Top 5 Busts among 2014 NFL Free Agent Running Backs

toby-gerhart-free-agent-bustIt’s no secret that the value of NFL running backs has dropped in recent years. Part of this appears to be the emphasis on passing in the league, meaning quarterbacks, receivers and star tight ends are making more money. Another reason why is because most teams go with a running back committee approach because of how tough it is for one player to carry the mail these days. And who can when they’re consistently being hit by 300-pound lineman, 250-pound linebackers and 220-pound safeties.

Regardless, the value of free agent running backs doesn’t figure to go up when looking at the 2014 NFL class. There are some very notable busts this season (through Week 12), and you can check out the top 5 below.

1. Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars: 3-year deal, $10.5 million

Toby Gerhart just goes to show what a difference it can make running over exhausted defenders who’ve been dealing with Adrian Peterson, versus doing the same in the first quarter. The 6’0″, 231-pound bulldozer has moved about as fast as a bulldozer, putting up just 2.6 yards per carry. His 59 carries for 154 yards look especially bad when considering how Denard Robinson has been flourishing at RB.

chris-johnson-jets-bust2. Chris Johnson, New York Jets: 2-year deal, $8 million

While Johnson hasn’t been the worst player on this list, he’s easily underperformed the $4 million a year that he’s getting. Through 10 games he has a decent 4.2 YPC average, but has also managed just 360 rushing yards and 1 touchdown. It’s pretty clear from this season that the 29-year-old is long removed from the days when he set an NFL Combine 40-yard-dash record with a blazing 4.24 seconds.

3. LeGarrette Blount, Pittsburgh Steelers: 2-year deal, $3.85 million

From the once-fast to the never-fast, LeGarrette Blount seemed like a bargain backup for Le’Veon Bell. Sure he’s fairly slow (4.6 forty), but at 250 pounds, Blount has made a career out of running people over. Of course, you have to get the ball to do this, something that didn’t happen in Week 11 for the 27-year-old. So Blount left the game against Kansas City early and was promptly cut the following Monday. He finished the season with a pedestrian 266 yards and 2 TD’s on 65 carries.

ben-tate-cleveland4. Ben Tate, Cleveland Browns: 2-year deal, $6.2 million

Tate is somewhat like Gerhart’s case, except that he actually had some good performances in Houston when Arian Foster missed games. That said, he seemed like a great fit for a Cleveland Browns team desperately wanting to establish a ground game. After missing several games early, the 5’10”, 220-pound back got going with 202 rushing yards and 2 TD’s combined against the Steelers and Titans. However, coach Mike Pettine started turning more to rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, thus making Tate unhappy with his committee role. After expressing his frustration, Tate was quickly given walking papers.

5. Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders: 1-yr, $1.75m / Maurice Jones-Drew: 3-yr, $7.5m

Oakland must be the place where (once) great running backs go to die. The one good thing about these two guys is that they’re at least still on the team. However the bad thing is that McFadden and MJD have only gained 393 and 70 rushing yards respectively through 11 weeks. With the season winding down and the Raiders still being winless, don’t be surprised if they give rookie Latavius Murray a good look over the last few games.

What Impact will Josh Freeman have on the Minnesota Vikings?

josh-freeman-minnesota-vikingsEver since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him last week, Josh Freeman had been a hot commodity among teams seeking a reliable quarterback. Maybe “reliable” isn’t the word here, given how tumultuous Freeman’s last days in Tampa Bay ended. But several desperate NFL clubs were willing to take a chance on him if it means salvaging their season.

The Minnesota Vikings proved to be the most attractive destination since Freeman signed with them today. The deal is a one-year, $3 million contract, with the 25-year-old reportedly wanting to only sign for one season instead of two. He picked Minnesota over the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

The obvious thought that comes to mind here is how the Vikings quarterback situation will play out. Coming off of a rib injury, Christian Ponder is the incumbent starter and the supposed QB of the future. But since being taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Florida State product has never been truly impressive. 2013 has been especially bad since he’s thrown for 691 yards, 2 TD’s, 5 INT”s, and fumbled twice in three starts.

Matt Cassel is the other option, and he led the Vikings to their first win of the year just before Minnesota’s bye week. He racked up 248 yards and 2 touchdowns after completing 16-of-25 passes. Most importantly, he didn’t have any turnovers, which is something that’s plagued Ponder.

josh-freeman-tampa-bayEnter Freeman, who compiled very good numbers with the Buccaneers in the first four years of his career. He had 12,090 yards, 76 TD’s, 54 INT’s and a 59.1 completion percentage. But as mentioned before, things fell apart since he missed important team functions and didn’t get along with second-year head coach Greg Schiano. One week after losing his starting job to rookie Mike Glennon, Freeman was cut loose by the Bucs.

Now in Minnesota, Freeman doesn’t figure to start right away. Head coach Leslie Frazier has already said that either Ponder or Cassel will start against the Carolina Panthers. But the Vikings certainly aren’t paying Freeman $3 million for three-quarters of a season to be a bench warmer. He’s been brought in to compete for the starting job and take over if Ponder continues to falter.

Frazier even hinted at this by saying, “That’s part of the equation. That’s definitely on the table. We’ll see how well he progresses and how well he picks up our offense.”

However, he also alluded to the fact that Ponder still has an opportunity to retain the job. “I think Christian still has a bright future here with our football team,” he said. “It may not look like that on the surface, but Christian is a professional. He’s going to work as hard as he can every day to prepare and get back on the field and help our team win.”

As mentioned before, Ponder is/was supposed to be the future of this franchise. But with a talent like Adrian Peterson, Minnesota isn’t content to wait another year or two for him to catch on. The team is in a win-now mode since they arguably have the league’s most talented running back.

josh-freeman-minnesota-vikings-1Seeing as how Peterson is 28 years old, he doesn’t have a lot of prime years left. So this essentially becomes a question of whether or not the Vikings are willing to risk Peterson’s golden years on a chance that Ponder might turn things around. With Freeman now in town, odds are that Minnesota is, instead, betting on the guy who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season.

So now we come to the question of what Freeman can do for the Vikings. With a 1-3 record, this team is already in the hole. And things won’t get any easier since they’re in an extremely tough division which includes Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago.

But Freeman at least provides a slightly better opportunity to win now than Ponder does. Sure the Vikings aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees here; but they are getting a five-year veteran who has good arm strength and can put up decent numbers.

Now the big question will be if he can take advantage of having a threat like Peterson in the offense. Opponents constantly have to be aware of number 28 at all times. So this will take some of the pressure off Freeman, perhaps even more so than what Doug Martin did in Tampa Bay.

It’s still early enough in the year for Minnesota to make a turnaround. They are 1.5 games out of the NFC North lead and still have plenty of contests left against their division foes. But Freeman is going to have to play better than ever before to help the Vikings make a playoff run.

NFL Power Rankings for Dec. 27th, 2012

We’re now in the final week of the NFL regular season, which means these are our last power rankings before the playoffs begin. At this point, the Denver Broncos are in the driver’s seat after retaining their top spot from the previous week. However, there are a couple of teams waiting in the wings to take over first place if the Broncos lose. That said, let’s look at these teams along with the rest of the top 10.

1. Denver Broncos (12-3) – There’s little reason to drop the Broncos from our top spot since they dismantled Cleveland last week. Expect a similar result as the 2-13 Chiefs visit Denver this Sunday. About the only negative here is that the Broncos need a Houston loss to secure home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Last Game: 34-12 win over Cleveland
Next Game: vs. Kansas City Chiefs

2. Atlanta Falcons (13-2) – The Falcons jump up two spots in the power rankings after locking down the NFC’s top spot, home field advantage, and the league’s best record. We were a bit worried about Atlanta a few weeks ago, but they seem to have regained form after outscoring opponents 65-18 in the past two games.

Last Game: 31-18 win over Detroit
Next Game: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

3. New England Patriots (11-4) – We see the Falcons and Patriots as being pretty close in terms of rankings. However, New England falls to number three by the slimmest of margins after clawing past the 2-13 Jacksonville Jaguars. Plus it looks as if the Patriots will have to play on the road at least once during a potential Super Bowl run.

Last Game: 23-16 win over Jacksonville
Next Game: vs. Miami Dolphins

4. Seattle Seahawks (10-5) – We’re not sure how Seattle will fare in the playoffs because they’re currently only the NFC’s fifth seed. However, it’s hard not to like them following a route of the 49ers to win their fourth straight game. Marshawn Lynch had yet another good game after running for 111 yards and a touchdown while Russell Wilson tossed four touchdown passes. If Seattle wins against St. Louis and gets lucky with a Niners’ loss, they’d win the NFC West.

Last Game: 42-13 win over San Francisco
Next Game: vs. St. Louis Rams

5. Green Bay Packers (11-4) – For the Packers, it’s simple: win and they secure a first round playoff bye. Based on how they did in an obliteration of Tennessee, we like Green Bay’s chances of winning – even on the road against the Vikings. Ryan Grant put in a surprisingly good performance after rushing for 80 yards and a TD. Could he provide the running game the Packers need?

Last Game: 55-7 win over Tennessee
Next Game: at Minnesota Vikings

6. Houston Texans (12-3) – Houston still has a chance to grab the AFC’s top seed, but they haven’t exactly looked good over the past few weeks. Injuries have taken their toll on defense, and the Texans must now win a tough road game against the Colts to sure the number one seed.

Last Game: 23-6 loss to Minnesota
Next Game: at Indianapolis Colts

7. San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) – The Niners fall the farthest in our power rankings after dropping from number three to seven. Their defense was sliced apart by the Seahawks, which creates concerns for the playoffs. At least relatively new QB Colin Kaepernick is still doing fine after throwing for 244 yards and running for another 31 yards.

8. Indianapolis Colts (10-5) – Against all preseason odds, the Colts have went from the league’s worst team to a playoff qualifier. However, there’s no reason to celebrate just yet because Indianapolis’ run defense has been thoroughly exposed this season. Jamal Charles ran for 226 yards against the Colts last week.

Last Game: 20-13 win over Kansas City
Next Game: vs. Houston Texans

9. Washington Redskins (9-6) – Robert Griffin III erased any doubts after missing a game (leg injury) as he threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns against the Eagles. If Washington can win against the Cowboys this week, they capture the NFC East and a playoff spot; assuming they lose, they’ll be at home watching Dallas play in the Wild Card round.

Last Game: 27-20 win over Philadelphia
Next Game: vs. Dallas Cowboys

10. Minnesota Vikings (9-6) – Minnesota has jumped into playoff contention by riding the legs of Adrian Peterson. AP is banged up going into the final game against the Packers, but he’ll still do whatever he can to get the Vikings into the postseason. Minnesota’s defense really stepped up last game to hold Houston to just six points.

Last Game: 23-6 win over Houston
Next Game: vs. Green Bay Packers

Adrian Peterson eyes Rushing Record in Unfathomable Season

Almost one year ago today, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson tore several ligaments in his knee during a Week 16 game. The injury was so bad that many people questioned how effective he’d be coming into this season. The answer: he’s been the best running back in 2012…..and perhaps history, depending upon what happens over the next two weeks.

Earlier today, the man they call “All Day” obliterated the St. Louis Rams while dashing their playoff hopes in the process. He rushed for 212 yards on just 24 caries (8.8 YPC) and scored on an 82-yard touchdown run. Following this game, he’s now rushed for over 100 yards in the past eight games with six of these contests seeing AP go over 150 yards.

Thanks to his improbable streak against some of the league’s best defenses, Peterson is now eyeing one of the most coveted records in NFL history.

294 Yards to History

As of now, Adrian Peterson has powered his way to 1,812 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 289 carries. If the season stopped today, he’d have 433 yards more than the next closest running back in 2012, Marshawn Lynch. He’d also have the 19th best rushing season in NFL history. However, the season’s not over yet; in fact, there are still two games remaining.

Based on the pace that Peterson has been going at, he’s got a very realistic chance to beat Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105 yards. This total, which happened in 1984, has stood for 28 years. So can Peterson break it based on his remaining schedule?

Favorable Schedule

The past two weeks will see Minnesota play on the road against the Houston Texans and at home against the Green Bay Packers. On paper, the Texans aren’t exactly the most favorable team to play since they’re fifth in the league against the run and allow only 93.2 RYPG.

However, they’ve been lit up over the past two games after allowing 127 rushing yards to the New England Patriots and 124 rushing yards to the run-challenged Indianapolis Colts.

As for the Packers, they are a more favorable defense having allowed 114.3 RYPG this year. They’re fresh off giving up 212 yards to Peterson in Week 13, so we can reasonably expect some pretty outstanding results from All Day in the regular season’s final week.

What if the Record doesn’t fall?

While it’s no slam dunk for Adrian Peterson to reach 2,106 rushing yards this year, we think that he has a very good shot. But even if the 27-year-old doesn’t grab the single season record, he may have already completed the most impressive season among running backs in history.

As alluded to in the beginning, he’s coming off of reconstructive knee surgery, which should have made 2012 even tougher. Instead, Peterson is enjoying a career season and proving that he’s truly a freak of nature.

One more thing that we should mention involves what else is surrounding AP…..or at least the lack of what’s surrounding him. Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder showed flashes of brilliance early on in the season, but has thrown for 200 yards just once in the past six games.

WR Percy Harvin was definitely a nice weapon for the Vikings early on after racking up 677 receiving yards on 62 catches midway through the season. However, he was forced out of action (ankle) in Week 10 and won’t play the rest of the year.

Taking all of this into account, opposing defenses know what’s coming when they face Minnesota – Adrian Peterson and a whole lot more Adrian Peterson. But they still haven’t been able to slow down him down. So with defenses throwing everything at him, and AP being less than a year removed from knee surgery, he’s already proven his place in history. The single season rushing record would just cementer this place even further.