In the search for talent at the Running Back position for the Denver Broncos, I had a slew of prospects to start with. I opted to pare down the choices to a more suitable level for realities sake (and to keep your attention). So you won't find the likes of Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams or Carnell "Cadillac" Williams listed below. There are probably ten other players that didn't make this list either. That is because the Broncos don't require the services of aging, injured or fragile Running Backs. The average career of a Running Back in the NFL is roughly 4.7 years, so it doesn't make good business sense to offer a multi-year contract to a back who is past 30 years of age.
Anyway, the Broncos could use another body (or two) to tote the rock in the upcoming season, especially if Knowshon Moreno can't take control of his groin and hamstring maladies. Correll Buckhalter is 32, LenDale White is coming off an Achilles tear, Lance Ball is somewhat untested as far as durability and unknown rookie Brandon Minor could merely be a candidate for the Practice Squad. Laurence Maroney is a Free Agent and after a disappointing lack of commitment, can't possibly be invited to return. I'm not neglecting Spencer Larsen here and I don't want to speculate where he fits in, but he is an entity unto himself and will define his position whether it is on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. So without further preamble, here is my list of available Free Agent Running Backs.
DeAngelo Williams is the starter for the Carolina Panthers. He is 5' 9", 217 lbs, Age: 27 and in his 5th year. He made $2.1 million in 2010. DeAngelo has a nice mix of speed, power, and perseverance. He is quick, elusive, and very creative in the open field. He finishes well and is a good receiver. This is a Back who can carry his team when he gets on a roll. The drawbacks: He will dance to the line and get stuffed at times, is undersized and has some durability issues. Considered a Star tailback, DeAngelo has a career rushing average of 5.1 yards. He made the Pro Bowl in 2009. With Jonathan Stewart still locked up, will DeAngelo become a dispensable commodity? I know there are Bronco fans that would love to see Williams in an Orange uniform, but it is doubtful the Panthers will permit him to leave without compensation. Perhaps through a tag and trade? They do need a quarterback.
Cedric Benson is a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals. He is 5' 11", 227 lbs, Age: 28 and in his 6th year. His 2010 salary was $3,750,000. This former 1st-round bust has reinvented himself with two 1100+ yard seasons in Cincinnati. Even though he just turned 28, Cedric should have one more good contract left in him. Benson is a powerful runner who can pound it inside and isn't afraid of contact. He uses the cut back well and has good go-ahead speed. He also is solid in the receiving game. Cedric doesn't possess great top-end speed or a lot of elusiveness and his straight-forward style makes him injury-prone. He's also had off the field trouble early in his career. He is considered an above-average featured back.
Joseph Addai is the starter for the Indianapolis Colts. He is 5' 11", 214 lbs, Age:27 and in his 5th year. In 2010, his salary was $718,720. Addai was once one of the league's promising backs, but injuries and a slowly deteriorating Colts’ offensive line have cut into that potential. Now at 27, Addai probably has one good contract left, but must first compete with Donald Brown to prove that he can still be the complete back he once was. Addai is great as a one-cut runner. He makes good decisions and accelerates through the hole. An outstanding receiver with good hands and a feel for zones, Joseph is elusive and can break tackles on the perimeter. He is not a power runner or move-the-pile guy, but really a bit of a system player who looks better because he rarely faces an eight-man front. Addai is considered to be an excellent starter who has been to the Pro Bowl and has a Super Bowl Ring.
Brandon Jackson is the starter for the Green Bay Packers. He is 5' 10", 216 lbs, Age: 25 and in his 4th year. He made $465,590 in 2010. Brandon is a power runner with the ability to move the pile. A very determined runner, he always keeps his feet moving and runs with purpose. He can explode through the hole and has good long speed. However, his blocking is poor and he is an average receiver at best. He shows a lack of instinct and tends to run right into traffic. Jackson has to learn to set up his blocks and read the field better. Considered a decent starter or an excellent backup.
Pierre Thomas is the starter for the New Orleans Saints. He is 5' 11", 215 lbs, Age: 26 and in his 4th year. His 2010 salary was $1.684 million. Pierre is an explosive straight-line runner that will run away from defenders. He is strong and quick and has a knack for finding the end zone. Possesses solid receiving skills and is also a good kick returner. The downside is that he lacks top instincts, patience, and vision, and doesn't cut back very well. He will go down early if his path to the second level is clogged and he could stand improvement as a blocker. Still, he is considered to be an above-average power back & kick returner.
He also won a Super Bowl Ring with the Saints.
Ahmad Bradshaw starts for the New York Giants. He is 5' 9", 198 lbs, Age: 24 and in his 4th year. His salary in 2010 was $466,110 according to Yahoo. Bradshaw is a powerfully built, low center-of-gravity runner who keeps his legs moving and breaks a lot of tackles for a small man. He has good cutback skills and can make tacklers miss. The downside is that he fumbles too often. He also has poor hands, below-average receiving skills and could improve as a blocker. Ahmad has some durability issues do to his stature. He is considered a decent starter or very good backup/platoon back. He has a Super Bowl Ring.
Mewelde Moore is the 2nd string RB behind Rashard Mendenhall for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is 5' 11", 209 lbs, Age: 28 and in his 7th year. In 2010 he made $1.759 million. A smart, hard working player, Mewelde is an exceptional receiver out of the backfield. He has great hands and knows how to run routes. He also possesses good short area quickness and can make defenders miss in the open field. However, Moore lacks lower-body strength to break tackles and doesn't have great long speed or an extra gear. A willing blocker who sometimes gets pushed aside, Mewelde is a solid role player with a Super Bowl Ring.
Kenneth Darby plays behind Steven Jackson for the St.Louis Rams. He is 5' 10", 211 lbs, Age: 28 and in his 3rd year. According to Yahoo, his 2010 salary was $467,280. A polished and well-rounded running back, Darby is quick and reads defenses well. He has good hands as a receiver and also has some return skills. He can sometimes be a little too patient on reads and isn't particularly fast. He's not the best blocking back, but consider him a good 3rd-down back or spot starter.
Michael Bush is the 2nd option behind Darren McFadden for the Oakland Raiders. He is 6' 1", 245 lbs, Age: 26 and in his 3rd year. He made $466,760 in 2010. In a limited role, Bush has posted some eye-popping numbers behind a questionable offensive line and an ineffective passing game. He was a potential 1st-round selection prior to a leg injury which sidelined him in his senior year. With his 4.4 average, Michael has shown glimpses that he could be a punishing starter in a better situation. He has great power with his frame and is capable of moving the pile. He also has receiving skills and a enough open-field quickness to be more than just a short-yardage guy. He is lacking in top speed and can be slow through the hole at times. It could be said that he is behind in his development. Bush is unproven as a steady ball carrier. Consider him a decent starter
Darren Sproles is the 2nd string all-purpose back for the San Diego Chargers. He is 5' 6", 190 lbs, age: 27 and in his 6th year. In 2010, his salary was $7.2831 million. With his mercurial size, Sproles has proven that he can’t be a starting back, but he is exactly what most teams look for from their back-up. He’s a dangerous special teams weapon and a threat to score each time he gets the ball. He can change directions at full speed and has excellent hands as a receiving back. His durability is a question mark when it comes to a heavy workload. He will make some bad decisions when going for the big play and has ball security issues. He is considered a multi-purpose back with starter potential.
Jerome Harrison is the 2nd string RB behind LeSean McCoy for the Philadelphia Eagles. He is 5' 9", 205 lbs, Age: 27 and in his 5th year. His 2010 salary was $539,160 according to Yahoo. After carrying all but 77 times in his first 3 years, Harrison rushed for 862 yards on 194 attempts in 2009 including 3 straight 125 yard games to end the season. As a 5th round pick, Harrison still hasn’t made much money, which meant that 2010 would be even more pivotal for him. In October 2010, he was traded from the Brown to the Eagles in exchange for Mike Bell. Harrison has good speed and quickness, solid power, and can catch the football. He also has good vision and will get the most out of each running play. Because of his size, he's not a great interior runner and relies too much on his athleticism to make plays. Considered a decent starter or solid backup.
Jason Snelling is the 2nd RB behind Michael Turner for the Atlanta Falcons. He is 5' 11", 223 lbs, Age: 27 and in his 3rd year. His 2010 salary was worth $1.684 million. Snelling is a powerful runner with a compact build who has a short burst of quickness and a strong second effort. He is a good lead blocker, along with being a dependable receiver. Jason only possesses average speed, elusiveness and agility making jukes or on cut backs. He also has some ball security issues. Consider him a starting fullback or a spot-starter as a tailback.
Leon Washington is the 3rd string RB for the Seattle Seahawks. He is 5' 8", 203 lbs, Age: 28 and in his 5th year. He made $541,240 in 2010 according to Yahoo. Leon has exceptional quickness and makes defenders look silly with his moves. He has excellent speed and great hands. Washington is a very good return man and 3rd down back. Too small to be an every-down back, he lacks power and will dance too much after handoffs. Leon is considered to be an excellent role player. He made appearances in the Pro Bowl after the 2008 and 2010 seasons.
Quinton Ganther is the 3rd option at RB for the Buffalo Bills. He is 5' 9", 220 lbs, Age: 26 and in his 5th year. His 2010 salary was $535,000 according to Yahoo. Quinton is a compact power back with solid speed, vision, and hands. He hits the hole quickly and is good at creating for himself if need be. He packs a real punch on contact. However, Ganther is a small, late bloomer who needs to keep rounding out his game. He is considered a 3rd down option or a spot starter.
There you have it, fourteen options for the Denver Broncos to target in Free Agency. Here is a sample of the salary range for the top tier Running Backs. The most recent contract was signed by Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs. On 12/11/2010, he signed a six-year, $27.97 million contract. The deal contains $10 million guaranteed, including an $8 million first-year roster bonus and $2 million of his second-year salary. Another $5 million is available through incentives. 2011: $2.75 million, 2012: $3.25 million, 2013: $1.75 million, 2014: $2.25 million, 2015: $4.75 million, 2016: Free Agent.
I don't know what the available options are in the draft, but this shows what's on tap in case the Broncos decide to draft heavily on the defensive side of the ball.