Free Agent Running Back Preview

By PFC Writer Wayne Lin

The running back free agents this offseason are lacking show power and the ability to dominate an opponent, however, there are a few players that will make a large splash in the free agent pool nonetheless.  Last season, free agency was kind to some running backs as some of them flourished while some of them struggled.  This season, I predict the same.

Darren Sproles, San Diego:  Sproles is reminiscent of Michael Turner: same team, big, bruiser, fast, and good footwork.  Sproles, like Turner has played in the shadow of LaDainian Tomlinson.  This will prove to be a tough decision for the Chargers come time to make their decision on LT.

Strengths: Power runner and elusive, even though his size is a little on the bigger side.  He showed his speed and elusiveness against the Colts both times.  Another great strength of his is the ability to catch and run.  Easy you say?  Not when you’re not used to it.  Ask Adrian Peterson.  He’s also a great return man. His vision is like an eagle on the field.  Why the Chargers didn’t use him more is beyond me.

Weaknesses: His conditioning is an issue.  It’s not because of his size, but he is often seen sucking air and drinking copious amounts of Gatorade or water.  A source inside the Chargers organization said he could be a 25-30 carry back if he could only turn it up one more notch.  An every down back, he’s not, but he is close.

Prediction: He will stay in San Diego and get the same amount of carries as LT.  LT’s injury problems will secure a nice payday for Sproles.  The Chargers will turn to Sproles to be an every down back in a season or two, after LT is gone.  Speaking of LT, this will be his final season in San Diego.

Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia Eagles:  He proved why he’s a valuable asset after Westbrook went down this season.  Buckhalter, a long time Eagle still has tremendous upside, and he shows no signs of slowing down.  He, like Kevin Curtis are ultimate team players and you will hear very little about Buckhalter off the field unless it’s through charity work in the community.

Strengths: Agile and fast.  That should net him a decent payday from someone.  He’s also a good between-the-tackles runner.  His vision to burst through the holes is good and he fights for the tough yards after contact.  He stays on his feet very well and is well-balanced.

Weaknesses: He’s not good at cutting back.  It could be the ankle injury he sustained two seasons ago; if that’s the case, he will have to go through a number of physicals before signing with any team.  Buckhalter isn’t good at blocking either.  He has missed numerous assignments, but has the ability to lay down some hard hits only if he’s right on.

Prediction: The Lions are taking a good look at him.  It might be time for Buckhalter to step out of the shadow of Brian Westbrook and the Lions are in need of an offensive boost.  Kevin Jones played well as a rookie, but it wasn’t nearly enough to net a win.

J.J. Arrington, Arizona Cardinals:  No matter how he performs in the Super Bowl, Arrington will be on another team next season.  Playing third fiddle on a pass-happy team doesn’t bode well for Arrington who has only two starts in his career.

Strengths: Speed.  Speed.  More Speed.  He is one of the fastest backs in the league, but the problem is he’s played behind Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower.  He’s a fast learner which will make him flourish in any system.  Hightower is also good at running sideline to sideline and evade tacklers.  Not many see that because of his number of carries.  Good special teams player (returner and tackler).  He sheds blocks and makes the tackle.

Weaknesses: Not good running between tackles.  Part of that is his size.  He doesn’t have much of it which is probably why he’s on the sideline much of the time.  Indecisiveness is an issue as well.  When in space, there are only two options: keep running for more yards or sit there and get hit.  He tries to be too flashy and that often leads to little yards.

Prediction: Cincinnati is the perfect fit for him.  They need a running game and representatives from the Bengals have already talked to Arrington.  Talks will heat up after the Super Bowl.  Arrington will compete for the starting position in Cincy; Cedric Benson is not the answer.

Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, New York Giants:  Both backs were excellent for the Giants this season.  When one went down the other picked up the slack with no problems.  Jacobs and Ward should be known as the dynamic duo.  Jacobs and Ward formed one of the most potent running attacks in the league and it was virtually impossible to stop them.  They proved that against the Ravens, the top run defense in the league.

Strengths: For Jacobs, it’s his power and his speed combined.  Get him in open space and he’ll hurt you.  Ward, it’s his size and speed as he utilizes that to hide from the D-Line.  Both are excellent at cutting back and utilizing their blockers.  Some backs will try to run around the blockers, but Jacobs and Ward are both good at running behind them.

Weaknesses: It’s hard to find any, but if one thing sticks out from both players, it’s their health.  Jacobs and Ward have seen time, in the past, on IR or shelved for a couple weeks.  They do play on a rough surface at the Meadowlands and that has been known to injure some of the players.

Prediction: They will both stay in New York.  Coughlin needed their legs to make it into the playoffs and he’ll do everything he can to keep them.

What do you think?  Did I leave off your favorite running back?  If I did email me and I’ll address him at that time.