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Free Agency Preview: Running Backs (1-10)

#10 Branden Oliver

2017 Stats: 83 rushing yards, 2.4 YPC, and 0 touchdowns (8 games)

Receiving Stats: 6 catches, 26 yards, and 0 touchdowns

Branden Oliver spent half the season recovering from a torn Achilles, so he didn’t see the field much. Regardless if he had been healthy or not, he probably wouldn’t have seen the field much anyways with the emergence of rookie running back Austin Ekeler. The Chargers will likely move on from Oliver. He’s not a starter but he still provides a solid third down option for any teams looking for a shifty scat back.

#9 Orleans Darkwa

2017 Stats: 751 rushing yards, 4.4 YPC, and 5 touchdowns (15 games)

Receiving Stats: 19 catches, 116 yards, and 0 touchdowns

Orleans Darkwa might’ve been the best running back on New York’s roster in 2017. The Giants offensive line was a disaster this past season and Darkwa still manager to average 4.4 yards per carry. New York may attempt to bring Darkwa back, but it also wouldn’t surprise me to see him test the market out. Darkwa is more than capable of becoming a starter or splitting touches with another back.

#8 Jerick McKinnon

2017 Stats: 570 rushing yards, 3.8 YPC, and 3 touchdowns (16 games)

Receiving Stats: 51 catches, 421 yards, and 2 touchdowns

“Jet” McKinnon has made it known that he will more than likely test the free agent market. McKinnon has recently stated quote on quote “I don’t put in all the work in the offseason to come back and be in this role. … It worked out well, but I want bigger and better things for myself”. McKinnon isn’t necessarily the ideal feature back that can handle 15-20 carries per game, but what he can provide is a piece to a strong 1-2 punch tandem. With Dalvin Cook coming back off of injury and Latavius Murray coming off of a strong season, McKinnon won’t be seeing the field as much as he’d like to. McKinnon could possibly follow his former offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to New York to play for the Giants. The Jets, Raiders, Colts, and Dolphins are also a few teams that could be a good fit for the “Jet”.

#7 Isaiah Crowell

2017 Stats: 853 Yards, 4.1 YPC, 2 touchdowns (16 games)

Receiving Stats: 28 catches, 182 yards, 0 touchdowns

Isaiah Crowell is a serviceable starter that’s expected to move on from Cleveland. Duke Johnson had a great season and it looks like the Browns are going to draft a running back fairly high. Crowell is a powerful back that can be the thunder compliment to someone’s lightning in 2018. Who that will be is yet to be determined.

#6 Rex Burkhead

2017 Stats: 264 yards, 4.1 YPC, and 5 touchdowns (10 games)

Receiving Stats: 30 catches, 254 yards, and 3 touchdowns

Don’t be fooled by Burkhead’s numbers. His statistical production isn’t as acceptable as others due to New England’s crowded backfield with Dion Lewis, James White, and Mike Gillislee who are all capable starters themselves. Burkhead is more than capable of handling a full workload for someone. He can do a little bit of everything. If he doesn’t return to New England I’d like to see him in a pass-happy offense somewhere. He’s extremely valuable because of his versatility.

#5 Frank Gore

2017 Stats: 961 yards, 3.7 YPC, and 3 touchdowns (16 games)

Receiving Stats: 29 catches, 245 yards, and 1 touchdown

How Frank Gore is still producing at the age of 34 is beyond me. Usually, when running backs hit the age of 30 that’s when they hit their wall. Nonetheless, Gore is still going strong and has implied he’d like to play again in 2018. Playing another season in Indianapolis seems like the likely scenario. Another season for Gore to groom Marlon Mack or possibly even another draftee. Gore is a pro’s pro. He does everything that’s asked of him and that’s why he’s still with a team even at the age of 34.

#4 LeGarrette Blount

2017 Stats: 766 yards, 4.4 YPC, and 2 touchdowns (16 games)

Receiving Stats: 8 catches, 50 yards, and 1 touchdown

Much like Rex Burkhead, LeGarrette Blount’s numbers suffered because of the crowded backfield in Philadelphia. Blount is one of the most powerful runners in all of football at 6’0″ 250 pounds. He doesn’t offer much as a pass catcher and he’s probably not a three-down running back at this point in his career anymore, but what he does provide is a train load on short yardage/goal-line situations. I’m not sure he’ll be back in Philly in 2018 but you can bet he’ll be bulldozing in for touchdowns for someone next season.

#3 Carlos Hyde

2017 Stats: 938 yards, 3.9 YPC, and 8 touchdowns (16 games)

Receiving Stats: 59 catches, 350 yards, and 0 touchdowns

Carlos Hyde defines the word “workhorse”. Hyde played a ton of snaps this season and it began to wear on his body towards the end of the season. I’m inclined to believe that he’ll be back in the red and gold in 2018, simply because of the addition of Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. The 49ers finally have a chance to become contenders again and Hyde is definitely going to want to be apart of that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took some visits, but I think in the end he’ll be a niner for years to come.

#2 Dion Lewis

2017 Stats: 896 yards, 5 YPC, and 6 touchdowns (16 games)

Receiving Stats: 32 catches, 214 yards, and 3 touchdowns

Dion Lewis is arguably the most underrated back in all of football. New England has a very talented backfield so that says a lot about Dion Lewis being the #1 go-to guy. At just 5’8″ 195 pounds, Lewis can do it all. He’s an excellent runner between the tackles, he’s a terrific receiver, and he’s not afraid to stick his nose in the dirt and block for his quarterback. I would think New England would offer him Lewis a contract this season to be back in New England. It seems he’s too valuable to lose after the season he just had.

#1 Le’Veon Bell

2017 Stats: 1,291 yards, 4 YPC, and 9 touchdowns (15 games)

Receiving Stats: 85 catches, 655 yards, and 2 touchdowns

The best running back in all of football is a free agent!

…but don’t read too much into it. It’s likely that Bell will still be back in Pittsburgh next season, but the contract negotiations could cause a standstill again this offseason between the two parties. It has been recently reported that the Steelers were thinking about placing the franchise tag on Bell again this offseason. What’s interesting about that is when Bell was asked about playing under the franchise tag for another season, he claimed that he’s prepared to either retire or sit out the entire 2018 season if the two parties can’t come to a deal this offseason. Bell’s party budged last offseason. Will the Steelers budge this offseason?

 

*For all the latest Vikings news, stats, and analysis follow me on Twitter at @Purple_Post.

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