It’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.
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.
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.