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Free-agency outlook: Running backs


There's talent on the free-agent market at running back -- but not any more than the Broncos possess, not with three running backs who started at various points last year, one of whom made the Pro Bowl in spite of not becoming a starter until the 10th game.

C.J. Anderson's emergence, the depth of the draft class, the return of Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman from season-ending injuries and the presence of Juwan Thompson ensure that the Broncos have depth with valuable experience playing in the same backfield as quarterback Peyton Manning.

But there will be movement around the league, and some productive backs are available.


DeMARCO MURRAY, DALLAS:In a frenetic "legal-tampering" weekend of rumors and speculation about phone calls and negotiations, there was little buzz around Murray, the NFL's rushing leader in 2014. His numbers speak for themselves: 4.8 yards per carry for his career, 110 catches for 766 yards the last two years as he emerged as a dependable threat out of the backfield, a fumble rate of one every 89.9 touches the last two years that raises no red flags.

JUSTIN FORSETT, BALTIMORE:He had a career year last year that ended in the Pro Bowl, and his 5.4-yards-per-carry average wasn't much of an aberration compared with the 4.88-yards-per-carry pace of his first six seasons in the league. He turns 30 in October, but it's a low-mileage 30; he had just 347 carries before running the football 235 times last year. He's also an effective, reliable receiver out of the backfield.

MARK INGRAM, NEW ORLEANS:The Saints announced that they've agreed to terms with him on a four-year deal, buying into his emergence as a solid all-around back last year, when he finished with 1,109 yards from scrimmage and scored nine touchdowns -- two fewer than his total for the first three seasons of his career combined.

RYAN MATHEWS, SAN DIEGO:In the only two seasons in which he played more than 12 games, he posted 1,000-yard campaigns and averaged 4.4 and 4.9 yards per carry, respectively. With 20 games missed to injuries in five seasons, there's health concerns. But the other issue of his early days -- his fumble rate -- has largely been remedied; he's averaged one fumble per 123.4 touches since 2012 after a ghastly rate of one every 45.2 touches in 2010-11.

C.J. SPILLER, BUFFALO:With LeSean McCoy hopping aboard, there's no room for the electric Spiller, who has averaged 5.5 yards every time he's touched the football on a scrimmage play -- but has a way-too-high fumble rate of one every 53.6 touches (including returns).

KNOWSHON MORENO, MIAMI:Injuries kept Moreno from building off his career year of 2013 with the Broncos, and with two knee injuries in the past four seasons, teams might be leery of giving him a full workload without an insurance policy.

SHANE VEREEN, AND STEVAN RIDLEY, NEW ENGLAND:Is it the system or the running back? Consider how few of New England's runners have succeeded after leaving; BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a 1,000-yard season in Cincinnati, but was nowhere near as efficient. Only third-down back Danny Woodhead managed to build upon his Patriots success and improve elsewhere. Fair or not, that's the caveat emptor affixed to Ridley and Shane Vereen as they enter the market.

FRANK GORE, SAN FRANCISCO:With 2,784 career touches, he seems destined to hit the wall at some point. But he hasn't missed a game since 2010, and averaged 4.3 yards per carry last year as he went over 1,000 yards for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. If reports of him agreeing to terms with the Eagles are true, he could have more open space to roam underneath, and might be able to add to a career rushing total that, at 11,073 yards, is pushing into Hall of Fame territory.


Stevan Ridley, New England
Roy Helu, Washington
Bobby Rainey, Tampa Bay
Ahmad Bradshaw, Indianapolis
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atlanta
Antone Smith, Atlanta
Chris Johnson, N.Y. Jets
Joe McKnight, Kansas City


Reggie Bush, ex-Detroit
Steven Jackson, ex-Atlanta
Peyton Hillis, ex-N.Y. Giants


Matt Asiata, Minnesota
Brandon Bolden, New England
Lance Dunbar, Dallas
Chris Polk, Philadelphia

Who are the best of the backfield burners available in this year's free agency?

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