Willis McGahee came in during the 2011 offseason and simply just blew away all expectations that fans had. I'd even go as far as to argue that had McGahee started in week one against the Oakland Raiders (instead of Knowshon Moreno) the Denver Broncos likely would have won the game. This would have had multiple repercussions, Tim Tebow not starting so soon being the least of them.
Speaking of Moreno, he is signed through 2012, fullback Spencer Larsen however is currently situated in the unrestricted free agent pile. I would fully expect the Broncos to re-sign Larsen. He is one of a slim few reasons Denver led the league in rushing in 2011.
Lance Ball has improved in every one of his three seasons as a professional and I would expect him to carry on the tradition of having each year be better than his last. Fan favorite Jeremiah Johnson will also only improve in his third season in the NFL. That's four good to decent running backs on the roster, but keep in mind that rookie Mario Fannin sat on the injured reserve in 2011 and remains signed and third year running back Xavier Omon has just been signed to a future contract.
So do the Broncos even need a free agent running back this offseason or should they focus elsewhere?There is talent aplenty in the free agent market this year at running back, just like with the quarterbacks one of the best players at that position is currently scheduled to be available. I'm talking about Ray Rice, but this isn't Madden and I don't think that he is going anywhere West of Baltimore.
Speaking of Madden, Peyton Hillis should be available and I know that fans in Denver would love to right the Brady Quinn trade and get him back in orange and blue. I don't know that it is publicly known why Hills was traded, but I think you can take a look at what went on with him in Cleveland and possibly see what may have been going on with the Broncos. I won't say that Hillis will not be in a Denver uniform next season, but I do not expect him to be a member of the Browns.
A look at some other options who could be available via free agency; Cedric Benson from the Cincinnati Bengals could want to walk, but character concerns and the fact that the Bengals would be stifled without him lead me to believe that he will return to Cincinnati.
LeGarrette Blount is one of my favorite options, but as an unrestricted free agent he's hardly worth mentioning. Also fitting into the hardly worth mentioning/this isn't Madden category is Matt Forte who will undoubtedly sign a big free agency contract before vanishing into football obscurity.
Marshawn Lynch makes a lot of sense if he is allowed to test the free agency market at all, he is Denver's running back coach Eric Studesville former disciple and like McGahee had two of his three best seasons while working with Studesville. The Pittsburgh Steelers Isaac Redman is another who makes perfect sense, but he is yet another victim of restricted free agency and won't be leaving Pittsburgh.
The San Diego Chargers will likely let Mike Tolbert walk this offseason and he could get his tires kicked by the Broncos, anyone thinking of former Chargers need look no further than LaDainian Tomlinson who should sign with the New England Patriots at some point earlier in free agency, but if we're staying in the AFC West I'd say Michael Bush may be the most likely addition to Denver's roster. However, it is the Raiders so expect them to spend about $20-million more than he is worth, especially if the Broncos get involved... Although I've read that they're under new management, so who knows?
Do you want a long shot? You will probably never admit to this, but Owen Schmitt is available and you know that you wanted him more than Peyton Hillis in the 2008 draft. He's a serviceable fullback and can catch a pass. If someone breaks the bank on Larsen and Denver finds themselves in need of a fullback you cannot go wrong with Schmitt or the Kansas City Chiefs Le'Ron McClain (whom played with McGahee in Baltimore).
Other honorable mentions in the free agency running back category include: Ronnie Brown, Earnest Graham, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Thomas Jones, and Cadillac Williams.
Do you think I forgot about Arian Foster? I didn't, he is a restricted free agent and though it would be incredible, there is no chance the Broncos sign him.