolina is the only other possible destination that meets James' climate requirements, unless one actually believes he would subject himself to the losing ways of the Cardinals. Teams like the Jets and Ravens may create needs as they say goodbye to aging veterans and free agents, respectively. Those two and Philly would all be large media markets in which Edge would be a featured player on offense.
3. Jamal Lewis, Baltimore
Will the real Jamal Lewis, please stand up? After a 2000 yard season, Lewis showed the effects incarceration as he slipped to a dismal 906 yards and 3 touchdowns. On a team that needed an effective runner to take the pressure off of Kyle Boller, Lewis consistently came up short. Lewis is a big back (245 lbs) whose strength is his tremendous feet and balance. His legs constantly move, even when met with multiple tacklers. He isn't a burner, but he has very good cut back ability, and enough speed to break the occasional long run. More than a glorified fullback, Lewis is agile and has excellent vision. Lewis is a below average receiver who would not fit will in a west coast offensive scheme.
GOOD FITS: Baltimore, Cleveland, Green Bay, Carolina, Minnesota
EARLY PICK: Wherever he ends up, Lewis will have to play at a discount. His off the field problems coupled with their effect on his on the field play will both be red flags for any team that considers bringing him on board. Baltimore will likely keep Lewis, but for much less money than Im sure he expected to sign for this season. Should Ahman Green leave GB, he might be a good fit there, where his style would adapt well to the cold weather, and the possibility of off the field trouble would be greatly diminished. Carolina and Minnesota are candidates for any top tier running back, while Cleveland may wish to sign him simply to prevent him from racking up his usual 200 yards a game against them.
4. DeShaun Foster, Carolina
Another exceptional athlete who has become an injury risk. At 222 lbs, Foster is bigger than most people think, and couples that size with very good speed. He runs a tad upright, but compensates for that with excellent vision and cutback ability, thus limiting the shots he takes. However, he hasn't demonstrated he can be a workhourse back, and when he gets tired, tends to take more abuse than he does early in the game. An average ball catcher, he has struggled with fumble problems as well, and could quickly become a liability if he can't control those problems. Showed he might be ready to take the leap to elite status with 150 yards in his first playoff game, but followed that up with a broken leg in his next game.
GOOD FITS: Carolina, Baltimore, Minnesota, Indianapolis, Arizona, San Francisco, Philadelphia
EARLY PICK: Foster could prove to be a steal, and his latest injury will likely make him affordable to most teams. While he would fit well with teams like Philly or Minnesota, it is more than likely that he will attempt to cash in on his promise as a feature back with a desperate team like Zona or San Fran.
5. Ahman Green, Green Bay
Green was once an elite back, who brought the complete package to the table. When he is healthy, he posseses game breaking speed, along with a willingness to lower his pads and take on multiple tacklers. He lacks in the more specialized areas, showing a disdain for blocking, and on occasion, an inability to maintain control of the football. However, he makes up for it with the ability to both carry the load out of the backfield, and add another reciever to the mix once in the open field. He has soft hands and excellent vision, with the first step ability to outrun defenders. Obviously, he is a huge risk, having been had numerous injury problems the past two seasons. At 28, he may be on the steep down side of this career, and any team bringing him on board would be wise to handcuff him with a young backup.
GOOD FITS: Green Bay, Minnesota, Arizona, Cleveland
EARLY PICK: Feel free to add any of the aforementioned teams to this list, but he makes the most sense in one of these four cities, where he could be a bargain as a feature back, with the insurance of a young back already in the mix. If his knees can take it, he would likely excel in Minnesota where the turf would play to his strength. In Arizona or Cleveland, he would be worth the risk, as both teams have other alternatives should he falter. Wherever Green goes, he will have to take an incentive-laden deal.
OTHER FREE AGENTS OF NOTE:
Antowain Smith, New Orleans: Getting older, but still a decent alternative when other players dont pan out. Doesnt have the same speed he was blessed with as a first round pick 9 years ago, but makes up for that with a more aggressive running style than in years past. Not likely to get you 150 yards on a given day, he can be counted on for 20 carries and 80 hard fought yards when called upon. Perfect for a team like the Texans where a solid veteran backup to Reggie Bush would be ideal. Especially one with local roots.
Najeh Davenport, Green Bay: A year ago I considered Davenport a sleeper to excel this season as a feature back. While I thought that would occur in Carolina (from where he is from) instead, he got a shot when Ahman Green went down in Green Bay. However, he immediately got hurt, and is now looking at fewer options than he had previously. However, he is now unrestricted, and the luster has not completely warn off, as teams still see him as a potential starter. I expect he will get a shot elsewhere, should the Packers keep Green, as he may have been passed on the depth chart by 2005 surprise Sam Gado.
Maurice Morris, Seattle: Morris is actually good enough that some in Seattle see more value in keeping him as the starter rather than the reigning MVP, Shaun Alexander. Morris is more elusive, and faster than Alexander, though he does run tentatively on the interior. Unfortunately, he isnt fast enough to consistently run outside, so he must develop a tougher inside running game if he wishes to move to the next level. His future will likely be decided after Alexander's.
Michael Bennett, Minnesota: His technique is still unrefined, but Bennet is a burner. One of the few backs in the game who has the possibility of breaking a run on every play. Rumors have Denny Green hoping to reunite with Bennett in Arizona. Very likely considering the Vikings are moving in a different direction at numerous positions, and will probably not match the deal Arizona puts together.
Verron Haynes, Pittsburgh: A real sleeper, hasn't gotten much of a chance to carry the ball in Pittsburgh, but he is the perfect complementary runner. Much like Smith above, he would fit well with any team using a young running back who would like the supplement them with a physical runner with good feel inside. Likely to remain in Pitt, but will get more attention than many would expect.
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