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.

Johnny Manziel to Second Round of NFL Draft?

johnny-manziel-nflTrying to predict where Johnny Manziel is going in the 2014 NFL Draft is like trying to predict which numbers will win the lottery. Every mock draft that comes out has the Texas A&M star heading to a different team, with the Houston Texans (#1 pick), Jacksonville Jaguars (#3), Cleveland Browns (#4) and Oakland Raiders (#5) often coming up in the discussion. But former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Shaun King has a different take on the matter:..

In a recent mock draft of the first round that King did, he doesn’t even have Manziel going in the first round. This is pretty shocking when you consider how mesmerized some teams like the Browns have been with Johnny Football’s duel-threat ability. So what’s the deal here? Has King bought into all of the insults that Barry Switzer hurled Manziel’s way? Is he turned off by how the Heisman Trophy winner measured just under six feet at the Combine?

Actually, King just thinks that the unpredictability that Manziel brings is enough to make head coaches and general managers worry about risking their jobs to draft him. Here’s an excerpt from King’s Yahoo post:

shaun-king-footballThe Johnny Manziel conundrum is one the more interesting evaluation dilemmas to hit NFL evaluators in a long time. I don’t have him being drafted in the first round. Not because I don’t think he has a chance to be a good player, but because I don’t think teams will be able to come to an internal consensus on him.

When a team takes a quarterback in Round 1, a lot of jobs are on the line. If that player doesn’t pan out the general manger and head coach generally aren’t there to choose a second one. Jacksonville, Cleveland and Minnesota all need QBs now, yet they all drafted one in the first round in the last three years. Only Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is left standing; the rest, including all three head coaches, are gone.

Nobody is going to take Shaun King’s mock-draft advice over Mel Kiper Jr’s. However, his reasoning for not putting Manziel does bring up a legitimate point in that Johnny Football may be too risky for one of the top five teams to bet their jobs on a running QB who’s not even six feet tall. There’s a good chance that Manziel comes out and plays like RG III did in his rookie campaign, however, there’s also the chance that he becomes the next Christian Ponder/Blaine Gabbert/Brandon Weeden.

Going back to King, he believes that Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is the “most complete NFL ready QB since Andrew Luck,” and he has the Texans grabbing Bridgewater with the top overall pick. Predictably, Auburn OT Greg Robinson goes to the Rams at number two, while South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney goes to the Jaguars at number three. King also sends Clemson WR Sammy Watson to Cleveland with the fourth pick and Pittsburgh DT Aaron Donald to the Raiders at number five.

We doubt that UCF quarterback Blake Bortles falls out of the top-5 range, especially with four teams who could really use a QB sitting there. But it’s still interesting to see a mock draft that doesn’t think teams will still be desperately reaching for the next Luck.

Don’t expect Raiders to pass on a Good Quarterback

teddy-bridgewater-louisvilleOnce again, the Oakland Raiders are coming off a very disappointing season where they finished 4-12 and were nowhere near the playoff picture. And once again, they have the opportunity to land a high draft pick who could make a huge impact on the struggling franchise.

The Raiders pick fifth in the 2014 NFL Draft and their immediate focus appears to be on a quarterback. Head coach Dennis Allen indicated this by saying that QB is “a position we’ve obviously got to look at.”

The word “obviously” definitely fits here because Oakland’s returning quarterbacks, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin, don’t yet seem capable of leading a team to success. Pryor initially caused a spark after beating out Matt Flynn for the starting job in training camp. He rushed for 162 yards in the first two games of the 2013 season and led Oakland to a 1-1 record. Pryor was knocked out of the third game with a concussion and never developed any passing rhythm after coming back.

Pryor’s Week 9 MCL sprain gave undrafted rookie Matt McGloin an opportunity to start. Although he proved to be a better pure pocket passer with 1,547 yards, 8 TD’s and 8 INT’s, McGloin only led the Raiders to one win in his seven appearances.

Given their options, Oakland could definitely grab a more heralded signal caller. And the 2014 Draft class has a number of strong QB prospects, with Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles leading the way.

The only problem is that there are three other teams with pressing quarterback needs themselves. The Houston Texans, Jacksvonille Jaguars and Cleveland Browns all pick ahead of Oakland and could take a QB. Houston might go quarterback or defense, while experts definitely expect Jacksonville and Cleveland to go QB.

But this certainly hasn’t stopped Oakland from spending countless hours looking at game footage of passers. After watching the tape, Manziel is one prospect who really sticks out in Allen’s mind as he said:

He’s accomplished a lot at the collegiate level he’s been a very good football player being the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy speaks for itself. I think he’s a very talented football player, he’s a multidimensional football player. He’s able to throw the ball from the pocket and do things with his feet. As we get more into the evaluation process he’ll be a fun one to look at.

Once again, though, Oakland needs to prepare for a scenario in which they don’t get Manziel or the other two top signal callers. There are plenty of other potential stars in the draft, including South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Auburn left tackle terrelle-pryor-raidersGreg Robinson. Plus, the team doesn’t sound like they’re entirely down on the returning quarterbacks. “One of those things we have to determine,” said Allen with regard to who’ll start next year. “We’re going to look at that position very closely. In my opinion we’ve got two young quarterbacks with potential.”

However, Allen played devil’s advocate by saying, “I don’t know the answer to that yet. The quarterback position is the backbone of your football team. We’ve got to make sure that when we go out there this year, we put ourselves in the best position to have success with the quarterback position.”

Assuming Oakland really feels some urgency in this draft, they might consider trading up into one of the top three positions. But is it worth sacrificing other draft picks to move up for one player when you’re a team that needs so much? Maybe so, when you consider the large amount of quarterback failures that Oakland has experienced over the past several years.

Mark Sanchez: From Disgraced Backup to Guaranteed Starter?

mark-sanchezWith all but two teams eliminated from NFL title contention this year, many players have an eye towards the offseason and free agency. New York Jets backup QB Mark Sanchez is one of these players since he’s coming off a year where he didn’t play a single snap, yet he makes $8.25 million a season. Add in the fact that he’s due a $2 million signing bonus in March, and it only fuels speculation that the Jets will part with the 27-year-old.

With New York likely sticking to their second-year QB Geno Smith, there’s little reason to keep an overpaid backup. Sanchez hurt his shoulder in a preseason game while working behind the second team offensive line. He remained injured the rest of the season, though, it was largely reported that Smith had already won the starting job in the preseason anyways.

Assuming the Jets do cut Sanchez, there’s at least one team that guaranteed they would make him a starter. An anonymous head coach told the New York Post the following regarding the five-year veteran, “We’d take Sanchez. He’d be the starter as soon as he walked in the door for us.”

When looking at Sanchez’s numbers over the four years that he started, they don’t exactly scream high-profile free agent. He’s thrown just 68 touchdowns against 69 interceptions and has a career passer rating of 71.7%. But despite the subpar numbers, Sanchez’s talent has always intrigued teams.

mark-sanchez-1He was the fifth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and quickly assumed the Jets’ reigns in his rookie season. He also started twice in the AFC Championship game, just missing out on trips to the Super Bowl both times.

Given his experience, there are multiple teams that would be interested in a player like Sanchez. The Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders all enter the offseason with huge questions under center. It’s very possible that one of these teams could have the mystery head coach with Sanchez on his wishlist.

When you put Sanchez up against some of the other free agent QB’s this year, he’s especially attractive. Michael Vick and Josh McCown lead the 2014 free agent class, while Josh Freeman, Chad Henne, Shaun Hill and Matt Schaub (likely to be cut) will all draw interest too. Top NFL draft picks that’ll warrant heavy consideration among the league include Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Derek Carr.

Still, that’s only 10 total quarterbacks when you consider both free agency and top-flight draft picks. So it’s no wonder that at least one head coach is already discussing how he’d start the veteran Sanchez in a heartbeat. The QB is currently rehabbing his shoulder in Birmingham, Alabama after having surgery last October. Assuming he can get back to full strength by the summer, there’s a great chance that he could land a starting job somewhere.

Tracy McGrady annoys MJD with Comments on Jacksonville Jaguars

tracy-mcgrady-jacksonville-jaguarsFrom Terrell Owens to Randy Moss, we’ve hear plenty of NFL players flirt with the idea of playing in the NBA. Tracy McGrady recently came up with a reverse scenario when he tweeted about joining the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Of course, McGrady’s tweet was more of a light-hearted jab at what many people perceive to be the NFL’s worst team this season. Here’s a look at the now-retired, seven-time NBA All-Star’s tweet:

Jacksonville @jaguars need to bring me on in for a tryout at QB or receiver!

This line might have inspired a little laughter around the sports world. But one guy who isn’t laughing is Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. The three-time Pro Bowler fired back with the following:

You’re more than welcome to sign a waiver and come out to a live practice. We’ll see how it works out for you, if it’s that easy.

maurice-jones-drewMJD did slightly tone it down after a reporter joked about how McGrady wouldn’t last 5 plays, to which he said, “Hey you never know, he might be tougher than people think.” But it’s pretty obvious that he’s not amused with the disparaging comment about his team.

Of course, you can’t really argue with the fact that Jacksonville is quickly becoming a joke around the league. This is especially the case when you look at their offense, which has posted the following stats:

– 5.5 PPG (32nd in NFL)
– 213 total YPG (32nd)
– 160 passing YPG (28th)
– 52.5 rushing YPG (30th)

As for Jones-Drew, he’s off to a terrible, injury-plagued start after gaining just 72 yards on 25 carries. Don’t expect things to get any better for him or Jacksonville as a whole since they feature Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne at quarterback. The latter is slightly better, but not exactly capable of leading this team to many victories. And as for Gabbert, he hasn’t done anything to live up to being the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Most analysts and reporters expect the Jags to finish dead last in the NFL, which will set them up for the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And it’s all but a given that they’ll take a quarterback with this pick in hopes of erasing their mistake of trading up to get Gabbert.

All in all, it looks like MJD is in for another rough year with his team of eight years. That said, firing back at people like McGrady is about the only thing he can look forward to.

Von Miller Suspension Further Weakens Broncos Defense

von-miller-suspensionThe Denver Broncos received a big blow today when it was reported that Von Miller is facing a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. It was initially thought that he’d fight the suspension, but ESPN’s Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter now say that he’s “not likely” to fight the matter.

The league began investigating Miller when he provided a diluted urine sample, just after spilling a sample he gave during an offseason workout. He couldn’t give another sample right away, so he provided another one after consuming lots of fluids during the workout. This all amounted to suspicion that the 6’3″ 250-pound linebacker was trying to avoid giving a pure sample.

At this point, Miller is currently trying to convince the NFL to lessen his suspension to four games. But if he’s unsuccessful, it would mean the Broncos playing against the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles without their star defender.

von-miller-suspension-1Since being drafted out of Texas A&M with the second overall pick in 2011, Miller has been exceptional for Denver. In ’11, he attained Rookie of the Year honors after racking up 11.5 sacks. Last year Miller was a First-Team All-Pro after tallying 18.5 sacks in his second season.

Now the Broncos will likely lose this production for the first six games of the season. They won’t be the only losers in this matter either since Miller stands to miss $806,162 of his $2,284,125 base salary. It would prove even more costly if Denver tries to recoup the $1,215,265 signing bonus that their All-Pro is due.

Von Miller isn’t the only key defender that Denver will be without since they lost Elvis Dumervil in the offseason thanks to a fax machine error. The standout defensive end informed the Broncos that he’d accept a paycut to stay with them at 3:25 pm – 35 minutes before a 4:00 pm free agency deadline that had to be met. However, his now-fired agent Marty Magid didn’t fax the paperwork until 4:07 pm, seven minutes past the deadline. This forced Denver to release Dumervil, who provided them with 11 sacks last season.

elvis-dumervilWith Dumervil now in Baltimore and Miller likely to miss much of the season’s first half, it’s very questionable as to if the Broncos can repeat their success. Last year they gained home field advantage throughout the playoffs after finishing 13-3. They lost 38-35 to the eventual champion Baltimore Ravens in the Divisional Playoff round. However, this didn’t completely demolish what was otherwise a very good season.

Now Denver is facing an uphill battle without two of their most important defenders. Sure quarterback Peyton Manning is back with a full arsenal of weapons. But the D will have to get inventive with stopping opponents. Free agent pickup Shaun Phillips should provide some relief in Miller’s absence. The outside linebacker collected 9.5 sacks for San Diego last year. And fifth-round pick Quanterus Smith could be seeing a lot of time at defensive end. The 6’5″, 255-pounder compiled 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in his senior season at Western Kentucky.