While wide receivers look like the biggest prizes of this offseason’s NFL free-agent crop, there are some available veteran running backs who will make millions and help fantasy football owners in 2013.
The NFL might be a pass-first league these days, but teams still have to run the ball to keep defenses from playing seven or eight guys in coverage all the time. And even though no top-10 fantasy running backs are free agents, there are a couple unsigned guys who can put up 1,000 yards next season.
Here are my predictions on where these three top free-agent running backs will play in 2013:
Bradshaw and his metal-plated feet were cut by the New York Giants after he bravely toughed out 1,015 rushing yards and six scores in 2012. His constant foot problems caused him to miss two games, though, and he is now recovering from another foot surgery. He must be a lot of fun to go through a metal detector with at the airport.
Bradshaw might not sign with a team until his foot is fully fixed, and his operation-riddled past might make it that a lucky organization can get him at a discount. His body cannot handle the pounding of 20-25 touches per game, so he cannot be counted on as a workhorse. Still, he should be able to split carries with another decent runner and still hold a solid fantasy value.
Returning to the Giants at a reduced rate is definitely an option. New York only has David Wilson currently at running back since Andre Brown is also a free agent. So Bradshaw coming back to his old team at a more cap-friendly price is my backup prediction.
But I am going to pick the Green Bay Packers as Bradshaw’s final landing strip. Green Bay has lacked a physical running back to complement its high-powered passing attack, and the running back-by-committee approach featuring soft, mediocre runners like Ryan Grant, James Starks and Alex Green has yielded worse results than Do No Harm did for NBC.
The Packers always seem to wait until the last minute to find their tailbacks—Cedric Benson last offseason is a perfect example. So to have them wait until July or August to sign Bradshaw would be no shock. And he could step right in at the last minute at a low cost like Benson did in 2012 and become the main man—until a foot injury derails his season again, just like it did for Benson.
But if Bradshaw stayed healthy for 12-14 games he would put up great numbers in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers and his passing attack would force linebackers and safeties to back away from the box and give Bradshaw extra running room, plus Rodgers would get Bradshaw additional scoring opportunities because of more red-zone trips.
With 2,072 rushing yards, 15 total touchdowns and most importantly, only one game missed over his past two seasons, Bush has proven that he can handle a full workload as a starting tailback and can be more productive fantasy-wise than he was as a part-time home run threat with the New Orleans Saints.
Even though he has improved his all-around fantasy stock the past two seasons, Bush still cannot be confused with Adrian Peterson and Arian Foster. He has his limitations. The guy has only 44 career touchdowns in seven seasons, and one-third of those were receiving scores. And if he stops drinking milk and taking vitamins for just one day he immediately gets injured. That is why the NFL’s open market will not be lining up like Pacman Jones to make it rain over him.
Bush will have several suitors, do not get me wrong. He just will not have the bank broken for him. And while teams like the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions really need running backs, there is one team that Bush would be the right fit for.
I know the Cincinnati Bengals are tighter with their money than a homeless man, but they must realize that BenJarvus Green-Ellis cannot break a 50-yard run even if the opposing defense only has eight players on the field.
Bush would be ideal complement to the straight-ahead, between-the-tackles Green-Ellis. He can run the toss sweeps and catch the passes “The Law Firm” can’t. Bush can hit some home runs while Green-Ellis grounds his singles up the middle.
Cincinnati has a humongous offensive line and has A.J. Green keeping secondaries scared enough not to crowd the line. Bush would do very well in Cincinnati. The only questions are whether or not Bush wants to be there and would Cincinnati actually pay him a decent wage.
Mendenhall went from being a top-15 fantasy running back to being the fourth-best running back on Pittsburgh’s depth chart faster than Manti Te’o ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
Mendenhall averaged 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns per season over a three-year span between 2009 and 2011. But that is ancient history. Last season he was injured, disgruntled and absolutely no help to the Steelers or fantasy owners. He rushed for 182 yards and zero touchdowns. His value could not be any lower.
Look no further than the Arizona Cardinals to be Mendenhall’s next team. His former offensive coordinator in Pittsburgh, Bruce Arians, is now Arizona's head coach, and the Cardinals are as desperate for a running back as they are for a quarterback who is not Kevin Kolb or John Skelton.
Mendenhall, when healthy, is an upgrade over Beanie Wells. Ryan Williams would compete with him for carries, but Williams is a season-ending injury waiting to happen. If Arizona’s front office can improve its vastly terrible offensive line, and Arians can tap into Mendenhall’s talent, maybe Mendenhall could be a Comeback Player of the Year candidate in 2013.