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NFL Running Backs: Get 'Em While They're Young

Top Five Free Agent Running Backs

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The NFL chews up and spits out running backs like a farmer with a tobacco habit. You last five years as an NFL back and you've lived a football lifetime. Make it seven years and you're an arthritic cripple.

Exaggeration? Maybe, but it's not too far from the truth. NFL linebackers hit like diesel trucks and those defensive linemen aren't exactly ballet dancers.

Make or Break Position

That's why NFL teams are constantly on the lookout for young, healthy running backs to plug into the grinder. It's an important position that can make or break an offense.

Last year's field of free agent running backs overvalued themselves, and found out they weren't in as much demand as they thought they'd be. Will that happen in this year's running back free agency market, which starts March 9?

Maybe. In any case, here are my top five free agent running backs:

1. Steven Jackson

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Jackson has a player option with the Rams that allows him to void his contract and its $7 million and become a free agent.

The Rams, like numerous other teams, need some wriggle room under the salary cap restrictions: They have $1.8 million available under the current cap.

Jackson has said before he might retire (Barry Sanders, who he calls "Mr. Sanders," retired early and he is one of Jackson's role models).

2. Reggie Bush

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Bush is 29 and been in the league seven years. He had a reputation as a guy who got injured too much, but he seems to have erased those fears with Miami, logging over 2,000 yards on more than 400 carries over the last two seasons, and avoiding serious injury.

He's a versatile back who can catch the ball - he also has 78 receptions the last two years - which is highly prized among today's offensive coordinators.

Still, the Dolphins are deep at running back with former Miami Hurricane Lamar Miller and backup Daniel Thomas, and they have more pressing needs in areas other than running back.

They haven't exactly come a' courting Bush either. The NFL rumor mill whispers, "Detroit."

3. Danny Woodhead

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Who would have ever thought a little guy from tiny Chadron State College in Nebraska would be even wanted in the NFL?

Actually Woodhead was undrafted in 2008 and released by the Jets in 2010.

However, he has found a place in New England's quick-fire, spread offense, mainly as a flashy and dependable third-down threat.

In three years he's had over 1,000 yards rushing on 250 carries and another 982 yards on 92 catches. He has 14 touchdowns.

Nor does he hardly ever turn the ball over. But, the Patriots are also deep at running back. Woodhead has made it plain he wants to stay in New England, but chances are he will be with another team with a similar offense next year.

4. Ahmad Bradshaw

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Bradshaw, another running back with that injury-prone sticker on his back, was unceremoniously dumped recently by the Giants after six years with the team.

His recent surgery on an already injured foot will probably scare some teams off, but this is still a guy who has had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in the NFL, one of which was this past season.

He has made his interest in the Jets known, but the Jets have not returned his advances.

5. Shonn Greene

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Nor have the Jets expressed interest in keeping one of theirs already in the fold, Greene. Greene is an up-the-middle, three-yards-and-a-clump-of-artificial turf type runner.

He logged 1,063 yards with the Jets this past season, but only averaged 3.8 yards per carry.

In addition, he's slow and can't catch. That's a problem because he can't be much or a relief valve for quarterback Mark Sanchez, who often requires relief valves.

Still, he's a 1,000-yard man and will probably draw suitors.

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