With BenJarvus Green-Ellis departing Foxboro after signing a three-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals, the Pats will likely add a veteran running back to the roster. Danny Woodhead, who has carried the ball fewer than one hundred times in each of his three NFL seasons is now the most seasoned running back on the team; I cannot envision that being the case when the 2012 season starts. Perusing the list of veteran running backs Bill Belichick has acquired over the years – Antowain Smith, Larry Centers, Mike Cloud, Rabih Abdullah, Corey Dillon, Amos Zereoue, Sammy Morris, LaMont Jordan, Fred Taylor – 2011 seemed to be an exception to the rule with Kevin Faulk making only a cameo appearance and second-year starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis being the remaining elder statesman of the corps.
Here is a look at the possible free agent additions at the running back position.
Michael Bush, Raiders Bush has signed a 4-year, $14 million deal with the Bears
Age 28; 632 career rushes (4.2 ypc); 91 career receptions (9.7 ypr)
Bush is the best free agent running back available, so his price tag is going to be an issue. He is a big back (6-2, 243) which makes him a nice compliment to the Pats running back unit, he’s productive, durable and rarely fumbles.
Kevin Smith, Lions
Age 26; 6-0, 210; 561 rushes (3.9 ypc); 113 receptions (8.9 ypr)
Detroit brought Smith back last November after Mikel LeShoure went on IR early with an Achilles heel injury and then Jahvid Best had recurring concussion issues. Smith performed well (averaging 4.9 yards per carry), but he has unfortunately earned a reputation of being injury prone after a solid rookie season in 2008, appearing in just 26 games since then. If his knee is fully recovered he could be a valuable addition both this year and beyond, but that’s a big if.
Joseph Addai, Colts
Age 29; 5-11, 210; 1253 (4.1 ypc); 237 receptions (7.4 ypr)
Although there is not a lot of tread left on Addai’s tires, his pass receiving skills make him a natural to fill the role Kevin Faulk had for the last few years.
Tim Hightower, Redskins
Age 26; 6-0, 226; 571 carries (4.0 ypc); 138 receptions (6.9 ypr)
Hightower is coming back from a torn ACL, so he is another player with an injury concern. His injury happened in October and he began rehab the following month, so he should be good to go when the season begins. He’s still young, has never been overused (career high is 153 carries), and he does well in the passing game (63 catches in 2009).
Cedric Benson, Bengals
Age 30; 5-11, 222; 1529 rushes (3.8 ypc); 106 receptions (6.9 ypr)
Benson has many red flags: he’ll turn 30 in December; he fumbled twelve times in the last two years; he bristled when Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden tried to rotate him with Bernard Scott last season; and he has had multiple off-field issues.
Ryan Grant, Packers
Age 30; 6-1, 218; 983 carries (4.4 ypc); 100 receptions (7.6 ypr)
At first glance the 29-year old Grant appears to be a productive player with something left in the tank, but I don’t believe that is the case. Green Bay overused him in 2008-09 (693 touches in those two years), and he’s never been the same since.
Brandon Jacobs, Giants
Age 30; 6-4, 256; 1198 carries (4.4 ypc); 88 receptions (8.8 ypr)
Jacobs played well down the stretch last year, but he has limited value at this point. His upright running style makes him susceptible to injury, and he is clearly not as fast as he once was.
Justin Forsett, Seahawks
Age 27; 5-8, 190; 286 carries (4.6 ypc); 102 receptions (7.5 ypr)
Forsett could be a nice change of pace back for some team, but with Danny Woodhead alread on the roster do the Pats want another running back this size?
Jackie Battle, Chiefs
Age 29; 6-2, 238; 190 carries (3.8 ypc); 14 receptions (5.4 ypr)
The career special teamer finally got an opportunity last year when Jamaal Charles tore an ACL in week two. Battle has good speed for a big back but he doesn’t have any moves to make an opponent miss him.
Jerious Norwood, Rams
Age 29; 5-11, 205; 401 carries (5.2 ypc); 97 receptions (9.9 ypr)
Norwood began his career with a bang, averaging 6.4, 6.0 and 5.1 yards per carry in his first three seasons while also returning 116 kickoffs for a total of 5400 all purpose yards. In 2009 Norwood missed six games with concussions and a hip flexor, and then tore his ACL in the second game of the 2010 season; last year Norwood had only 24 rushes in nine games for the Rams.
Ronnie Brown, Eagles
Age 31; 6-0, 233; 1182 carries (4.2 ypc); 190 receptions (8.1 ypr)
Philadelphia didn’t show much faith in Brown last year. They attempted to trade him for Jerome Harrison in mid-season, and Brown finished with just 42 carries and not a single reception. The Dolphins relied on him quite heavily during his six seasons in Miami; he is probably slowed to the point where he is no longer of any use to an NFL team.
Maurice Morris, Lions
Age 33; 5-11, 202; 909 carries (4.1 ypc); 153 receptions (7.7 ypr)
Although Morris will turn 33 in December, he hasn’t taken the pounding players like Brown has because he has always been the number two back. The Lions reportedly have no interest in bringing him back; he would be a low-risk, limited upside short term addition.
Earnest Graham, Buccaneers
Age 32; 5-9, 220; 495 carries (4.3 ypc); 133 receptions (7.0 ypr)
Graham tore his Achilles in October but says he expects to be fully recovered by May. The Florida Gator was exclusively a special teamer for his first three years in the NFL before finally getting a chance in 2007, gaining over 1222 yards from scrimmage and scoring three touchdowns; the past three years he has primarily been used as a fullback. Assuming he is healthy he is another consistent, versatile, low risk option that could still contribute as he has never been over used.
Mewelde Moore, Steelers
Age 30; 5-11, 210; 506 carries (4.5 ypc); 221 receptions (8.7 ypr)
Moore is a player with nearly as many yards receiving (1929) as rushing (2294) in his career. He’s an option as a third-down back.
Jerome Harrison, Lions
Age 29; 5-9, 200; 357 carries (4.7 ypc); 70 receptions (7.0 ypr)
Harrison is the player that was diagnosed with a brain tumor after failing a physical needed to complete a trade for Ronnie Brown last year. If he is medically cleared to play he could represent a very good value at running back. Harrison had 1,082 total yards from scrimmage in 2009 with the Browns.
Cadillac Williams, Rams
Age 30; 5-11, 217; 1073 carries (3.8 ypc); 151 receptions (6.8 ypr)
Williams was clearly overused early in his career and has never been the same since his rookie season. The good news is that his yards per carry in 2011 was the best of his career. The bad news is that it was the first time since 2005 that it was not below four yards per carry.
Derrick Ward, Texans
Age 32; 5-11, 230; 563 carries (4.8 ypc); 101 receptions (8.2 ypr)
Ward parlayed his only good season with the Giants into a big payday with Tampa Bay three years ago, where he lasted just one season. He’s been a third-stringer with Houston the last two years, getting a total of 102 touches during that time. I suppose he could be a short-yardage, goal-line type of guy, but it would make more sense to just use a fullback like Lousaka Polite for that than to use a roster spot on Ward.
Kevin Faulk, Patriots
Age 36; 5-8, 202; 952 carries (4.2 ypc); 482 receptions (8.5 ypr)
Kevin Faulk may indeed be back with the Patriots – but if that happens it will be as a coach, not as a player. If not, we’ll see him in four years when he gets enshrined into the team’s Hall of Fame.
Sammy Morris, Cowboys
Age 35; 6-0, 220; 737 carries (4.1 ypc); 169 receptions (7.6 ypr)
Morris had 98 yards on 28 carries in three games for the Cowboys last year, after gaining 56 yards on 20 carries for the Pats the previous season. If his age doesn’t scare any potential suitors off then that 3.2 yard per carry average over his last two seasons will.
LaDainian Tomlinson, Jets
Can you picture the 33-year old Mr. Classy ever playing for the Patriots? I can’t.
Thomas Jones, Chiefs
Age 34; 5-10, 216; 2803 carries (4.0 ypc); 320 receptions (6.6 ypr)
Jones is not only ancient for a running back, he was over used from 2004 to 2010; it’s remarkable that he was productive for that long. All that wear and tear showed last year, when he averaged a mere 3.1 yards per carry.
Ryan Torain, Redskins
Age 26; 6-0, 215; 238 carries (4.2 ypc); 24 receptions (6.2 ypr)
Mike Shanahan brought Torain with him from Denver to Washington two years ago, but gave up on him after he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry last year.
Tashard Choice, Bills
Age 28; 5-9, 211; 294 carries (4.4 ypc); 73 receptions (7.6 ypr)
Choice was waived by two teams last year, and the third team he was on does not want him back.
Kregg Lumpkin, Buccaneers
Age 28; 5-11, 222; 33 carries (3.8 ypc); 45 receptions (7.2 ypr)
How badly did the Bucs mis-manage their roster last year? They actually had to depend on Lumpkin, who had two NFL carries in two years, to be their primary back when both LaGarrette Blount and Earnest Graham were injured. If anything he would be an alternative at fullback, not running back.
Chester Taylor, Cardinals
Age 33; 5-11, 213; 1196 carries (4.1 ypc); 312 receptions (7.8 ypr)
Taylor has averaged just 3.02 yards per carry over the last three years, and managed only 168 total yards from scrimmage in 2011.
Lorenzo Booker, Vikings
Age 28; 5-11, 191; 61 carries (3.8 ypc); 47 receptions (7.7 ypr)
What are the chances that the Pats replace LawFirm with a guy who has been cut three times, the last of which was for fumbling three times on just 21 touches? Probably less than the chances that I marry Scarlett Johansson.
LenDale White, McDonalds
Age 28; 6-2, 240; 662 carries (3.7 ypc); 47 receptions (5.0 ypr)
White did not play last year; I can’t imagine he is anywhere close to being in football shape at this point.
Note: age listed for each player above is for how old they will be at the end of 2012.
Happy birthdays to
George Benson turns 69; born March 22, 1943
Chico Marx was born March 22, 1887
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