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Free Agent RB Preview

We fans always seem to come into the free agency part of the NFL calendar with high expectations of our favorite team buying their way to the promised land. I fear that’s been especially true when we think about going into 2010 as an uncapped season. Woo-hoo, the sky’s the limit! Or alternately, we fear that Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder are going to bring new meaning to the term “funny money” and price the small-market teams out of being able to sign their own stars forever.

Well, we can relax. The uncapped 2010 has been balanced very neatly by the measure that makes a player wait until his sixth season of eligibility to become an unrestricted free agent. That player is a restricted agent for 2010’s purposes. And that has really killed the talent level that would have been available in free agency this year. At RB, for instance, it’s taken Darren Sproles, Leon Washington, Jerious Norwood and Jerome Harrison, any of whom would look great in Rams blue and gold, effectively off the market. This year’s fullback market becomes so bad I’m not even going to bother to rate them separately as I usually would.

For disclaimer purposes, my research of who’s available in free agency comes from and If they’ve got anything wrong there, it can easily be wrong over here. (In fact, I’ve already had to correct this article because footballsfuture had Leon Washington’s FA status wrong.)

On to (what’s left of) the RBs.

Running back

Rams current depth chart:
Steven Jackson: 324 carries for 1,416 yards (4.4 avg); 51 catches for 322; 4 TDs; named to Pro Bowl.

Ken Darby: 27 carries for 152 yards (5.6 avg); 18 catches for 96.

Samkon Gado: 14 carries for 26 yards (1.9 avg); 3 catches for 25.

Chris Ogbonnaya: 11 carries for 50 yards (4.5 avg); 1 catch for 19.

Mike Karney: 2 carries for 8 yards; 6 catches for 16.

Notes: Darby and Gado are restricted free agents. Gado would be unrestricted but there’s no collective bargaining agreement.

More after the jump!

Analysis: Steven Jackson obviously isn’t the problem with the Rams offense. Most weeks, they counted mostly on him carrying the whole offense on his back through 8-man fronts (or more) keyed to stop him. No one in the NFL worked harder than Jackson last year, as he made the Pro Bowl, and despite the protests of Vikings fans, was the best RB in the NFC, while going up against defenses rightly treating him at the Rams’ only offensive threat. The quick and favorable resolution of possible criminal charges against him this week leave him secure as a team leader. But Jackson’s epic efforts last season took their toll. He skipped the Pro Bowl invite due to back injuries (and their aftermath) that dogged him late in the season. He won’t last late into this season if the Rams don’t put better people behind him who can credibly spell him for even a carry or two. Gado’s laughable stats were actually boosted by an 11-yard run. His total yards for the season totaled less than the preseason TD run against the Jets that was likely the reason he made the team. 51 of Darby’s yards came on a fake punt. The two ran like their shoelaces were tied together, at least until week 15, when Darby actually showed a little speed and niftiness, and 7th-round pick Ogbonnaya chipped in with a similar outing. Karney’s a decent fullback and led Jackson to some nice gains, but the Rams need to add at least one running back competent enough to borrow some of Jackson’s carries and to step into a bigger role if (when) he gets hurt.

Free agency

Top 5 UFA RBs: 1) Willie Parker 2) Chester Taylor 3) Adrian Peterson (Not That One) 4) Kevin Faulk 5) Ahman Green

Sleeper: Aaron Stecker

Thanks, we’ll get back to you: Chris Brown, Alonzo Coleman, Justin Griffith (FB), Terrelle Smith (FB), Lawrence Vickers (FB)

Gawd no: Larry Johnson, Dan Kreider

Viewing the field: A threat to score from anywhere on the field, Parker’s my pick of this lot. But can you keep him healthy? And if he switches teams, won’t he be much more likely to pick one where he can step in as the starter? At the same time, he’s 29; how much does he have left? Taylor turned 30 last season and saw his yards per carry drop to a career-low 3.6. Good receiver and role player, though. Peterson, also 30, does a lot of little things well. He’s a good receiver and blocker and a great special teams player. Lacks top speed, though. Faulk’s been the ideal 3rd down back for New England for years now, but it’s tough to picture him voluntarily leaving the Patriots at the age of 33. Much to my shock, it’s been three years since Ahman Green last fumbled, though he has only about 180 carries in that timespan. His hands are still a concern, though, as are his long injury history and declining speed and skills. Stecker’s got some quickness and can help a team out as a kick returner, but he’s no longer much of a big-play threat. Most of his career, though, he’s been a guy the Rams could never tackle, at least. LJ’s descent from 20-TD rusher to locker room rotten egg came with stunning speed, while Kreider’s one of many fullbacks and tight ends kicking around the league who always seem to be good blockers except when they’re wearing a Rams uniform.

RamView’s move: Parker’s speed would make him a well-suited change-of-pace to Jackson. But realistically, the Rams can’t provide him or any other veteran RB enough carries to make it worth their while to come here. Several of the other free agents would be upgrades to Darby or certainly Gado, but I doubt worth the effort of signing them to a deal of any significance. Peterson would be a great pickup if they could swing it, but in the end, the Rams are going to have to look to the draft. I still think their first two picks will be N. Suh and Colt McCoy. The draft gurus seem to think Jahvid Best will be on the board at pick #33; I disagree. A guy who can score from anywhere on the field, runs a sub-4.4 40 and has some Chris Johnson in his game should be a first-rounder, shouldn’t he? If he slides, my head may explode trying to decide between him and McCoy. Best is the kind of RB I feel the Rams need to add: smaller, quicker, can get outside, hopefully can catch some passes. I’m going to continue to say Best goes in the first round and try to fill this role with a later pick. I was a big fan of Darren Sproles the year he was drafted; this year, Dexter McCluster may be the new Sproles. I’ll draft him to replace Gado. Darby stays as Jackson’s emergency backup, but in a typical game, I’m expecting a Rams 2010 draft pick to be the first RB off the bench.

Prediction: I’m daft enough to think I’m close to the truth here. The difference for the Rams is the kind of back they’ll look for. They were a heartbeat and a well-timed trade by the Jets away from drafting Shonn Greene at the top of the 3rd round last year. Greene’s not exactly a scatback; neither is the very similar Ben Tate from Auburn, who I’ll predict for their 3rd-round pick. Ogbonnaya’s got potential to move ahead of Darby on the depth chart, and I’ll be little surprised to see somebody come from out of nowhere in training camp to beat out Darby and Gado for the last spot.

Next: wide receivers.

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2 Responses to “Free Agent RB Preview”

  1. […] at Ramsgab has a preview of RB free agents this year. I’m not sure I like any of those names, but it’s always worth it to kick the […]

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