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|Darren Sproles could be the latest Chargers back to bolt for a new team and have success.|
Which potential free-agent running back would you most want to acquire if you had a need at the position? Without a clear-cut choice, our panel of experts provided a variety of answers.
Jason La Canfora: Go to the 'Lightning Bug'
I'm not sure you're going to find a featured back for any sustained amount of time here, especially under 2010 rules. And Darren Sproles will cost you some, but any creative coordinator has to love the opportunities he creates.
You get special-teams burst, an explosive third-down back and a matchup problem for defenses. The Chargers' backs have done well moving elsewhere, and I expect Sproles to be the next. Finding the right situations to get him in space and get him touches will be key. But when compared to the other players at his position -- many of them dealing with age or health issues -- I'll take my chances with Sproles.
Vic Carucci: Big things from small back
Sproles. His considerable speed and explosiveness make him a good fit in any offense. He is capable of going the distance every time the ball is in his hands. Opposing defenders can sometimes struggle to find him in traffic and must always respect the fact that Sproles is a constant game-breaking threat. He would be an especially good addition to a team with a power-oriented back and looking for a good, change-of-pace runner. Sproles also makes a strong contribution as a kick returner.
Steve Wyche: Pounce on this Panther
This is easy for me: DeAngelo Williams. He is a power runner with evasiveness, good speed and experience. He also doesn't have a ton of mileage on him having split carries for his entire five-year career with the Panthers. The 273 carries he had in 2009 were a career-high. Williams, 28, is coming off injury. Still, he has plenty of football left and would be a nice fit for the Dolphins, who could let Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams walk; Denver, where his former coach, John Fox, could pair him with Knowshon Moreno; or Washington. There's also a shot he could be back in Carolina. Since he has only five years of tenure, and if free agency restricts players with less than six accrued seasons, he will be back with the Panthers.
Pat Kirwan: Enough Ced
The running back class looks weaker than the wide receiver class, and I am not into signing any of the over-30 crowd. Cedric Benson is 28 years old, he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two years, and in 2010 caught the most passes of his career (28). He would play the next three seasons and just be 30 at the end of 2013. I think he could deliver 300-325 carries a year at close to 4.0 yards per carry and catch close to 30 passes a season. There's no reason to think he can't score six or seven touchdowns a season as well. A smart veteran who would touch the ball 20 times a game is worth some real money, but not top-10 running back cash. Benson made $2.7 million last year and a slight bump to the $3 million range would be a solid deal, which is in the ball park with the deal Chester Taylor got in Chicago last year.
Charles Davis: What can Brown do for you?
If I need a running back, the free agent that appeals most to me is Ronnie Brown. I know about the injuries, but I also know that any free-agent runner brings accumulated hits and dings with him. "The Hummer" had a Pro Bowl season with the Dolphins and, when healthy, is a threat to carry it 20 times a game, or have it thrown to him in open space. He also is a real threat as a Wildcat back who can actually throw the ball. Brown is a close call for me over Cedric Benson (big mileage dating back to college) and Darren Sproles.
Bucky Brooks: Brown brings versatility
I would normally avoid dipping into the free-agent market of running backs due to the dramatic decline in production at that position after players reach the age of 30. However, I would take a strong look at Ronnie Brown in this year's class. He enters free agency with a lot of tread remaining on the tire due to his extensive history of being a part-time runner in Miami. He has only amassed 1,128 carries in his six-year career (14.8 attempts per game), and his versatile skill set would allow him to fill a variety of roles in the backfield. From serving a potential third-down back to being the designated runner in four-minute situations, he brings a lot to the table in a big, physical package. If he can avoid the injuries that have plagued him throughout his career, he would be an intriguing option to add to any offense due to his versatility.
Michael Lombardi: A good bang-for-your-buck back
Most running backs who make it to free agency have too many carries and too much wear and tear on their bodies. But for me, the best bang for the dollar would be Michael Bush of the Raiders. Bush is a big, power back in the mold of Michael Turner, can run inside or outside, and has the ability to make plays in the passing game. Because of an injury his senior season at the University of Louisville, he dropped to the fourth round of the 2007 draft, but now healthy, he is a first-round talent ready to be one of the better backs in the league.