(Note: This list is composed of unrestricted free agents only.)
1. Matt Forte, Chicago Bears
Forte is obviously the biggest name on this list. For the past few seasons we have counted him out, and he continues to produce. However, it appears as if the Bears are looking to move forward with Jeremy Langford. Forte is 30 years old, and Chicago is not a legitimate contender to invest in an aging running back. Still, despite missing three games this season, he’s been remarkably healthy missing just eight games in his NFL career. Aside from his three games in 2015, he’s only missed one game since 2011. Look for Forte to be the most highly coveted back in free agency, he’s already been linked to the New England Patriots, although, it is pretty much all speculation at this point.
2. Lamar Miller, Miami Dolphins
Miller has the most long-term upside on in this free agency class. He is just 24 years old and has been criminally underutilized by an inept Miami Dolphins’ coaching staff. Miller can do it all, he has the speed to break the big plays and can run between the tackles. He is also a threat in the passing attack and can find the end zone. He has a career 4.6 yards per carry average and has 19 touchdowns over the past two seasons, as well as over 50 receptions in each of those seasons. While he will not garner the big name recognition as Forte, his youth will make him much more valuable. It is looking like it is going to be very tough for the Dolphins to fit him under the cap.
3. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This guy is an enigma. Is he great or is he awful? Let’s not pretend like any of us know for sure. It wouldn’t shock me if he was a top-five rusher in the NFL next season or ends up on the waiver by Week 4 in Fantasy leagues. In 2012 and 2015 he rushed for 2,865 yards on 4.8 yards per carry and scored 19 touchdowns. He also added 82 receptions for 743 yards. If you combine 2013 and 2014, he rushed for 950 yards on 3.6 yards per carry and punched in just three TDs. He also added 25 receptions for 130 yards. Granted he dealt with injury and only played 17 games, nonetheless, the numbers are way down even when scaled to sample size. Still, at 27 years old he is going to see a hefty pay day. Both Martin and the Bucs have made it clear they want to get a deal done as soon as possible.
4. Chris Ivory, New York Jets
Ivory is a devastating power runner. However, he is not without red flags of his own. He’s had an injury-plagued career and is showing a tendency to wear down late in the season. His punishing rushing style takes a serious toll on his body. Ivory is coming off his first 1,000-yard season and saw a career-high 247 carries. With that said, he’s also only played one full 16-game season and has missed 26 games in six seasons. Despite only missing one game in 2015, he did deal with a myriad of injuries, which lingered throughout the season. His upside and age (27) will warrant a ton of attention in free agency. However, he may be better suited for a multi-back system. It does not look likely that the Jets will retain him.
5. Bilal Powell, New York Jets
Powell showed off his versatility during the second half of the season and quite frankly was much more impressive than Ivory down the stretch. He added a huge spark to the Jets offense and added a whole other dimension. He and Ivory are a perfect one-two punch. Powell is not an elite runner but is as good as any third-down back in the league. It will not take him long to find a home if the Jets let him get away. Nonetheless, I doubt the Jets will let him go, especially if they don’t bring back Ivory as I’m predicting.
6. Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Alf has been on a steady four-year decline. He has seen both his yardage and yards per carry decline in each of his NFL seasons. In 2015, he managed just 751 yards on 3.7 yards per carry and one touchdown. It is not entirely clear if his decreasing production is caused by a physical decline or an eroding offensive line. He was also a much better fit in the Shanahan system. It will be a shock if Morris is back in Washington next season. Perhaps he could fit in Gary Kubiak's system in Denver.
7. James Starks, Green Bay Packers
Starks has proven time and time again that he can be effective when granted the opportunity. He has already come out and said that he plans on signing with a team this offseason that will give him a chance to prove himself as a legitimate starter. The odds are that will not be in Green Bay, even if their starter is 30 pounds overweight and has the physique of a snowman. Starks is a very intriguing free agent. His film shows undeniable talent, and his numbers should drive down his price tag. I like him as a bargain bin back.
8. LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
Blount is a guy that needs to be in the right situation, on and off the field. He has had his fair share of off-field issues, including drug and violence issues as well as conduct detrimental to the team. He’s done had issues with coaches, purposely played himself out of situations and stormed off the field during games. He needs to stay in New England. The talent is there. Nonetheless, he needs the structure of a championship organization, particularly that organization when you consider his issues in Pittsburgh, a top-notch team. Hopefully, for his sake he re-signs, anywhere else he’s a huge wild card.
9. Chris Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
I’ve always been a believer in CJ2K, him and Vince Young. Johnson broke through in 2015 and showed why I campaigned for his signing. He was outstanding this past season and wasn’t bad in 2014, just misused. The issue is he’s 30 years old and is viewed by most as well past his prime, which he is. However, it’s unclear how much he has left in the tank. All signs point to him sticking around in Arizona and standing in as the RB2 behind David Johnson. This situation is a fit for both sides, and neither should risk losing the other.
10. Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos
For No. 10 I was between Hillman and Tim Hightower. Due to Hightower’s injury history, I went with Hillman. He has shown flashes of legit ability in the past but has also demonstrated gaping flaws in his game. It’s likely he’ll leave Denver and get a decent contract somewhere. I just don’t see him ever panning out as a legitimate RB1. He’s a mediocre RB2 in the system with inconsistent big game upside.