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.

Free Agents who could Really Impact 2014 NFL Futures Bets

michael-vickIf you’re into making NFL futures bets, some experts suggest that you do it as early in the offseason as possible to get good value before lines shift. However, if you’re somebody who likes to wait and see how free agency impacts teams’ odds of winning the Super Bowl, this is never a bad decision either. Keeping in mind that some players have already been re-signed or franchise tagged, let’s look at some game-changing free agents who are still on the market this year and where they might go (based on rumors and/or teams actively seeking position upgrades).

Quarterbacks

1. Michael Vick (possible destinations: NY Jets, San Francisco) – After Vick played in just seven games last year due to injuries/losing his job to Nick Foles, we have to wonder if the 33-year-old’s best years are behind him. Still, Vick is a name that stands out in a subpar crop of free agent quarterbacks, and there are plenty of teams that would love to see if he’s got one or two good years left.

2.  Josh McCown (possible destinations: Chicago, Detroit) – Although it seems like McCown came out of nowhere last year with his 13 TD’s and one interception, he’s actually been in the league since 2002. At 34, he’s even older than Vick, but McCown should still find a few suitors who need a solid backup.

3. Josh Freeman (possible destinations: Oakland, NY Jets) – Between the fiasco in Tampa Bay and his stop in Minnesota, last year was Freeman’s worst as a profession. But before this, he was a four-year starter who was having a pretty decent career. Given the fact that Freeman is only 26, somebody will sign him as a backup to compete for the starting role.

Running Backs

ben-tate-free-agent1. Ben Tate (possible destinations: Cleveland, NY Giants) – Injuries and a timeshare with Arian Foster have always held Tate back from emerging as a star. But we fully expect him to get a big deal somewhere since he’s only 25 and runs a 4.43 forty. Tate could definitely go over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.

2. Knowshon Moreno (possible destinations: NY Giants, Tennessee) – The former first round pick had his best year as a pro with 1,038 rushing yards, 548 receiving yards and 13 total TD’s. At 26 years old, he could be a long-term option for many teams. But can he produce the same numbers without Peyton Manning taking the pressure off?

3. Maurice Jones-Drew (possible destinations: NY Jets, Houston) – It took Jones-Drew a while to get going last year, but he did come up with 803 yards and 5 touchdowns on a bad team. Unfortunately, his career is at a decline, but he could still provide some nice power running in a committee.

Wide Receivers

1. Eric Decker (possible destinations: Indianapolis, San Francisco) – With 2,342 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in the past two seasons, Decker has more than enough on his resume to land a big deal. Much like Moreno, the question now becomes if he’ll be able to live up to a big deal without Manning.

julian-edelman-free-agent2. Julian Edelman (possible destinations: Baltimore, Cleveland) – Last year couldn’t have gone any better for Edelman, who stepped in amidst New England’s receiver injuries and produced with 105 catches, 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. Now heading into free agency, he’s looking at millions of dollars.

3. James Jones (possible destinations: Minnesota, Seattle) – Often playing in a crowded Packers receiving corp, Jones still managed to produce 1,601 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two years. It’s especially impressive that he posted his highest career yardage total last season, despite Aaron Rodgers’ lengthy injury layoff.

Tight Ends

Garrett Graham (possible destinations: Houston, NY Giants) – Despite all of the quarterback turmoil in Houston, Graham still managed to post 545 yards and five touchdowns on 49 catches – and he only played in 13 games. He heads up an unimpressive crop of unsigned free agent tight ends this offseason.

Defensive Linemen

michael-johnson-cincinnati1. Michael Johnson (possible destinations: Atlanta, Tampa Bay) – After tallying 11.5 sacks in 2012, Johnson had a down season last year when he managed only 3.5 sacks. But at 6’7″ and just 27 years old, Johnson figures to draw tons of attention from teams wanting a tough defensive end – especially now that Greg Hardy is franchise tagged and Michael Bennett re-signed with Seattle.

2. Jason Hatcher (possible destinations: Atlanta, Dallas) – He’s 31 right now, but most teams will be concentrating on the 11 sacks he had last season. Hatcher definitely picked the perfect time to have a career year for an otherwise dismal Cowboys defense.

3. Henry Melton (possible destinations: Dallas, Jacksonville) – Melton tore his ACL and only appeared in three games for the Bears. But with just four seasons under his belt, Melton should make a comeback and remain a strong defensive tackle for whichever team signs him.

Linebackers

karlos-dansby-interception1. Karlos Dansby (possible destinations: Cleveland, Tennessee) – The 32-year-old Dansby won’t fetch any long-term deals. But he’s a huge reason why the Cardinals contended for a playoff spot in the brutal NFC West. Don’t expect him to score two touchdowns again or even pick off four passes. But do expect him to give the next team that signs him another 100-plus tackles.

2. Brandon Spikes (possible destinations: Buffalo, Cleveland) – After four years in New England, Spikes will probably be taking his run-stopping talents elsewhere. He’s racked up 178 combined tackles over the last two years and is still just 26.

3. Shaun Phillips (possible destinations: Green Bay, Tennessee) – 11 seasons in the league and Phillips is still producing. Last year he gave Denver’s defense a much-needed boost by tallying 10 sacks. He’ll likely go to a Super Bowl contender who’s looking to fill a pass-rushing hole.

Defensive Backs/Safeties

1. Aqib Talib (possible destinations: New England, Washington) – Following this offseason, Talib should send the Seahawks a thank you letter for making big cornerbacks so sought after. If the Patriots don’t tag him, the 6’1″, 205-pound corner is likely looking at an 8-figure deal.

tj-ward-free-agent2. T.J. Ward (possible destinations: Denver, Detroit) – Although he’s not the best coverage safety, Ward is a hard-hitter who’s great at finishing tackles. If he doesn’t re-sign with the Browns, Ward will definitely be highly valued somewhere else.

3. Jairus Byrd (possible destinations: Cleveland, Miami) – Byrd missed the beginning of the season with a foot injury and contract holdout. But in the 11 games that he played, the 27-year-old had a productive year with 48 tackles and four interceptions. Buffalo doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to re-sign Byrd, so expect this elite-coverage safety to test the waters.