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2016 Free Agents: Running Back

The 2016 free agent series continues with the running backs. There is a lot of starter quality talent available at RB in 2016.

The Bears have their long time starter in Matt Forte as a free agent to sign. If the Bears let Forte hit the open market, they could be searching for a new back while rookie Jeremy Langford failed to impress with 3.6 YPC in 2015. Forte is 30 years old but still has a lot left in the tank after a 4.1 YPC 2015 season on over 200 carries. Forte is a very good receiver too but had a down year receiving in 2015 after 800 yards receiving in 2014.

The Lions may have a need at power back if they cut Joique Bell. Bell could save the Lions 2.5 million in room if they feel his contract doesn’t match his production. Bell has battled many injuries the last two seasons and has had very poor first half production in 2014 and 2015. Bell came on strong in the second half of 2014 and 2015 but it might not be enough to stay with the Lions.

The Packers must make a decision with free agent James Starks. Starks has been the Packers backup since 2010. Starks is a solid receiver on screens and had 4.1 YPC in 2015. We’ll see if the Packers retain Starks or try to add a better receiving RB to complement Jabba the Lacy.

The Vikings have Adrian Peterson and Jerrick McKinnon. Barring a crazy move by the Vikings to trade Peterson; they shouldn’t need a starting RB. Matt Asiata is a free agent and the Vikings may add a short yardage power back or retain Asiata.

Starters

There are several starter quality backs on the market barring an unlikely franchise tag for a RB.

Doug Martin is the best available back. Martin had 288 carries for 1,409 yards and 4.9 YPC in 2015. He had a huge contract year to match his huge rookie year in 2012 (4.6 YPC and 11 TDS). Martin does have two down years in 2013 and 2014 and did lose 4 fumbles in 2015. Martin just turned 27 in January and should have 3 or 4 more good years left for a RB hungry team. The former 1st round pick will be a hot commodity.

Chris Ivory is probably the most consistent power back available. Ivory had 4.3 YPC and over 1,000 yards in 2015 for the Jets with 7 TDs. Ivory had 4.1 YPC in 2014 and 4.6 YPC in 2013 with the Jets with over 200 carries. Ivory was used sparingly and oft injured for the Saints in the previous three years but had two years over 5 YPC (including 147 carries his rookie year). Ivory is not much of a receiver but is a good consistent power back. Ivory is a big back and will be 28 this season.

Alfred Morris had a strong first two years with the Redskins in 2012 and 2013, solid 2014 season but a down year in 2015. Alfred Morris is 27 years old until December. Morris is trending in the wrong direction for Washington while marking 4.8 yards per carry (YPC), 4.6 yards per carry, 4.1 yards per carry and 3.7 yards per carry over the last four seasons. Morris has over 200 carries every year including over 300 his rookie year. Morris is not much of a receiver though. Morris is a solid starter and has 3-4 years left too for a good run blocking team.

Lamar Miller is another good starter available due to Miami’s cap issues and the drafting of Jay Ajaja. Miller had 4.9 YPC, 4.0 YPC, 5.1 YPC and 4.5 YPC in his four years in Miami. Miller has over 200 carries once and over 175 carries twice. His rookie year he only had 50 carries. Miller is an underrated RB and has developed as a receiver with 397 yards in 2015.

Matt Forte was discussed under the Bear’s RB needs. If the Bears don’t retain, someone will get a good back despite Forte’s age. Forte has played 8 seasons with the Bears and has over 200 carries every year. Forte had 4.1 YPC in 2015 and only 3.9 YPC in 2014. Forte is a good receiver still and average pass blocker. Forte can help a team for the next year or two at 30 despite his high work load.

Ronnie Hillman is a free agent RB after four seasons with Denver. Hillman had 4.2 YPC and 7 TDs with over 200 carries with the Broncos this year. The Broncos relied on Hillman more than restricted free agent CJ Anderson during the season. Hillman had a solid 2014 season with the Broncos as well and can be a decent receiver. Hillman is a low end starter that could help a team if the Broncos don’t end up re-signing him.

Backups

James Starks is a solid backup from the Packers since 2010. Starks had 4.1 YPC on 148 carries but 5 fumbles in 2015. Starks had 3.9 YPC in 2014 but 5.5 YPC in 2013. The Starks Express may roll somewhere else next season at a solid pace.

Bilal Powell is a good receiving RB that can run between the tackles with good size. Powell had 4.5 YPC on 70 carries to backup Ivory for the Jets. Powell did have 388 receiving yards in 2015 too. Powell had 4.3 YPC on only 33 carries in 2014 but 4 YPC on 176 carries in 2013.

Steven Ridley is another backup RB from the Jets and former Patriot. Ridley had success with the Patriots in 4.3 YPC but regressed in 2014 and 2015 rushing the ball. Ridley could be added on a one year deal.

Chris Johnson had a revival with 4.2 YPC on 196 carries before tearing his ACL late in 2015. If Johnson recovers, he may give a team a mid-season boost. Johnson turns 31 in September so he might be slowed with this injury.

LeGarette Blount is another big backup RB from the Patriots. Blount had 4.3 YPC on 176 carries with 6 TDs in 2015 before a hip injury put him on IR. Blount can be a workhorse back and get the tough yards. We will see if he returns to New England or if a new team adds him. Blount has some offseason baggage with the Steelers and Buccaneers. Blount will be 30 in December.

Others

Reggie Bush is a free agent again after an injury plagued year with the 49ers and only 8 carries. Bush is 31 and was injured in 2014 with the Lions too rushing for 3.9 YPC. Bush may get a vet min one year deal at this point. How the mighty have fallen after a strong 2013 season (4.5 YPC).

Matt Asiata is a short yardage back from the Vikings that they could re-sign.

Jonathan Grimes had 5 YPC on 80 carries for Houston but is only a restricted free agent. CJ Anderson is a restricted free agent who had 4.7 YPC and 5 TDS for Denver in 152 carries and a huge 2014 season. Anderson had 4.7 YPC on 179 carries in 2014 for the Broncos with 8 TDs. The Broncos will probably give Anderson a high tender and he won’t be available unless a GM wants to give up a draft pick.

Fred Jackson, Boom Herron, Jacquizz Rodgers, Chris Polk and Bobby Rainey are worth minimum deals. Jackson is 34 and may retire. Bernard Pierce (spouse abuse) has off field baggage after a couple solid seasons with the Ravens.

Summary

This is a strong RB free agent class with plenty of starters and backups available. The class has many power backs and some solid receiving backs but lacks an excellent receiving back. RB needy teams probably won’t break the bank but can add a starting quality back.