Free Agent Preview: Running Backs
NOTE: This is the third in a series of positional previews in anticipation of the opening of the free agent market on March 2.
By Nick Wagoner
As the Rams embarked on free agency a year ago, there were doubts about the future of the teamís running back position.
What would become of Marshall Faulk? Could Steven Jackson handle the load for a full season? Would they be able to find a third-down back capable of picking up key first downs?
Fast forward to now and most of those questions have been answered resoundingly. Faulk sat out last season because of a knee injury. His status for this year has yet to be determined.
Jackson proved himself to be the man the Rams hoped they had when they drafted him in the first round three seasons ago. After playing a full season, Jackson proved to be capable of carrying the load and finished first in the league in yards from scrimmage.
In addition to going over 1,500 rushing yards, Jackson added a new element to his game by becoming a premier pass catcher. All of that added up to Jacksonís first Pro Bowl invitation and has set the tone for what could be a big future in the league.
Now, Jackson is officially a fixture in the Ramsí backfield and a focal point of the offense for the long term.
The question now becomes who will land behind Jackson on the depth chart. Itís uncertain what type of time frame Faulk has put on when the make a decision about his future, but the Rams will probably move forward as if he wonít be with them.
When free agency opens on March 2, the Rams will have the task of adding a pair of running backs behind Jackson. One player the team and Jackson would like to have back is backup Stephen Davis. Davis signed a one-year deal just before the season started in 2006.
Davis was an excellent influence in the locker room and the perfect mentor for Jackson, who credits Davis with his improved performance and approach last year, saying that Davis showed him what it means to run low.
In addition Davis was a solid performer in the red zone and short yardage situations..
The Rams would like to bring Davis back and he would like to return, so it isnít out of the question that he will return.
Even if St. Louis brings Davis back, it will likely be in the market for a third running back. Tony Fisher was a solid pickup as a third back and special teamer a year ago, but was injured early in the season. He could be brought back, but the Rams would like to find a third back with speed that is capable of returning kicks as well.
Kay Jay Harris showed some intriguing potential as a third back and special teams player and could be brought back to compete next season.
The free agent market isnít exactly loaded with top backs, but there are some intriguing young options. San Diegoís Michael Turner is restricted, but could be this yearís Chester Taylor. Heís had plenty of success when given the chance, but wonít get much of an opportunity with the Chargers as long as LaDainian Tomlinson is there.
For the Rams, the search for a third back will probably come in the NFL Draft, but there is at least one back on the market who could be a good fit. Chicagoís Adrian Peterson is a solid runner and a better special teams player. He would make a perfect fit, but is probably going to look for an expanded role if he leaves Chicago.
At fullback, Madison Hedgecock will return and Paul Smith could also be brought back to compete. Itís possible the Rams will look for another fullback, but if Hedgecock can stay healthy he could continue in his role.
Regardless, the Rams will be actively shopping for depth in the backfield capable of carrying the ball and helping out on special teams.
Top Five Free Agent Running Backs
1. Michael Turner, San Diego, RFA
2. Ahman Green, Green Bay, UFA
3. Dominic Rhodes, Indianapolis, UFA
4. Adrian Peterson, Chicago, UFA
5. Correll Buckhalter, Philadelphia, UFA
Re: Free Agent Preview: Running Backs
I would be shocked if we ended up with any of the guys on the list of 5.
We need Stephen Davis back. Tony Fisher wasn't used much and then got injured. He might be the right guy though understanding and accepting his role. Of course if and that's a huge if, Marshall comes back do we need a guy like Fisher?
What's up with Marshall? He needs to make a decision!
Re: Free Agent Preview: Running Backs
That's a pretty underwhelming list of top free agent running backs.